Courage is something that’s far easier to talk about than to live out of. It’s always easier to live out of fear of one kind or another.
But fear never changed anything for the better. Fear never kept the church standing firm. Fear never produced joy. Fear won’t free us to live positively and confidently and Christianly on the margins.
So we need to junk our fears and just replace them with courage, right?
Under the pseudonym Ambrose Redoom, the writer James Neil Hollingworth once wrote:
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one’s fear.
That’s so helpful. We tend to think courage is the lack of fear, but that’s just not true. If there’s no fear, there can’t be courage. You must feel fear to be courageous.
Real courage takes place when you are anxious, when you are worried, when you just don’t know how to push through—but then there’s something more valuable, something greater than that fear. So though you feel fear, your actions are not driven by that fear. They are directed by something else. You step out with courage because there is something else that drives you—something that is greater than what you’re afraid of.
Historically, when the culture seemed to be behind the church in the era of Christendom, we were part of the so-called “moral majority.” We stood boldly and firmly, always assuming that the culture had our backs. We could say, This is a really bad thing, and ninety percent of the culture would go, Yeah, you’re right. It is a bad thing. In many ways, those days required little courage.
And those days are long gone.
We are no longer a moral majority. Given this sweeping societal shift, many will cave in to the culture at some point because they’re afraid of being seen as irrelevant or not being worthy of respect—they’ll consume culture.
Many will become angry and frustrated, and spend their waking hours trying to get us back to Christendom—they’ll be aiming at converting culture.
Many will avoid the culture altogether, creating subcultures, and do their own thing when it comes to art, education, commerce, and politics, condemning culture.
As I said, at some level all these responses are motivated by fear. But if we’re directed by courage, we’ll walk forward positively, faithfully, and joyfully.
Where do we find that kind of courage? What will be the basis of our courage when we are not seen as the sane ones, not seen as the compassionate ones, not seen as loving or gracious, because to disagree is to hate?
We need to know God.
More Than Conquerors
Let me take you from post-Christendom to pre-Christendom, and to the words of Paul.
If you’re ever feeling inadequate or insufficient because of your failures and weaknesses, it’s always helpful to remember Paul. He was a man who had hated Christ and hated Christians, who had set his face to destroy them, who was, according to his own biography, a murderer, a torturer, and a violent blasphemer—and yet who became one of the greatest missionaries the Christian faith has ever known. God isn’t looking for polished, perfect people. He’s always worked through people who know that they are sinners and who are amazed that they have been saved.
Paul’s letter to the Romans was addressed to a church long before the rulers of the Roman Empire shifted in favor of the Christian faith. These were believers living in a period when persecution was beginning to rise and when, in the not-too-distant future, Christians would be burned alive and fed to lions. That’s the audience of the epistle. And I’m not saying that things will get this bad again for the church in the West (I sure hope not). But as we move more and more toward a society where Christianity seems to have no place, especially in the public square, the context of these early believers being mocked and mistreated for their faith resonates with us more and more.
Paul spoke both realistically and boldly to these men and women:
For [God’s] sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. [But] in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:36–37)
I can’t reiterate enough the significance of reading these words through the eyes of Christians whose stuff was being stolen simply because of their faith, whose career prospects were diminishing fast simply because of their faith, and for whom imprisonment was a very realistic possibility simply because of their faith.
We need to understand the temptation they must have felt to consume, convert, or condemn the culture of the time.
But Paul wanted them to live with courage instead—with the courage of knowing that they were “more than conquerors,” because they were infinitely and unstoppably loved by the God whom Paul goes on to describe in Romans 11:33–36:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
As children of the Enlightenment and as sinners prone to focus inwardly instead of upwardly, we tend to look for confidence within ourselves. That’s why it’s important to see what Paul is doing here. He is pleading with us to get our eyes off ourselves and on God.
That’s how you get courage.
You look at God.
Taken from Take Heart by Matt Chandler Copyright © 2018. Used by permission of The Good Book Company. www.thegoodbook.com.
Cover image by Jeremy Perkins.
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