The Stuff of Martyrs

by Darrel Cline

Chapter One: The Martyr's Secret

The Tyrannical Body

The pain was excruciating. That made the silence extraordinary. Every breath brought shooting streaks of burning pain. We might think that the body would compensate at a time like this and shift into numbness to block the pain--but the pain was far from being blocked. Instead, it seemed to climb to ever greater heights. It was a lot like thinking of infinity: if I try to do that, my mind runs itself out to a boundary and then suddenly realizes that it has to extend itself further--for infinity has no limits. The pain seemed like that. It moved in jumps and jerks to higher and higher levels of excruciating, swirling, madness. It seemed to grab the core of his body and demand that his voice scream and scream until the pain subsided. There was no relief. Just inhaling and exhaling--that was all he could do--forced his body to move, and every movement just brought more pain.

Why was this happening to him? Why were men so angry that they could not rest until his life was over? And if it was his life they sought, why not just kill him? Why did it have to be torture? Ah, they chose torture because of the others! It was for the others! They had to be intimidated! They had to be convinced not to buck the system. They had to learn that principles were not worth dying for. They had to learn that there were men in positions of power whom they had to obey! They had to understand what would happen to them if they started standing on principle, when that principle blocked the merchants of power in their lust for more.

But, it didn't work. After he died, others took up the message. They, too, were rounded up. They, too, were tortured. Funeral pyres were built and the living were subjected to the flames. For them, at least, the searing pain lasted only until the nerves were destroyed. Others were fastened to posts by chains of iron and subjected to the ripping and tearing of viciously hungry beasts. And others were tied limb by limb to four teams of horses and jerked into pieces.1 Why? All for principle. Interestingly enough, the principle was one of life. They did the contradictory thing of dying for life. How much sense can it make to accept death in order to refuse to deny a principle of life? Especially that kind of death--demonic was the only way to describe the kinds of torture that were dreamed up.

But they achieved victory over the tyranny of the body. They showed that there was something more important than selling out to a whimpering, demanding, tyrannical body.

The phone was ringing. When he answered it, he recognized the voice. Can you come? My wife has left and she says she wants a divorce. When he got there, a few questions began to reveal a horrible pattern of conflict that inevitably led to physical violence. Finally the violence reached such a peak that she fled. She said later that she knew that divorce was not the way to deal with the problem, but, "I had to choose God's will, or my life." She chose her life.


Well, she wasn't made of the stuff martyrs are made of. She was so dominated by fear--the fear of physical pain--that she wouldn't even attempt to pursue a course God could accept and help her with. No, she wasn't a martyr.

His hands trembled. He knew he was on his way again. He had been dry for months, but the old thirst simply would not go away. It was there when he lay down at night. It was in his dreams. It was his first thought in the mornings. He had stood firm for months. His friends had supported him in the really bad times. But, his throat was already on fire from the drink and he was pouring another. He just couldn't stand it anymore. His body was a tyrant, and his soul was a shriveled up has-been. He gave in. Days and days went by in a drunken oblivion.


For sure he was not made of the stuff martyrs were made of. They were not slaves to their appetites. They knew how to stand against their body's appetites. No, he was not a martyr.

He caught the look she gave him. He knew that she would be willing and easy. He also knew that his wife would never know. He had always pampered himself when it came to pleasure. He was overweight. He enjoyed his drink. Exercise was a definite "I don't have time for that kind of nonsense." And, he enjoyed sex. It wasn't his fault he had married a woman who didn't. After all, he had been pure when he married. He had no prior experience and he didn't know she would turn out to be like she was. So, he walked over to where she was sitting...


He certainly was not made of the stuff martyrs are made of. They believed in principle. He believed in pleasure. No, he was not a martyr.

She felt trapped again. Damned. He had told her what he would do if she slipped out again while he was asleep. He was mean--and he always seemed to know when she tried to hide things from him. She had only slipped out for a little while--to go to church, for crying out loud!--and now he was cursing. If she didn't do something quickly he would work himself into a real lather. What else could she do? She lied. This time she was really convincing. And, because he was actually more interested in the football game on TV, this time he let it go. But, she had lied again and she felt really bad that she couldn't stand up for her newly found Savior.


She wasn't made of the stuff martyrs are made of. They would not deny their Lord and let their lips speak guile. They seemed somehow to be able to face the brutal pain and not be faithless. But, she wasn't like that--and she felt that she never would be. Did that mean that God would be put out with her? Did it mean that she would not, after all, be accepted by Him? After all, His Word did say that all cowards would have their place in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone. No, she was not a martyr. In fact, she wasn't even much of a believer.

