The American Church: A Call to Obedience

Like many Christians, I am very disheartened by the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage, although not particularly surprised. It concerns me that our nation, once built on Christian values, has fallen so far into moral decline, hidden under the guise of “social progress” and “civil rights” and “equality”. I recall Rome and even Israel, God’s chosen people, falling down the slippery slope into idolatry and moral depravity and eventually receiving God’s judgment. So I  can only wonder what will become of this country.

Even if gay marriage is legal in the United States and hailed as an “unalienable right,” the definition of marriage, as created and sanctioned by God, cannot be changed. As stated in Genesis after the creation of Eve, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). This is marriage in God’s eyes, regardless of what the Supreme Court says. The Bible is very clear about homosexuality and God’s view on it, as evident in both the Old Testament Law (Leviticus 18: 22; 20:13) and the New Testament, particularly Paul’s letters (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). But perhaps one of the most compelling passages on this subject is found in Romans 1. In the words of Paul to the Roman believers, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen.

“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with woman and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1: 18-32).

The Word of God speaks for itself. But we need to remember that we were once all under the power of sin and blinded by Satan, as our society is. In fact, if not for the grace of God, we would be rejoicing today just as they are: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23).

So, Christians, pray for your friends, family, acquaintances, society, and world. Pray that God would free them from the power of sin just as he has freed you. Pray that God would use you to be a witness for him, in love and in truth. Pray that God would strengthen your faith and that of the Church as a whole, so that we may be one in Christ. Jesus Himself prayed for this in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20b-23).

Today marks another fall into the moral decline that has steadily been taking place for a long time. In this nation, once founded on Judeo-Christian principles, we as Christians are used to feeling comfortable, safe, and protected. We pride ourselves on our constitutional rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc. We want to protect ourselves and our rights and continue to live quietly, compartmentalizing our faith so as not to offend anyone, slowly allowing the secular worldview to creep into our lives, even our churches. Because that’s easier isn’t it? As long as we stay silent, we can have happy, carefree lives in a world that is actually ardently opposed to us. After all, we have Jesus, so now we’ll have easy, blessed lives on Earth, safe from trouble.

Wrong! Wake up, Church of America! This could not be further from the truth!

The gospel is by nature divisive. In the words of Jesus, “ Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘ a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law– a man’s enemies will be members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10: 34-39). Does this sound like the ideal, easy life? Nevertheless, if we are truly followers of Christ, we are commanded to take up our crosses daily and follow him. If we don’t, we’re not living for him. For “whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10: 32-33). Is being silent acknowledging Jesus? Or denying Him?

Well, here’s another question. What are we so afraid of? Being rejected by men? Being called “homophobes” or “bigots” or any number of ugly names the world will undoubtedly throw at us? That’s part of the cost of following Christ.  It’s to be expected because as Jesus warned his disciples, “ The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil” (John 7:7). We should not expect people to magically agree with us. They won’t. That’s because Christ, who lives within us, who saved us by his grace, through his death on the cross, stands contrary to the sinful nature, to our selfish desires. Remember that “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me [Jesus] first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you…They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me” (John 15: 18-19; 21). Being insulted for following Christ isn’t easy, but it fulfills the words of Jesus Himself and upholds the truth of the Bible. If we are following Jesus, we should be insulted, we should be persecuted, it only make sense! But persecution and trials are what draw us to complete, total submission to Jesus and His will for our lives. We can’t live for Him in our own strength. Thus, he gave us the Holy Spirit to “lead [us] into all truth” (John 16:13), to intercede on our behalf “in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26-27), and to “give life to [our] mortal bodies” (Romans 8:11), so that through “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God,” He can “cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9: 14).

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10: 28). Who do we fear more: man, mere mortal, or God, Creator of the Universe? The Apostle Paul, who suffered unimaginable horrors, understood this well, saying, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed into the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8: 28-34). If God has chosen us, and we are following Him, and He is the ultimate authority, should we really be afraid of what people think of us or what He thinks of us? After all, “Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 35; 37-39). If Paul, who was rejected by his own people,insulted, imprisoned several times, stoned, and even executed for his faith in Christ, remained true to his commitment, assured of Christ’s love and its power, then shouldn’t we? “Love wins,” the world proclaims, but we needn’t fear because we serve the Lord whose love conquers all and lives within us!

I’ve been strongly convicted of this recently, after reading the Insanity of God, a book written by a missionary who obeyed God’s call to go to Somalia but ended his time there discouraged and disheartened. Some of his friends who became believers were martyred. He lost his son to illness. He wondered if God was still working in a world where sin and darkness are rampant. So he visited countries such as Russia, Ukraine (former USSR), and China to find out how believers had survived persecution, and whether God was still working as he had in biblical times. The results are truly remarkable, but also incredibly convicting.

Nik Ripken, (the alias of the missionary who wrote this book), asks, “Why is it that millions of the global followers of Jesus  who actively practice their faith live in environments where persecution is the norm? The first and most basic answer is that these people have given their lives to Jesus. The second answer is that they have determined in their hearts that they will not keep Jesus to themselves. Having found faith in Christ, they have such a passion for Jesus that they must share the Good News of His sacrificial love and forgiveness with their families, their friends, and their neighbors. By doing that, these believes are choosing to be persecuted.

