We can count on resistance and enmity as we stand for biblical truth:
When we are repeatedly told about something, or warned about something, especially from those in the know and with authority, then we had better stand up and take notice. When the Bible tells us that we can expect stiff resistance and enmity as we seek to represent Christ to a lost and needy world, we need to take those warnings seriously.
Jesus of course spoke of this often. In John 16:33 for example we find these words of his: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Or as he said in John 15:19–20: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but 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 keep my word, they will also keep yours.”
Peter too spoke about this. In 1 Peter 4:12–14 we read: “Beloved, 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, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
Obviously Paul also warned about this. As we find in 2 Timothy 3:12, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Or as he mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16:9, “For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.”
Pastor Jack Hibbs said this about that last passage: “Naive is the Christian who discounts their adversaries while they are working to further His kingdom. We should expect adversaries and the trouble they cause whenever a door for ministry opens. According to this passage, those laboring for the gospel are not exempt from assaults of the ungodly.”
Indeed, given these and so many other passages telling us the same thing, it should never come as a surprise to believers if they find themselves hated, opposed, rejected and ostracised as they seek to do the work of the Kingdom. Yet incredibly, some believers today – at least in the West – still do not get it.
The truth is, they have lived so comfortably in the world, and have done so little to impact it for Christ and the Kingdom, that they are quite mystified by this talk about opposition and hatred and adversaries. They have no enemies because they have never said or done anything to produce some enemies.
The world loves its own, and when believers live just like those in the world, then there will be no enmity, division or conflict. Everyone will just happily get along. But as soon as you start to live a radical and sold-out life for Christ, you will quickly discover opponents and resistance. It goes with the territory of being a believer.
But the trouble is, when we do not have lots of hardcore persecution of and defiance to the faith, we can be lulled into a false sense of security. Until the past few decades, most Christians in America and the West lived this way. They were surrounded mostly by others who at least nominally held to Christianity.
They could not see how precarious things really were. The United States in the 50s and 60s might have seemed to be more or less Christian, but it was anything but. And one radical Christian who knew all about this much earlier on than most other Christians was Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984).
He knew everything was not right in America and the West, and he sought to give a warning when most believers were asleep at the wheel. In one of the first books that he wrote, The God Who Is There (IVP, 1968), he was sounding the alarm on such matters. Early on in the book he wrote this:
In the distant past it took so long for cultural concepts to spread that by the time they had reached other areas they had sometimes already changed at their place of origin. But today the world is small, and it is very possible to have a monolithic culture spreading rapidly and influencing great sections of mankind. No artificial barriers, such as the Iron Curtain, can keep out the flow of these ideas. As the world has shrunk, and as it has largely become post-Christian, both sides of the Iron Curtain have followed the same methodology and the same basic monolithic thought-form—namely, the lack of absolutes and antithesis, leading to pragmatic relativism.
In our modern forms of specialized education there is a tendency to lose the whole in the parts, and in this sense we can say that our generation produces few truly educated people. True education means thinking by associating across the various disciplines, and not just being highly qualified in one field, as a technician might be. I suppose no discipline has tended to think more in fragmented fashion than the orthodox or evangelical theology of today.
Those standing in the stream of historic Christianity have been especially slow to understand the relationships between various areas of thought. When the apostle warned us to ‘keep ourselves unspotted from the world,’ he was not talking of some abstraction. If the Christian is to apply this injunction to himself he must understand what confronts him antagonistically in his own moment of history. Otherwise he simply becomes a useless museum piece and not a living warrior for Jesus Christ.
The orthodox Christian has paid a very heavy price, both in the defense and communication of the gospel, for his failure to think and act as an educated person understanding and at war with the uniformity of our modern culture. (pp. 18-19)
Many believers back then would have been left scratching their heads upon reading those words. ‘Antagonism? Being a warrior? What is he going on about?’ They had no idea that underneath the veneer of religion and acceptability, the US and the West were quickly becoming rotting corpses that were in desperate need of renewal and rebirth.
Of course there were a few other prophetic voices back then also trying to awaken the sleeping and lethargic church. Some other great souls sought to speak into the deadened spiritual climate of the day, and move the moribund church into action. One such figure was A. W. Tozer (1897-1963). As he put it in one essay:
Men think of the world not as a battleground, but as a playground. We are not here to fight; we are here to frolic. We are not in a foreign land; we are at home. We are not getting ready to live, but we are already living, and the best we can do is rid ourselves of our inhibitions and our frustrations and live this life to the full. This, we believe, is a fair summary of the religious philosophy of modern man, openly professed by millions and tacitly held by many more millions who live out that philosophy without having given it verbal expression.
Let me finish this off with a quick story – one I was reminded of just last night. Back when I was a fairly new Christian, perhaps in 1973, I and another young guy (also saved out of a wild past) were invited to briefly give our testimonies at a local church.
About all I remember from my turn was that I had said we need to be radical for Christ and put him first. I said something about we really could go on to pray and read the Word, instead of just rushing off to see the Sunday afternoon football game on TV.
I recall one guy in the front row basically laughing and sneering at me as I said this. I could imagine what he was thinking: ‘Relax bud, I will watch the football all I like, and I will not let some upstart religious zealot tell me otherwise.’
It was not the first time I encountered resistance from those claiming to be believers as I urged others on to a life of commitment and service to Christ, and reminded them of the war that we are in. Yes, we will face adversity and opposition and antagonism from others – and sometimes even from those of the household of faith.
But we were warned that this would be the case.
Bill Muehlenberg teaches ethics, apologetics and theology at several Melbourne Bible Colleges. His independent blog, Culture Watch, has over 5,000 articles commenting on the major cultural, social and political issues of the day. Bill's podcast is exclusively produced for Good Sauce readers and fans.
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