In light of recent events such as the Oregon school shooting and rampant persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa at the hands of Islamic extremists, believers worldwide are prompted to ask themselves, "With a gun to my head, would I deny Jesus Christ?"
In a recent podcast shared on his Desiring God blog, theologian John Piper shared his thoughts on the issue - and his insights may come as a surprise to some.
"When I personally - John Piper - have worried that I may not have strength or power to suffer or be tortured or die for Christ, I have been helped by pondering 1 Peter 4:14. 'If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.' Now in that text - even though it is only talking about an insult - the principle holds," the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary wrote.
He continued, "In extraordinary situations the reason you can be blessed in the moment of being assaulted, insulted, criticized, or threatened with death, the reason you can be blessed is because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. And I take that to mean that God shows up in a way, in that moment, which he doesn't elsewhere. Which means my sense of ability to endure it at this moment, sitting peacefully here at my table, may not be all that I will have when I get there to that moment."
Piper referred to the story of Christian Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom, who feared she would not have the strength to defend her faith when confronted by the Nazis. After being made aware of his daughter's concerns, Ten Boom's father told her, "When I send you on the train to go somewhere, do I give you the ticket a month ahead of time, or do I give you the ticket as you get on the train?"
Piper explained: "The point [Ten Boom] was making is God will give us what we need when the train of suffering and death arrives in the station. And that has been very helpful to me, because I think that is what 1 Peter 4:14 is saying."
The theologian contended that while we can certainly rely on the Holy Spirit to give us strength in our time of need, there are several things Christians should do to prepare for such an event.
First, Piper encourages Christians to "cultivate a regular attentiveness to the world of heaven." He references 2nd Corinthians 4:18, which states, "We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
"We should cultivate a mindset that is heavenward," he charges.
Second, he urges believers to "ponder often that there are far worse things than death." He references Matthew 10:28, which states, "Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Fear him who can cast soul and body into hell."
Third, Piper offers a reminder that Christ has already paid the ultimate price with his death: 2nd Corinthians 5:14, "The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised."
Fourth, the theologian says to remember that suffering and death for Christ are not surprising in this world - in fact, they are normal and expected. He references 1st Peter 4:12, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is coming upon you to test you as though something strange were happening to you."
Fifth, Piper says believers should regularly meditate on the truths of Philippians 1:21-23 and pray it into reality every day: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ.".
The sixth suggestion Piper offers is to "keep clear and firm in your mind and in your heart that the Lord will take care of your children if you die." He references Philippians 4:19, which states, "My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
Piper's final suggestion is to remember that ultimately, none of us in ourselves will die for Jesus: "This is a gift of grace if we are able to trust him and love him in that moment," he contends. "So pray. That is the main thing here. Pray that you will not be like Peter who boldly said: I will never deny you (Matthew 26:35), and then he fails three times (Matthew 26:75). We need to pray: O God, don't let me boast as though I could do this. Help me to depend utterly on you."