The United States of America is an anomaly in Church History. Most Christians throughout the two thousand year history of the Church have been persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. Even at the time of the writing of the New Testament, we are told of believers that “they were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword” (Hebrews 11:37). Yet in America, Christians have grown accustomed to a peaceful and sometimes favored existence. Recent generations of Christians in America have largely assumed that their culture would recognize their right to religious liberty as codified in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
While I wish that the free exercise of faith would continue to be respected in America, the Bible warns us that such religious liberty will not last. The apostle Paul clearly warned us that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Paul would know, because he suffered imprisonment, countless beatings, at least five lashings with a leather whip, stoning, and the persistent threat of execution, all because Paul refused to stop following Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Dear Christian, do not be deceived by your comfortable life: persecution is coming. God says so. The only question is this: Will you be ready when you must suffer because of your faith?
The apostle Peter, who also suffered greatly for his faith in Christ, urged us: “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:12-13). Notice that Peter tells us “do not be surprised” at persecution as though it were “something strange.” To be honest, I don’t think that virtually any Christian in America truly understands what Peter meant when he wrote those words. Outside of the few American Christians who have suffered real persecution in an overseas missionary context, we just don’t know what it means to be persecuted for our faith. While we should be thankful for the unprecedented religious liberty we have experienced in America, we should not take it for granted or expect that God does not want us to suffer for our faith.
WHAT!? Yes, I said it. It may very well be God’s will that you should suffer for your faith in Christ. Have you ever heard anything like that before? Do you think I am crazy? Part of the problem with American Christianity is that we are simply unfamiliar with our Bibles. If we read our Bibles faithfully, in their entirety, we would know that there are numerous passages of Scripture which plainly tell us that it is likely God’s will that we should suffer as Christians. For instance, Peter also said: “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 3:19). Paul marveled that “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). Paul was amazed that God not only granted us saving faith, but also that the Lord gives us the privilege of suffering for him! How many times have you heard a sermon on the blessing of suffering?
Persecution is not a question of if, but a question of when. In a nation that is growing increasingly hostile to Christian faith and practice, especially when it comes to the biblical definition of marriage and sexuality, the reality of serious persecution for those who hold to the gospel of Jesus Christ is inevitable. We shouldn’t welcome persecution, but we also shouldn’t be surprised by it. “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).