“There is a common, worldly kind of Christianity in this day, which many have, and think they have enough—a cheap Christianity which offends nobody, and requires no sacrifice—which costs nothing, and is worth nothing.” —J.C. Ryle
“Things that will destroy man: Politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice.”—Mohandas Gandhi
“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”—G.K. Chesterton
In much of the world, being a Christian will cost you something. You may be ostracized by your family or society, arrested or even killed because of your decision to follow Jesus. In America, up until now, Christians have not faced serious persecution for their faith because they have enjoyed a religious majority. It has been easy and advantageous to be a Christian living in America.
The only sacrifices required of American Christians were to show up at church occasionally and avoid gross moral sin. Religious liberty was something we took for granted, enshrined in the Constitution and guaranteed by our national government. American Christians cruised along in life, characterized by their avoidance ethic more often than their love—focusing on the “thou shalt not” rather than the “thou shalt” commandments of their faith. For many, Jesus was just a convenient religious add-on, “useful for escaping hell in the end, but [who] doesn’t make much difference in what we live and love here.” John Piper, “Don’t Waste Your Life,” p. 108.
There has always been a social benefit to being a Christian in America. It has been easy to blend in with and be accepted by a culture that looked a lot like you. Because the values of our society mirrored Christian values, being salt and light rarely demanded that Christians stand apart from their countrymen who did not call Christ their Lord. They could trust their unbelieving but morally like-minded neighbors with the responsibility of establishing, enforcing and interpreting laws that were at least consistent with a Christian worldview.
Over the past several years, America’s society and legal system have adopted humanistic ideals and abandoned foundational Christian principles. Our culture is becoming increasingly hostile toward God and Christian beliefs related to sexual morality, the sanctity of life and the foundation of the family. Christians will soon find themselves not just socially rejected for their religious beliefs, but facing civil or criminal sanction for speaking and acting consistent with their Christian faith. This should not come as a surprise to believers. Jesus promised us that this time was coming:
“Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” —Mark 13:13.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” —Matthew 24:9-13.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” —John 15:18-19.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” -Matthew 5:10-12.
Being Christian in the America of tomorrow will mean daring to be different from most Americans, standing on Biblical truth no matter the personal cost. It will involve being intentional about following Christ, getting to know who Jesus is so that they can become more like him and join him on his mission to save the lost. Christians cannot hope to influence the world for Jesus by simply avoiding badness and taking care of their families. Even many unbelievers do that. Nor can the church continue to be known only by what it is against, but must begin to communicate by the way they live what Christianity is for—the gospel message of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and redemption, where there is no room for fear and its corollary, hate.
Christians will soon face a crisis of faith. They will be called on to decide whether to embrace their identity as strangers and aliens in this world, standing on absolute Biblical truth and grace and refusing to comfortably fit in with a culture that contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ, regardless of the real-life consequences to themselves and their families, or they will conclude that the cost of following Christ — social ostracism and civil and criminal persecution — is simply too great and will instead assimilate their values to those of the world.
May we not be found among those who shrink back, but among those who have faith in a good and sovereign God to save them. And may that gracious God transform us to live and love like his Son, so that the whole world will know there is a God who loves them. It is time to count the cost and be prepared to pay it.
“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.’”—Luke 9:23-26.