The Apostle Paul declared, "“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Let us use our imaginations as we consider this example:
You were born into a world at war – and you were born on the wrong side. Without being aware of it, you were drafted into the service of the enemy of God and were used to promote and advance his agenda.
Then something amazing happened – something beyond the comprehension of all but One. The King of creation stepped onto the field of battle and with one great exclamation provided the means of escape… and you took it! If you are in Christ you transferred your allegiance to the King of kings. One thing didn’t happen, however. You didn’t leave the war – in fact, you’ve become more a part of it than ever before.
For the enemy counts you a deserter and a traitor – you have changed sides and are marked. You stand as a testimony to the greatness of the King of kings, and all who see you will know that you no longer follow the patterns of this world but have been reborn and are now the servant of Jesus. But you are on a battlefield and are behind enemy lines. You are surrounded by those who still stand in opposition to your King – and they don’t even know it.
The promise of persecution has a reason:
What did you do to bring on persecution? Not much… just two things:
1. Your Relationship to Jesus
Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).
This is the first reason for persecution – you belong to Jesus. Your relationship to Him is of such a significant reality that you no longer even think like the rest of the world. Consider the changes in your attitudes, your manners, your loves and hates, your relationships and all that makes you a human being. All of these have changed.
Again, Jesus prays, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:14).
The transfer is done, the allegiance has changed, the truth has been revealed, the true King has deposed the usurper in your heart and you belong to Jesus.
2. Your Work for Jesus
Consider the response of the Sanhedrin: “They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Acts 5:40b).
The Sanhedrin wanted to put the apostles to death, but only the sage advice of a man named Gamaliel prevented that. Yet, the men determined to stop the work of the apostles and had them flogged. In fact, you can read the history of the church and see down through the ages the response of the world to the work of those who are in Christ.
It is said that D. L. Moody, while he was traveling across Canada – preaching the word of God – was distressed. He had enjoyed favor and blessing at every stop, with no hindrance from anyone. Without any persecution, Moody was troubled and fearful that he had stepped out of God’s will. Instantly he stopped on the side of the road and knelt down to pray. At that moment a man happened to pass by. With a curse on his lips, the man spat on D. L. Moody as the preacher knelt in prayer. Moody jumped to his feet, hands lifted to the heavens, rejoicing that he was still on the right path with God.
The promise of persecution requires a response:
So, what do you do? What is the response of a born-again believer when it comes to the persecution of the world?
1. Shine Your Light
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
This declaration of Jesus comes right on the heels of His warning that we will be persecuted (see verses 11-12).What is the response from those who are persecuted – don’t go into hiding, shine all the more!
2. Set the Example
Peter declares, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). And again, “…keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:16).
Jesus set the example for us. He walked in the steps of suffering and persecution so that we could know the salvation that He freely offers. He showed us God and suffered for it. We are called to be the example to the world – the light of His glory to a watching planet that needs to see the truth of Christ and know that nothing can dim the Light.
The promise of persecution has a reward:
Never forget that God has a purpose for everything – even persecution. There are a multitude of promises that God provides for those who are willing to suffer for His name.
1. A Path to Maturity
James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
There is no road to spiritual maturity and vitality that does not go through times of trial and persecution. You must understand this – for then you will joyfully embrace whatever might come for you know that God will accomplish His grand purpose through it.
2. Confidence on the Day of Christ
Hebrews says, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36).
Jesus says, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
One of the evidentiary signs that we belong to the Lord Jesus Christ is that we have stood our ground when the world has come against us. Those who are willing to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus are those who truly belong to Him. If we acknowledge Jesus before men, we know that He will acknowledge us before the Father – that is His promise.
I want to leave you with one final thought: If you are able to get along with the systems of this world that are opposed to Christ – you might still belong to the enemy of God. Remember that Jesus said, “If you belong to the world, it will love you as its own” (John 15:19). Or in Luke 6:26 Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”
Paul was right: if you desire –just desire—to live a godly life, you will be persecuted! There is no escaping this reality. Every disciple of Jesus Christ must understand that this is a promised persecution.
(This article originally aired on Alive In Christ Radio Live.)