From the earliest history of the Christian movement, believers have been persecuted for their faith. From the first-century disciples who followed Jesus to those in the 21st century who faithfully proclaim Jesus is Lord, many have suffered at the hands of those who are offended by the Gospel. Stephen was the first martyr in Jerusalem (Acts 7) and in recent times, Shakeela Bibi was beaten to death for her faith in Pakistan.

Persecution seems inevitable in places where Jesus Christ is hated. Just as Jesus predicted, the disciples will face the same fate as their master: “Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me.” (John 15:20-21 NLT)

In places like Iran, India, Pakistan, China, Nigeria, North Korea, and many others, Christians are not permitted to practice their faith. Yet they persist despite the threat of violence, harassment, imprisonment, and even death. The intensity of their faith is incomprehensible to their persecutors. Over 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest, and even death for their faith, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation.

Though it is sometimes difficult to identify the difference between persecution and the everyday inconveniences of living in a world hostile toward Christianity, Open Doors USA (opendoorsusa.org) says there are some clear defining factors. Persecution occurs when a believer is:

  • denied the protection of religious freedom
  • prevented from converting to Christianity because of legal or social threats
  • physically attacked or killed because of their faith
  • forced to leave their job or home because of the threat of violence
  • imprisoned and interrogated for refusing to deny their faith

According to Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, chief strategy officer for Open Doors International, there are at least four lies that drive the persecution of Christians today:

  • In the Middle East, the lie is that “Christianity is a foreign religion, a Trojan horse for pro-Israel, pro-American forces.”
  • In the Asian subcontinent, the lie is that “Christianity only grows through unethical or forced conversion and wants to take over our countries by stealth.”
  • In those countries where the Marxist ideology still lingers, such as China, North Korea, Vietnam, and parts of Latin America and Africa, the lie remains this: “Christianity is for weaklings who can’t face the world on its own terms and need crutches of illusion.”
  • In the West, the lie is that “Christianity is intolerant, anti-scientific and best kept out of public life completely.”

In the face of lies and threats from a world deeply prejudiced against Jesus and His followers, we are challenged to persevere in love and witness for Jesus’ sake. We depend on the Holy Spirit to convict and convert human hearts by subverting the world’s lies with the truth of God. Jesus made it clear that the disciples are not of the world but they belong to Him and thus live by the Spirit. As we follow Jesus, we are called to lay down our lives for Jesus. The prevalence of persecution in the world, including North America, is a wake-up call to be vigilant and bold in the Spirit. Jesus warns us in John 16:1 “I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith.”

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