Many American Christians seem to always be looking for their next hill to die on. In many ways, we feel that what defines us most is our sense of embattlement. We almost relish in the idea that the odds are stacked against us.
And being willing to die on a hill isn’t a bad thing. In fact, the earliest generation of the Church did it all the time.
Throughout the first few centuries of its existence, the Church was constantly, and often brutally, persecuted. Early Christians who refused to deny their faith were beaten, tortured, and killed. Some were even fed to hungry lions in the Roman Colosseum as a form of morbid entertainment for thousands of people.
For many Christians around the world, persecution is still their reality today.
But for the early Church, something interesting happened in the third century. Their faith went from being persecuted to being the official religion of the Empire.
That seems like it would be a unilaterally good thing. But the early generations of the Church had grown to admire the bravery of martyrdom so much that they almost didn’t know what to do with their newfound security. Always being willing to suffer was their way of becoming more like Jesus.
So in the absence of an external threat that would inflict suffering, they began engineering ways to experience suffering of a different kind. This is how monastic traditions were born. Groups of Christians began to deprive themselves of food, sleep, comfort, and marriage relationships. They intentionally made their lives harder in order to grow like Jesus. Their martyrdom changed from being externally applied to being experienced within their own hearts.
This mentality continues to pervade the Church even today.
Again, that isn’t always bad. The bible teaches us that we need to die to ourselves, crucify our flesh, and take up our cross.
But there’s also a danger. Sometimes, we end up dying on hills that Jesus never asked us to. We engineer suffering, or at least perceived suffering, in the name of Jesus. But Jesus isn’t always in those places.
While our faith deeply informs how we understand suffering, and we know that we will sometimes be misunderstood, disliked, and even persecuted for our faith in Jesus, it’s never healthy to tend toward a martyr complex.
Sometimes, American evangelicalism seems to be in a codependent relationship with its own sense of embattlement. And so if there is no monster to slay (or be slayed by), we will create one. We will ramp up rhetoric about a world that is coming for us, to persecute us, to steal our children, to ruin our American-Christian values.
In the midst of that, we cry persecution.
But the truth of the matter is that our non-Christian neighbors don’t hate us for our faith. They dislike us because we have failed to love them well. And we have failed to love them well because we were too busy dying on hills that Jesus never asked us to die on.
That isn’t to say that we don’t have legitimate battles to fight. And it can certainly be difficult to discern which hills we’re actually called to die on.
So here are 3 signs that you might be dying on a hill that Jesus never asked you to.
1. You aren’t ever able to be critical of your own tribe.
In the age of cancel culture, loyalty and conformity to your base is often more highly valued than truth and virtue. While many conservative Christians decry this kind of moral relativism, they are nonetheless just as likely to be guilty of it.
Now, followers of Jesus are called to have unity with other believers. We’re called to love one another. Because of the Holy Spirit within us, we have an existential and eternal connection with one another.
But none of that is to suggest that we don’t have serious problems that we need to address among ourselves.
And yet there are many within evangelicalism who seem downright allergic to the idea that the American church has ever fallen short when it comes to issues of abuse of power, racial discrimination, the mistreatment of women, or conspiracy theories and misinformation. Anyone in the community of faith who brings these issues to bear is immediately met with suspicion. They are called social Marxists and woke preachers who are devoid of the gospel.
But let’s make one thing clear. If you are dying on the hills of denying racial disparity, the suppression of women, or misguided conspiracy theories, you are dying on a hill that Jesus most certainly never asked you to.
Often, our willingness to die on these hills has less to do with our theological conviction and more to do with our fear. Fear that we’ve been wrong. Fear that if we have been wrong, we aren’t sure what to do about it. Fear of losing our power or influence if we “change teams.”
