Suffering For Our Faith In Christ
Faith At The Breaking Point: Following Christ is costly, but rewarding…are you ready?
How would you react if you were threatened by persecution—especially if you knew friends who were martyred because of their faith in Christ? It’s likely none of us will face that kind of persecution…but we might be banned or blocked on social media; we might lose our jobs because we refuse to celebrate the LGBTQ lifestyle; or we might be shunned by coworkers because we refuse to accept our company’s radical diversity policies. I recently spoke with an attorney who’s defending the rights of two women who had worked in a store for 20 years but were fired because they would not wear a pin that affirmed both Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights.
Persecution can take many forms.
We as Americans must rethink our view of how we react to the opposition we receive as a result of our Christian convictions. We might think suffering for Christ must be avoided at all costs because it’s painful, unjust, and un-American. But Jesus taught that opposition for His name was not a curse, but a blessing: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11–12).
Last fall, I gave four messages on the topic of suffering for Christ at the Billy Graham Cove—the series was called Faith At The Breaking Point. I dealt with topics such as Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr, the persecution of churches in the first century, and the future persecution by the Antichrist. One session was titled: Toward a Theology of Persecution.
Growing up as a child in Canada, then becoming an American citizen, this was new territory for me. We have always enjoyed freedom of religion; we could always live out our convictions in the public square. I went to college at a time when I could witness to fellow students who could agree or disagree with me about various issues, and we respected one another’s rights, despite our differences. Those were the days when the word tolerance actually meant tolerance. Today, conservatives are often banned from speaking at our universities; sometimes it seems only the radical leftist enjoys the freedoms we always thought were for all. Tolerance today often means dominance.
There are far-reaching implications, both cultural and legal, for loyalty to our Christian worldview. The organization The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit against the U.S federal government, defending the rights of Christian schools to maintain their Christian convictions regarding gender issues. Imagine if you had a biologically female daughter who was assigned a roommate, born male but now identifying as a female. After all, the government is insisting that transgender students have equal rights along with those who identify with their biologically assigned gender. Dozens of various, but also important, instances come to mind where Christians are expected to bow to legal and cultural pressures.
For the most part, we have not had to suffer for Christ here in the West. It is time for us to learn from the Bible and church history that there’s a cost to following Christ. The question is whether we will be up to the task. Only those believers who look beyond this life to the next will find the strength to be faithful in a nation that is losing its way.
We must be convinced of this: It is possible to lose in this life and win in the next.
Called To Suffer For Christ: When Standing True To Our Faith Brings Persecution
Pastor Lutzer reminds us that often in the history of the church, suffering for Christ was not the exception, but the rule. From the days of the apostles to Christians today, we as believers are called to follow Jesus’ own example of faithful suffering. As America continues to lose its way spiritually, we must be ready to stand for Christ!
Q: You mentioned that you gave a sermon titled, “Toward a Theology of Persecution.” Tell us more.
A: Well, let me just give you the first of nine points I made in the message. We are called to suffer! We all know that Jesus said if the world hated Him, we would also be hated. He went on to say that His followers are not greater than He is.
Paul confirms that suffering is our calling. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). We all like the first part of the verse, namely to believe in Christ, but the rest of the sentence is also a part of our calling: it is given to us to suffer for Christ. Peter makes the same point. Speaking of suffering, he says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). His steps took Him to the cross.
Q: When persecution came in the past, were there Christians who bowed to the pressure and denied what they believed?
A: Yes. In the early church, there was a controversy as to what to do with those who denied the faith under persecution, then wanted to be reinstated in the church when the persecution ended. You can see how this dispute developed. On the one hand, there were those who said in effect, of course we can’t let them back because they have set a bad example for our young people who will think to themselves, “Well, I can deny Christ now, then later return to the church.” On the other hand, there were those who said that even Peter (honored by some as the first pope!) denied Christ under pressure and was restored by Christ.
I don’t think that the controversy was ever fully resolved; both sides held their ground.
Q: Are there examples of people coming to Christ because of the faithfulness of believers who faithfully suffered for their faith, even to the point of death?
A: I believe in heaven there will be plenty of people who came to faith in Christ when seeing Christians suffer well. Just since giving these messages, I’ve met a Chinese Christian with an incredible testimony. When he was 7, his father warned him that persecution was coming, and he was to remain strong in his faith. Later, his father was imprisoned for 10 years, beaten, and nearly starved to death, but he refused to deny Christ. In the end, he led many of his persecutors to the Lord.
Paul expressly says that we should not be frightened by our opponents. “This is a clear sign to them of their destruction but of your salvation, and that from God” (Philippians 1:28). So, persecutors are either hardened by their actions, or their consciences are troubled when they see the steadfastness of believers. There are many stories of persecutors who believed in Christ through the faithful suffering of Christians.
Q: What do you foresee here in America?
A: As the influence of Christianity wanes and is even derided, some Christians with convictions will lose their jobs. They will be marginalized and accused of being hateful or judgmental, and in other ways, they will be vilified. We need to change our thinking and see such persecution as a badge of honor for the sake of Christ. This is hard for me to say, but suffering for Christ is our calling!