The days of cultural Christianity in America are coming to an end. There was a time in our nation’s history — even just a few decades ago in many communities — when membership in a local church was expected, as well as beneficial to one’s social standing, and biblical values were given tacit approval in the public square. I think we can all agree that this is no longer the case.
In a nearly complete reversal, whatever public benefit one may have enjoyed for identifying with a church is rapidly being replaced with liability. At best you can hope that your faith is tolerated, but no more can you expect it to be applauded. Admittedly, it’s very tempting for Christians today to become discouraged by this trend, retreat to nostalgia for the good ol’ days, and resort to bitterness toward the society around us.
However, I see this as a tremendous opportunity for the church in America because, just like the early church, following Christ should cost us something (Luke 14:25–33). And the greater the cost, the more we’ll rely on the Lord to strengthen and sustain us in the days ahead. The greater the opposition to the gospel, the more glorious and worthy we show our Lord to be.
Almost two years ago, the world was horrified by a video of 20 Coptic Christians kidnapped from Egypt and beheaded by ISIS. In the days leading up to their martyrdom, their families had prayed fervently for their release. Yet, when the families realized that the only way their loved ones would be released was if they recanted their faith, the families instead prayed that they would be strengthened to endure this trial and remain faithful to their Lord. And this prayer was answered.
A similar story is told of 40 Christian soldiers some 17 centuries earlier. These members of the 12th Legion, known as the Thundering Legion, refused to offer a sacrifice to the Roman emperor as lord. They were commanded to comply. They refused. They were tortured. They refused. Ultimately, they were stripped and forced onto a frozen pond—with hot baths placed before them—to renounce Jesus or freeze to death. They chose a slow, painful death rather than deny their Lord.
I don’t expect any of us to face such a severe persecution or test anytime soon, but Jesus’ words to these martyrs and to us still hold true:
“Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge me before others, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever denies me before others, I will also deny him before my Father in heaven.” — Matthew 10:32-33
Following these words, Jesus goes on to say that anyone who loves their family more than Him is not worthy of Him, and anyone who doesn’t take up their cross and follow Him is not worthy of Him. But anyone who loses his life because of Jesus will find it.
Beyond the amazing faith demonstrated by these faithful men who gave their lives to proclaim that Jesus is Lord, I believe we can learn something else from their example: we must stick together.
Courage, like cowardice, is contagious. I believe that as each man refused to yield, the man next to him was bolstered. And you will stand strongest when you stand alongside fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are committed to Jesus no matter the cost.
This means we must be active in community together. We must be a family of faith. As we begin a new year, I hope that we will each renew our commitment to being a faithful part of the body of Christ, encouraging one another all the more, for the sake of the gospel and our Lord.