We have such low standards for heroes. And I don’t just mean comic book superheroes: Green Lantern…Hawkeye….Robin (!?!) No matter how much we equivocate the term, these guys don’t deserve the title “super.” But that’s a subject for another blog. In this one, I’d like to explore the tendency among Christians in our modern, Western culture to laud as heroic any non-fictional person who seems even vaguely virtuous. In a time of moral famine, Christians seem far too eager to gobble up and praise what little signs we see of basic good behavior and to celebrate them as Christ-like. To borrow and adapt C.S. Lewis’ expression: When it comes to distinctly Christian heroism, we are far too easily pleased.
It's been encouraging and humbling to read recently of Christians taking humble stands against godless demands of civil government, not least because it highlights by way of contrast our sometimes shallow standards for calling particular actions Christ-like. The contrast raises the question: What makes morality distinctly Christian and not simply helpful behavior which expresses the image of God which all people bear? Representatives of any religion, including humanism, can do beneficial things for their neighbors or society as a whole, and sometimes with a sincerity that shames their Christian counterparts serving the same good cause. But inconsistent, imperfect Christian behavior does not invalidate the claims of Christ himself, nor their applicability to current events and the people who shape them.
God’s moral standards are unbending, and none but the Lord Jesus meets them. All who are in Christ are a work in progress, but they are his work, called to proclaim publicly his excellence and to call other sinners to salvation and abundant life in him. When Christians vaunt mere social do-goodism (as much good as some of it really does!) as heroically Christ-like, that purpose is not well-served.
Does it really honor the Lord when we hail as Christ-like someone who rejects him? Doesn’t that lend credence, albeit unintentionally, to the idea that Jesus was essentially just a really good guy who was misunderstood by those who worshiped him and murdered by those who thought him a threat to their religious and political power? Was our Lord crucified for being really nice, for being a political agitator unafraid to speak truth to power, or because as a man he claimed to be God and proved it by his Scripture-fulfilling words and actions?
Jesus was murdered for the same reason people in our day wish the Christian faith was dead: the insistence that Jesus is Lord of life, and of everyone’s life. Real Christian heroism wears that truth on its sleeve, and suffers for it.
Imagine what it would do to the popularity of a vaguely Christian celebrity if, when asked if she endorses some of the Bible’s more controversial claims, affirmed without the slightest trace of hostility that all who reject the claims of Jesus Christ abide under the wrath of a holy God. What if she simply read the latter part of John chapter 3 to answer the question, or posted on her facebook page not only verse 16, but verses 17-21 as well?
That might take some real courage, because it might kill her career. Yet Christian social media goes bonkers when a celebrity thanks God for being there in rough times or posts a passage of Scripture bound not to offend. It’s a happy event when Christians publicly thank God and post parts of his word in such ways, but is it really heroic? (It’s certainly better than the acidic posts Christians put up in the name of gospel boldness, posts which are really more indicative of godless bravado.)
The heroes of the Christian faith in our day are those who live and die like the faithful people whom the Holy Spirit eulogizes in Hebrews chapter 11. Their lives could be summed up as “holiness unto the Lord.” Holiness is the essential ingredient in Christ-like heroism. These saints certainly did good to their neighbors, but because their love for the living God drove and defined their social action, their good works were not always well-received. They were hated because their testimonies were not vague enough to be widely celebrated. Many of them were murdered because they self-consciously and publicly represented the true and living God, and they said as much, publicly – and humbly. Sometimes that humility is like gas on the fire already burning against them.
Jesus said to his disciples “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” These martyrs suffered not for a false god nor for serving a loosely defined social good. They suffered for the sake of their Savior while they sought to carry out all his commands. There are believers like that in the world today, though their stories don’t always fill our Facebook feed.
I had the extraordinary privilege a few years ago of meeting such a Christian when he was in the States studying to go back to his home country to preach the gospel. The government of that country hates Christianity, and more and more Christians within it are being “disappeared.” I recently learned that this brother in Christ had been dragged in for interrogation by government officials. They beat him repeatedly and sent him home, a bruised, living warning to his fellow ministers who, like he, would not stop preaching the gospel.
What would you do in those circumstances? Wouldn’t it be tempting to live a vague, uncontroversial faith, able to be celebrated by anyone with an active moral conscience? That’s not what this brother did. He asked his wife to make a huge meal so that they could invite anyone hungry and willing to listen to come to his home and to hear all about the bread of life, the Lord Jesus Christ. Of this kind of believer, says the Holy Spirit in Hebrews 11:38, the world is not worthy.
May the Lord raise up more heroes of holiness in our day for his name’s sake and for the everlasting good of those whom they serve in his name.