When contemplating Christ’s horrendous suffering, I find it difficult not to think about whether I could endure such affliction for people I love; never mind for antagonists. Two factors immediately come to mind: enduring pain and facing physical death. Neither thought is pleasant, especially because God created us with the innate desire to live! Depending on what one believes about an afterlife, one aspect can be more distressing than the other. Through the ages, so many have given their lives for a belief that was so intrinsically important to them that it overcame their survival instinct. Is there anything that is that important to us? I think there should be.
My thoughts today are focused on remaining steadfast through adversity or night seasons. Based on Strong’s G2558 definition, “kakoucheō” or adversity means torment or suffering. This word is used in Hebrews 11:37 which is very sobering because it addresses some of the things Old Testament believers endured because of faith. There are many around the world enduring today. I believe it is necessary to think about this to ensure we stand and to pray for the persecuted church.
To understand how someone could be unwavering in beliefs despite incredible internal pressure coupled with intimidation from others, I considered examples from Scripture. By way of outline we will see that steadfastness is achievable when we:
- recall the love of our LORD and His character;
- reckon the cost in advance;
- resolve out of a position of love; and,
- ruminate the benefits of eternity in contrast to the temporal.
How will we be able to be faithful to Christ amid intense persecution?
Recall the Love of Our LORD and His Character
When Jesus gave His life to redeem humanity from the power of the enemy, He did so premeditatedly.
- And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. … For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. (1st John 3:5, and 8b);
Revelation 13:8 instructs us that Christ, the Lamb of God, was “… slain from the foundation of the world”. Christ’s incarnation, suffering and death were with a cause that was established from the foundation of the earth. It was premeditated.
- He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you (1st Peter 1:20);
His cause was love; the love of humanity (John 3:16 to 17). His cause was justice; the end of the power of darkness. His method righteousness…
- … the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:21 to 24).
Jesus said, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24).
God the Father and God the Son always loved each other. Together they loved us. For this reason, the price and the process of redemption were already decided before Christ gave up His life (1st John 4:9). It was decided from the foundation of the world.
- Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:3 to 7).
When God imputed our sin onto the sinless God-Man, God poured out His wrath on Christ; sent Him to hell for us to fulfill the punishment of sin; and, because Christ was sinless, death could not hold Him down! The Spirit of God raised Christ from the dead (Romans 8:11)! Jesus said,
- “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” (Revelation 1:18);
- … “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25 to26).
By defeating the enemy and living a sinless life; our Victor took the keys of death away from Satan and He grants freedom from the chains of death. He is righteous in granting those who will follow Him access to His presence in heaven because He paid the penalty of sin; bore the wrath of God; and, legally obtained the right to pardon people who still sin.
God loved us so much that He was willing to allow His Son to experience all of that. Jesus loved us so much that He was willing to experience the rejection of His Father and experience the sin and shame of humanity. The Holy Spirit loves us so much that He endures with great long-suffering the grief we cause Him when we do not yield to His presence.
When confronted by decisions that have life-altering implications, we ought to recall God’s love and His nature; then we should consider eternity. Make choices based on who we want to spend eternity with and what we want that to be.
We should be motivated to stand because of love instead of worrying because of fear.
- “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28);
- But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11);
Reckon the Cost in Advance
Since the LORD loved the Father and was in perfect agreement with His Father from the foundation of the world, we know His love for us also reckoned or counted the cost. His sacrifice for us was decided in eternity and He saw it through. Christ is our example of how a human being can decide in advance to overcome the injuries to one’s person because of love.
I’ve often wondered about the extent of my love for my Saviour. With such a great impulse for self-preservation, it’s natural to have difficulty with the idea of laying down one’s life; after all, this is a God-given instinct. The difference between failing to survive and self-sacrifice for the benefit of another is. Not surviving is when life escapes and self-sacrifice is a gift. Jesus said:
- “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” (John 10:17 to 18);
- “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.“(John 15:13).
Notice that Jesus said that He was commanded to lay down His life and to take it again. This tells me that if God allows one of His children into a situation, He will ensure they have His power to navigate it. We know the LORD expected some of His followers to escape persecution and others to endure through hardship even to the point of death. I am reminded of Jesus’s response to Peter when he asked Jesus about the fate of John who in the end lived a full lifespan, albeit in jail for a period:
- “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” (John 21:18 to 22).
