The issue of living for Christ came up at the dinner table the other day, because my daughter is having problems with some of the questions she hears from Christians. She feels as if she gets judged harshly whenever she answers some of these questions truthfully. According to her, everyone looks at her like she's crazy for her response, while at the same time, she thinks everyone else is crazy for theirs.
Usually the questions go something like this: "If someone put a gun to your head and said that they would kill you if you said you were a Christian, would you still confess Christ?" I remember hearing stuff like that all the time growing up, as if it was some kind of impending reality. I also remember wondering why every story about being a Christian starts with somebody holding a gun to my head. Why can't at least half of the stories start out with a really pleasant day, and then maybe work up to somebody holding a gun to my head? It was the final test of true faith, kind of like Grasshopper snatching the pebble out of his master's hand, or Bruce Leroy catching the blue arrow instead of breaking it. The obvious difference is that apparently American Christians don't actually have to snatch the pebble or catch the blue arrow. They just have to say that, hypothetically, they would be able to snatch the pebble or catch the blue arrow in an imaginary world where those things are necessary and common.
There's even a story going around to back up this kind of self-congratulatory mind game, with varying details, but that usually says that some pastor in China puts on a ski mask and sneaks up on his church members, sticking a gun to their heads and demanding that they deny Jesus, or else. Then, after they either pass or fail the test, he reveals his identity and tells them that he was just trying to determine which of his church members were truly dedicated to Christ. If you've seen this on FaceBook or heard it from someone on your church, please don't give it any credibility. The main logical flaw in that made-up scenario is that there is a much simpler and easier way for pastors in China to determine which of their parishioners are truly dedicated.
In China, you can tell if a church-goer is truly devoted to the cause of Christ, in a life-or-death way, if they go to church. Period.
I sometimes wonder if Christians in China tell similar stories about us to their members. "In Tampa, a pastor climbed up on the roofs of his members with a water hose and sprayed water over the front of their house to see who would come to church, EVEN IN THE RAIN."
I still hear questions and hypotheticals like this is sermons today, and every once in a while, someone even asks me in person, and I always say the same thing to the "If someone put a gun to your head ..." crowd.
I don't know what I would do.
And neither do you.
At least that's the condensed version. The real response is that nobody really knows what they will do in a situation like that, or any high pressure situation, for that matter. The truth is, just talking to a stranger about Jesus sometimes feels a little like having a gun to my head, anyway. As an American, I'm blessed that I don't have to ever worry about these kinds of dangers in any real sense, as long as I stay safely inside these borders. The irony of being an American Christian is that our faith and devotion are challenged in so many more meaningful ways all the time, and we fail those tests pretty consistently, but then puff ourselves up with declarations of imagined martyrdom. Every time we listen to a coworker's problems and neglect to tell them that what they really need is the love of Christ, we fail the test. Every time we stand up to condemn all of the sins and vices that others do, but rationalize and excuse our own, we fail the test. And every time we make our brothers and sisters feel as if they don't measure up, because their hypothetical faith game isn't as strong as our hypothetical faith game, we fail the test.
Really, it's not much of a test anyway. Peter denied knowing Christ three times in one night, and the third time he had to curse out a little girl to prove it. Still, Jesus not only forgave him, but even made him the head of the church, changed his name to suit his new job.
Furthermore, there's something seriously insensitive and wrong about playing this hypothetical game, when so many of our brothers and sisters around the world are facing the reality of it on a daily basis. The only difference is that it's not a test, the gunman never even asks the question before shooting, and it doesn't turn out to be some April Fools joke at the end.
So let's try a new challenge. What if instead of posting random Bible verses or vaguely religious words of encouragement to FaceBook, we chose one church member on our friend list whose having a hard time lately, and inbox them a special message of love, with an offer to spend a minute with them to eat and pray together? We know the people in our church who are going through tough times, and if we don't, then shame on us. That way we spread the love of Christ, without stealing His glory.
Or the next time an unchurched or lost person tells us how their life is going badly, instead of just trying to fix it or point out all the ways they're wrong, we just invite them to church or pray with them, for their temporal deliverance and their eternal salvation. Share with them some of the same medicine that made us well.
However we do it, let's do our best to have a real and impactful faith, instead of a hypothetical one.