Victor was a Christian of a good family at Marseilles, in France; he spent a great part of the night in visiting the afflicted, and confirming the weak; which pious work he could not, consistently with his own safety, perform in the daytime; and his fortune he spent in relieving the distresses of poor Christians. He was at length, however, seized by the emperor Maximian's decree, who ordered him to be bound, and dragged through the streets. During the execution of this order, he was treated with all manner of cruelties and indignities by the enraged populace. Remaining still inflexible, his courage was deemed obstinacy. Being by order stretched upon the rack, he turned his eyes toward heaven, and prayed to God to endue him with patience, after which he underwent the tortures with most admirable fortitude. After the executioners were tired with inflicting torments on him, he was conveyed to a dungeon. In his confinement, he converted his jailers, named Alexander, Felician, and Longinus. This affair coming to the ears of the emperor, he ordered them immediately to be put to death, and the jailers were accordingly beheaded. Victor was then again put to the rack, unmercifully beaten with batoons, and again sent to prison. Being a third time examined concerning his religion, he persevered in his principles; a small altar was then brought, and he was commanded to offer incense upon it immediately. Fired with indignation at the request, he boldly stepped forward, and with his foot overthrew both altar and idol. This so enraged the emperor Maximian, who was present, that he ordered the foot with which he had kicked the altar to be immediately cut off; and Victor was thrown into a mill, and crushed to pieces with the stones, A.D. 303.
This story comes from Foxe's Book of Martyrs. It's one of hundreds of historical accounts of the martyrdom of Christians. This story seems to be all we need to answer the question “What sense is there in a Christian dying for his faith?” Look at how we see the power of God, strengthening this man to endure torture. Look at how three jailers were converted. Look at how even after all of this, God was so real to this man that he simply could not deny Him. Is there any more I need to say than this?
Yet we are left to wonder; what if John Foxe had never discovered this story, and this story had never been told? What if all of this happened, and the only witnesses were a handful of guards, and the emperor himself? Would it have been worth it then? After all, the emperor wasn't converted. Yet we might say that for the sake of those three souls, Alexander, Felician and Longinus, it was worth it.
Under the surface of this question, there is a far more personally stirring question we need to ask ourselves. When is it ever okay to compromise one's faith? Those martyrs who died were not laying down their lives for those who might happen to read of their story in Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Of course, they may have had it in their minds that their steadfastness might convert some of their persecutors; I imagine this was the hope of each one of them. But when first asked, for example, to offer incense to the emperor, they did not think, “Well, let's see... who's watching?” to see if they could just placate the emperor and “get away with it”. I mean, God is always watching, and all that we do is done to please God first and not men, no matter who those men may be. But to think our faith should only be on display when others are there to see it is probably a sign that such faith is not genuine at all. Jesus said:
But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:17-18)
I wanted to apply this principle to the “extreme” of dying for Christ. I mean, if you're going to die, it better be worth it, right? But this principle applies to every aspect of our faith. If you're faced with execution if you refuse to deny Christ, don't count how many people are watching to get a gauge on whether it's “worth it” or not. It is the same when you resist any other temptation; it's not okay to do certain things “so long as the wife won't find out”, or to slack off at work so long as the boss can't catch you.
Whether our martyrdom would convert souls or not; that's up to God. Most of those martyrs surely had no idea that John Foxe would write their stories for the ages to come. But it's the same in all that we do – we never know when something we do in secret will be discovered, and become part of the salvation story of someone we perhaps don't even know.
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Revelation 12:11)