Christ was clear with Peter about the call. Christ asks us to follow Him regardless of friends, colleagues, family and society. Reacting to His call should have nothing to do with desired events or circumstances; and, our response certainly has nothing to do with God’s plans for others.
Our response should be based on understanding who God is. It is an acknowledgement that when Christ purchased us from slavery to sin, we became His possession. Our response is a decision of obedience made capable through love for Him because of who He is.
This Saviour is so generous, He does not treat us as slaves but as friends. While He calls us friends and even siblings, there is no mistake, we are in His service; we are labourers in His vineyard.
- “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. “These things I command you, that you love one another. (John 15:14 to 17).
The LORD commanded us to follow His precepts that are all based on loving God and loving others. When loving God, we despise the sin that separates God from His creation. When we despise sin, we know that those who enjoy its pleasures will end up resenting us for persisting in faithfulness to the Word of God. When we love others, we do our best to point out the way of eternal life which is in direct opposition to Godlessness. This is not popular in today’s culture. Jesus warned us saying:
- “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. “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. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:18 to 20).
When the Holy Spirit joined us within us, we were given the ability of Christ to endure. Our God does not force compliance but gently trains us, and as such, He will not force us to witness or to be bold for Him. Some think that by being silent they can escape the scorn of the world but in reality, this is not possible.
- Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. (2nd Corinthians 2:14 to 15).
Once the Holy Spirit’s fragrance is within you, the world can sense the difference. We ought not to be surprised when the LORD’s ways are not accepted and when we are likewise “crowded” into a corner as to make us submissive to the world’s standards. Rather, we should anticipate it. We should prepare our minds for the spiritual battle and equip ourselves with God’s Word to stand firm. We should deepen our relationship with our LORD so that we are love Him more.
- “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it; “lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, “saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ “Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? “Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26 to 33).
Since our LORD commands us to love everyone, we know He is not telling us to hate our families! He is telling us that there will be times that the sin in the unbelieving family members will force a decision. In these times, we need to hate the sin; it will appear to others as though we hate them. If our self-preservation tempts us to deny the LORD, we must detest that as well. Anything that is loved above God is a sin; it is idolatry.
Jesus warned us that if we don’t consider in advance what we will have to pay for our position, we will have no ability to follow Jesus. We will either turn away because we have not decided to love the LORD more than anyone or anything; or, we will be crushed by the weight of the battle.
- Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).
Here is the good news! When we identify what could cause us to be disobedient, we will not be taken by surprise. We can lay these things at our Saviour’s feet and trust Him to strengthen and guide us. When the spirit of fear tries to taunt us into a fear-based decision, we can say: “no to fear and sin”; we have counted the cost”; and “our eternity is worth the payment”. This is what Christ did for us! Will it be hard? Probably!
Resolve Out of a Position of Love
When we face difficulties because of love for Christ, His teaching and His church, we have the most powerful force acting with us. We know this because God is love! (1st John 4:8b).
Christ was steadfast in love because of love despite the persecution He endured. As mentioned earlier, Jesus Christ’s purpose was to reconcile us to the love of God, and now we will consider what “being in God’s love” means.
The love the Godhead enjoys is eternal, spiritual, righteous, peaceful and joyful. For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17). While this love manifests physically, it is primarily spiritual in origin. Jesus said in John 4 starting at verse 23:
- Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; “nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20 and 21).
Jesus said moments later in Luke 17:25, “But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” For over 3 years, Jesus spoke the Words of life, the spiritual Word of God, to those around Him as seeds that would blossom after His death and resurrection.
After His resurrection, Jesus said to His disciples:
- “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7 and 8).
You see, it is the love of the entire Godhead that purposed our salvation:
- the Father’s love that purposed a bride for His Son;
- the Father’s love that purposed our reconciliation to Himself;
- the Son’s love for His Father taught Him obedience through His sufferings;
- the Son’s love for His bride (the church) endured suffering and He now waits for the marriage supper;
- the Spirit’s love for the Father that draws and seals those God has chosen; and,
- the Spirit’s love for us that is suffering long in cohabitating within imperfect people.
They have endured watching their creation profane their name, reject their love, and exalt themselves because of the sin that blinds the hearts of fallen humanity. They have paid the price; and, they are waiting until every person who will accept the LORDship of Jesus Christ does so.