We see physical pain and pleasure in these illustrations. They reveal the tremendous power that the body often gains over the one living in it. Sometimes it doesn't even have to be real--just the threat of pain, or the promise of pleasure is enough to give the body the power to rule as a tyrant.


Is There Any Hope?

Does the Gospel of Jesus Christ have any real answers to the bondage of the physical lusts that go on periodic rampages in us? Or are we simply doomed to be ravaged and to try afterwards to cover it up with a mask?

The Whimpering Soul

Then there is the problem of the soul.

She had cried so much in the past few months that there were no more tears. Just a crushing heaviness that made even the airy spring days seem leaden. She had always known that she had built an awfully lot into her life with her husband. He had always been so tender when she hurt. He had always been able to get her laughter to surface again no matter what had happened. But, now he was gone forever. She could not forget the dispatcher's impersonal words: "Your husband has been in an auto accident and he was dead on arrival at the hospital." Days and days had passed and nothing seemed to help. Though prayer had never been a major part of her life, she was so angry about her loss now that she wouldn't pray at all unless she could accuse Him of taking all that was important to her.


Because she wasn't made of the stuff martyrs are made of. They seemed to know how to love without being in bondage. When they lost someone dear to them, they seemed to find solace in God. But, not her. She was not a martyr.

He was so angry that he seriously began to plot to kill. He had doted on his son since he was first born. Now, that stinking slime-bag of a troop leader had gotten him hooked on drugs--and all the boy did now was scream at him, accusing him of failure. "But," he kept telling himself, "It's not the boy's fault. It's that guy who has hooked him. If its the last thing I do, I'm going to blow his brains all over the sidewalk!" The pain in his soul was so bad that murder was all he could think about. What once had been a terrific father-son relationship was now shot.

Why does emotional pain drive us this way? It has to do with the stuff martyrs are made of. They do not lash out at those whom they see as responsible for the absence of joy. They take it. And then they give thanks. But he was not a martyr--and someone was going to pay!

There! At least it wouldn't hurt, and soon the terrible agony inside would be over. Just give the pills a little time. She relived the years and years of complete rejection by her mother in the few moments that it took for the pills to take effect. It was such a bad and hopeless situation that she wasn't even sorry now that she was beginning to feel woozy. She knew she was going to die, but she didn't care. Too long, with too much pain in her soul.


She wasn't made of the stuff martyrs are made of. They took it. And they kept going. She wouldn't go on. She'd had it! And now she was dead. No, she was no martyr. She was dead, but she wasn't a martyr.

Is There Any Hope?

Now we have seen both the problems of body-appetites out of control and the difficulties of deep-seated pain in the soul. These, surely, are enough to torpedo most of us. Sink us completely into the mire of total death.

The Arrogant Spirit

But, we have not even yet addressed the most dangerous and powerful problem: the willfulness of the spirit.

Humiliated! The taste of it was actually in his mouth! He had done what he thought was a good job on that account, but his boss had thought so little of his effort that he not only rejected it, he had publicly scorned him. He had made fun of him in front of the entire staff. Well, he didn't have to take that! He had told his boss to go straight to Hell. Now he didn't have a job, but he had salvaged his self-respect! But, somehow, remembering how he had told his boss off didn't take the depression away. There had been a lot of times in his childhood when his father had let him know that he was worthless. He wondered if he would ever amount to anything. And, now, he was out of work again and he could just hear his wife when she got home from work. But, a guy has to stand up for himself doesn't he? Did the martyrs? Did they stand in defiance and rail against their persecutors? Well, they certainly DID stand in defiance, but somehow their defiance was clothed in humility.

How could they do that?

She had been seriously depressed since the wreck. Mommy had always told her what a beautiful girl she was and had always bought her the best in clothes and hair styles. She had been successful in every beauty contest she had entered. But, the surgeon had said that there was nothing that could be done about the damage to her face. How could she face the world? She now considered herself to be worthless without her beauty. And, the sense of worthlessness generated a daily bout with depression. Maybe drugs would take her mind off her losses? Is that how the martyrs handled their scars? Drugs? How was it that they managed to remain firm when they were maimed and scarred?

He was smugly satisfied. The major news magazine had not only printed his article, but he had had numerous letters from its readers who agreed with him. His article had been an attack upon the religious right. In it he had claimed that they were all bigots who had a hidden agenda that they wanted to force on others. And he had apparently hit a raw nerve in the readership of the magazine because the letters were still coming in. The feeling of pride gave him a sense of importance. It was exhilarating! It was almost equivalent to the physical sensation that he got from the mistress he was keeping on the side. But that was not the way of the martyrs. They didn't seem to have to put others in their place when they intensely disagreed with them. In fact, they tended to be low key and moderate in their words. This man was no martyr. Not only would he not die for another, he wouldn't even take any preaching off of another.

