Listen! You have two options:
While this is a choice that you are probably are not going to have to make in the UK, this is the choice that has been given to Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani (pictured), a leader of a house church movement in Iran. Having been raised in a Muslim family, where he did not shared the faith of his parents, he became a Christian at the age of 19. Arrested in October 2009, Pastor Nadarkhani has been convicted of apostasy (abandoning one’s religion), and has been given the option to denounce Christianity and return to Islam or be sentenced to death.
Pastor Nadarkhani’s response to this choice has been an incredibly bold one, stepping out on his faith and standing up to the Iranian government:
I am resolute in my faith and Christianity and have no wish to recant.
- Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani
To me this is an incredible example and a huge challenge of just what it means to be a Christian. The apostle Paul, facing a similar situation to Pastor Nadarkhani, writes to the church at Philippi:
...I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honour to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better...
- Apostle Paul - Philippians 1:20-21 (NLT)
Paul is writing from prison in Rome while he is waiting to be tried at the hands of people who had the power to set him free or to take his life as a result of his preaching. Here, in this letter, Paul makes clear his prayer; that he would stand firm in his faith Christ, not being ashamed of Jesus and not recanting his faith, instead that he would be bold to live a life that honours God.<>Paul had a clear eye on life after death too, he knew his future was secure in Christ and he knew that after his death he would be united with Jesus in heaven (see verse 23). So when he writes ‘dying is even better’ he is looking forward to that eternity with Christ, and while he is alive - ‘living means living for Christ’.
Ultimately, Paul knew that God was in control; whether he lived or whether he died he wanted to do it for the glory of God. He wasn’t going to give in to the pressures put on him pushing him to turn from God, instead he knew to stand firm for Christ.
I think that this is a passage that Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani really understands and is living out - living means living for Christ and dying means to be with Christ.
This post started by saying that in the UK the options that have been given to Pastor Nadarkhani are options that you are unlikely to be given. However are we not given the same question without the life threat? Options such as compromise your faith (or personal morals) or be rejected by friends or people at work. Cut corners and go with the crowd to get the job done and win the approval of your boss or tutor at the expense of your faith...
The IVP New Testament Commentary puts it pretty bluntly when commenting on Matthew 16:24 where Jesus calls his disciples to follow Him; ‘Only a cause worth dying for is truly worth living for...’
I’ll leave this post there with a couple of questions:
The 24/7 Prayer blog has got a really good post about how you can be praying for Pastor Nadarkhani and other Iranian Christians. I encourage you to read and pray and act on it.