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The Crisis of Cowardice

If our treasure is on this earth, if we love our stuff, our comfort, our reputation, our safety, then it is likely that we will compromise our obedience on the day of trouble. But if Jesus Christ alone is our treasure—if we love His name, His glory, His church, His truth—then we will stand courageous. We will confront danger, we will suffer, and yet by the Spirit and His strength, we will obey.
 
 

Courage vs Cowardice

Courage is a virtue that is universally recognized. Our favorite stories are those of heroes who, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, press on and eventually triumph. We love the biographies of those who took a stand, would not compromise, and paid the ultimate price. And almost every Christian at some point has memorized Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
 
Yes, courage is something admirable, something we adore and others and hope for ourselves; yet it is something that appears to be in dangerously short supply. This should not be surprising when it is absent in the world, but when courage is lacking in the church it is cause for alarm. This is a virtue that desperately needs to be recovered in the church, and quickly.
 
Before seeking to understand why courage has all but disappeared from our ranks and considering how it may be restored, we must first touch on the counterpart to courage, and that is cowardice. Many consider cowardice to be somewhat embarrassing. It certainly is not commendable or ideal, but neither is it something that most would feel deep anguish of repentance over. While many may wish to be braver, it is something that is seen as above and beyond, very exceptional, even elite.
 
Soldiers, missionaries, police officers, and firefighters are the courageous souls who put their lives on the line to protect others, but the average person cannot be expected to do that. However, in Revelation 21:8, there is a list of those who are thrown into the lake of fire and most are familiar characters—murderers, sexually immoral, idolaters, liars, and the like. But at the head of this list is a class of sinners rarely spoken of, the cowardly. When we consider that courage is nothing more than remaining faithful in obedience and duty no matter the consequences, it becomes clear that cowardice is in fact sinful, and that courage is not a Christian superlative but the expectation of every one of us.
 

The Expectation

The Christian life portrayed in Scripture is one of suffering pain, loss, injustice, cruelty, all for the sake of Christ’s name. The clear teaching is that remaining faithful to Jesus will result in these things. We understand that the root of Peter’s shameful sin of denying Jesus was cowardice, fear of what would happen if aligned with his Lord. We are familiar with Jesus’ words,
“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God…And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Lk. 12:8-9, 11-12).

 

Yes, it is clear that our Lord expects courage from His people, and this He provides by His Spirit. And yet, most Christians in America today are willing to do almost anything to avoid the slightest persecution. We rationalize this by claiming a desire to protect our witness, to gain a hearing from the world, to not come off as abrasive or self-righteous, or heaven forbid dogmatic. The result is a compromised, cowardly Christianity that has little to no discernible impact on the culture. We desperately need a recovery of courage.
 

The Beginning of Courage Is Conviction

This crisis of cowardice runs deep and needs to be met at the foundation. The beginning of courage is conviction. If the church is to recover its courage, it must first recover its conviction of the truth. If we are not utterly convinced of what is true, how could we possibly justify making sacrifices for it? Being certain is not exactly fashionable in our age.
 
In this inclusivist culture, it is good manner to treat all beliefs and opinions as equally valid; insistence and confidence in one’s beliefs are scoffed at as intolerant and narrow-minded. Yet we are taught that our faith is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Additionally, the New Testament continually exhorts us to hold fast to the truth, to teach sound doctrine in accord with the truth, to be guardians of the truth—indeed, the Church is called the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15)!
 
To be obedient in all of this, we must of course know what the truth is. So the place to begin to recover courage is with serious, continued study of the word of God, and with strong, emphatic preaching of that word. We must seek to understand God’s revelation and we must be jealous of the truth of the gospel, committed in our convictions. Courage begins with a love for the truth and a deep desire to protect the truth. This should be definitional for Christians.
 

Hatred From The World

As mentioned earlier, however, this kind of confident zeal is rather unpopular and it will result in the dissent and disapproval of the world. If we take seriously the fact that we live in a world hostile to God, a world in rebellion against Him and at enmity with Him, we will not be surprised when we, as God’s ambassadors, are the recipients of that vitriol.
 
Biblical warnings regarding hatred from the world and persecution are too numerous to recount but the plain teaching of Christ is that His followers will suffer at the hands of sinners. For the natural man, the instinct is to avoid danger and mistreatment, to seek the path of least resistance, self-preservation. Christian faith does not allow for this because the truth is too important, more important than our individual safety or well-being. Obedience, when there is no threat of persecution, is of course required of us, but it is no less required when there is a real possibility of dangerous consequences.
 
This is courage—obedience when it costs something. This is what Peter, the poster child for cowardice, exhorts his audience to:
“For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (1 Pet. 2:20).
 
Paul, no stranger to suffering for his convictions, undoubtedly could have alleviated some of that suffering by compromising on the issue of circumcision. He rhetorically asks, “But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case, the offense of the gospel has been removed” (Gal. 5:11). From Daniel and other exiled saints in the Old Testament to the apostles in Acts, and throughout the centuries of Church history, the examples of believers who obeyed despite knowing exactly what the consequences would be are innumerable.
 

Unafraid and Unashamed

True courage must be unafraid and unashamed. We do not feel distressed about being in the minority or being scorned or slandered for our obedience. We do not fold when the world inevitably pushes back, even if it comes with great force. But when the world is able to amass such a great threat, when the consequences of obedience become more severe, it takes much more than individual resolve to stand firm. Above all, courage takes deep, strong faith.
 
This goes back to the fact that conviction of the truth is necessary for courageous behavior. We must not only be certain of what the Bible teaches, of what is true, but we also must be certain of how it all ends. Every Christian who has bravely suffered loss in this life has done so with unwavering faith in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ,  “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18). They have done so with the certainty that “he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this, he has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31); with the confidence that
“We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Cor. 15:51-55).
 
If we believe this, if we have faith in this teaching, then the cost of obedience in this life will be seen as minuscule, “not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
 
Now, courage does not amount to recklessness. We are called to be prudent and thoughtful; we do not go out of our way to take risks. But we must also be aware that to the world, courage looks like folly, and so we need to be prepared to be seen by the world in just that way—as fools. But to quote the martyred missionary Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
 

We Will Stand Courageous

If our treasure is on this earth, if we love our stuff, our comfort, our reputation, our safety, then it is likely that we will compromise our obedience on the day of trouble. But if Jesus Christ alone is our treasure–if we love His name, His glory, His church, His truth—then we will stand courageous. We will confront danger, we will suffer, and yet by the Spirit and His strength, we will obey.
 
As that day of trouble fast approaches, may we plow ever more deeply into God’s word. May we acknowledge our own weakness, and may we humbly beg our Lord that He would give us the courage to faithfully endure it all.  “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28).
 
Luke Griffo is a member of leadership at Redeemer Church of South Hills in West Mifflin, PA.  Click here for more RCSH Blog posts. 
 
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