“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
“Indeed, all who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
“Behold, My Servant will prosper,
He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Isaiah 52:13).
“Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the plunder with the strong,
Because He poured out His life unto death,
And was counted with wrongdoers;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the wrongdoers” (Isaiah 53:12).
Many American Christians have adopted the notion that real Christians can avoid suffering. “Don’t worry about the Great Tribulation; we’ll be raptured out of here before things get ugly.” “Just have faith and claim your blessing in Jesus’ name! If you suffer, you don’t have faith!”
It is an idea that does not stand up to the evidence of Scripture or the experience of our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout much of the world. At many times in history, and in many countries today, Christians show their faith by refusing to deny Christ in the face of great persecution. Visit Voice of the Martyrs, read some of the stories on that site, and ask yourself, “Would I have the courage to identify as a Christian when faced with those temptations?” Some of us have enough trouble sharing our faith when co-workers might think we are being narrow-minded. Perhaps we are the ones who have little faith.
Modern American Christianity assumes that our faith is a matter of believing the right doctrines, reading the correct Bible translation, going to the right kind of church regularly, and perhaps praying at home now and then.
We need to approach it differently. Genuine Christianity is a matter of being “in Christ” and having “Christ in me.” St. Paul uses phrases like “in Christ” or “in Him” often: 27 times in Ephesians alone. Throughout his letters, Paul showed that faith demanded a connection with Jesus’ sufferings because we are intimately united with Him.
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am supplementing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions in behalf of His body, which is the church. I was made a minister of this church according to the commission from God granted to me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,that is, the mystery which had been hidden from the past ages and generations, but now has been revealed to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what the wealth of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles is, the mystery that is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:24-27).
The phrase “supplementing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (some translations say “fill up” or “complete”) is in the Bible. We have to accept the fact that this phrase is present. We cannot ignore it; we cannot erase it by talking about the “finished work of Christ.” This phrase is part of the Word of God even if it makes us uncomfortable. Does it apply only to one apostle, or is it relevant to all of our lives? Whatever the answer to that question may be, the New Testament tells us that all Christians have a connection with Him that will set us at odds with the world around us.
Believing in Christ involves more than simply agreeing with a few Bible verses about Him. It is entrusting our lives to Him so much that we can say “I live in Him and He lives in me”:
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
If our lives are fully committed to Christ in this way, we will represent Him to those around us, and those who despise Him will oppose us. Jesus did not come to bring us self-actualization, prosperity, or an easy life. He came to die for our sins. He did that by suffering. He obtained our redemption by being lifted up, pouring out His life, and being counted with wrongdoers.
By being “counted with wrongdoers” (Isaiah 53:12), He identified with us and suffered for us so that we might live with Him. As we do so, people will notice. Some will be hostile to us because they are hostile to all that Jesus represents. Others will ask questions. By remaining faithful, we might face persecution, rejection, or opposition. On the other hand, we will also have the opportunity to shine the light of Christ on others. That is the subject of another article. To be continued….
Lord God, give us grace, faith, and courage to remain faithful to Christ. Enable us to always recognize His presence in us and our union with Him, so that we may have the strength to stand with Him no matter what we face. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
What does it mean to you to be “in Christ” or to have “Christ in you”? How can this strengthen your resolve when temptation to hide your light comes? Share your thoughts below.
Copyright © 2023 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.