Revival Through Persecution Series: Strengthening the Church With Loss
“Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.” At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.” (Acts 5:17-31, ESV)
“So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:28-31, ESV)
Last week, we began discussing the problem of taking our civil liberties for granted and how we have become privileged– expecting to have things that scripture never promises us, the idolatry and dormant faith that occurs when we try to live the Christian life dependent on our government, and constitutional freedoms. And though what we see today in America is not at all what the rest of the globe sees and cannot be compared to the
sufferings of the early Church of Acts, the question we must ask ourselves is: what if it DID get to that point? What would that mean for the Church, and how would I pursue Christ through that?
Now while I won’t sit here saying that it should be our hope and prayer to experience these sufferings; I will say boldly and unapologetically that the removing of our rights to assemble as a church, to speak freely, and the loss of the protection we have through separation of Church and State may ultimately be the healthiest thing for the Church. Christians’ liberties have driven them into comfortability which has driven them into unchallenged, lukewarm faith. The removal of our rights would give the Church an opportunity to glorify God like never before.
How? I believe God would be far more glorified in a church that continues to worship and obey Him even when they’re threatened, rather than a church that only worships and obeys Him when it’s comfortable and easy. He is delighted far more in a people that would stand up for Him amidst persecution than a compromising people who only stand up because there is no persecution. Which one brings the Father more joy? To be worshipped out of convenience, or to be worshipped when it’s the hardest and most dangerous thing in the world?
The Christian was designed to endure suffering. It has a way of bringing about holiness within us. The Holy Spirit has a way of using it as a means of sanctifying us in Christ. Charles Spurgeon once wrote “The Lord gets His best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction.” I believe the removal of rights would serve as a stretching of the Church, out of an idolatrous comfortability, and into an utter, thriving dependence on God. If there is nothing– including suffering and affliction– that will keep you from Christ, then that’s true worship. If the only thing keeping you from worshipping Christ is a lack of religious liberty, or if you’re in need of your constitutional right in order to proclaim and obey Him, then that’s idolatry and unbiblical Christianity.
I truly believe that IF we enter into a time of change in the country where we lose these freedoms we’ve grown up with, it may oddly enough be a provision of God’s grace for the sake of the betterment and strengthening of the church. It would give the Church the opportunity to truly be the Church and walk as Christ did. Furthermore, I believe it would be the ignition to true revival in America. The persecution that would ensue from the elimination of civil liberties, more than anything, would actually stimulate the church. If authorities force the Church “underground,” it would actually launch the Church into the greatest revival for Christ this country has ever seen.
What I mean by that is that the Lord often uses the removal of earthly liberties as the very means of thrusting us into liberty in Christ. In other words, God uses it as a means of grace in order to sovereignly draw men to Himself, because they finally realize their desperate need for Him. Look at how incredibly the Gospel spread in the early church of Acts through the preaching of the apostles after Christ’s ascension. The entire book of Acts specifically describes the illegality of what they were doing, and yet they did, and thus, the church multiplied in great numbers. In our passage in Acts 9, the apostle Paul was facing death threats, and even attempts on His life for proclaiming Christ as Lord. And in the face of persecution what does verse 31 say?
When Paul then sent off to the church in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, they were being built up and strengthened. And not only that the Church increased, but it multiplied... in great numbers. Then we see this week, back in Acts 5, the apostles were arrested for preaching the gospel and doing the works of the Lord. The angel tells them to go and preach in the temple courts, and so they did, law didn’t hold them back, the Spirit cut them loose. And because they obeyed God rather than man, the Gospel continued to move in power. Can you imagine if we received the same instruction today? I believe many of us would say, no Lord, I certainly can’t do that, that defies the authorities. We need to fear God more than we fear man, even if we lose our lives for it.
Look at present day China: how quickly and vastly they are being evangelized, even though it defies state
orders and is punishable possibly to death. One of the most explosively growing churches in the history of mankind; and yet it’s illegal. Again, the removal of earthly liberties often serves as the very means of thrusting man into spiritual liberty. This is why civil liberties– although not inherently sinful in themselves– are inevitably prone to become idols to man as they serve as a means of separating man from God. It makes man feel comforted and protected, to the point where they no longer realize their deep need for God and begin living independently from Him.
The Church has actually been weakened by having all its physical and societal needs met by man for so long because many have stopped relying on and seeking after Christ because they feel as though their country gives them all they need. The problem is that many only seek God for blessing and protection and not for the sake of worshipping and following Him simply because He is worthy. Comfort and safety is their idol, not Jesus. A god that is only necessary for protection and provision but is not otherwise useful or worthy of worship outside of that is a false god and an idol, and not the God of the Bible.
The idea is that we are not free to the degree that the government says we are, we are free to the degree that Christ says we are, and whom the son has set free, is free indeed (John 8). Eternal freedom far outweighs and is infinitely more valuable than earthly freedom.
Next week, we will continue to dive into exactly how persecution and affliction would bring about revival amongst the people of God, and how what looks like defeat to man, is actually God’s provision for great victory for His church.