Last week at a community college in Oregon, a gunman walks into the school and kills nine people while wounding many others. According to the survivors of this horrific tragedy, the gunman demanded that his victims stand up and declare their religion. If you were a Christian then you were shot in the head immediately.
Now many of us have viewed religious persecution as something that takes place across the ocean and far away from our daily lives here in America. However, the targeting of Christians is beginning to pop up in our own backyard, and the rapid rate at which our culture is degenerating has increased the likelihood that most of us (and especially our children) will live and serve our Lord during a time of increasing hostility towards our faith.
The days of living out your Christianity on cruise control are fading into the past. And so a time has come for us to stand up and settle it now…
Will we compromise our faith in the face of opposition and persecution? And what good can come out of fearlessly suffering for our Christian faith?
In writing to the church in Philippi, we see the radical fearlessness of the apostle Paul and read his words on the remarkable way in which our Lord prevents victims of persecution from ever suffering for their faith in vain.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. (Philippians 1:27-28)
Paul had been imprisoned for proclaiming his allegiance to Christ but joyfully declared that his imprisonment has actually “served to advance the gospel” (v. 1:12). Although suffering in chains and not knowing his fate, the apostle Paul doesn’t sit in confinement looking for a way out but instead sees his circumstances as an opportunity to proclaim the gospel of Christ to the “whole imperial guard” and “especially those of Caesar’s household” (v. 1:13; 4:22).
For Paul, he is hopeful and in fact excited at the fact that he can glorify the name of Christ whether he is killed for his faith in prison or whether he keeps on living out his faith in freedom (v. 1:20). As someone who now belongs to Christ, this is the meaning and purpose of his life, and he rejoices at the reality that his circumstances here on earth have no power to prevent him from fulfilling this purpose. That is why he can sincerely say, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v. 1:21). Paul had settled it. His faith was not going to falter in the face of persecution because he knew that faith in Christ was the reason and purpose of his very existence.
Therefore, to encourage the Philippians in the suffering that they too might have to endure and now encouraging us today in the suffering that may be down the road or approaching our doorsteps, the apostle Paul exhorts us to “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ… standing firm in one Spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents” (v. 1:27-28).
So how do we live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ?
Basically, we are to extraordinarily demonstrate that our supreme allegiance is to Christ’s Kingdom as we carry out our ordinary responsibilities as citizens of the United States. No matter what it may cost us, we must see Christ as worthy of that cost and live like it.
You live as a citizen worthy of the gospel by living in such a way here in this country that demonstrates your heart and treasure rests somewhere else. Our king is not the President of the United States, and our treasure is not American exceptionalism.
When you finally begin to embrace your God-given purpose, it changes your entire perspective on life. Your reason for living is to show the world that your true King and His Kingdom is your greatest treasure and has your undivided allegiance. This can be demonstrated persistently in life or powerfully in death, but the man who’s allegiance belongs to Christ can rejoice at the reality that his circumstances here on earth have no power to prevent him from fulfilling his purpose.
The apostle refers to this faithful fearlessness in the face of persecution as “a clear sign… from God” (v. 1:28). For those who belong to Christ, persecution is never a defeat at the hands of your enemy but rather a demonstration of your faithfulness from the hand of God. The truth of the matter is that we can’t show fearlessness without something or someone to fear in the first place. In His sovereignty, our Lord has a way of using hostile opposition combined with His gift of unrelenting faith to produce the “clear sign” of faithful fearlessness.
This fearlessness benefits us in the way that it grants us assurance of our own salvation. When we find ourselves standing fearlessly in the face of opposition then we can look at ourselves and realize with great joy that our faith is in fact for real. This fearlessness also provides another benefit of bringing your enemies face to face with a decision toward eternal deliverance or eternal destruction. Through your fearlessness, they will either see the “clear sign” that faith in Christ is powerful and real, or they’ll continue to resist and turn away from it marking themselves for eternal destruction. Either way, the Christian never suffers in vain, and Christ is always the ultimate victor.
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. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24)
Therefore, in honor of our Lord and Savior, may we settle where we stand in order that we may in fact stand with faithful fearlessness in the face of hostility, opposition and potential persecution. The man who belongs to the Lord must fearlessly believe that to live is Christ and to die is truly gain, and that no matter his circumstances, persecution has no power to prevent him from fulfilling his God-given and Christ-commissioned purpose in this life.