“What that means is that, for most believers, persecution is completely avoidable. If someone simply leaves Jesus alone, doesn’t seek Him or follow Him, then persecution will simply not happen. Beyond that, even if someone becomes a followers of Jesus, persecution will not happen if the faith is kept private and personal. If a person is silent about their faith in Jesus, the chance of being persecuted is very small….The reason for persecution, then, is that people keep finding Jesus–and, then, they refuse to keep Him to themselves” (Ripken 306-307). Wow, imagine that! What if we actually left our comfortable lives and considered Christ worth standing up for!

Dr. Ripken goes on to state that, “Believers in persecution taught us another important truth. The freedom to believe and witness has nothing to do with the government or political system. The freedom to believe and witness has nothing to do with the civil and political rights that might or might not be present…it isn’t a matter of political freedom. It is simply a matter of obedience. The price for obedience might be different in different places–but it is always possible to obey Christ’s call to make disciples…Jesus’ last instruction to His disciples was to be witnesses to all peoples. He did not limit His mission to western, democratic, or “free” countries. It was a blanket commandment. It was not a suggestion, or a recommendation, or an option. It was a commandment for all of his followers–to share His message with all peoples… the question is never, ‘Am I free to do that?’ Rather, the question is, ‘Will I be obedient?’” (Ripken 307).

“Satan’s greatest desire is for the people of this planet to leave Jesus alone. Satan desires that we turn away from Jesus–or that we never find Him in the first place. If Satan cannot be successful at that, he desires to keep believers quiet, to diminish or silence our witness, and to stop us from bringing others to Christ. It is that simple…At the beginning of every day, we choose. It is simply a matter of identification. Will we identify with believers in persecution–or will we identify with their persecutors? We make that choice when we decided whether we will share Jesus with others or keep Him to ourselves…Those who number themselves among the followers of Jesus–but don’t witness for Him–are actually siding with the Taliban, the brutal regime that rules North Korea, the secret police in communist China, and the Somalilands and Saudi Arabias of the world. Believers who do not share their faith aid and abet Satan’s ultimate goal of denying others access to Jesus. Our silence makes us accomplices” (Ripken 310). Have we, as the American Church, fallen so far into complacency that by staying silent we are actually serving Satan’s purposes rather than Christ’s? Speaking of the American Church, Ripken questions, “ ‘Why would Satan want to wake us up when he has already shut us up? Why would Satan bother with us when we are already accomplishing his goal? He will likely conclude that it is better to let us sleep” (Ripken 311). Admittedly, when I first read that, it was like a punch in the gut. But I realize how true it is to myself and the American Church. The question becomes, with all that is happening in our country, will we share Christ’s love and speak the truth to a dying world that desperately needs it, or will we be complacent, silent, keeping Jesus to ourselves because we are afraid of rejection, thereby aiding Satan’s cause? By no means!

I know I’ve already quoted a lot from Ripken’s book, but I feel like I can’t leave out the heart of the matter, “Quite simply, we would do well to ask ourselves whether or not we are being obedient to Jesus. He is asking us–He is expecting us–He is commanding us to share Him wherever we go. He is commanding us to do that wherever we are today…If He is our Lord, then we will obey Him. If we do not obey Him, then He is not our Lord. Perhaps the question should not be: ‘Why are others persecuted?’ Perhaps the better question is: ‘Why are we not?

“I cannot forget the words of my friend, Stoyan [a Eastern European believer imprisoned for his faith]. He understood both the spiritual battle being waged and the significance of the decisions to be made. He said: ‘I took great joy that I was suffering in my country so that you could be free to witness in your country.’ And then he raised his voice to say: ‘DON’T YOU EVER GIVE UP IN FREEDOM WHAT WE WOULD NEVER GIVE UP IN PERSECUTION–AND THAT IS OUR WITNESS TO THE POWER OF THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST!’” (Ripken 311).

So believers in America, don’t give up your witness! We have the power of Christ and His resurrection living in us–our very lives should be evidence of this–so during this time, when we are likely to be afraid of what others think of us, as the law contradicts God’s Word, as our society progressively defends and encourages amoral behavior, we need to be true and faithful to Jesus–as His witnesses! It is not an option, but a command. The choice is ours whether or not we are obedient. Meanwhile, the fate of lost souls is at stake!

Pray that God would give you the strength to follow His leading and to stand for Him. Pray that God would reawaken his Church (the Body of Christ) across America and the world to be united in the cause of Christ.

And even as this reality sinks in, remember Jesus’ words to His disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me, you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

*Note*- Italics added (not in original material)

Works Cited

The Holy Bible: New International Version. Nashville: Cornerstone Bible, 1984. Print.

Ripken, Nik, and Gregg Lewis. The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected. Nashville, TN: B&H Group, 2013. Print.