Our culture seems to be described perfectly in 2 Timothy 3:2-4. It says, “Men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
As Christians, what is more important than the description of the culture is how scripture calls believers to respond in times like this. The righteous are not to be afraid of bad news; their heart is to be firm, trusting in the Lord (Psalm 112:7). Yet, many churchgoers seem to be at their whit’s end as they watch it all unfold. It is as if they believe this fiery trial is something strange (1 Peter 4:12). It seems we have had it so good for so long that we have forgotten what the Bible promised us. It says, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim. 3-12).” In the west, Christians need to remember that the persecution of the church was not put to death; it was only made sick, and it is beginning to recover.
If you asked many believers if they would be willing to die for Jesus, they would say “yes,” yet the sad reality is more and more church members are indicating that even after COVID is no longer a threat, they would prefer to keep watching church online. Their couch and their coffee seem to be too much to sacrifice. Besides, with the world raging around us, our home feels safer, but being safe is not our calling.
If the troubles of 2020 are causing you to lose your spiritual nerve, it would be helpful to recall Paul’s words to Timothy in light of his fallen culture. Paul encouraged Timothy by telling him to “kindle afresh the gift of God that is in you (2 Tim. 1:6). That gift is the faith God has given us through the Holy Spirit. Our lives are to be marked by his presence. Instead of cowering in the corner, we are to remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7).
Now is not the time to be ashamed of our faith, we must be willing to stand with those who are persecuted, and be ready to join them in their suffering if called to do so (2 Tim. 1:8): even as a criminal (2 Tim. 2:9). Remember, when the world comes after you, they will not say it is because you are a Christian, they will make up some other charge, and they will be charges of unlawfulness which will have accompanying penal codes. Countless Christians throughout history have been locked up and even put to death in such a manner.
However, there is no reason for us to fear. Jesus has abolished death, so be strong (2 Tim. 1-10). If we are unable to look at the attacks on biblical truth in our culture through the lens of the resurrection, then it is proof that we need to kindle our faith afresh. Are you spiritually minded enough that you would be willing to suffer hardship like a good soldier (2 Tim. 2:3)?
Repentance starts at home. The Lord knows who are his, and everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness (2 Tim. 2:19). Even if the world calls us a danger to society for doing it. If we cleanse ourselves from these things, we will be a vessel of honor, sanctified, useful to the Lord (2 Tim. 2:21). As we see what appears to be the slow collapse of the culture around us, it is time for the church to be a city on a hill. It is time for Christians to be salt and light. The way we do that is not by following the world’s pattern of grasping for power. We are to confront the culture with the love of Christ. This means to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, be meek, humble of heart, and be willing to be persecuted for his name’s sake.
Why would we do that? The love of Jesus. We love our great Savior, and we love the ungodly. We understand them because we used to be them. We have been lovers of self, unholy, ungrateful, and unloving. We know that the sexually immoral, the idolater, the adulterer, and those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). More than that, we understand that such were some of us, but we were washed, we were sanctified. The wrath of God that stood over us for our sins, Christ bore on the cross as our substitute. We have been justified in the name of Jesus (1 Cor. 6:11).
Jesus has blotted out our iniquities and removed our death sentence. What else could we need? What else could we want? What else do we have to fear? Because of his great love for us, we deny ourselves, take up or cross, and follow him (Matt. 16:24). We are no longer debtors to the flesh to live according to its dictates (Romans 8:12). By the spirit, we resist our sinful desires because we have a greater love: Jesus Christ. The world is living according to the flesh, and those who live according to the flesh will die (Rom. 8:13). The wages of sin still hangs over them. We cannot, and we will not participate in their ways. We will not go back to the bondage now that Christ has set us free.
We will call the lost world to salvation in Jesus, even if many in this world hate us for it. We will continue to the point the way because it is what they need more than anything. If they must go to hell, let us make them leap over our dead bodies to get there (C. Spurgeon). Greater love has no one but this, that someone would be willing to lay down their life for them (John 15:13). As we share in the suffering of Christ, our pain will be a present reality of how much he loves them. There is no wrath or torment that man can throw our way to make us move. There is no peace this world can offer that can compare to the peace of God and the eternal glory that awaits.
The world may do terrible things to the Church, but, in a fallen world, times of trial and persecution are often when the gospel shines the brightest. Persecution will indeed blow away the tares among us. I fear many professing Christians have forgotten our calling. They have lost the plot and traded it in for a life of pursuing earthly pleasures. In times of trouble, we will see many go out from us because they were never really of us (1 John 2:19). At that point, we will not hate them for their betrayal; we will see their lost spiritual condition, love them, and call them to find salvation in Jesus in the same way we do for all the lost. The chaos of our culture is not a threat to our witness; it is a prime opportunity for it. Indeed, all who desire to live for Jesus will be persecuted, and through it, our great God will be glorified as we confront the world with the love of Christ.