For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. – Philippians 1:29
Sadly, a great number of American churches reflect the culture of the world around them. Certainly, many faithful congregations continue to take seriously their calling to be a light in the darkness. But unfortunately, far too many congregations are indistinguishable from the world.
Some of these worldly congregations are easy to spot because they have abandoned biblical orthodoxy altogether. Churches have embraced worldviews entirely contrary to the inerrant Word of God and aim toward political correctness instead of biblical conviction.
Others are easy to spot because they are filled with non-believers. Churches have watered down the gospel with some form of easy-believism in such a way that they will accept anyone into the fold and call them Christians. Out of fear of offending others, they are afraid to call sin what it is. There is no call to repentance, and the gospel is completely undercut. As a result, many churches are filled with non-believers who can’t be distinct or set apart from the world because they are still in it.
Despite these departures from the New Testament understanding of the church, some churches continue to firmly hold Christian orthodoxy while preaching a biblical gospel of repentance and faith. Some churches continue to champion sound doctrine while maintaining the gospel message of the cross serving to reconcile sinful men with a holy God. Some churches reject the prevailing culture of our day and stand resolute on God’s revealed Word.
And still, one component of American culture often remains. The American culture sells the dream of comfort and freedom from hardship and difficulty. The American culture says we shouldn’t be uncomfortable or challenged in any way. As a result, many churches recoil at the thought of any kind of suffering or persecution. So if the freedom of religious liberty is ever threatened, many churches immediately panic.
But the Bible doesn’t describe a life free of suffering. The New Testament is filled with reminders that suffering is part of this life, and that suffering for the sake of Christ is part of the cross Christians must carry. As Jesus says in John 15:19, “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.”
Now of course, we shouldn’t seek out suffering. We shouldn’t seek out religious persecution. Nor should we be ungrateful for the many freedoms we have as believers in this nation.
But far too often, churches have become so adamant about the need for religious liberty that they forget about the gift of religious persecution. The First Amendment, which protects our right to exercise our faith without fear of persecution, has at times even become some kind of American idol.
Certainly, I believe that the government should grant its citizens the right to choose their beliefs and to practice them accordingly. But the Bible gives no indication that this kind of protection should be expected. Nor does it given any indication that this kind of protection is necessary (or even helpful) for the local church to thrive.
Paul’s words in Philippians 1:29 are so often forgotten – “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him, but also suffer for his sake.” In other words, Paul says, “God has given you the gift of faith that you should believe in him and that you should suffer for his sake.”
Christians are quick to recognize that salvation, from beginning to end, is entirely a work of God. In his grace, God gives believers the gift of belief. We don’t believe because we are smarter or because we are more humble or because we are more convinced. We believe because it has been granted to us to believe. We believe because God gives us the faith to believe.
But that’s not all that has been granted to us.
It has been granted to us that we should suffer for his sake. So for those of us who have been given the gift of belief for salvation, we have also been given the gift to suffer for his sake.
So when the government presses in on us from every direction, our first instinct shouldn’t be to appeal to the Bill of Rights. Our first instinct should be to rejoice that we were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name (Acts 5:41).
I’m thankful to live in a nation whose founding documents state that the government shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. I’m thankful to be able to preach the gospel without the threat of imprisonment or physical beatings.
But if those things are taken away, the church in America will not crumble. The true church will thrive, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Because for those of us to whom it has been granted to believe, it has also been granted to us to suffer for his sake.