The year was 1561. Many churches in the Netherlands were being persecuted by the government because of their Protestant faith. The government, controlled by the Roman Catholic Church, was seeking to rid the land of these protestors; these so-called “reformers”.
A group of thinkers, led by a man named Guido de Brès, formulated a document that defended these reformed Christians, outlining not only that they were good and law-abiding citizens, but that they were observing the faith in a way that they believed was consistent with the Scriptures. The hope was that this document would cause the persecution and oppression to cease, but it did just the opposite.
As I read the Belgic Confession this morning, I was struck by the attitude of the authors. They were clear with the government, and King Philip II, that they would obey the government in all matters, provided that the government was acting lawfully. They would not, however, deny the truths that were expressed in the document, even if it meant choosing death. Many of them were indeed given the choice, including the author, and he chose what he had promised.
It made me consider the question, what would I die for? Or, perhaps a better question, and one that we have been considering in the book of Ecclesiastes–what would I give up my life for?
Each of us are given a finite amount of time on this earth. Our life has a beginning and an eventual end, and in the middle, we are given this resource called “life”. We have to decide what to do with it. Many people think of it in terms of an investment: what can I invest my life in that will bring the biggest returns for me, my family, and my dependents? Others think of it in terms of spending: that you “get out what you put in”. Life is a transaction, and the more you spend, the more you receive.
The Bible, however, uses that word, giving. Giving implies no return; indeed, it implies no expectation of return. There are two reasons we might give our lives like that. One is if we count our life as having so little value that we simply don’t believe that it is worth much. (That’s not the Biblical picture, though. Life has tremendous value!) The other is, if we have already received so much, that our life, regardless of value, pales in comparison to the reward we have already received.
That’s what Jesus is getting at in Luke 17:33 when he says, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” The transaction has already happened. We’ve already received everything of value there is to receive. When we are willing to give up even our life, that’s when we discover how much real life we already have.
I think the authors of the confession understood that truth. It’s the reason they didn’t defect even when the government was persecuting them, and it was the reason they were willing to give up their life when they were forced to choose: death, or deny?
They chose death, because they had already received what really mattered, and it was a life that could never be taken away.