Many Christians in the United States are finding it difficult to live out their faith. In a recent Barna study, 60 percent of American evangelicals reported experiencing opposition from their surrounding culture. As societal values and morality have shifted, these Christians have felt caught in the transition. They see traditional Christian values mocked in the public square and those who express them facing rejection and financial loss. In light of this cultural pressure, some Christians have chosen a path of silence. Others have questioned their traditional beliefs. A few have spoken up and faced the consequences.
What is the answer to this problem? How should we as the church in America react to the increasing animosity toward our faith?
Jesus answered this question in His introduction to the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, . . .” (Matt. 5:11-12). According to Jesus, our response should be joy. How can this be?
In the face of hostility or even discrimination for the sake of Jesus, we can rejoice because:
1) WE BELONG TO CHRIST
Throughout the book of Acts, the early church endured painful opposition as they spread the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection. At one point, the apostles were brought before the ruling council and then beaten and charged to no longer teach in the name of Jesus. When they were released, still bloody and bruised from the scourging, they went out “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). For these men, it was an honor to be dishonored because it meant they were identified with Jesus.
Right now, Christians around the world are facing this same kind of abuse at an unprecedented rate. For some believers, it looks like imprisonment, torture, and even death. For others, it looks like discrimination, alienation, and online shaming. In both cases, Christ promises that the opposition we face for His sake will only increase.
As we cling to Christ amid these increasing cultural pressures to deny His name, our anthem should be the same as the early church in Acts: gratitude for the honor of being identified with the true King—whatever dishonor the world may ascribe.
2) CHRIST IS OUR COMFORT
The apostle Paul was no stranger to suffering. He was beaten, stoned, left for dead, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and driven from more than one town. Yet his response to this suffering was to rejoice in the comfort he received from God. He wrote to the Corinthians, “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Cor. 1:5).
One of our struggles in the Western church is that we want God’s comfort without the discomfort of suffering for His name. But look at the early church and so many of our brothers and sisters around the world. They have experienced the priceless joy of losing everything for Christ. They have experienced the supernatural hope found only in a prison cell. They have experienced the inexplicable comfort of Christ because, in the throes of deep affliction, they have clung to Him and found He is indeed their all in all.
3) GOD IS OUR STRENGTH
The Corinthian church wanted nothing to do with Paul’s kind of suffering. They saw it as a sign of weakness and a reason to question Paul’s apostleship. The Corinthians preferred their “super-apostles” who demonstrated their strength through displays of power and success (2 Cor. 11:5). Paul, in contrast, boasted of his weakness and reveled in his sufferings. He did so because he had learned, through suffering, not to rely on himself but on God, who promised him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). That’s why Paul could “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).
Paul’s perspective of strength and weakness is affirmed by the experience of the global church. In spite of tremendous opposition, the church is growing at unprecedented rates. Whole villages are turning from Islam to the saving power of Christ, and churches are multiplying so quickly that leaders cannot keep up. This growth is not happening in spite of the hostility but because of it. As our brothers and sisters entrust themselves to “God, who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9), the Lord grants them the strength to endure, hope, trust, and rejoice. Such a response testifies to the power and Truth of the Gospel so that the spiritually blind around the world can see the goodness of God, the hope of glory found in Christ alone.
4) WE HAVE A HOPE THAT DOES NOT DISAPPOINT
In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “[W]e also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Within a decade of this letter, Roman Emperor Nero was burning Christians in his garden to light his parties and executing both the apostles Peter and Paul. And yet Nero’s persecution did not wipe out the church. The body of Christ grew to the point that, within three centuries, even the Roman Emperor was professing faith in Christ.
This is the upside-down nature of the Gospel as it applies to hateful opposition. Our hope of eternal life in the presence of the glory of God is rooted in a Savior who suffered and died on a cross for our sins: It is through His death that we have life. In the same way, our own suffering does not decrease hope, but rather sets our eyes on its true source. Hope does not come from ease of life, but through the faithful lovingkindness of God displayed in the sacrifice of His own Son, who was forsaken so that we never shall be.
REJOICING EVEN IN SUFFERING
Any increase in discrimination for believers in America should not cause panic but a hopeful expectation. We can rejoice in being counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. We can rejoice knowing that He will be exalted in our perseverance and glorified by our dependence upon Him. Perhaps one day God will use our own suffering to further His plan in the world. But whatever His purposes, we can rejoice in the Truth that He is working all things for our good.