When you think of Christianity, what are the key characteristics that come to mind? Hopefully that list has at least a few words that would make Jesus nod his head in approval. Perhaps you think of the Fruit of the Spirit that Paul describes in Galatians 5 with words like: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Yes and Amen! Christianity must be full of this type of fruit. But what about courage? Are Christians called by Scripture to be courageous? And if so, what does Christian courage look like in our modern Western context?
Before we examine our cultural context, let’s first consider the consistent call of the Scriptures towards this virtue. In Joshua chapter 1 we encounter Moses’ command to his successor Joshua of the great challenge that lie before them as they entered the Promised Land. Moses commanded Joshua with these words:
Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.Joshua 1:6–7 (ESV)
The language of calling the people of God to courage shows up all throughout the Scriptures (Josh. 10:25, 1 Chron. 22:13, 2 Chron. 32:7, Ps. 27:14, etc.). The idea was quite simple. God’s people were called to stand out as a light to the nations and a city on a hill. Their convictions of who God was, who they were, and what God had called them to stand for and fight for would regularly put them in circumstances and situations where it would require courageous faith to stick to their convictions and not cower in the face of enemies hostile to God.
Later in the book of Daniel we come across Daniel’s three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three men were threatened with being burned alive if they would not bow down and worship Nebuchadnezzar. To this they replied:
Daniel 3:16–18 (ESV)
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.
Reform requires courage. That’s how Noah built an ark, how David slew Goliath, how Elijah defeated the false prophets, how Josiah reformed the Kingdom, and how Nehemiah rebuilt the wall. The kind of courage the people of God must maintain is not superficial or reckless. Rather, Christian courage is a firm conviction that the Word of God is true and worthy of defense against all enemies and must shape how we participate in build society.
One of my fears is that we have so watered down the message of the gospel that our faith requires almost no courage. Over the last few decades of Western Christianity we have allowed the message of the Bible to become simply a set of values and moral virtues that “Christians” can maintain privately so long as they do not disturb the status quo. The Great Reformers would be appalled at such a notion. The term the great Reformers coined for the Church was the ‘Church Militant.’ The idea was not that we were a violent people, far from it. Rather, the idea was that we were a people on the offensive. We proclaim the message of the gospel, and God powerfully works through our testimony to further the agenda of the Kingdom of God all while toppling Satanic strongholds in the process. Remember how Jesus said to Peter:
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.Matthew 16:18 (ESV)
That passage teaches that Christians would storm the gates of hell and that as they do so, those gates would fall. Remember, gates don’t move! We move! The Church moves! The Church cannot sit idly by while a secular society drifts further away into abomination. Rather, the Church has the obligation to step in and proclaims truth, love boldly, and sacrifice greatly. All while unshakably and undeniably fixing ourselves on the truth of God’s Word. Listen to how the disciples prayed when they were fearful in the days after Jesus’s resurrection.
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”Acts 4:29–30 (ESV)
The secular society around is not shy to evangelize their brand and message. We find ourselves continuously bombarded by messages normalizing lifestyles and life choices opposed to God and His Word. But a person filled by the Holy Spirit ought to not be able to rest comfortably with that taking place around them. There ought to be a Holy discontent with the tarnishing of God’s name, and a Holy desire to see His name made famous in every corner of society, no matter the cost to your personal comfort or gain.
I don’t know what courage looks like for you in this season. But I do pray that your regular prayer life would include prayers for boldness of faith, like the Apostles. It is far too easy to sit back and relax and forget the great mission that God has given His Church. It is far too easy to forget that you are filled by the same Holy Spirit as those early disciples and that God has called you an Ambassador for Christ. It is far too easy to find yourself burdened by the cares of this world, rather than the greatness of the name of Jesus. Don’t ever settle for spiritual stagnation. Pray for courage. And look for every opportunity to storm those gates of hell.