What About Persecution?

Usually, for our Sunday article, it is my practice to quote a passage from a message or book written within the past 100 years or so, and then to make commentary as to its relevance for today. Today however, it is the constant reminder, by way of the media, of stories dealing with Christian persecution which has caused me to write. Because of much unbiblical teaching, emanating from many pulpits, in “churches” which have compromised on the Word of God and are now preaching “another gospel” I felt it necessary to put forward this brief excursus on persecution.

Words of Grace for Strength

From the very beginning, the true Church of Jesus Christ has faced persecution. Acts chapters 4 and 5 speak of the very beginning of that persecution in the ministry of the apostles Peter and John, and we find at the end of chapter 5 these words:

Acts 5:34-35
Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men.

Act 5:38-42
And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.” And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

It is estimated that between 100 million and 150 million Christians worldwide face some type of persecution on a yearly basis, and depending upon whose report you believe to be most accurate there are between 55,000 and 100,000 Christians martyred each year. Some have even estimated that more Christians have been martyred in the first 15 years of this century than all of the previous 20 combined.

Christian persecution is found on every continent, and in every country, and is perpetrated by many religions as well as atheistic and intolerant totalitarian governments. In some places the persecution is subtle while in others it is horrifically overt. Christian persecution is found in many forms; such as slander and libel, confiscation of property, false accusations, imprisonment, kidnapping, slavery, beatings, dismemberment, torture, rape, and in varying degrees of severity up to and including murder by means of shooting, stoning, and beheading, burning, and even crucifixion.

Beginning with John and Peter’s first persecution, and with Steven’s death as the church’s first martyr, the church age has been marked by suffering, persecution, and martyrdom of the followers of Jesus Christ. All of the apostles, with the exception of John, were martyred as were most of the New Testament disciples named in the books written by Luke, Peter, John, and Paul.

Throughout the successive centuries the persecution has only grown, and as we live in these last days, awaiting the return of Jesus Christ to Rapture His Church, we can expect its intensity and frequency to grow exponentially. Jesus Christ was Himself our suffering Savior, and He was persecuted even unto death. We who are His followers, should at no time be surprised when we too are persecuted. Jesus promised us; “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.” John 15:20a

Looking back to our text in Acts 5, we find that those who are persecuting the apostles are the Sanhedrin. Later in the book of Acts we find the followers of Christ being persecuted by differing groups of Gentiles and most especially the Romans. Throughout the succeeding centuries Christians have faced persecution from many different religions, ideologies, and governments.

Today Christian persecution comes at the hands of Islamists and various other religions; from communists, socialists, progressives, and other political ideologies; from atheists and agnostics; and from the radical LGBT community as well as other social activists such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU. In fact, I’m certain many of you would agree with me when I say, active Christian persecution emanates from our own White House and the administration which now occupies it.

But, I believe we who are followers of Christ, His True Church, have actually forgotten who our enemy really is. In John 14:30 he is called “the ruler of this world,” in Ephesians 2:2 he is called “the prince of the power the air,” and Paul names him as the devil in Ephesians 6:11. In fact, in Ephesians 6:11-12 Paul warns us to; “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Whether it be religions, governments, or ideologies, these and the mere mortals who lead them, are no more than pawns in this great spiritual war.

Today the True Church of Jesus Christ, the Bride of Christ, is involved in this spiritual war for the universe. Satan’s goal is to corrupt, marginalize, render ineffective, and destroy the Church of Jesus Christ. It is also his goal to destroy God’s chosen people, the Jews and their nation of Israel. Ultimately, Christ Himself will win the war. But, until we are relieved of our duty by either death (which the apostle Paul calls “gain.” Philippians1:21) or Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), we are to equip ourselves with the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) and make a stand for the cause of Christ.

Once again as we look back to Acts 5:41, we note that John and Peter rejoiced that they were found worthy to suffer for Christ. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:14 that if we suffer for righteousness sake we are blessed. And James writes in James 1:2 that we should count it all joy when we face trials. Contrary to what is taught in many “churches” today, this is the normal Christian life, to be continually facing persecution for our obedience and fidelity to the cause of Christ. Like so many saints before us, who had also counted the cost, we must be willing not only to suffer, but to lay down our life in the service of the cross.

There is an old gospel song titled “I came here to stay.” I don’t know who the author is, but I believe this song should be on the lips of every Christian as we are involved in this spiritual battle. The chorus of the song says;

Run if you want to, run if you will,
But I came here to stay.
If I fall down I’m gonna get right up.
Because I didn’t start out to play.
It’s a battlefield, brother,
not a recreation room.
It’s a fight, and not a game.
Run if you want to, run if you will,
but I came here to stay.

