“And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. ” Acts 8:1-3
For those of us in the U.S, imagining persecution as part of life is very difficult. Yet for anyone living in countries where the Gospel is rejected, there are real dangers associated with calling Jesus your Lord.
Try to visualize this right now. Maybe it’s a Wednesday night around 7:00 pm. You’ve got home from work an hour ago, and now you’re nice and comfortable. As the TV plays in the background, you surf the internet and get ready to eat dinner with your family. Suddenly, you hear a knock. In fact, it’s more like a bang at the door. When you open the door, local government officials are harshly demanding to know whether you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior: “Are you a Christian?”
You think about your Lord. You remember everything He’s done for you. Then you think of your family, and about what could happen to them if you say, “Yes!”
The answer you are about to give will change your circumstances and those of your family (whether momentarily or for years to come). While staring into their emotionless, hard faces, you announce, “Yes, I am a Christian.” Glancing at your family, you desperately hope (and pray) that Jesus will protect them (just as He protected John, Peter and even Stephen). Unceremoniously, the officials haul you out of your home and into a cold, isolated prison cell.
In many areas of the world, this happens all the time. As Solomon declares in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” Just like the ancient followers of Christ suffered for their beliefs, we may also suffer for our faith, even in these modern times.
For any particular country or geographic area, the level of unbelief (and sin) present is usually a good indication of the prevalence of persecution. In countries with more unbelief, where God is not allowed in the public sphere, we can expect to see more suffering. For example, if a country forsakes and renounces the existence of God altogether (a common trait of Communist rule), then persecution (even to the point of death) will be a certain reality.
However, wherever the presence of God is truly allowed to flourish, persecution is generally minimal. We see less persecution (of anyone) in nations where lives are truly submitted to Jesus Christ, and martyrdom is an extreme rarity in these nations. A good example of this has been the United States of America.
Yet, to the extent that sin and unbelief (perhaps in the form of atheism, debauchery, corruption, or satanic worship) grows, an atmosphere that is more conducive to persecution of the Christian faith can materialize. If you’ve never read the book of Jude, I would highly recommend it as an illustration of this.
“Dearly loved friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the truth of the Good News. God gave this unchanging truth once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some godless people have wormed their way in among you, saying that God’s forgiveness allows us to live immoral lives. The fate of such people was determined long ago, for they have turned against our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Jude 1:3-4
Over time, countries like China could grow (through Godly revival) to the level of Christian faith that has typically been associated with the U.S. At the same time, if we are not vigilant, the spiritual landscape in the U.S. could start to resemble that of modern-day China (infiltrated with atheism). Right now, many people in China are not only hungry for Christ, but also willing to defy secular authorities and give up their lives for Christ. Such passion and zeal for Jesus has the potential to usher in a spiritual movement unlike anything China has ever seen before. More and more frequently, God is even raising up missionaries from around the world to come to the U.S. to do what we’ve been doing for others for so long – preach the true Gospel and model real Christian living (as the Bible teaches).
I feel like some readers need to hear this particular message today. If you were born into a family that attends church, yet you have not accepted Jesus Christ as your own Lord and Savior, you are not a Christian (according to Biblical truth). Your family does not make you a Christian. If you attend church on Christmas Day and Easter because it’s the proper thing to do and socially acceptable, yet you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord, you are not a Christian. Attending church does not grant you a free ticket into heaven. If you were born in the U.S. (which often promotes itself as a Christian nation), you yourself are not automatically a Christian. A nation cannot make Jesus your personal Lord and Savior.
You must make this choice on your own. If you’re going to profess that you are a Christian (which is a very powerful statement), then you must lean on Jesus Christ to live out His Word.
“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Romans 10:9-10
Is Jesus worth the persecution? Is He worth being uncomfortable? Is He worth suffering physical and emotional pain? Many of us may never face the type of persecution that others face, but we certainly must still die to ourselves every day. For Jesus to truly be our Lord, we will face discomfort and sometimes extreme pain. If you want to truly grow and mature as a Christian, you are going to have to die. If you want to follow Jesus wherever He is leading you, you are going to have to die. If you want Jesus Christ to fully be a part of every area of your life here in earth, you are going to have to die.
“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
Sometimes we must die to our dreams, hopes, relationships, or habits. By doing so, we become conformed to Christ so that we may truly live – meaning we can experience the absolute best with the absolute best. This comes with a price, but praise God that He gives us the grace to endure and to mature.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:1-5
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