She would show him! He treated her like she was just a piece of property. Well, the fellow that she had met at the party the other night was obviously interested in her, and he didn't seem to think women were just objects of male pleasure. Maybe if she let him think she was interested, her husband would sit up and take notice and give her a place in his emotional life. Again, is this the way the martyrs handled the treatment they received at the hands of those who considered them as the scum of the earth?

All of these last illustrations focus upon the need that people have to be significant in someone's eyes. They all show that there is a significant driver within the human breast that says "I must be worthwhile!" And, that compulsion reveals itself in all kinds of ways. It is probably the most powerful of all of our urges, and it is doubtless the most dangerous.

A Dangerous Triunity

In the preceding pages, we have tried to illustrate that men have three different areas of compulsion.2 There is the compelling tyranny of the body and its appetites. This tyranny ultimately focuses on two basic issues: the negative issue of the generation of pain; and the positive issue of the sensation of pleasure. There is the heart-rending whimpering of the soul and its longing for a deep seated sense of security through relational realities. And there is the obnoxious demand of the spirit, which says, "I will be important by my actions! I will determine my course by my wisdom. I will have my way!" It is difficult for a thinking person to discount these areas of powerful compulsion in us.

What Did the Martyrs Know?

The question that we want to raise is this: Does the Gospel of Jesus Christ have anything to say about these categories of driving task masters? If it doesn't, why are so many so interested in calling themselves "Christians"? If it does, what is it? What is it that the martyrs knew that enabled them to deny the body, overcome the soul, and reject the spirit's drive for significance in men's eyes?

To find the answer we must recognize a very fundamental reality of the Gospel. It has its setting and expression firmly entrenched in the pages of the Bible. This is critical because it is the Bible that establishes the categories of human motivation. Therefore, if the Gospel is found in the same book where the categories of human compulsion are found, it must be obvious that Jesus Christ has some kind of answers for those compulsions.

Does the Bible Have Any Answers?

First, is it true that the Bible contains these categories? To answer let me share a few things that happened to me while I was in seminary.

From the World of Missions

One day I was attending a required missions course. The speaker for the day was a guest because the professor was gone on a speaking engagement. The visiting lecturer was a missionary, working on his doctorate, who had agreed to share some of his discoveries with us. In the course of the lecture, he said that Christianity faces three basic philosophies in this world. These basic philosophies were identified as hedonism, materialism, and humanism. When he laid these philosophies out before us, a light came on in my head. I raised my hand and, when he acknowledged it, said, "Sir, do those philosophies not sound to you like the biblical categories of the lust of the flesh (hedonism), the lust of the eyes (materialism), and the pride of life (humanism)?" His answer was, "Now that you mention it, they do--though I had not thought of that before." So, a career missionary doing his doctoral work recognized that the world's opposition to the Truth basically consisted in three opposing philosophies.

From the Bible Itself

In I John 2:16 the Bible states: "...all that is in the world, the compelling desire of the flesh and the compelling desire of the eyes and the arrogance of functional capacity, is not from the Father but is from the world" (personal translation from the Greek text). Here the apostle said pointedly that all that is in the world consists in three basic motivations.

From the Economic World

Within a few days time I went to another class. This one was a class in pastoral skills and functions. Again, the professor had brought in a guest lecturer because he wanted us to hear from a man who had extensive experience in the work-a-day world concerning what he had discovered about peoples' motivations. The issue of the gentleman's lecture focused upon his conclusions. Interestingly this man said that it was his observation over many years that people in the work force were motivated by three things. First, they want physical provisions for their physical well-being. Second, he said, they want a sense of security that comes from getting financially ahead of the game. And, third, he claimed that they wanted to have a sense that they were making a significant contribution in their work. Again the light came on. It seemed to me that the desire to work to provide for physical well-being was not much different from the desire of the flesh. The desire to have security through acquisition did not seem to me to be much different from the desire of the eyes. And, the desire to make a significant contribution was not essentially different from the arrogance of functional capacity.3 If any difference exists it is in degree and not in essence. A hedonist is simply someone who wants physical well-being above all else. A materialist is one who wants possessions above health or status. A humanist is simply someone who wants to be ultimately significant more than he wants anything else.

So a man who was skilled in observing motivation in the work force actually simply reinforced what the Bible already said.

