Is it getting more difficult to be a Christian?
I supposed it depends on who you ask. If you, for example, were to ask Christians not in North America, particularly in the Middle East or some parts of Asia, I believe they would say, “No, it’s as difficult as it’s always been.” These are brothers and sisters who have had their faith grown and nurtured in persecution, and nothing has changed about their situation.
But perhaps if you asked someone in North America, they might say that they are in recent days feeling more scrutiny than in days passed. They might respond that they feel like some of their long held, core beliefs are being challenged not only from the culture, but even from within segments of the church. That’s probably true as well, and it’s probably not going to change.
We are coming upon a day when historical evangelical beliefs are going to increasingly called into question. So how should a Christian respond to this reality? There are certainly right and wrong ways, and we in North America can learn much from our brothers and sisters across the world. At a minimum, though, there are at least three things we should remember if and when we are looked down upon for being a Christian:
1. This is not unexpected.
It might be unexpected for us, but it shouldn’t be. If it is, it’s perhaps because we have lived in the luxury of an indulgent culture, one in which it’s not only been acceptable, but actually encouraged to just be “nice.” But there comes a point when being “nice” and being “Christian” are not the same thing. And it’s at this point where we find ourselves, not in the sense that we stop being kind, but in the sense that we have an allegiance to truth which causes us to run up against the cultural norms of the day.
Jesus told us a long time ago clearly: “If the world hates you, understand that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18-20).
One of the most basic reasons why we should expect to be looked down upon is because of the Teacher and the message we represent. Christianity cuts the knees before it lifts the soul. The only way to come to Jesus is with open hands – it’s with humility, acknowledging our need of Him. And if we are acknowledging our need for Him, then we are also acknowledging something about ourselves. Further, we must be faithful to help others recognize the same thing about themselves as well.
2. Christianity is about gain.
When we are looked down upon for being Christians, it is tempting to think about that which we are losing. There’s plenty of that – Christianity is about walking the road of self-denial. If we are to follow Jesus, then we must take up our crosses, and that means laying down ourselves. We must lay down our hopes. Our dreams. Our aspirations. Our values. Even further, it might mean losing our relationships. Losing our reputation. Losing our power. Following Jesus means losing things. But don’t miss this:
The road of following Jesus is about loss but the end of following Jesus is about gain:
Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).
Jesus aim is not for us to lose, but for us to gain. It’s not for us to lose our lives, but for us to find our lives. We walk the road of loss to the destination of gain. When we are looked down on for following Jesus, it’s helpful to remember that no matter what we might lose in the process, it’s Jesus intent for us to find true life in the end.
3. Be careful of your own soul.
And then there’s this – when we are looked down on for following Jesus, we should be careful of our souls. Now there are a couple of ways this is true. We should be careful of giving up, of thinking the cost is too much, of giving up our faith because we deem it not to be worth it any more. That’s completely true. But there’s another guarding of the soul we should pay attention to, and that’s the guarding against pride.
There is a certain kind of pride that comes with being looked down on for following Jesus. We might think ourselves better than others because we have met opposition; we might think we are somehow more spiritual because of what we have faced when others haven’t. And it’s at this moment when we should be on guard, for we are standing on the edge.
Pride is sinister. It is destructive. And it’s so insidious that it can creep up even in situations like this. We must know ourselves well enough to know that we can find pride even moments like these when we are looked down upon.
Perhaps the days are coming, friends, when we will be increasingly pushed aside because of our faith. When we will be increasingly marginalized because of Jesus. If and when that happens, let us remember that Jesus never lies. He told us it would be so. But let us also take care of our own souls so that we might see the gain Jesus has for us at the end of the road of self-denial.