You probably didn't wake up this morning wondering whether you would be forced to choose today between your faith and your life.

Christ defeating death harrowing of hell

The Courage to Confess Christ

Last week the Gospel Herald reported that twelve indigenous Christian Aid Mission workers were brutally executed by Islamic State militants in a Syrian village “because they refused to renounce Jesus Christ and embrace Islam.” Among those killed were two women and a twelve-year-old boy. Their martyrdom is too graphic to recount here, so I leave it to the reader’s discretion to read the eyewitness account in this article.

Consider for a moment. All these martyrs had to do to make the pain and humiliation stop was renounce Christ. Just a few simple words. But they didn’t. They chose to suffer and die rather than deny their Savior. Do you think you could do the same? I hope–no, in fact I pray–I could.

This horrific story only accounts for twelve of the many thousands of Christians tortured and killed by the Islamic State in the past year. If you are like most Americans, reports like this are appalling and outrageous, but they are also far away and not really relevant to your life. This is something that happens to “those people” away “over there.” You probably didn’t wake up this morning wondering whether you would be forced to choose today between your faith and your life. That doesn’t happen in America.

Oh, but it does, doesn’t it? Students at Umpqua Community College in Oregon did not wake up last week wondering whether they would have to choose between their faith and their life, but they did. When the shooter (who I will not name, following the excellent example of the Douglas County Sheriff) asked intended victims if they were Christians, how much courage do you think it took for the second person to respond in the affirmative? That was not “over there,” it was right here.

Sadly, courage is in short supply in our country. Too many of us seek the path of least resistance and value comfort over all virtues. But Christians are not called to a life of comfort and cowardice. Whether in America or in Syria, we are called to conform to the image of Christ who looked Death in the eye and did not flinch. As I tell my own sons, there are worse things in this world than death. We need to educate our sons and daughters in the genuine classical virtues, not the popular values of selfishness and complacency. Far better to die in the faith than to live in cowardice.

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