Know your enemy, know the battlefield, face persecution without fear, rejoice, and having done all to stand, stand therefore!

True Grace for True Disciples

David Wilkerson was truly a modern-day prophet, calling people to repentance, and especially calling out the “church” for its apostasy. He was unapologetic in his criticism of the false teachers and preachers of the “Prosperity Gospel” and “Word of Faith” movement and of those who expect favor from God without submitting to His will. Our excerpt today is from his message “True Grace” from 1993.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” Titus 2:11-14

According to Paul, we are not walking in grace until we have broken from worldly corruptions. Unless we are endeavoring through the power of the Holy Spirit to lead godly and righteous lives, looking for the Lord’s coming in our every waking moment, we do not know God’s grace.

Many Christians want forgiveness, but that is all. They do not want to be delivered from this present world, because they love it. They are attached to their sins, not wanting to give up the pleasures of this earth. So they cling to a doctrine that says, “I can live as I please — as long as I say that I believe.”

They do not want to hear about obedience, repentance, self-denial, picking up their cross, taking on the yoke or burden of Christ. They simply want to be excused on Judgment Day — to have all their iniquities overlooked. They expect Jesus to open up the pearly gates, put His arms around them, and lead them down a golden street to their reserved mansion, even though they have never broken from the spirit of this world!

Paul writes, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). We are to break from this world completely and be conformed to Christ alone!

Words of Grace for Strength

Unfortunately, the “church” today is filled with “Christians” who reflect the very attitudes that David Wilkerson spoke of 20 plus years ago. More than ever before the church has adopted the ideas and appearance of the world. Rather than being separated to Christ, the church has embraced materialism, and humanism in a culture of tolerance and compromise. In today’s culture, man’s will rules supreme.

Those who call themselves “Christian” in many cases are no different from those who claim to be atheist, or agnostic. Not only have they not broken from worldly corruption and desires, they have no intention to. They speak of a god of love who will not condemn anyone to a literal Hell because of his love for man. Unfortunately, they are half right. God is a loving God, but it is they who condemn themselves to Hell because of their unrepentant disobedience to His will.

So, the problem with many who identify themselves as “Christian” today, is that they believe Jesus is the Son of God (but even the Demons believe this), and that He loves them (which He does), and that He died on a cross and rose from the grave (which He did), but they have never truly repented and turned from their sinfulness, they are still living worldly lives. Because this is the state of their belief, they believe Jesus is God, just not their God. Their gods are all of the worldly pleasures and things they will not turn away from. Ultimately then, they are their own god, which means they have completely bought into Satan’s lie. They have not placed their faith and trust in Jesus  as their Savior, faith and trust in Him alone as the means of their salvation. Their faith and trust resides elsewhere, as a result it resides nowhere of significance and eternal import.

True Christianity requires one to have experienced God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is conditional on man accepting the gift of Grace which Jesus Christ provided and paid for by His finished work at Calvary. By accepting the free gift of Grace, man acknowledges his sinful state, the debt he owes, the need for repentance, the price which was paid, and the need to surrender his life and his will to the sovereign will of God. When one accepts the gift of Grace, he is acknowledging Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of his life, he is forgiven and becomes a follower or disciple of Christ. It is at this point that obedience, repentance, self-denial, picking up his cross, and taking on the yoke or burden of Christ becomes important in his life. This is what it means to experience True Grace, he has become a disciple of Jesus Christ. One can only do so because he has faith and trust in Christ to carry him through.

Disciples of Jesus Christ expose and reject ungodliness, they have broken away from worldliness and worthless pursuits, they do not tolerate or compromise with unrighteousness, they Study the Word of God so that they may live in obedience to God while pursuing God’s will for their lives. Disciples of Jesus Christ are indwelt by His Holy Spirit who opens the Word to them as their teacher and comforter. The Disciple of Jesus Christ desires a closer relationship with Him as he longs for and looks for His return. True Disciples of Jesus Christ have experienced forgiveness and deliverance because of True Grace. And, that is the reason for the transformation which takes place in their lives. True Disciples do not just believe in Jesus, they know Him as their Lord and Savior. True Disciples have counted the cost of walking away from the ways and values of the world, and have counted it as nothing when compared to the incomparable riches of a life with Christ, a life in Christ.

Do you know Him? Are you His disciple?

