We have all kinds of relationships that we must balance. There are close friends who treat us well. Enemies are a whole different matter. They are not on your side.
You could have a scorched-earth policy with your enemies. Or you could try to treat them fairly. Jesus calls Christians to love their enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:44). But that’s not easy to do. We need the Holy Spirit’s help to follow Jesus’ teaching.
Christians tend to focus on talking about the world as their enemy or their friend. I want to pay special attention to how we deal with those who don’t like us at all. How does the Bible talk about the world and what Christians should expect?
Levels of Persecution
Not everyone you meet hates you because you are Christian. Most people, especially in America right now, will either not care or treat you the same as anyone else who is religious. Sometimes it depends on how you carry yourself as a Christian.
If you push Christianity on other people you will probably get a lot of pushback. Some people pick on you because of your religious beliefs or standards. The Bible promises things will get much worse as the end times approach.
As He teaches about the end times Jesus says Christians will have tribulation and be persecuted (Matthew 24:9). Christians experience persecution on different levels. In America, civil liberties and First Amendment rights keep us from experiencing the kind of persecution Jesus is talking about for now.
We face derision and people making fun of our religion. Opponents of Christianity demand we defend the Bible and Jesus. They point out what they believe are contradictions in the Scriptures. They call Christians names or present serious cases against Christianity and why they think it is such a bad social influence.
Go down paragraph There’s a group of people called the “New Atheists” who have begun to experience popularity in the Western world. Although they are against all religions they do tend to fixate on Christianity. These include celebrities like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and others.
Their goal as enemies of Christianity is to present arguments that religion is dangerous to humanity. Not content with presenting arguments, they are almost activists against religion. They want to get rid of religion altogether.
These New Atheists are more interested in destroying you as a Christian than listening to your responses to their questions. Their main strategy is to humiliate you publicly by asking you “gotcha” questions.
The levels of persecution intensify as the end times approach. You can expect to eventually be persecuted to the point of suffering for Jesus physically. Jesus includes persecution in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:10-12). So be prepared for all types of persecution.
We enjoy liberties and freedoms in the United States. But this will not always be the case. When it comes, prepared to suffer for Jesus. Even your suffering will be a witness against those who persecute you.
No one wants to endure persecution and suffering for the faith but Jesus gives us the strength and peace to go through these trials. He will be with you every step of the way. As the intensity of our persecution increases Jesus gives us His grace.
What They Think of Us
As hostility toward Christians progresses in our world people won’t hold back on what they say about us. This is the most common persecution American Christians face. Enemies of the Christian faith fight with their words.
Opponents of the Christian faith attack Christians as hypocrites and stupid people for believing in Christianity. Perhaps the most common attack is calling us hypocrites. Part of this is a misunderstanding of how Christianity progresses in a person’s life.
We pursue Christ with all of our hearts. We genuinely share our faith with others. But they watch our lives to see if we follow Jesus’ teachings. The Holy Spirit is transforming the behaviors and character flaws in our lives that don’t measure up to Jesus’ standards.
They watch us closely and find that we occasionally fail to represent Jesus well. The Holy Spirit addresses one or two character flaws and behaviors at a time. So there will be times when people in the world will see we don’t always measure up to Jesus’ high standards.
They call us hypocrites because we profess to be Christians but fall short in one or two areas. We can try to explain that while we follow Jesus we are not perfect. We don’t automatically become Jesus’ superstars.
We hope that our authentic living Jesus’ teachings and commandments will not be undercut by our faults. But if people want to persecute us they will ignore the changes Jesus has already made in our lives.
The biggest mistake we can make is to point out that the people that accuse us of being hypocrites are hypocrites in some way themselves. Lashing out at others is not the way of Christ. But the same time, the point should be made in some way. If you can do it in a loving way and they will be honest about their own standards and how they fail in fulfilling them then you can make this point.
Whatever moral standards or goals any of us set for ourselves, Christian or non-Christian, we will not succeed every time. Christians are held to a double standard by non-Christians who wish to persecute them for their faults.
The moment we declare ourselves Christians and that we follow Jesus and his teachings we fall under attack because people remember our past. They are quick to point out our failures to follow Christ. But they refuse to acknowledge any failures in themselves. It’s disingenuous on their part.
