Courage in the gospel.
One of my favorite quotes regarding the gospel is from the book One Way Love, in which you’ll find the following statement:
The Gospel alone liberates us to live a life of scandalous generosity, unrestrained sacrifice, uncommon valor, and unbounded courage.1
I like this quote because it clearly dispels what the gospel does upon its arrival in the soul. Much is made about what we do “after the gospel,” so to speak. A lot of time and energy has been spent throughout the centuries deliberating and defining our duty after the good news of Christ’s redemption has manifested in our lives. But the quote above succinctly captures all the ideas we could ever have on the topic.
The gospel’s power isn’t just in rescuing a dying soul from eternal death — it’s in transforming that soul to give honor and glory to God through its life, something that was impossible prior to the intrusion of God’s grace. The gospel frees us to live generously, sacrificially, and courageously. It frees us to live for others and not ourselves; it frees us to love our God and our neighbors well. (Mt 22:34–40) Indeed, I would say that Christ is most keenly seen in a Christian’s compassion for others. (Rom 15:6–7) God’s glorified and the gospel’s magnified every time a Christian seeks to please someone else before himself. But we know that, though, don’t we? That’s Christianity 101 — that’s the Golden Rule you’ve probably heard of since your earliest days in Sunday School. (Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31) But, what does Christian courage look like? What does it mean when we say that the gospel liberates us to live a life of “unbounded courage”?
There are, no doubt, a myriad of images and ideas that immediately come to mind when I say the word “courage.” Most often, though, our thoughts are likely driven to that of warfare. This would be an accurate connotation as the courage it takes to represent a country on foreign soil would be similar to the courage it takes to represent another Kingdom in another world. As a matter of fact, the metaphor of a solider going into battle is employed all throughout Scripture to represent the Christian life. It is one of the most popular depictions of the Christian’s necessity for responsibility, integrity, and honor. But the courage mentioned here isn’t necessarily wartime courage. It’s not courage for the battlefield but courage for belief. It’s the courage to look foolish.
The courage of faith.
In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul begins his letter by stating that those considered fools in the world’s eyes will one day “shame the wise.” (1 Cor 1:27) This is the primary text in which we find God’s unorthodox choice of those with whom to bestow his blessing and his calling. God finds those who are most weak and foolish in the world and says, “You are mine.” These beloved of God are those with whom the gospel has been entrusted. And nothing could be stranger.
You see, it’s not the winsomely wise that get this good news. It’s those who are chiefly aware of their silly, harebrained notions of righteousness in the face of God’s law. It’s not the smug pietists who receive this redemption. It’s those who are frail, feeble, and fractured (2 Cor 12:9–10) — not only in physical fortitude but in spiritual faith. The inference, then, is that it not only takes courage to stand with the gospel but courage to believe in it in the first place. The only prerequisite of the gospel is the admission of your own foolishness, weakness, and deadness. But the courage it takes to believe in the gospel is further bolstered by the courage the gospel produces. The courage to say, “None of these things move me.”
So often, Christians are caught in the grim trap of trying to excuse and qualify their faith to a world who’ll never understand it, apart from the presence of the Spirit. We water-down the truth or turn down the volume on certain topics to make ourselves appear more presentable, acknowledgeable, and acceptable. We even do this in the name of evangelism. We change the timbre of our message in the name of “winning” and “accepting” lost souls, when the reality is we do this for our own aggrandizement. Conversely, the “unbounded courage” which stems from the gospel is the unflinching belief in a God whose words, works, and promises are never moved. (Pss 16:8; 21:7; 55:22; 62:2, 6; 125:1; 1 Cor 15:58) It’s faith in a God who’s faithful, regardless. (2 Tm 2:13) This courage isn’t attained by knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow. That’d be nice, but that’s missing the point. The courage of the gospel is the faith that believes God’s Word, come what may. Faith in God isn’t about knowing what’s going to happen next, it’s about knowing the God who does.
The truth is, there’s nothing you can do that pleases God more than just believing what he says. The greatest virtue in Christianity is simple faith (Mt 18:3) — simply trusting and relying on what God has said and promised to do because he’s a God who can never lie. (Num 23:19; Heb 6:18) Our God is a covenant God who never breaks a promise. Consequently, the courage that develops from the gospel is the courage to say, along with the apostle, “None of these things move me.” (Acts 20:24 KJV) Paul concluded that the only thing that mattered was the rampant proclamation of the gospel, notwithstanding the apprehension or opposition that arises. His own life was of little concern in the face of God’s eternal good news of grace for sinners. This is gospel courage.
The courage to stand.
It’s the courage to say, “If I perish, I perish.” (Est 4:16) Queen Esther’s own story is profoundly encouraging. Knowing the edict the spelled her execution upon unwarranted visitation with the king, Queen Esther grappled with the reality of her people’s destruction or her own demise. Yet it was Mordecai’s gracious reminder of relief and deliverance “from another place” (Est 4:14), from God, that emboldened the queen to confront the king and ultimately free her people. “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” (Est 4:16) This is gospel courage.
It’s the courage to say, “But if not . . .” Remember the scene from Daniel’s prophecy? Daniel’s own Hebrew brethren are faced with certain death. But as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are confronted with compromising their faith or casting themselves into the raging furnace, they declare with boldness, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us” — to perform miracles and supernatural wonders, to save us from out of your midst — “but if not . . .” (Dan 3:17–18) Preceding any martyr we’ve read about in the annals of Christendom, three young men believed enough in what their Lord said that they knew of his goodness, even when the eyes of death stared right back at them. This is gospel courage.
And, surely, there are countless other examples of this type of faith, this type of courage. But Paul’s, Esther’s, and “the Hebrew Three’s” knowledge of God and understanding of the gospel is what drove their courage. It’s what you know about God that gives you courage in death and comfort in life. The courage of the gospel is in knowing and remembering that you’re God’s adopted son and daughter, and regardless what circumstances you endure in this life, he is with you. Knowing that God is there allays a myriad fears, even when his presence is unseen. This is what he’s reminding us of over and over in the gospel. “Take heart; it is I,” Christ says, “do not be afraid.” (Mt 14:27; 17:7; Dt 31:6; Is 41:13; 43:1–2; Jn 16:33) The courage of the gospel gives us the ability to see the hand of God, no matter how dark the day or bleak the condition. The unbounded courage of the gospel gives sinners unrelenting grace and unshakable faith. Even when you can’t see God, he is there and he is on his throne. This is the gospel of unbounded courage.
Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013), 189.