Living for the LORD: Overcoming the Fear of Death
Christians all over the world are dying for their faith – and they’re doing it boldly. Persecution is on the rise. We hear about it on the news and we read about it in books, literature, and even the Bible. Yet the Western Church flinches with fear.
Christ teaches that those who are willing to lose their lives for His sake will find them. He tells us to count the cost. However, most Christians (especially those of the Western Church) are not properly taught about such persecution, and the idea of dying for Him is therefore weakly embraced. As a result, Christians are unprepared to stand firm in their faith unto death. The reality of dying for the LORD is not something commonly preached from our pulpits, nor is it prayed about in our conferences and meetings. In fact, it’s not something most can even relate to. Instead, the Western Church has preached a Gospel of such light fare, that it is nearly entirely free of any type of suffering. When questioned, most confessing Christians in the Western Hemisphere lack the faith necessary to live their lives sacrificially for the LORD as He taught us, which demands we be prepared to both live and die for Him.
Instead of preaching the message of Christ that requires we count the cost of following Him, the necessity of taking up our cross, laying down our lives, dying to self, and the persecution of those who do faithfully do His will; Western Christianity has preached a soft Gospel that majors on the ideals of prosperity, blessing, abundance, and a life carefree of any and all suffering. As a result the Church has become weak, selfish, powerless, and a glutton of this ‘Gospel of Greed’. The teaching of suffering and persecution for the LORD is all but entirely neglected. When the gauntlet of suffering, persecution and death are thrown down, the reaction is often that of fear, cowardice, apprehension, and fierce resistance – all of which are many times cloaked beneath a powerless self-serving Gospel generated by emotional hype. Discipleship is no longer based on unadulterated scriptural truth. Instead we feel the need to entertain. This brand of ‘Christianity’ does not produce genuine disciples. It produces lovers of pleasure who have a form of godliness yet deny its power (see 2 Timothy 3:4).
Paul warned us of these days.
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away, (1 Timothy 3:1-5, KJV, emphasis mine).
The truth is that part of being prepared to live for the LORD also involves being prepared to die for Him. Christ did not teach us that we would be able to serve Him without suffering. Quite the contrary. In fact, He promised a life of tribulation, suffering and persecution even unto death for those who are faithful in doing His will. The Gospel preached in the Western Church today is almost entirely impotent when it comes to proper teaching, discipleship and the equipping of believers to live the kind of sacrificial life Christ demands. Yet the Church teaches frequently and very eloquently on how to live a blessed, abundant, carefree life – all of which have perpetuated a self-centered lifestyle.
There is a very gross and dangerous gap between the rejoicing of the disciples in their floggings, infirmities, persecutions and death as recorded in the New Testament compared to the modern Church which shrinks in cowardice, insult, apprehension and even disdain from that same Gospel which demands the sacrifice and suffering of their very lives, should it be demanded of them.
The apostles and converts of the New Testament Church understood the honor of partaking in their LORD’s sufferings. They were ever ready to bear His marks in their bodies (as Paul said), keeping in mind that their citizenship is not here, but in heaven. Paul said their lives were poured out as drink offerings unto the LORD.
So what is preventing us from embracing the true Gospel of Christ that requires our lives (both in life and death)? I believe it’s a combination of the following:
1.) selfish living (the love of our own lives) and the deception that accompanies this lifestyle
2.) a pursuance of our own will instead of God’s
3.) a lukewarm love relationship with Christ
4.) a lack of spiritual fidelity
5.) and a lack of the fear of the LORD
All of these are clearly evident and even outlined in scripture. These are at the very root of the symptoms we’re seeing in the Western Church today. Our lives are not to be lived for Christ upon contingencies such as how blessed we are or how good we’ve got it. It’s not about how rich you are, or what position you hold. When things are greasy and good serving Christ is easy. It’s when our lives are being demanded of us at every turn that our love for the LORD and our faith in Him is put on trial.
A life void of any spiritual tension is never proven.
But there is another key element that is right under our noses. And it needs to be addressed…
Our Fear of Death
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death, (Revelation 12:11, KJV).
The enemy knows that what or whom we fear, we will ultimately serve. We will inevitably bow our knee, and many times this happens subtly through the creeping seduction of deception. In these last days seducing spirits are working hard to disable believers. This seduction happens gradually, and before we know it, we don’t even realize we’ve been deceived and disabled – until a topic like this one is blatantly targeted and addressed. This is why we are told to fear the LORD. The proper fear of the LORD guards the believer by giving wisdom, discernment and understanding where there would otherwise be darkness and deception (see Proverbs 1-8). The Spirit of the Fear of the LORD was one of the seven Spirits of God with which Christ was anointed (see Isaiah 11:2).
When believers are no longer able to embrace the reality of persecution, suffering and death for the LORD’s sake, as the Gospel of Christ teaches, they set themselves up for apostasy. We see examples of this rendered in two disciples whom Christ chose. Both were His elect: Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. Both were believers who betrayed and denied Jesus Christ, yet they had stark differences worth noting. Christ openly called Judas a devil. Judas chose to betray Christ publicly of his own free will with intent, and was motivated by greed and fear. Peter, on the other hand, was fully convinced of his altruistic affection for, and loyalty to Christ. Yet he had no idea what was truly lurking in the depths of his own heart. Of all the disciples, Peter was chosen and summoned by Satan for sifting. Christ granted that request for a greater purpose: sanctification and strengthening. Christ knew Peter’s heart and therefore gave him a gracious forewarning with a promise of redemption. Judas also received a forewarning, but of a different kind – that of condemnation. Judas didn’t have to dip the bread, but he did, and he chose not to repent. Again, in stark contrast, Peter was utterly broken by his sin, being shocked at his own human weakness.
