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Women World Leaders' Podcast

Feb 5, 2024

We live in a culture that is very protective of personal rights.  But as believers, how can we find the balance between standing up for ourselves and following Jesus’ example of laying down His life? Join host Julie Harwick as she explores the topic Laying Down and Giving Up.


Welcome to Women World Leaders podcast. I’m your host, Julie Harwick. Thank you for joining me today as we celebrate God’s grace in our lives, in this ministry and around the world.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” If you are an American, these words should be familiar to you as the second paragraph of our nation’s Declaration of Independence. No previous government had ever enumerated such rights and the fact that the United States of America did, set the stage for a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

I am thankful for the rights our Constitution guarantees, although many of them seem to be under attack lately.  However, I think it has created in Americans in particular, a heightened focus on protecting our rights that doesn’t always conform to scripture.  Our speech is peppered with phrases like, “I know my rights,  what gives you the right?  I have every right to…” People devote their lives to fighting for animal rights, women’s rights, gay rights…the list goes on.  Our culture places a very high value on defending our rights.

From a purely secular perspective, that seems like a good thing. But recently, God has been challenging my perspective about my rights and the lengths to which I’ll go to defend them.


I had the privilege of teaching about the Persecuted Church at last month’s Leadership Connect and as I was researching, I watched a video produced on behalf of the underground church in Iran that really convicted me. A missionary who was part of the underground church in Iran was describing how he and the members of his church often discuss what they will do if or when the radical Islamists discover them and break into their hidden place of worship.  A young woman who had been part of a radical Muslim faction herself, pointed out what she had already given up for her faith. “I have given up my rights.  I have given up my position. I have given up everything for Jesus,” she said. These persecuted Christians are prepared to carry out the command of Romans 12:1 which says, “Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” In spite of beatings, prison, assault and murder, these people are willing to lay down their rights, rather than deny their Savior.


The Church in America has had it so good for so long, that it’s hard for us to identify with believers like this woman. We don’t like to think, much less talk, about suffering and being willing to lay down our rights.  For many of us the concept of suffering equates to putting up with a miserable job situation, marital difficulties or experiencing financial problems.  These are the very type of problems that many spiritual leaders have focused on as issues we can overcome, if only we learn the spiritual principles that lead to success and happiness.  After all, we’re the King’s kids and He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, so why wouldn’t He want us to prosper, enjoy good health and the best of everything this world has to offer? That type of prosperity doctrine  has encouraged adherents  to focus on all the wrong things…in a nutshell,  their own selfish, fleshly desires – a far cry from being a living sacrifice.

I heard a teaching on Romans 12:1 years ago that caused me to consider for the first time that the problem with being a living sacrifice is that you have the option of crawling off the altar at any time.  Throughout the Old Testament, the animal sacrifices required by God were always slaughtered before they were placed on the altar.  But there is one instance of a living sacrifice in the Old Testament.   In the story of Abraham sacrificing his only son, Issac, we usually focus on the aspect of God testing Abraham’s faith. That’s the point, after all,  even in the book of Hebrews, Abraham is listed as an example of faith we’re meant to emulate because he was willing to obey God even if it cost him the most precious thing God had ever given him. But have you ever thought about this story from Issac’s perspective? He was probably excited to get to go with his father on such an important mission at 13-years-old. But scripture tells us that he noticed the lack of an animal to sacrifice and even asked his father about it. Abraham simply explained that God Himself would provide the sacrifice and evidently that was good enough for Issac. The boy carried the wood for the sacrifice himself while Abraham handled the torch and a knife.  At what point did Issac begin to grasp that he was to be the sacrifice? Genesis 22 tells us that Abraham built an altar and placed the wood on it. Then he bound his son Issac and laid him on top of the wood.  I’m guessing this is when Issac came face to face with what would seem to be a terrifying realization.  But there is no mention of Issac struggling to break free or questioning Abraham.  At 13, he may not have had the strength to resist a grown man, but it’s hard to imagine a 13-year-old boy being unable to outrun a 100-year-old man.  From the biblical account though, it appears that Issac was fully compliant. How?  How could anyone just lay there on an altar looking up at the knife that was about to end his life?  There can be only one answer.  He trusted his father. If you’re not familiar with this story, you’ll be relieved to know that God stopped Abraham before the knife came down and told him he had passed the test of obedience.  Out of nowhere a ram was suddenly caught in a nearby thicket and God instructed Abraham to release Issac and sacrifice the ram He had provided.