A Biblical Trichotomy

Our next observation was that the Bible teaches that we are defined in terms of body, soul, and spirit. Now, the theologians debate this by using words like dichotomy and trichotomy.4 They often argue that the biblical revelation concerning man is far too complex to be reduced to such a simple triunity.5 But, the Bible can be synthesized and, in some critical places, is very clear.6 It says all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh (which springs from the body), the lust of the eyes (which, as doors to the soul7, actually define the desire of the soul rather than the eyes), and the pride of life (which is ultimately a matter of man's confidence in what he is able to do by the spirit that dwells in his body). These are the categories found in the KJV translation of the passage in I John mentioned earlier.

Because of the dove-tailing of these concepts, I began to wonder what the biblical content of these categories was. To find out, I went back to the old standards in theology and Bible teaching which identified two classic texts8 which deal with these categories. The first of these is Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve were first tempted by one who wanted to run this world. They were tempted to eat (which is a function of the physical flesh and is designed to impart a sense of well-being). They were tempted by the fruit's appeal to the eyes (hence John's category of "the compelling desire of the eyes"). And they were tempted by the promise that they would be "as Elohim". (This is a basic descriptive term for God, which focuses particularly on His identity as the Exerciser of Power.) This is the category of the pride of life or the arrogance of ability because the key characteristic of Elohim in Genesis 1-3 is that He is a Doer.9 The second text is the familiar account in Matthew 4 (also given in Luke 4) concerning the temptation of Jesus Christ. In the three-fold temptation, He was faced with the temptation to turn stones to bread (to satisfy His flesh in its craving for food); to long after the things He saw when He was shown all the glory of the kingdoms of this world in a moment of time (the lust of the eyes); and to cast Himself off of the Temple to compel God to become His servant (the arrogance of man in his drive to control his own life through controlling others).

When the three categories are compared to the two different temptations of man (Adam and Christ) with the understanding that man can be tempted as a body, soul, and spirit, it is not hard to see that the Bible teaches that man only faces three basic issues in this life. These are the issues which we illustrated in the beginning of this study. When one remembers that the author of the biblical book of Hebrews says that Christ was "tempted in all points like as we are" (Hebrews 4:15), it becomes an established fact that the Bible deals comprehensively in these three categories without hesitation. When I think, as a married man, that Christ, because He was not married, could not have faced what I sometimes face, I err because I do not recognize the comprehensive character of the categories. After all, marriage does not change the realities of temptation in the body, soul, and spirit. It simply intensifies some and diminishes others. But, Christ was faced with intense temptation in all three areas.

The Bible is The Book of Answers

My point in saying all of these things is simply this: the very Book where Christianity gets its Gospel is the Book which teaches those areas where our problems will come from. Thus, the Gospel must have an answer for us in our difficulties.

Answers in the Creation Record

Now there is also one further fact that will undergird this perspective. It is the record of God's creation of Adam in the garden: "And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7, KJV). Here the text says that God formed Adam of the dust of the ground. This is a non-literal figure of speech because what God did was actually form his body of the dust of the ground. But, we have the Bible calling Adam's body man. Thus, we are bodies. This creation of Adam's body from earth ties it to earth. It is no accident that, from that point on, our physical identity is sustained by the production of the earth (the fruit of plants and animals which are nourished by plants and animals). In other words, the food chain always, ultimately, ends up with the fruit of the earth, and we, as physical beings, are tied by creation to the earth. This will be seen as a critical observation a bit later in our study of God's covenant promises regarding a land.

Here the text also says that, to empower this physical frame of dust, God breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life. The phrase used here refers to the function of breathing (the nishmat hayyim10), but it is directly tied by Moses to the ability to breathe which is imparted by the spirit of life (the ruach hayyim11) in Genesis 6:17 and 7:15. Then, in Genesis 7:22, in the original language of Genesis, these two phrases are joined together as the spirit of the breath of life.12 The point? Simply that we, when empowered by spirit, can breathe breath and live. Thus, there is in our body a spirit which empowers us to live. This is important because of our penchant for thinking that because we are capable of living, we are capable of controlling our own lives. This is the arrogance of functional capacity.

And finally, the text of Genesis 2:7 says that man became a living soul. This means that when Adam's body of dust was coupled with a spirit of life, he became something more than just an empowered body of dust: he became a living nephesh (soul). This means that he could now both function in God's creation (as an empowered body of dust) and experience the impact of that creation upon himself (as a living soul). This is significant because we are both an initiator (actor, one who functions) and a responder (recipient of the actions of others). With this in mind, let me summarize the issues of all that I have said so far in this chapter with the following chart.