Both of these disciples serve as examples to the Church. Judas is an example to every believer in Christ of what apostasy looks like and how a falling away occurs. Peter is our example of what faith can look like until it’s tested. Both lead to a denial or betrayal of Christ. One was of willful intent; the other through a test of temptation. Judas was the son of perdition, but Peter was one of redemption. When Christ reinstated Peter, His proposed questions were not about belief or faith in Him. No. For that was not the issue. Christ’s questions were centered upon love. Peter’s certainty about His love for the LORD was tested, and he unfortunately found that the fear for his own life was stronger in that moment of trial. We can all learn from Peter’s lesson. All of us need to take this truth to heart. Peter teaches us well that we may not be as prepared as we might think. (For the stories of Judas and Peter see Matthew chapters 26-28).
FEAR is the number one mode of operandi the enemy uses to disable believers.
LOVE is the only mode of operandi
that will enable the Church to fully overcome fear in living fully and freely for Christ.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love, (1 John 4:18, KJV).
Christ made faithfulness to Him an issue of love. He gave several examples, which are severe, revealing a contrast between our own families and lives, and our love for Him:
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it, (Matthew 10:37-39, KJV).
Christ made it clear that He should have no contestants.
No one wakes up wishing to die. For most of us, the thought of death is associated with pain and suffering, especially if it involves persecution. Because of fear, the Church has failed to embrace the mandate of the LORD that demands a sacrificial life. Instead we have made the Gospel one of comfort, wealth, blessing and tolerance for sin. In support of this teaching we seek to live lives that ensure our comforts, thwart any possible suffering, and propagate a powerless Gospel for fear that we may lose our lives. I speak in generalities. There are always exceptions. In saying this, I want to respect the few who boldly endeavor to do what most would not. A prominent example would be Jim Elliot, the young missionary who readily gave his life to reach the Aucan Indians of South America. He said,
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
Jim understood what most Christians have failed to learn, live and readily apply: that our lives here on earth are to be lived sacrificially for the service of Christ in whatever measure or manner He intends at any given moment. We no longer belong to ourselves. He has purchased us with the price of His blood, which cannot be valued. We now belong to God. We are to take up our cross daily and follow Christ – even it if that road leads to our death. Jim Elliot understood this truth:
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it, (Matthew 10:39, KJV).
Paul granted an even greater understanding of this when he said:
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead, (Philippians 3:7-11, KJV).
Our fear of death largely stems from our ignorance. Because we don’t want to face it, we neglect learning about it according to biblical truth. And because we are ignorant and unlearned, we succumb to sly deceptions in the Church that provoke a fierce resistance to any and all manner of persecution or suffering for the LORD. As a result, it’s scarcely taught – and that by a select and perhaps unpopular few.
When we come to understand death from God’s eternal perspective, and understand that He has conquered it, we can approach death with confidence fearlessly, knowing that He is the One who holds our lives in His sovereign hand. He has saved us – not just in this life, but for all of eternity.
The truth is this: Death no longer holds any power whatsoever over the believer. We have overcome death in the spirit, soul and the body through Jesus Christ our LORD. So what does that really mean? How does that apply to us today as we live our lives for Christ in a manner that is pleasing to Him? Do we go looking for it? Of course not. But do we prepare for it? Absolutely.
Be ready to surrender your life for the LORD at any given moment.
Understanding and embracing the LORD’s teaching and eternal perspective on life and death enables the believer to live life freely and securely – without any hindrance or fear of anything – especially death. If you ever find yourself in a situation that demands your life, you need to be of ready and able mind to meet that moment with confidence in the LORD – with unwavering faith, and full of joy, realizing that you were counted worthy to suffer for Him.
When you love the LORD wholeheartedly, your life is free from all fear – including (especially) the fear of death.
The LORD’s Perspective on Death
Because death no longer has power over the believer, any fear of it (regardless of how it occurs) should be snuffed out. Christ has purchased and secured a victory for us as our Firstfruit from the dead that is both glorious and eternal.
Christ does not see or regard death as we do. Christ made death clear on the following points:
1.) It is promised to all who do not believe AND/OR for those who deny Him (see Matthew 10:33).
2.) Death is NOT a cessation of existence. It is an eternal separation from God (see Revelation 21:7-8).
3.) Although our physical bodies experience death, we are promised a resurrection at His coming (see 1 Corinthians 15).
4.) Spiritual death (the second death) is permanent. Physical death (the first death) is not. Christ demonstrated this in raising individuals from the dead, having given those who believe in Him that same authority and power (see John 14:12).
5.) Death is not to be feared. Rather, it is to be embraced as a continuum of life with Him (see Philippians 3:7-11 as above, and 2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
6.) The wages of sin is death. Christ died for the sins of the world, and therefore Christ Jesus is the only name given by God by whom men must be saved. There is salvation in no other (see Romans 5-8 and the book of Hebrews).
7.) Death happens once, and then there is the judgment (see Hebrews 9:27).
If you are in Christ, you are alive – not only physically, but spiritually. And your life is eternal. That eternal life begins the moment you received Him. In Christ, your life is a continuum. It doesn’t stop. It infinitely keeps going. Physical death is merely a transition from time to eternity, from mortal to immortality, from earth to heaven, from body to spirit.
When we understand life and death through the teaching of Christ, and when we love Him wholeheartedly, we are empowered to live our lives fully and freely for Him. We are truly liberated. Nothing can stop us.
Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal, (2 Corinthians 4:14-18, KJV).
Death is by no means the end. In fact, that is when the life Christ purchased for you to live and experience in Him truly begins. Christ has set you free. Embrace your life as He intended. Live it fully – both in life and death.
Your unwavering love for the LORD, the unadulterated truth of His Gospel, and an unshakable faith is what will bring that reality to pass in your life.
Cheers & Shalom,