Dying for Jesus

by Matthew W. Bassford

These days, it seems like people in our country are increasingly being led astray by a godless, secular mindset. This worldview has a lot of superficial appeal. After all, if there is no God, you don't have to submit to anybody. You can do whatever you want with whomever you want. The world is your oyster!

However, this apparent freedom comes at a steep cost. The unrestrained life is also a meaningless life because pleasure is ultimately empty. Even the goals and ideals of the worldly are unable to provide meaning.

This is most obvious in their failure to address life's most consequential events. What, for instance, is marriage to the irreligious? It does not consecrate a relationship that otherwise would be sinful. At most, it offers a tax break.

The problem is even worse when it comes to death. If a life without God is meaningless, death is the ultimate in meaninglessness. It is the squashing of the human cockroach beneath the boot of the random universe.

Outside of edge cases, like dying for one's country, no earthly philosophy can mitigate the horror of this fate. Take, for instance, sexual autonomy, which is the great secular religion of our day. You can spend your life promoting LGBTQ causes. You can celebrate Pride Month with the fervor of a medieval Catholic celebrating Christmas.

However, sexual autonomy offers no way to engage with death. When you get that terminal diagnosis, it marks an end to your promoting and celebrating. You can't advance the cause by dying. Your philosophy gives you no hope. Everything for which you have lived will perish with you.

Things are utterly different for the Christian. Worldly ideologies crumple in the face of suffering and death. However, the suffering and death of Christ is the central event of our religion. Indeed, we view discipleship as a continual dying to self. In our hymns, we regularly anticipate our coming deaths.

Consequently, it is in the presence of suffering and death that Christianity is most powerful. They cannot overwhelm the meaning of our existence. Rather, our faith endows even death with extraordinary meaning and significance.

Consider, for instance, the language of John 21:19. Jesus has just finished predicting that Peter would be arrested and executed by the enemies of the gospel. John comments that Jesus said this to indicate by what kind of death Peter would glorify God. He does not say that Jesus said this to indicate that Peter’s death would glorify God.

The distinction is subtle but profound. Peter will die a martyr’s death, but he does not have to die a martyr’s death for his death to be God-glorifying. Rather, any death that Peter dies will glorify God, provided that Peter remains faithful.

What is true for Peter is true for any Christian, and it gives me great purpose now that I have received my terminal diagnosis. I will surely die, just as Peter surely would, but if I am steadfast, my death will glorify God as his death did.

Thanks to the public nature of my illness, I have received innumerable cards and expressions of support from my brethren. Among those that I most treasure are the ones that come from relatives of Christians who already have died from ALS. These relatives describe how their loved one remained cheerful and kind in the face of despair, how they shone with the light of faith, and how they encouraged others to follow after them.

These are deaths that glorify God. I can give no higher praise.

As I am dying, I strive to do the same. I seek to bless, encourage, and inspire. I exalt the One who is giving me the hope of eternal life, and I urge others to come to Him too. Death can bring my body low, but my faith and my Lord are greater than it is. Death is vast and unconquerable when compared to any earthly ideal, but next to Christ it is nothing. Even as my flesh fails, I regard it with contempt.

Do this also. When your time comes and you die, die so as to glorify God. Whether you die as a martyr before thousands of scoffing pagans in the Colosseum or in front of a few family and friends, glorify God in your death. It will be the last earthly service that you can offer Him. It may be the greatest.

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