It’s not odd when Christians face opposition—it’s odd when we don’t. In this fallen world, what comes naturally is not joyful obedience but persistent rebellion towards God and his rule. This natural rebelliousness inevitably results in opposition to those who stand with God too. As Jesus said to his disciples: “I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19). Paul made the same point: “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Clearly then we should expect opposition as Christians. It’s no surprise when this opposition comes from the non-Christian world around us. Plenty of new Christians will know what it’s like to have their parents object to them getting baptised. Many of us can tell a story of some uni lecturer dismissing Christianity out of hand. Every Christian is pressured by the world and its spiritual ruler to downplay Christ and godly living.
However, more surprising to us is when the gospel is opposed by those from within the church community. Sadly this is something we should be prepared for too. Paul, for example, warned, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth” (Acts 20:29-30; see also Matthew 7:15 and Galatians 4:29).
But, most of all, we need to keep a guard against ourselves. The bad, old habits of resisting God are still powerful for those who have been born again. Our hearts and heads remain quite capable of being (willingly) deceived. So, just prior to warning the church leaders about savage wolves, Paul advised them to “keep watch over yourselves” (Acts 20:28). He gave similar advice to Timothy when he wrote, “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16). Fortunately—in the face of such pervasive opposition—God himself protects us by his gospel. For what other message reveals the true nature of our state before God, offers a pardon for sinners, and depicts the beauty of a godly life? The gospel declares that all we need do is keep trusting in Jesus (Colossians 1:23; 2:6-8).
So, in the face of opposition, the Christian thing to do is to resist evil and respond with grace.
Resisting evil means no longer conforming to ungodly thoughts or behaviours. It means living lives that are holy—distinctive—and not compromising our standards to ‘fit in’. Obviously such a stand will typically result in still more opposition. But the shocking and repeated teaching of the Bible is that such persecution is really a blessing because it marks us out as being in the company of the prophets (Matthew 5:11-12), it deepens and demonstrates our faith (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:7), and it will be richly rewarded by God (Hebrews 10:35-36; 1 Peter 4:13). When it comes to opposing ‘savage wolves’, for example, we should encourage our leaders to show great discernment and courage. If, however, they shirk this duty then it’s probably time to start looking for new ‘shepherds’.
Responding with grace
Responding with grace means not cursing but blessing those who persecute us (Romans 12:14; 1 Peter 2:21-23). Of course the greatest blessing we can ever pronounce is to explain the gospel of grace and to do so in a gracious way (Colossians 4:3-6; 1 Peter 3:15-17).
Who knows what God will do with such a testimony. If he can turn the hearts of the soldiers who crucified Jesus to himself (Matthew 27:54), then he can turn the hearts of our adversaries too!