As followers of Jesus, allow me to remind us – we have chosen the side of good over evil. Nowhere is this clearer than in environments of persecution where, as one proclaims the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the price for doing so is increasingly costly (Revelation 2:10). While the battle with the Evil One certainly has physical manifestations, believers in persecution suggest that the deeper war is both internal & spiritual. Suggested here are 5 responses to evil for your consideration. These 5 responses increasingly represent a closer spiritual pilgrimage/walk with Jesus.
The first two responses to evil are quite universal.
Seemingly, the 1st two responses to evil are shared equally between the secular world and those of us who claim allegiance to Jesus the Christ. Dare I say this? Can this be true?
Sadly, most governments, organizations, churches, and sermons that struggle with persecution seldom lead us past these beginners’ responses to evil and the resulting persecution of followers of Jesus.
The last 3 of these 5 responses are overtly spiritual & represent, increasingly, being “in Christ.”
What makes followers of Jesus different from a secular NGO? How are we believers to be separate from the governments, militaries, and humanitarian organizations on this planet?
1. “God save me!”
This is very normal and understandable. It represents the first half of the prayer of Jesus (Matthew 26:36) in the garden before his crucifixion. He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…” If my family or I were in prison we would want scores of people to pray this prayer on our behalf!! I would certainly pray this prayer myself. Yet it only represents half of the prayer of Jesus in the garden. Almost in the same breath, we do not pray the second half of His prayer: “yet, not my will but your will be done.”
2. “God punish them.”
Our normal response to evil and its persecution is biblically anemic. We see persecution as abnormal and we call upon governments and militaries to rescue us from what God may be using for our own growth and His glory. Sometimes God needs Joseph in pharaoh’s prison for the salvation of the Egyptians & the Jews in Egypt. We must pray both halves of the prayer of Jesus including, “not my will, but yours be done.”
Calling on God to punish our enemies is a far cry from loving them. Followers of Jesus who refused to get stuck in the first two responses to evil could find themselves joining Jesus and Stephen in praying, “When did it become OK to die for one’s country, but not die for one’s Jesus?”
3. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
This just might be the most un-American thought that I share with you. This response to evil recognizes that followers of Jesus can see themselves both as a target of satanic attack yet still victorious in their Savior. From Jesus on the cross and then Stephen in Acts 7:60 – even as the stones tore into his flesh – recognized that their persecutors were themselves victims in need of forgiveness as well as individuals responsible for their actions.
This response does not come easy. It is not the normal response of governments, militaries, or, sadly, the church. Such a response takes strength of soul and character seldom witnessed today. Seeking forgiveness for one’s enemies is counterintuitive, unpopular, and often seen as weakness.
Hating Muslims is popular. Calling Mohammed & Islam ugly names can elicit “amens” from many corners of the church. Greatness is measured by the size of one’s military, economic growth, and within democratic forms of government. Yet forgiving one’s enemies exemplifies a New Testament faith in a world defined by Old Testament responses and reactions.
As one continues to grow in Christ they may come to pray the most dangerous prayer possible,
4. “Father, forgive me as I forgive those who have sinned against me.”
Could there be a more dangerous prayer on the face of the earth for one’s soul? Are we willing to place our souls in jeopardy based upon whether or not we forgive our enemies? This is precisely how Jesus taught his disciples to pray.
It’s quite popular to “fight fire with fire” within the world that is still defined by the Old Testament premise of an “eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth”. Tying our forgiveness by God to our forgiveness toward our enemies represents a growth, and a risk, in Christ that is otherworldly. It demands that we be defined by heaven on earth, acknowledging that living the Lord’s Prayer might just be the most dangerous thing one can ever attempt.
As we grow in Christ there is a response to evil that transcends all others as we pray:
5. “Father, today, glorify Yourself in me.”
This prayer makes a bold statement. It prays to God and proclaims to the world that political environments are not what define our faith. We are as free to share our faith in Christ in Saudi Arabia as we are in South Carolina. We are as free to share our faith in Christ in North Korea as in the Bible Belt of Southern America. No one can stop us from getting off of airplanes, out of buses, and cars from proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Persecutors can certainly punish us for sharing our faith, but by doing so, they help us to proclaim it all the more! If we don’t quit, if we don’t exit the fight at the entry level where we demand “God save me” and “God punish them,” we can grow into the fullness of Christ where we understand faith is not tied to political freedom but is about glorifying God – wherever.
Can we pray, “Lord from the time we rise this morning until the time we go to bed tonight we want everything we have said and done to have glorified you, our God.” If you ever accomplish this kind of growth in Jesus then the hard fight truly begins. Glorifying God is never a static achievement. Believers in persecution record how they have come to this place of glorifying God when they themselves were the focus of persecution. But, oh, how hard the battle becomes when evil attacks those we love; a wife, children, or the people of God for whom we love and have responsibility. It is so easy to become stuck at “God save those I love” and “punish those who harm them.”
Glorifying God, when the cross is borne by those we love, causes us to ask, “Is Jesus worth my life, the life of my wife, my kids, and those that I love?”