Interrelated Concept Sources

Our Basic Make Up World's Basic Philosophies Appeal of the Work Place Bible Categories
BodyHedonismPhysical HealthLust of Flesh
SoulMaterialismSecurity through AcquisitionLust of Eyes
SpiritHumanismSignificance through LaborPride of Life

Keeping these categories in mind will help us to see that the Bible is indeed the original source on our problems and the solutions which we must find if we would live through our difficulties and survive well. The goal of this book is three-fold: to attempt to clarify the biblical categories so that we understand what they signify; to show that God is intensely interested in us in our needs in all three areas; and to call for a return to confidence in the God of Abraham.

The martyrs knew how they were made--where the dangers of temptation came from. But they also knew their Maker--Whose promise is that He makes a way of escape when temptation comes. Their secret was simply a basic understanding of themselves and the promises of God.

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1 For a multitude of graphic illustrations of what people have often had to put up with in order to be faithful to principle, and to the Person of Jesus Christ, see Fox's Book of Martyrs, edited by William Byron Forbush, D.D.

2 The Scriptures are replete with texts that both declare and illustrate this trilogy of man's compulsion. The most helpful are: the Genesis 3 record of the Fall of Man; the Matthew 4 record of the Temptation of Christ; the categorical statement of 1 John 2:16; and the New Testament book of James which is a treatise on temptation and is divided along the lines of materialism (chapter 2), egotism (chapter 3), and hedonism (chapter 4). In addition, the fact that the Abrahamic Covenant is fundamentally organized around promises of a land, an offspring, and a great name indicates that God is aware that man needs provision in three fundamental areas which He committed to with the man Abram in the form of a covenant.

3 Translating the KJV phrase, "the pride of life", from 1 John 2:16 as the arrogance of functional capacity was done in order to highlight the theological conclusions of the meaning of the phrase after looking into the records of the temptation accounts of Adam and Christ. In both records, the parallelism with 1 John 2:16 focuses upon man's desire to take God's place. In Genesis 3, the temptation is "ye shall be as God". In Matthew 4, the temptation is to cast oneself off the Temple in order to compel God to act contrary to natural law just to fulfill a promise. This would constitute a deliberate challenge to God's Word in the area of integrity and that is a supplanting of God by man. In both places, man can act and is tempted by that to act in his own wisdom in order to be one up on God in His wisdom. Thus, because man has functional capacity, he is tempted to supplant God (arrogance). Thus, the translation the arrogance of functional capacity, which easily conforms to the Greek terms used by John.

4 For an example of the theological debate, see J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.'s A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1, pp. 243-248.

5 J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. Ph.D., A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1, p. 243. The statement is, "The non-material man, a complexity referred to by a variety of functional nouns, is nevertheless one indivisible non-material substantive entity." However, on page 246 he deals with Professor Franz Delitzsch's work on Biblical Psychology and admits that a biblical trichotomy is very possible.

6 The problem of trichotomy is theological rather than biblical. Early heretics often took what the Bible clearly says about the distinctives of man as body, soul, and spirit and made erroneous applications of it for heretical theological argument. If the Scriptures were not clear about the distinctives, they could not have been used to support heresy.

7 The issue of the eyes as doors of the soul is dependent upon what one considers the root issue in the phrase the lust of the eyes. Clearly, eyes don't lust. Man lusts. But he does so with some objective in mind. The desire to possess the glories of the kingdoms is fundamentally materialism and must be understood in that light. Therefore, since materialism is at root a philosophy of temporal security in the face of temporal (and perhaps, eternal) stress, the lust of the eyes is simply a recognition that the soul uses the eyes to determine what the possibilities are for the future, and whether there is any security in those possibilities.

8 The most obvious of the texts are Genesis 3 and Matthew 4, but there are many other related passages (every one which deals with the issues of temptation) which support these two primary ones.

9 The descriptive title "Elohim" was used by Moses in the creation account because of the overwhelming display of power. At the root of Christian theology exists a powerful God. Paul argues in Romans 1 that this, at least, is fundamentally clear in the face of creation. This characteristic of power is displayed by action. When man wants to take action, he is likened unto Elohim. When he succumbs to the temptation to take forbidden action, he is tempted to become as Elohim.

10 The translators attempted to capture this idea by telling us that God breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life. It was clear early on, and was made more clear by the world-wide flood, that man's life depended upon breathing. This resulted in the reality that man lives by breathing. However, the ability to breathe resides in the spirit of life. The apostle James says "without the spirit, the body is dead". The body's breathing function is sustained by the presence of a viable spirit of life.

11 The references to ruach (spirit) throughout Scripture are consistent in their focus upon activity, and the power to effect results.

12 This union of the two terms is not widely noted in the translations. Unfortunate.

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