By removing eternal risk, Christ calls his people to continual temporal risk.
For the followers of Jesus the final risk is gone. ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). ‘Neither death nor life … will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38-39). ‘Some of you they will put to death … But not a hair of your head will perish’ (Luke 21:16, 18). ‘Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live’ (John 11:25).
When the threat of death becomes a door to paradise, the final barrier to temporal risk is broken. When a Christian says from the heart, ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain’, he is free to love no matter what.
Some forms of radical Islam may entice martyr-murderers with similar dreams but Christian hope is the power to love, not kill. Christian hope produces life-givers, not life-takers. The crucified Christ calls his people to live and die for their enemies, as he did.
The only risks permitted by Christ are the perils of love. ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you’ (Luke 6:27-28).
With staggering promises of everlasting joy, Jesus unleashed a movement of radical, loving risk-takers. ‘You will be delivered up even by parents … and some of you they will put to death’ (Luke 21:16). Only some. Which means it might be you and it might not. That’s what risk means. It is not risky to shoot yourself in the head. The outcome is certain. It is risky to serve Christ in a war zone. You might get shot. You might not.
Your reward is great
Christ calls us to take risks for kingdom purposes. Almost every message of American consumerism says the opposite – maximise comfort and security now, not in heaven. Christ does not join that chorus. To every timid saint, wavering on the edge of some dangerous gospel venture, he says, ‘Fear not, you can only be killed’ (Luke 12:4).
Yes, by all means maximise your joy! How? By risking being reviled and persecuted and lied about for the sake of love – ‘for your reward is great in heaven’ (Matthew 5:11-12).
There is a great biblical legacy of loving risk-takers. Joab, facing the Syrians on one side and the Ammonites on the other, said to his brother Abishai, ‘Let us be courageous for our people … and may the Lord do what seems good to him’ (2 Samuel 10:12). Esther broke the royal law to save her people and said, ‘If I perish, I perish’ (Esther 4:16). Shadrach and his comrades refused to bow down to the king’s idol and said, ‘Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us … But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods’ (Daniel 3:16-18).
And when the Holy Spirit told Paul that imprisonment and afflictions awaited him in every city, he said, ‘I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course’ (Acts 20:24).
To gain Christ
‘Every Christian’, said Stephen Neil about the early church, ‘knew that sooner or later he might have to testify to his faith at the cost of his life’ (A history of Christian missions, Penguin, 1964, p.43). This was normal. To become a Christian was to risk your life.
Tens of thousands did it. Why? Because to do it was to gain Christ, and not to do it was to lose your soul. ‘Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’ (Matthew 16:25).
In America and around the world the price of being a real Christian is rising. Things are getting back to normal in ‘this present evil age’. Increasingly 2 Timothy 3:12 will make sense: ‘All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’. Those who have made gospel-risk a voluntary life-style will be most ready when we have no choice.
Therefore I urge you, in the words of the early church, ‘Let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city but we seek the city that is to come’ (Hebrews 13:13-14). When God removed all risk above, he loosed a thousand risks of love.
Reprinted with acknowledgement to John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries