Dear Christians, I am writing to encourage you in the face of increasing pressure to conform to the world. It may feel like we are wading into unprecedented times for those who want to faithfully live the way God has laid out but I endeavour to encourage you that although the pressure and persecution is different it is not new.
A great cloud of witnesses
One of the wonderful things about living in the 21st century is that we have thousands of years of testimonies from faithful Christians to look back upon – and thousands of years of Biblical history to also be encouraged by. In Hebrews Chapter 12 verse 1, Paul says –
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
All the believers (first Jews, then Christians) who have gone before us have witnessed to God’s faithfulness and goodness and serve as examples to us to keep our eyes on what really matters – what Jesus did for us in dying on the cross to save us from sin and death and give us eternal life and reconciliation with God.
The moral compass of western society seems to be changing at an alarmingly rapid pace – gone are the days when being a Christian (or at least going to church) was what was held up as the right way to live and celebrated.
Increasingly these days, simply holding Christian beliefs and expressing them in a gentle and peaceful way is painted as being bigoted and hateful. The idea of tolerance has gone from “We can peacefully co-exist with different opinions on things” to “You have to agree that everything I do is right or you’re committing a hate crime against me.”
I have been much discouraged by this change in societal values which seems to be a huge paradigm shift – a massive and alarming departure from God’s values that have been followed for hundreds or thousands of years but that is not actually the case, this current surge of pressure to conform is nothing new but is the same thing that has been happening in one form or another since ages past.
If Charles Spurgeon lived today
Charles Spurgeon who lived from 1834 to 1892 was a Baptist minister – called the Prince of Preachers and although times were significantly different, one of my favourite quotes from him could just have easily been written yesterday as when it was written – the 1800s!
“This present age is so flippant that if a man loves the Saviour he is styled a fanatic, and if he hates the powers of evil he is named a bigot.”
I find this quote so encouraging as it shows that we are not alone in facing scorn or persecution for holding on to Biblical world-views and that we are not facing a new and unimaginable trial but just the same one that Christians across the ages have faced.
Same trouble, different reason
Throughout history – from Bible times to current times, faithful believers have always been persecuted for wanting to follow God and live according to his ways.
Perpetua was a Roman woman and young mother who converted to Christianity and in AD 203 was sent to prison and sentenced to death – she could have saved her life by burning incense in an act of worship to the Roman gods but she gave up her life instead to remain faithful to God.
William Tyndale (1494-1536) was a priest who could have gone a long way in the church hierarchy with power, position, and respect but instead he ended up on King Henry VIII’s most wanted list in 1535 because he refused to stop teaching about the good news of justification through faith.
In addition, he translated the Bible into English for the common people – something which meant he spent his life on the wrong side of the law, the Catholic Church, and the Church of England.
In 1536 he was betrayed, tried for heresy, and condemned to burn at the stake - he was given the chance before he died to recant and deny the gospel which would have saved his life but he refused because he valued God above all else – even his own life.
John Bunyan was an English man (1628-1688) who was thrown into prison for not conforming to the state’s approved church – at the time the Church of England. He could have been released from prison if he had agreed to stop preaching the gospel and encouraging others to hold fast to the truth of it.
Instead, he spent 12 years in prison – away from his family because he held God’s truth as first importance in his life even though being apart from his family was “as the pulling of flesh from my bones.”
Times are changing, and times are becoming increasingly difficult for Christian believers to be able to live according to God’s good design and share his good news but I am so grateful that this is not some new and unprecedented threat or a surprising thing that is only happening to this current generation of Christians.
No, faithful Christian believers have always been persecuted – sometimes by the state, by the church, by society, in different ways at different times but always for the same reason – Christians risk social exclusion, jail, even death for wanting to live according to the good ways God has given us and lovingly share that good news with others in a faithful and uncompromising manner.
Take heart Christians and remember that what God has done for us and what God offers us is of far greater importance and wonderfulness than anything the world could possibly offer and that he is with us every step of the way.
Sunny is the reason the Son of God died. In this love, she is securely seat-belted in the rollercoaster of her Christian life, which is, by the way, one heck of a wild ride.