In this instance, God only required Abraham and Issac’s willingness to provide a living sacrifice, but there are times when He doesn’t provide any alternatives.  The New Testament is full of stories of the sacrifices made by the original followers of Jesus.  Many were stoned, sawed in two and killed by the sword according to Hebrews 11.

Ironically, the man responsible for many of those deaths would be called to lay down his life and write the words of Romans 12:1 encouraging others to do the same.  Originally known as Saul, this man had a life that would have seemed enviable by any standard of his day.  As a Roman citizen and a respected Pharisee, he had wealth, status and a very bright future. He was known throughout the region for leading the most devout Jews to put an end to the heretical followers of Jesus. Scripture tells us that he held the cloaks of those who eagerly sought to please him by carrying out his orders to stone the Christ followers.  No need for him to dirty his hands or exert himself – such activity was beneath him. But a very personal encounter with Jesus Himself on the road to Damascus set his life on an entirely different course. With a new God-given name and a new heart wholly dedicated to the One he had so vigorously persecuted, the Apostle Paul did more to advance the church of Jesus Christ than anyone else, but at great personal cost.  In Philippians 3 he reminds his readers of his impressive pedigree as a Hebrew of Hebrews – one who faultlessly kept the law. In verse seven he says, “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of knowing Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.”

In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul details some of the ways he was willing to offer himself as a living sacrifice, saying, “Five times I received from the Jews 40 lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea.  I have been constantly on the move.  I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea and in danger from false believers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”  This is quite a contrast with the life he had known as Saul and explains perfectly how he could say in Philippians 2 that his life was being poured out like a drink offering.

While the Apostle Paul is an incredible example of laying down rights and offering everything as a living sacrifice, there could be no greater example than Jesus Himself. It’s laid out for us in my favorite passage in all of scripture, Philippians Chapter 2, written by none other than the Apostle Paul.  It’ says, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  When He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Think of that!  He was God and yet He didn’t think equality with God was something to cling to. He willingly set aside His divine rights and privileges in exchange for the infinitely inferior mind and body of a human being. And it would’ve been more understandable if He had chosen to inhabit the body of a strong young man of wealth and power, but instead He came to this world as a helpless infant, born to the poorest of parents.   I love this passage so much because it really encapsulates what He sacrificed for us.  Not just in coming to earth and limiting Himself to a human form, but in taking upon Himself the sins of the world when He deserved no punishment at all!

When I consider what Jesus was willing to do for my sake and the examples set by Paul, other apostles and even modern- day members of the Body of Christ, I am so convicted of my unwillingness to freely lay down my rights.  When I feel that they’re being violated, even in the smallest of ways, my defenses go up and I’m ready for a fight. There may be instances when that’s an appropriate response, but I think in many cases, God is bringing me to an Abraham and Issac moment.  But rather than climbing up on that altar, I’m running from it as far and as fast as possible.


I suspect I’m not the only one who may struggle with laying down my rights. No doubt it’s one of the reasons Jesus warned that the gate He wants us to pass through is narrow and very few find it. But we do not struggle alone.  2 Corinthians 12 tells us that God’s power is perfected in our weakness.  His grace is sufficient in any area of weakness. Undoubtedly that truth is what the young Iranian woman clings to when she imagines what the consequences of following Jesus may be. Like Issac, she knows her Father can be trusted, no matter what.


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