Attorney General William Barr is making headlines for a speech he delivered at Notre Dame University’s law school last Friday. Barr, a devout Catholic, told faculty and students that “the problem is not that religion is being forced on others, the problem is that irreligion is being forced—secular values are being forced on people of faith.”
Barr adds: “Among the militant secularists are many so-called progressives. But where is the progress? We are told we are living in a post-Christian era, but what has replaced the Judeo-Christian moral system? What is it that can fill the spiritual void in the heart of the individual person? And what is the system of values that can sustain human social life?”
The attorney general said of the moral problems we are facing, “This is not decay. This is organized destruction. Secular forces and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia, in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”
I believe Attorney General Barr is absolutely right.
Here’s why we are here: Many in our culture believe the lie that all truth claims are subjective impositions of personal power on others. Tolerance of all viewpoints must therefore be mandated, except, of course, for viewpoints deemed intolerant.
According to this agenda, the freedom to express religious beliefs ends where such freedom is deemed harmful to or by another person. Any person. Of course, the harm done to the person expressing his or her religious beliefs is ignored.
How to “experience the strongest opposition”
In such times, answering God’s call to be culture-changing Christians requires both urgency and courage. The higher the summit, the harder the climb.
A dear friend recently shared with me this statement from seventeenth-century theologian John Owen: “There is no duty we perform for God that sin does not oppose. And the more spirituality or holiness there is in what we do, the greater the enmity to it. Thus, those who seek the most for God experience the strongest opposition.”
Peter would agree.
After the apostle courageously declared the gospel at Pentecost and three thousand came to new life in Christ, the same authorities who arranged Jesus’ murder arrested him. On trial for his life, Peter declared to them that “Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11–12).
The power to live and die for Jesus
How did the Galilean fisherman who denied Christ three times find the courage to make such a bold proclamation? The key is in verse eight: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them . . . .”
Pre-Pentecost Peter failed to find the fortitude to make public his commitment to Christ (Matthew 26:69–74). Post-Pentecost Peter stood for his Lord so boldly and sacrificially that he paid for his faith with his life. According to Eusebius, the fourth-century church historian, the apostle was forced to watch his wife’s martyrdom, then he “was crucified head-downwards; for he had requested that he might suffer in this way” (Ecclesiastical History 3.30.2; 3.1.2).
Why did Peter make this request? He told his executioners, “I am not worthy to be crucified like my Lord. Then, having reversed the cross, they nailed his feet up” (Acts of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Ante-Nicene Fathers 8.484).
The same Holy Spirit who empowered Jesus’ earthly ministry (cf. Luke 4:14) and resurrection (1 Peter 3:18; Romans 8:11) empowered Peter’s earthly ministry (Acts 2:4) and faithful death. He now dwells in us as his temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). He stands ready to use our spiritual gifts (click here to discover yours) and manifest his spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22–23) in our fallen culture to the glory of God.
“The true mark of the saint”
The question is not the Spirit’s ability but our availability.
James Koester of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist notes: “It is when we live in union and communion with God that we can speak with the same authority as did Jesus. But knowing God, rather than knowing about God, is a dangerous thing. It requires us to be like Jesus. It requires us to empty ourselves and take on the form of a servant. It requires us to become obedient, even to the point of death. Only then can we say that we truly know God.”
To be “filled” with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), we must first be emptied of ourselves. Jesus was clear on this: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Then we can say with John the Baptist, “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). And we will discover the truth of J. I. Packer’s assertion: “You will never need more than he can supply.”
How hard is your journey?
By God’s providence, you and I are alive at this moment in history because, by God’s providence, we can make an eternal difference at this moment in history.
Max Lucado noted: “God never said that the journey would be easy, but he did say that the arrival would be worthwhile.” I would add: the harder the journey, the more worthwhile the arrival.
How hard is your journey for Jesus today?