In the Greek New Testament, the word for “witness” is also the root word for “martyr.” When Jesus tells His disciples, “You shall be my witnesses…,” He is also saying, “You will lay down your lives for My sake.”
This does not mean that we must seek martyrdom to become a “witness” for Christ. But it requires that we count the cost of discipleship. We must see ourselves as soldiers for Christ. When a new recruit takes his oath of loyalty, he gives his superiors the right to send him anywhere, even into battles that require great risk to his life, from which he may not return.
To become a “witness” for Christ means that we serve a life bigger than this earthly life. The circumstances of our lives are short and uncertain. There are other things better and eternal, centered on Christ. A true “witness,” like Jesus, has compassion upon people and a world that wander like sheep without a shepherd. Whether in life or death, true witnesses trust Jesus to provide everything they need, to go wherever He says to go.
Jesus warns His “witnesses” that He may assign them to take the gospel as “sheep to wolves.” Many will gladly accept the Good News, but others will hate the “witness,” claim that he is destroying society and seek to defame him or her.
Like Jesus, witnesses may also have to stand before the authorities in trial for their faith. But their suffering will further the gospel, and the Holy Spirit will give them the words to say at the right time.
We are to become Christ’s witnesses with the perspective of Christ’s own suffering and of His Second Coming. We are to know that whatever suffering we face will bring glory to God, a great reward in heaven and ultimate judgment for those who persecute us. We are to know that even if we lose our lives, human power over us ends at death, but God’s power is eternal.
Grace is costly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us. The gift is free, but it costs our lives. Beware of “cheap grace,” he warns, “the grace that we [not God] bestow on ourselves…forgiveness without repentance…baptism without discipline, communion without confession.”
“Costly grace,” he goes on, “costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew what he was talking about. God called him as a witness to serve Him in Nazi Germany—a place unfriendly to the gospel. He became a leader of the Confessing Church when other German churches were giving in to Hitler. His friends wanted to save him by bringing him to America, but after a few months, Bonhoeffer knew he must return to the place God called him.
Bonhoeffer indeed paid with his life, but he became the ultimate winner. Days after his death, Hitler went down to defeat—and suicide. Bonhoeffer’s witness continues throughout the world in his writings and his example of commitment to Jesus Christ.
This month, as we celebrate Christ’s costly sacrifice and His triumphant resurrection, may each of us also count the cost of discipleship and commit ourselves to effective witness however and wherever Christ calls us.