And because of that fear, we do whatever theological gymnastics are required to present our stance as the “biblical” view.If you are dying on the hills of denying racial disparity, the suppression of women, or misguided conspiracy theories, you are dying on a hill that Jesus most certainly never asked you to. Click To Tweet
2. You can’t possibly conceive of why someone would disagree with you.
While much has recently been made of the so-called sin of empathy, an inability to fathom why someone would think differently from you does not constitute moral virtue. In fact, it’s a fairly strong indicator of low emotional intelligence.
If you find yourself unable to understand why anyone would be so foolish (or so evil) to hold a certain view on an important issue, you may be in a position where you’re dying on a hill that Jesus never asked you to. Seeking to understand and empathize with another person’s perspective will help you to discern whether that’s the case.
When you can see the world through someone else’s eyes and understand the circumstances and emotions that led them to their position, it may lead you to soften your approach. In other cases, it may lead you to change your position entirely.
That won’t always be the case. As much as we can feel for the pains of another person, our morality is still anchored in the truths of Scripture.
But when we villainize other people, we run the risk of treating them far more harshly than Jesus would. What’s more is that we shut down conversations and make redemptive cooperation less likely. Jesus would never ask us to do that.When we villainize other people, we run the risk of treating them far more harshly than Jesus would. Click To Tweet
3. There are other sincere Christians whom you have sworn as enemies.
As I said above, Christians are called to love one another. So if you hold a particular position or hold it in such a way that causes you to treat another believer or subset of believers as your sworn enemy, chances are that you are dying on a hill that you weren’t meant to.
When this is the case, some will argue that if another person truly were a follower of Jesus, they would agree with you on this particular point. I’ve seen Christians question the legitimacy of other people’s faith just so that they can lambast them with impunity more times than I can count.
But this “no true Scotsman” fallacy betrays the fact that we don’t have the right to adjudicate someone else’s salvation.
And this isn’t to say that you can never hold a view that causes any other believer to think of you as their sworn enemy –– only that you shouldn’t view them that way.
Sometimes, your faithfulness to Jesus will cause others to despise you. That’s a major theme all throughout the New Testament. But what I’ve learned is that, unfortunately, those people who despise you are just as likely to be other believers as they are unbelievers.
However, while they may despise you, you can never be willing to refuse them an olive branch. As Paul says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Guard your heart to ensure that you are doing everything that depends on you, but realize that it’s not always possible.
At the same time, the Christian response is to never give up hope that things could change. If you do, then you’re dying on a hill that Jesus never asked you to.Sometimes, your faithfulness to Jesus will cause others to despise you. Unfortunately, those people who despise you are just as likely to be other believers as they are unbelievers. Click To Tweet
Be careful with the rhetoric you perpetuate.
Unlike many of the early Christians, it often doesn’t actually cost us much to pick a hill to die on. They’re more like hills to retire on. Perhaps that is why we’re so quick to do it.
What we often don’t realize is that while it might not cost us very much, our stubbornness may end up being incredibly costly to others.
I recently wrote an article about a woman who has been denied a kidney transplant after refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Doctors will not perform the surgery, because the mortality rate of unvaccinated transplant patients who contract COVID-19 is between 20 and 30 percent. The reason the woman is refusing the vaccine is because she’s a Christian and believes it would violate her religious convictions.
This dear woman is quite literally dying on a hill that Jesus didn’t ask her to. And I don’t blame her or want to shame her for it. But I do want to highlight that because so many Christians have been unwilling to move from their hill of vaccine misinformation, she is the one who is dying on it. And she’s dying on it because she has been led astray by others within the Christian community.
My point is this. Life is challenging enough without needing to manufacture a sense of embattlement. As Jesus said, in this world we will have troubles. But that doesn’t mean that literally everything in the world is up against us. When we choose to believe that it is, it’s toxic for our souls, and it’s detrimental to the lives of those around us.
MORE RESOURCES TO CHECK OUT
If you enjoyed this article, these books might be useful resources to you.
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- Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst by Ed Stetzer
- Until Unity by Francis Chan