- The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2nd Peter 3:9);
Family of God, we understand that many will not accept the gift of salvation because it means that they will be delivered from slavery of the sin they enjoy. After all, it means learning to be obedient to Christ. Many do not know this amazing love, joy and peace that we have from being united to God through the indwelling Holy Spirit. So many can not understand that the Holy Spirit’s influence on our hearts enables us to have good desires, Godly desires. Sin is to blame and until they accept the Saviour, they cannot help but despise this peculiarity.
This love within us compels us to carry out His last command to us; love for Him causes us to proclaim His message of redemption. We are not avoiding the world’s scorn by a hushed witness. Whether we are active witnesses or not, the distinctive fragrance of the LORD is on us and there will be friction. When the world tries to drive us to compromise His Word, we will be considered socially and politically incorrect for walking the narrow path.
- “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13 to 14).
Because of His love, we must resolve now, and always, to love Him as the first priority; and then, to love others which also means telling them the truth regardless of the cost. I am so grateful for His love that it has become my sincerest prayer for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. He is helping me to be bolder despite the reaction of others. He is the highest good, the source of life and love.
Ruminate the Benefits of Eternity in Contrast to the Temporal.
During Christ’s arrest, His disciples had deserted Him. Now, when I think about this I have great comfort in knowing that the LORD individually chose followers who He knew would be prone to fleeing persecution in their natural strength.
- Then Jesus said to them, ” All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” (Matthew 26:31 and 32).
After Christ forewarned them they would scatter quoting Zechariah 13:7, they did so after professing that they would never deny Him (Read Matthew 26:33 to 35). People tend to speak harshly about Peter’s denial because his denial was so vulgar and showed weakness; or perhaps because he was so confident that he would never deny the LORD. They forget the others also made the same profession. The others did not have the same testing by Satan. The LORD knows our weaknesses and has chosen to redeem and sanctify us.
The point is, no one knows exactly how they will react under pressure in unknown territory. If our decisions are purely emotional, then when the emotions change, our decisions will likely follow.
Consider the possibilities before the night comes.
Our resolve must be rooted in: (1) a personal relationship with God through prayer; (2) in His Word (for He is the Word of God made manifest); and (3) in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In one regard, these disciples were just normal individuals who were selected for Christ’s purposes and not because of their human capabilities (although they each had their respective skillsets). In another regard, these disciples were incredibly brave and worthy of our respect.
The reason they became brave is entirely supernatural. In the previous reference to Acts 1:8, we noticed that the power of the Holy Spirit was given to these early witnesses (about 120 of them in verse 15) for the purpose of evangelism in an environment that would be hostile to their doctrine. After Peter and John were released from jail for preaching salvation through Jesus, the believers prayed:
- “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, “by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29 and 30).
They had understood the consequences, counted the cost, resolved to continue to be obedient to the LORD’s final command and prayed for the strength to accomplish it. Jesus told us:
- …”If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23 to 26).
“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. ” (Matthew 10:32 and 33).
Peter who was reinstated by Christ after denying Christ because of human weakness; who became the chief leader of the early church in Jerusalem; and who was empowered to write Holy Scripture, admonishes us to be diligent in our pursuit of Christ through the process of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work.
- But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2nd Peter 1:5 to 11).
When I consider what my life was like before the LORD drew me to Himself, I know that I don’t want to exchange Him for anyone or anything. His presence, His love, His grace, His wisdom, His guidance and even discipline far surpasses any pleasure on earth. There is nothing better than Him! And that’s just here and now. Then contemplating how long forever is, I can’t imagine abandoning eternal life with Him for momentary relief on earth ending in everlasting regret and torment in hell.
Amid a trial, I am motivated by His eternal purpose. I am motivated by the thought of enjoying God forever, being like Christ, experiencing true uninhibited love, worshiping with millions of believers and angels, and successfully fulfilling assignments.
- For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2nd Corinthians 4:17 and 18 NLT).
“I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4)
DESIRINGFRUITFULNESS.CA/CHOICES contains 4 simple steps that you can put into your own words in prayer to God so that you can be reconciled to Him .
The steps are designed to help you know why this prayer is necessary. It is as simple as acknowledging you are a sinner and believing that Jesus Christ is the risen Son of God.
You can evaluate Scripture for yourself to determine whether the prophecies about the Son of God point to Jesus Christ.
All Scripture used in this blog is from the New King James Version, unless otherwise specified.