Why is it many people don’t understand that being called to become a disciple of Jesus Christ involves suffering, that rather, they believe it is supposed to be a comfortable life filled with material blessings?
The Lord was quite clear to Saul when He called him on the road to Damascus where he became the Apostle Paul in Acts 9:15-16:
But the Lord said to him [Ananias], “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
In the initial description of how Paul will serve Jesus the rest of his life, the requirement is that he will suffer for the sake of the Gospel.
What must Paul have thought when he heard that? He was very aware of his past actions. After all, he had been among the chief persecutors of those who followed this new Way. He didn’t like it. It offended him because of his Pharisaical training. This heretical group—which came to be known as in Antioch as Christians—proclaimed that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh. How could that be? Every Jew knew the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
If Yahweh was one, then He couldn’t be two or three. This Jesus had to be a blasphemer and all who followed Him were as well.
But then Paul has a dramatic visitation from God—Jesus Himself! That turned everything upside down in his life and what he believed. In that instant, he immediately knew that everything these followers of the Way proclaimed was true. Thus, if he had persecuted them in his ignorance, surely others would likewise persecute him.
The statement by Jesus to Ananias that was surely transmitted to Paul was something he would have had to wrestle with. “If I’m going to be the Lords’ instrument to carry the Good News about Him to Gentiles, kings, and all of Israel, and given my opposition, what can I expect from everyone else in response to this radical, new teaching? I know it’s the truth, and I must pursue it. Thus, whatever comes my way, I’ll endure and even welcome it for the sake of Christ.”
Was Paul going to suffer? Indeed. He chronicles some of his many trials in 2 Corinthians 11:24-29:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
He lived a difficult life for the sake of Jesus, yet he endured because he knew that it was for the truth of God, which he was compelled to proclaim.
So, what’s our problem? Why is it that so many people think a life lived for Christ should be a bowl of cherries? How did that thinking come to permeate much of Christianity?
Paul’s tribulations are echoed today around the world. Christ-followers in what are known as hostile and restricted nations—primarily, but not exclusively, in the 10-40 window—suffer greatly at the hands of those who hate Jesus. How did such enmity arise? Doesn’t it seem, in some respects, out of proportion? After all, don’t all religions lead us to the same place? Shouldn’t we all just co-exist?
I believe the answers take us back to the rebellious sons of God. In Deuteronomy 32:8-9, God—for the time being—abandoned all nations because mankind didn’t follow His commands to spread out over the earth.
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
But the Lord’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.
Men had decided to disobey by gathering together and building the tower of Babel, a ziggurat intended to bring God down to them under their control. In this Deuteronomy passage, we see God assigning His divine sons as rulers over the nations that arise following this incident. Israel as God’s chosen people also comes into view as God calls her out specially in order to fulfill His purposes.
Because God’s sons have freewill just like humans, and have been given the power to rule over nations, this apparently goes to their heads. We see in Psalm 82 that they rule unjustly:
God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations!
Ultimately, they’ll pay for their transgressions. In the meantime, every indication we see in the world around us is that they continue to reign over their respective territories. Every one of these fallen divine sons of God knows his fate. There will be a day that they will die. They will likely suffer the second death allotted for Satan and his angels, i.e. the Lake of Fire for all eternity.
Is it any wonder that they try their best to thwart God’s plans? Each one of them made himself a god over the nation or area he was originally given to rule for God. It wasn’t what God intended, but He wasn’t surprised.
As a result, we see what could only be called collaboration among these fallen divine rulers in the mutual embrace of Islam over nations, or those that use Hinduism or Buddhism to keep people lost and in darkness. In these and all other instances of religions that run counter to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the demonic is behind them. These are the spiritual rulers and authorities that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6:12:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
It is these entities, in conjunction with Satan, that bring persecution to the world.
But back to our original question: What is it about Christians—primarily in America—that we don’t understand the life of suffering that Jesus speaks of and instead desire material blessings?
I’ve pondered this in relation to our country. How is it that we’ve had such freedom, that we haven’t looked like other nations for much of our history? What is it behind the spiritual veil that has blessed us so immensely, yet now is disappearing so that we’re falling toward the fate of other nations where persecution has been rampant?
Israel is God’s sole possession. What is America in relation to God’s disobedient sons ruling elsewhere? There’s no Biblical indication that God has called America out to be His own, as He did with Israel. Given how God works in delegating, which we see in Divine Council passages like Deuteronomy 32, presumably He assigned one of His sons over the United States when it was formed. There was much divine intervention in the forming of our nation, much divine providence.
So, what happened? We speak of God removing His hand of blessing, but what does that really mean? Did the spiritual ruler God placed over us originally follow his Father’s commands and subsequently fall as his brethren over other nations did? Given the increasing darkness we see enveloping us daily, it certainly makes one wonder.
Regardless, there is a concentrated effort by spiritual forces of darkness to take out this nation. We’re seeing it in the increasing apostasy of churches and in the secular marketplace where mention of God—specially Jesus Christ—is considered hate speech.
Part of the apostasy, however, has been in the extreme watering down of the Gospel into prosperity, social justice, and other derivations. Sin isn’t spoke of in pulpits because that might offend people. Pews might empty and coffers go unfilled if people are made uncomfortable. Repentance simply isn’t spoken of when our best life now is on display.
In this atmosphere that closely resembles the world outside the church, why would there be persecution and suffering? These churches that fall away like this—and there are many—have no connection with the true church of Jesus Christ. Surely, there must be born-again believers in many of these churches, but as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:33:
“Bad company ruins good morals.”
Association with continuing sin has caused, and will continue to cause, many to fall away. How much easier it is to go along and get along!
As we near the soon-coming Rapture of the Church, those who truly love and follow Jesus Christ will—in this country as in others—be called upon to suffer persecution. Jesus promises us in John 16:33 as His followers that it’s not easy to be His disciple:
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The world is encroaching on the church. It is becoming the world. Neither wants hardship and difficulty. Everyone wants blessings.
Thank God that Jesus has shown us the Truth. We may indeed suffer for the sake of Christ, but take heart! Jesus has overcome, and in Him we, too, are overcomers—faithful to the end.