Jude’s Warning, the Corruption of “Christian”

This morning as I reread the book of Jude, I was once again reminded that not only are we living in the Last Days, we’re living in days of incredible deception within the “church” especially as it relates to those who call themselves “Christian.” In a recent article I mentioned a Barna research study which stated that 85% of people in America identified themselves as “Christian.” However when asked a series of questions about what they believed to be True or Truth regarding the Deity of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, or the Biblical truth that through the completed work of Jesus Christ at Calvary lies the only pathway to eternal life, only 9% could affirm a true Biblical Christianity. Understanding this, it is quite apparent to me that in the world today, the majority of “Christians” aren’t and the “church” they may or may not attend isn’t. This comes as no surprise because even from the time of the inception of the Church, Jude warned of this very condition.

“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jude 1:3-4 

Jude’s warning here is that certain men have crept in unnoticed and corrupted the “church.” Who are these men? Unfortunately they are men (and women) who purport themselves to be ministers of the gospel. They hold positions of leadership in churches, denominations, and seminaries with titles such as “bishop,” “apostle,” “pastor,” “evangelist,” “doctor,” or simply “minister.” Nevertheless, the one thing they all have in common is that they have corrupted the Truth of Scripture and have invented a liberal theology and a liberal “Christ” denying His authority, deity, dominion, and power.

These false teachers and preachers who have “crept in unnoticed” are no more than self-serving charlatans who use the name of Jesus for self-glorification, and to line their own pockets with what the Scripture calls filthy lucre, by promoting their own agendas and encouraging their faithful to give sacrificially to build their “church.” This is what Jude meant in verse 4 when he said they “turn the grace of God into lewdness.” The “church” of these false prophets and false teachers has no resemblance to the Church in Acts 2:42-47, and they seem only to exist for the purpose of “doing church.” Emotion has replaced Doctrine, Function has replaced Fellowship, Programs have replaced Discipleship, and sadly what passes for Prayer these days sounds more like a “give me” list to God rather than adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication. No longer do they point people to the Cross of Christ where His blood was shed for the remission of sins, but instead teach a false Christ whose inclusive love places no emphasis on their need for repentance. The Cross of Christ has become an ornament to wear rather than a symbol of the pain, suffering, and death which accomplished our Salvation. Again, Jude describes this in verse 4; they “deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Most “churches” today celebrate the humanity of men, pointing to the man (or woman) who leads them, rather than recognizing the sovereignty of God. “Christians” are no longer Christ’s ones as they were so designated in Antioch because of their desire to be like Christ, but instead today the name seems to apply to just about everyone. The name “Christian” has been opened up to so much deception that it is absolutely astounding to me. Many consider themselves “Christian” because America is supposedly a “Christian” nation, there are a plethora of cults that call themselves “Christians” and the majority of institutional and denominational “churches” as well as “Emergent” and “Mega-Churches” are dead or corrupt in their religiosity while still calling themselves “Christians,” yet they do not truly follow Christ!

In the little book of Jude, verses 5-15, God’s attitude toward these apostates who call themselves “Christians” or the “church” today is described. Their sin is defined in verse 8; because they “defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries.” And in verse 10; they “speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves.” Verse 11 summarizes their sin in examples from the Old Testament with a stinging indictment; “Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.” Very simply stated, the way of Cain is the rejection of a blood sacrifice, in other words, they reject the blood of Christ in favor of self-improvement. The error of Balaam is the desire to attain personal wealth by making a business or profit out of the service of God. And those who perished in the rebellion of Korah did so because they rebelled against the leadership of the Lord. Verses 14-16 tell us that God will enact judgment on these false prophets, teachers, and preachers.

Friends, verses 17-23 of this wonderful little book tell us what the believer’s role is in the midst of all of this End Time apostasy. Jude instructs us to be; “building yourselves up on your most holy faith” we do this through being people of the book, studying and obeying the Word of God. He then instructs us to be “praying in the Holy Spirit” which means to be guided by the Spirit in our prayers seeking the Will of God for our lives, And then we are to; “keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” and we do this by living lives of holiness and godliness before Him as we look for and anticipate the imminent return of Jesus Christ for His True Church, those of us who really are “Christ ones” True Christians.

In the darkness of these Last Days where Satan, the ruler of this world, has taken control of so much, having invaded the “church” and its leadership, we True followers of Christ must heed the warning of the Apostle Paul and “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18). We must Watch, Stand Fast, and be Strong (1 Corinthians 16:13) until we see Christ. It is our responsibility to be light in this world of darkness (Ephesians 5:8), and we must Watch and Pray (1 Peter 4:7), because;

Jesus is coming soon!