The dark side of discipleship

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16. 33

According to the para-church organisation Open Doors, throughout the world 8 Christians are killed every day on account of their faith. Meanwhile 182 Christian buildings are attacked every week and 309 Christians are unjustly imprisoned every month. Last year over 260 million Christians suffered high to extreme levels of persecution. 80% of those who suffer religious persecution are Christian.

These are sobering statistics but, if we take Jesus' warning to heart, they should not surprise us. The Lord did not say his followers might suffer oppression, he said it was a certainty. Why? Because the Gospel speaks truth to power and those in privileged situations do not like to be challenged. We are certainly not expected or instructed to court trouble, it's simply what happens when we are being faithful.

Often the biggest threat occurs in totalitarian regimes where Christians refuse to pay homage to the dictator in the assertion that Jesus alone is Lord. Here in the UK the stakes may not be as high yet Jesus' warning still applies. In an increasingly secular and militantly permissive society we are going to find the social discourse increasingly hostile to the authority and teachings of Jesus. And he expects us to resist!

Jesus himself proclaimed: "Unless you take up your cross daily, you cannot be my disciple" (Luke 9.23). Though we are not to seek ill treatment, if we are not encountering resistance we are probably not living a sufficiently distinctive lifestyle, nor being bold enough in sharing our faith. And that is a bitter pill to swallow. But, before sinking into a pit of guilt, be reassured that we are not alone and we are not condemned.

Two things are worth bearing in mind: firstly, God is for you, he knows the plans he has for you and he wants you to succeed; secondly, as it says in the text above, Jesus has overcome the world and therefore, though it may not look like it now, we are on the winning side! Pray that God will prepare you for whatever challenges and opportunities await you today, make a point of equipping yourself according to Ephesians 6. 10-20. Then take a deep breath and face the world, remembering that "he that is within you is greater than he that is in the world" (1 John 4. 4). And be blessed!

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