Between Covid with all its accompanying ramifications and the effects of surrendering Afghanistan to the Taliban, things don’t look particularly rosy for Christians in 2021. Factor in the demands of the LBGTQ community and the Woke push toward Socialism, and it becomes obvious that Christians who stand on God’s Word must expect some level of persecution. As a result, many of us wonder how we’ll hold up under such intense affliction.
Maybe we should instead wonder what attitude the Lord wants us to take in the face of suffering for Him. Perhaps we should ask how He wants us to conduct ourselves in the midst of difficult circumstances. As we ask such questions, we need to go straight to Scripture. The epistle of 1 Peter, especially, offers tremendous insight into the stance God calls us to take when suffering — and specifically suffering for Christ — enters our lives.
Time doesn’t allow us to go through all five chapters of 1 Peter today, but we can observe a couple key points from Chapters 1 and 2. These points provide the framework for the rest of Peter’s instructions.
The apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to Christians who fled persecution only to end up in foreign lands that also hatred the Gospel. His readers suffered a wide range of hardships, often because of their faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. When he begins his letter, therefore, he addresses them as aliens, both to the places where they settled and to people that had no understanding of Christianity. Their status as aliens prompted Peter to write about suffering.
3 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, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. ~~1 Peter 1:3-9 (NASB95)
How glorious that he introduces his topic by encouraging them to remember their eternal inheritance! By focusing on what the Lord has prepared for them in eternity, those scattered believers could rejoice in the knowledge that their trials prepared them to receive the outcome of their faith. They would see real evidence of their salvation.
This evidence of salvation could encourage them during their trials. Peter does say “various trials,” indicating that he understands the fact that human suffering isn’t limited to persecution. The assurance that all of our trials give us opportunities to monitor the genuineness of our faith showcases the Father’s kindness in using our suffering to let us know that we truly do love Him. False converts abandon Him at some point when suffering gets too painful, even if they maintain external signs of religion. But Christians who honestly love the Lord don’t waver in their adoration of Him. Suffering under outright persecution only increases the evidence that they love Jesus because of their willingness to suffer rather than renounce them allegiance to Him.
How much more important is this evidence of faith when Christians endure persecution because of their faith in Christ! As we stated a moment ago, Peter’s original readers were, in fact, suffering various degrees of persecution because they stood for the Lord. In reading this epistle, we can’t lose sight of that background information. In the very understanding that Peter directed his letter to persecuted Christians, we gain insight as to ways God commands 21st Century Christians to respond when we suffer for Christ.
The identification of their alienation from the world is crucial to Peter’s entire epistle. As we’ve already noted, he begins his letter by directing their attention to their eternal inheritance. This world is not only transient and corrupt, he tells his readers, but Christians have something waiting for us that is permanent and untainted by any hint of evil. Thus, we can rejoice through our earthly trials, confident that one day earthly suffering will give way to the indescribable wonders that He has prepared for us.
Since we are aliens to this world, Peter goes on to teach that our conduct must reflect our eternal home. We must act according to our Father’s standards instead of worldly customs. In Chapter 2, he clarifies that the Lord has a purpose for us, and His purpose has defining implications on how we are to live in this world.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. ~~1 Peter 2:9-12 (NASB95)
Peter teaches that God considers Christians to be a holy people with a mission to proclaim His excellencies. While this proclamation certainly includes verbally telling the world that Jesus Christ is Lord, it also means living in holiness. Holy living, however, won’t play well in a world that celebrates sin. Christians in Peter’s day (including Peter and his wife) were executed for their faithfulness to Jesus, just as Christians in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries today are killed for their faith in Him. Peter acknowledges the reality of suffering for the Lord, even to the point in Chapter 5 of offering comfort (1 Peter 5:10).
Yet the majority of 1 Peter concentrates on leading holy lives. Personal holiness, of course, honors the Lord in all situations, but it particularly honors Him when we display Christ’s holiness in the face of hostility toward Him. People who persecute believers may continue to reject the Gospel, but they won’t be able to accuse us of hypocrisy. Just as our suffering affirms the genuineness of our faith to us, so it confronts our adversaries with the genuineness of our faith. Occasionally, someone might even come to faith in Him precisely because of our perseverance to live holy lives even though doing so exposes us to persecution.
I could probably say a good deal more regarding our obligation to live holy lives and how such obedience is important during times of persecution. Undoubtedly, future blog posts will address different facets of this subject. For now, however, it may be prudent to leave you with this general idea of alienating ourselves from the world by living holy lives. As we watch the growing opposition to Christ mushroom into full-blown persecution, we can find comfort in knowing that personal holiness is the way to endure this type of suffering. Isn’t God good to provide such a simple response?Follow my blog with Bloglovin