Saturday Night Live has been mocking Christians for years. A 2013 skit likened Jesus to a movie character who murders his enemies. Another mocked Tim Tebow with a sweat-sock-wearing Jesus in the Denver Broncos’ locker room.
Last Saturday, however, the show’s parody of God’s Not Dead 2 was especially horrific. (For more, see Nick Pitts’s Did a SNL Spoof Go Too Far and Mock God?) In a culture where “pro-life” is “anti-women” and “biblical marriage” is “bigoted,” it’s no surprise that believers feel themselves marginalized and worse. The number of Christians who believe we are facing growing intolerance in the U.S. has drastically increased in the last two years. Sixty-three percent now believe we are increasingly being persecuted; sixty percent also believe religious liberty is on the decline.
As our culture continues its moral trajectory, how should followers of Jesus respond? I’ve been thinking lately about five principles:
One: Expect opposition.
In Acts 20 we read that Paul spent three months in Greece, where he wrote the book of Romans. In the midst of such important ministry, however, “a plot was made against him by the Jews” (v. 3). Persecution will not cease so long as we are a threat to the persecutor. I am naïve or egotistical if I think what happened to Paul cannot happen to me.
Two: Respond with reason and integrity.
Moses warns, “You shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17). If I step out of God’s will, even in defending his word, I sin. The spirit in which we respond to critics can be more important than what we say to them. God wants us to “be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (v. 2). The world sees God as it sees the people of God.
Three: Seek the leading of the Spirit.
One of the famous verses of Scripture is Ecclesiastes 3:3, “a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up.” The Holy Spirit knows each human heart. He therefore knows when we need to challenge critics and when we need to be gracious to them. John the Baptist rebuked religious hypocrites, but he encouraged sincere seekers. The Spirit will give us the insight and courage to do both.
Four: Look for divine redemption.
I often note that God redeems all he allows. One way he redeems persecution is by using it to bless his people. Jesus promised: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11). Those who pay a price to follow Jesus find his presence especially close and comforting. The more we serve others, the more we grow in our own faith. Craig Denison notes: “As you grow in unity with others you will experience a deeper understanding of God’s unconditional love and affection for you.”
Five: Stay committed to the call of Christ.
When opposition rose against Paul, the apostle did not stop doing what led to persecution. He interpreted Satan’s attack as endorsement of his ministry and its significance. We do not get to dictate how we will serve the Lord of the universe.
If he is the Master, we are the servant. Is he your Master today?
Note: For more on biblical forgiveness, please see my latest website article, The Power of Pardon.