It’s not our goal to defend ourselves. We must rely on the Holy Spirit to convince people who persecute us. There is a difference between knowing what Jesus expects and not doing it and not being perfect in every area the Holy Spirit addresses through the path to holiness. We are traveling a path to holiness that is not complete in us yet.
People in the world will see this as a copout but we will make gains in some areas and still be working with the Spirit and other areas. We should point out the things Jesus has changed in us that they would notice.
Another attack of persecutors is the Bible itself. No one is a super apologist as they begin to witness about the changes Jesus has made in their lives. We all start as novices. No Christian can know how to defend the faith and the Bible right away.
When people ask me questions about the Christian faith, God, and the Bible, if I don’t know the answer I ask them for time to research and provide them with an adequate answer. If a person is genuinely interested in finding out the answer to their question, they will give you the time to find the answer.
The people who use smoke screens and “gotcha” questions are only interested in making you look bad publicly. In these cases, they will not wait for you to research an answer and give them a proper response. They are not genuine in their question. I don’t worry about people who are just trying to catch me up in my faith.
In general, the people who are listening to your debate or conversation will see through these attempts to make you look bad or stupid. I have found other people listening to the conversation are truly interested in the answer. I reach out to them.
Some people will not listen to your testimony about Jesus. They just want to discount Jesus through attacking you. They are not interested in the Christian faith. They will not genuinely listen to you.
We want to see everyone come to Jesus. But there are people who will not be remotely interested in coming to Him. Don’t be heartbroken if you cannot reach a person with your story of faith. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to draw people to Jesus.
Don’t be hardhearted about people who will not listen. But don’t be heartbroken over those people not listening. Be faithful and follow the Holy Spirit. Witness about Jesus at every opportunity. Let the Holy Spirit do the rest.
One more attack of persecutors is to call us stupid for believing in Jesus. New Atheists especially take this point of attack. They want to discount Jesus by making fun of you. They are not open to the gospel.
Jesus will give you the tools as you study apologetics to defend your faith with these attacks. God does not need to be defended by you. Some people listening to your defense may be interested to hear more about Jesus.
There are epic battles between atheists and Christian apologists in video and audio formats. These can be helpful to bolster your faith in Jesus. They can also prepare you to handle people who are hostile toward the Christian witness.
Learn what you can about the faith. Don’t be afraid to dive deeper into the things that interest you or that you have questions about. Learning about your faith and grilling in it brings glory to God. Your inability to defend Him at every point an atheist or challenger brings up is not a failure.
Do your best with the tools you have to defend Christ. But don’t be concerned if you do not win the argument. Witnessing to others is not about winning an argument. It is about presenting Jesus in his beauty and grace. The Holy Spirit does the rest.
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:14–16, ESV)
In But Not Of
Throughout John 17 Jesus talks about His disciples as being in the world but not of the world. Being in the world means we live and work here for Jesus. Our efforts to witness about him are part of being an ambassador for Jesus ().
But though we live here we do not share the worldly values and worldview of this world system. The devil controls this world right now as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). We are walking in enemy territory behind enemy lines.
This world is not our home. We are bound for heaven. So we separate ourselves from this world system. We stick out like sore thumbs whether we want to or not. If we truly pursue Jesus with everything in us, we will leave a bad taste in people’s mouths who do not like Jesus.
Paul said we are the aroma of death to those who are perishing but the aroma of life to those who hear the gospel (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). The Holy Spirit wakes up the spirits of those who are open to the gospel. We are the messengers but He does the miracle.
Some people say Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. But if you are heavenly minded you are thinking of those who need to know Jesus and be in heaven with you. Truly heavenly minded Christians are a whole bunch of earthly good. We can’t take anything with us to heaven except the people who have heard the gospel and believe in Christ as we do.
We deeply care about those around us who do not know Jesus. We must show people that it’s not good works that get you into heaven. It’s not what you do. It’s who you know. People must know Jesus to join us in heaven. This is our mission.
We will face persecution and hostility in this world. Persecution will increase as the end times come upon us. We must prepare ourselves to defend our faith and present the gospel to those who are interested.
Jesus gives us the tools and His grace in the midst of our tribulations and trials. So let us do what we can to witness to others. don’t let the persecution and Tribulations scare you. Jesus gives each of us the strength we need to face whatever is before us. Leave a comment and describe some of your strategies for dealing with persecution and trials from others in this world.