If Persecution Comes, What Should Christians Do?

First of all, we shouldn’t wonder whether or not persecution will come to the United States. In that respect, I guess I’ve slightly mistitled this article. It’s already started in Europe, Africa, Asia and Canada, aided and abetted by governmental reactions to COVID, Islamic terrorism and LBGTQ demands. It seems to be slowly creeping into America — I noticed this week that all my Kindle books on homosexuality have disappeared. Well, I’ve expected it for years. Only a matter of time before this blog vanishes.

Let’s go with the premise that persecution is definitely coming, and indeed that most of the world has suffered persecution since Jesus hung on the cross. My pastor once remarked that America has been an anomaly in regards to the relative acceptance Christians have enjoyed during its first four centuries. I believe that such acceptance, while it has blessed us with wonderful opportunities to proclaim the Gospel freely, may have lulled us into an attitude of entitlement. For instance, I felt cheated because Amazon pulled those books from my Kindle app, even though I knew the licensing agreement clearly states that I never actually owned them. American Christians have lost sight of the truth that persecution is the norm for true believers.

With all this in mind, we must accept persecution as an inevitable fact of life. No, we don’t have to like it, and we shouldn’t set ourselves up for it. But we should remember that Jesus warned us that persecution would come to those who follow Him.

18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. ~~John 15:18-20 (NASB95)

For the past month, I’ve been reading through 1 Peter with the awareness that Peter wrote this epistle to Christians who experienced a fairly high degree of persecution. Interestingly, although the apostle does include a few passages directly addressing how to respond to those who persecute us, for the most part his instructions apply to everyday Christian living. We should probably think about the implication that God calls His people to holiness regardless of our personal circumstances.

Peter begins his letter by directing our attention to God’s promises to believers.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. ~~1 Peter 1:3-5 (NASB95)

As persecution heats up, American Christians will suffer much worse things than having Amazon retract our e-books. Some have already had their businesses threatened and/or ruined because they wouldn’t use their talents to support same sex weddings or celebrate transgender transitions (see this example). In Canada, Pastors James Coates and Tim Stephens spent time in jail for holding church services during the pandemic. Yet all these Christians suffer willingly, trusting in the incomparable inheritance prepared for them.

Peter’s letter goes on with admonitions to be holy as God is holy as we remember the high cost of our salvation (1 Peter 1:17-21). From there, he details practical ways of living out our holiness. I’ll refrain from listing references, but I encourage you to read the epistle for yourselves. Notice how much of it discusses Christian attitudes and behavior that isn’t unique to situations involving persecution.

Here and there, of course, Peter certainly interjects direct remarks on how to conduct ourselves in the midst of persecution, and we dare not ignore such passages. As I said earlier, he wrote this epistle specifically to churches which were in the thick of persecution, wanting to assist them in their trials. Consider some of his closing words:

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. 10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 11 To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen. ~~1 Peter 5:6-11 (NASB95)

Verse 9 of that passage reminds us that suffering for Christ is part and parcel of the Christian life. Satan may try to convince us that nobody suffers as severely as we do, and therefore we should compromise God’s standards in order to escape persecution. But we resist him by remembering the sufferings of Christians in Islamic and Communist countries. Like them, we trust the Lord to bring us through to glory.

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