Today was RD Day Away, a day when the Deans’ Staff gets off campus and relaxes together. We went to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley in the morning and early afternoon, Malibu Beach for the late afternoon and sunset, and a local fish restaurant called Froggy’s for dinner. It was a refreshing day (especially during this time of the semester), which is what it’s meant to be. The people I serve alongside work very hard. I wish everyone knew how hard they work. But I suppose that’s somewhat of an earthly wish, because the Lord knows, and His rewards will be more than sufficient. I will be happy to watch them be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
There are at least three things from today that I’d like to write about tonight, but I think I’ll choose one instead of bullet-pointing all three. Depth over breadth, at least this time.
At the Reagan Library there was displayed one of the first two hundred copies of the Declaration of Independence. These copies were called the “Dunlap Broadsides.” I read just a small part of the declaration itself, and then my eyes wandered down to the signatures. Fifty-six men signed this document, beginning with John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress. As I looked at the names and tried to engage my mind in imagination so as to gain some profit and inspiration from history, I had to wonder: “What did it mean to sign the Declaration of Independence?”
Regardless of your view of the Revolutionary War and its biblical implications, signing the Declaration of Independence meant signing your life away. It meant declaring your unhesitating and unhindered allegiance to a cause that you valued above your own life. It meant that your life was no longer your own. It now belonged to the cause. Come hell or high water, your name was indelibly marked on that life-taking parchment. John Hancock may as well have signed his name in blood.
It’s not that all or even most of the signers actually died in the revolutionary cause or that they ended up suffering more than others who were not in positions high enough to demand a signature. History is full of circumstantial caricatures because we love a good story and are not content with the simple truth. Nevertheless, even those who work hard at exposing urban legends have to conclude:
The signers of the Declaration of Independence did take a huge risk in daring to put their names on a document that repudiated their government, and they had every reason to believe at the time that they might well be hanged for having done so. That was a courageous act we should indeed remember and honor (Barbara and David P. Mikkelson, “Urban Legends Reference Pages,” 1995-2006).
Again, this is not about a biblical view of war and pacifism or a theological evaluation of the Declaration of Independence. This is about learning lessons from those who have had the courage to stand for a cause and to value that cause above their own well-being. This is about learning to sign our lives away.
I don’t think these men took their signatures lightly. I think they knew exactly what they were doing. They knew that an army was coiled on the other side of the Atlantic, they knew about redcoats and muskets and pillaging and traitors and gallows, and they knew the price of insurrection. In a very real sense, they died when they signed their names. They died before they died. And they chose to die.
This is a piercing illustration of the call of discipleship. Discipleship is a call to die. It is not a call to live or a call to follow or even a call to suffer. It is a call to die. And when you answer that call, you cross the point of no return. You step over the line in the sand. You forsake everything and you embrace death because you believe so fiercely and so joyfully in something greater than your life.
Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). Esther said, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).
If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ and a soldier following His orders, you have already died. You have already decided that your life is no longer your own, that your interests are not only subservient but nonexistent, and that your personal ambitions are meaningless. Life is no longer about your comforts or your desires or your preferences or your methods or your insights or your dreams. Your life is not yours anymore. Remember, you’re dead. Therefore, you should not be surprised when you are called to die twenty different times a day in order to fulfill His cause and follow His calling. Death shouldn’t hurt or bother someone who’s already dead. I don’t think the signers of the Declaration of Independence would’ve been surprised if they had been captured by the British and hung together on fifty-six gallows along the streets of Boston.
In the next hour you will face many moment-by-moment decisions, and what you choose to think or feel or say or do in each of those moments will reflect whether you are still living in you or whether Christ is living in you. I cannot help but think that if we truly believed that we have died with Christ and have been raised up with Christ, we wouldn’t flinch in the face of sacrifice or wallow in the swamp of self-pity or be impressed with our own battle-weariness.
You already signed your life away. You already died. Now live like it.