What It Means To Be A Christian #1

On the first Sunday of November we recognized and participated in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  It would seem that this past year and a half has brought more awareness of the plight of the persecuted brethren, than at any time in recent history. 
With the rise of ISIS, Boko Haram and many other Islamic groups bent on destroying Christianity, not only in the middle east but around the world, it would seem that “the faith once delivered to the saints” is almost universally under fire.  In America where law, government, and culture are becoming increasingly hostile, it would appear the message communicated in the above video is being asked of western saints, with increasing intensity.  Interestingly, we can lament this turn of events, or celebrate the glory of God in the faith of the persecuted brethren.  We can also learn from and long for the manifestation of Christ’s life, we see in our brethrens lives, as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  
Is the experience of the persecuted church the normative biblical experience to be expected of all Christians?  Lets dig into this question a bit more.

John 15:13-16 (NKJV) Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.  You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.
“What it means to be a Christian” begins with the blessed friendship we enjoy with Christ.  This friendship is ours, not by our choosing, but His.  This friendship has not come because we merited His special favor, but because of His unfathomable and all sufficient love.  This love comes not through our actions, but by His actions to lay down His life for His friends. As the Holy Spirit makes His love known to our yearning hearts, we respond with repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ.  As we begin to obey His commands, being empowered by the Holy Spirit, our lives begin to bear fruit.  It is this fruit that brings Jesus life and message to bear in the conscience of those around us (II Corinthians 4:1-3).  As Jesus reveals earlier in John 15, the fruit we bear comes from our abiding with Him, where when submissive to the Spirit of God we are literally transformed.  
It is in this transformation, where the Light of the world comes to live with us and in us, which brings a very unlikable consequence; the world, which loves darkness rather than light, for its deeds being evil, will hate us. This outcome is exactly what the LORD Jesus foretold.
John 15:18-21 (NKJV)  “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.  
It matters not if it be friend or foe, family or neighbor, if they are not in Christ, our love for Him, as seen in our obedience our change of affections and Christlike behavior—will bring their wrath and hatred upon us eventually, unless they themselves come to Christ (Matthew 10:34-35; John 16:33). 
I Peter 4:2-5 reveals how they think it strange that we no longer love what they love, pursue what they pursue and encounter anxiety and fear over what they do.  They, whomever they may be, will hate us and that does not mean love less or seek to avoid, it means they will seek to exterminate and extinguish the Light that is in us.  One may ask why?  Quite simply our lives, no matter how vocal we are, cause those “not in Christ” discomfort.  This is because the Spirit of Christ, who is the Light of the world is manifested through our lives. His presence in us and through us exposes their deeds as evil, and men would rather keep their self-righteousness, wickedness and sin in the dark (John 3:19-21). 
2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NKJV) But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:  For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,  unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 
As we draw closer and closer to the end of the age, this passage becomes more indicative of the widespread nature of persecution.  The above behaviors are certainly darkness, that often masquerade as light and with increasing speed are simply accepted by a world gone mad in sin.  In reading further we can see the natural and wicked progression toward full blown persecution.
2 Timothy 3:10-13 (NKJV) But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance,  persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra–what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me.  Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.  

The last line bears out the consequence of the first five verses, and verse twelve lays the foundation for the expectation of any Christian who attempts to live for Jesus… “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”.  This, of course, answers the question of the hour from the video “Liena’s Story”… “This is what it means to be a Christian in Syria”, “Or is this what it means to be a Christian?”  
Since being a Christian means to suffer persecution, it is important we understand what persecution is, from a biblical position.  Persecution is a movement to quiet the truth with intimidation.  Therefore, if your godly life illuminates the base and selfish pursuits of those around you, they will attempt to intimidate you into being silent.  Persecution is a movement to extinguish the Light.  Therefore, if your godly promotion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is exposing their unfruitful works of darkness, they will try to intimidate you into covering your light.  To cover a flame, is to extinguish the flame, for if covered the flame giving light, has no oxygen to burn brightly.  As you refuse to cover up the Light, they will try to blow your light out, by whatever means necessary.  This is persecution. 
The video you just watched reveals something wonderful that takes place in us, when we are persecuted.  it also reveals someone the word of God refers to as “Wonderful”.  
It is essential to understand that the narrator is the man who first assaulted Suta.  He is also the man that rescues him from the pit. The narrator’s plea to pray for those who persecute has in a remarkable admission.  He relays that when a persecutor is persecuting a true believer it may be the only way they get to see the love of God.  That certainly has a way of making us think a bit differently.  It is quite true Jesus commanded us to not resist the evil of persecution against us, to give them the other cheek after slapped, to go beyond what is demanded from evil men willingly, to not only let them have your coat, but your clothing underneath your coat as well (Matthew 5:38-42).  It is also true Jesus commanded we love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us and pray for those who use and abuse us spitefully.  Now we can begin to see why this is the case.  In those times when we respond as He did, they get to literally see Jesus through us.  If we would plum the new Testament we would see this directive throughout (check out I Peter 2:20-24).
The circumstances of the video bring to mind an often overlooked passage of scripture about the wonderful action which takes place in the persecuted believer.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11 (NKJV) But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.  We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed–  always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  

In the underlined section we can clearly see what the narrator was attempting to communicate.  In a darkened world, with demonic religion is spreading like an infectious disease, with atheism running rampant in government, and immorality clouding the minds of countless unbelievers, it is not miracles or signs and wonders that will turn the lost toward God.  in these days it is the power of the resurrection life of Jesus Himself, as seen in weakened and battered human frames, who love like Jesus and lay down their lives for their Friend.  My dear friends, it is in these circumstances that the lost get to encounter someone we know as “Wonderful”.  This “Wonderful” one is Jesus Christ the Lord (Isaiah 9:6)

This is the paradoxical nature of persecution on Christ’s behalf.  The Bible tells us in Psalm 116:15 “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints”, yet because He loves all men made in His image and desires their redemption, He allows our physical discomfort and even destruction, that they may have an opportunity to encounter the love of the cross.  It would appear at first glance a very undesirable life, but the persecution also benefits us even beyond it being a tool in our being sanctified in the Christ life (Romans 5:3-5; I Peter 1:6-7, 4:12-13; James 1:2-4).

When examining Psalm 23 we understand that it is His manifest Presence in us, known closer than our own breath, that brings peace and a release from fear.  This is amplified when we read Paul’s prayer for himself in Philippians 3:10 where he speaks his greatest desire… “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to His death, if by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead”.  We can see that it is the fellowship of suffering similarl to our Master, that brings the blessedness of knowing Him with an intimacy that is seldom experienced apart from persecution.
This is the fullness of the blessing of God in being redeemed, Emmanuel God with us, literally with us in the midst of the most impossible situations, where our Peace (which is Jesus Himself), is understood by those persecuting us.  Interestingly, as we heard Liena’s story, their Muslim friends and neighbors, who do not follow the brutality of the Muslim fundamentalists, ask the question in the midst of all the violence and suffering—“Where is God?”  The answer is He is with us.  Why do these Muslims ask Christians this question?  They ask because the Christians are not panicking.  These poor lost Muslim souls are wanting to know their Christain friends secret strength, the power by which they live and have peace.  Amazing!!!  
Hebrews 13:1-3 (NKJV) Let brotherly love continue.  Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.  Remember the prisoners as if chained with them–those who are mistreated–since you yourselves are in the body also.  
This is why we are called to remember the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in chains, which are beyond their ability to handle—for in their overcoming, by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimonies, they show us that to live is Christ and to die is gain.  They serve as our models for life, for in order to live in persecution, one must be committed to denying themselves even before the heat is turned up.  

It is for this reason that  I Peter 5:8-11 calls us to sobriety and vigilance in regard to Satan persecutive activities. Satan is going to come after us all, for he knows his time is short.  We must resist the urge to be silent, to hide in a hole keeping our light hidden.  We must resist the fear that moves us to walk away from pain or even death, in order to live another day.  In the following writings we will be exploring our response to the rising fear of persecution, but until that time prayerfully consider What it means to be a Christian.  It is true that pain is part of the plan, but His presence with us is the promise that makes it more than bearable, it makes it  a blessing.

About Michael J Erdel

Mike is a pastor with The Assembly of God Fellowship. He is the lead pastor at Encounter Church in Fostoria Ohio. His desire is to encourage the Church of Jesus Christ, and declare God's hope through His Son Jesus, to a world which is long on excuses and short on hope. Mike has experienced the truth that when we kneel before Christ, surrendering to Him as Savior and LORD, being led and empowered by His Spirit. To Jesus Christ be all glory and honor.
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