Persecution may be a foreign experience for most of us, but it has been the norm for most Christians throughout church history. In a culture that seems increasingly hostile to the biblical worldview, we should not fear or panic. We can find the joy, comfort, and courage that God has provided for us in His Word. This series, first published in October, 2015, works to that end. —ed.
No one intentionally seeks out persecution. True, there are some people who enjoy portraying themselves as victims and garnering sympathy from others. But no one would willingly invite their own suffering and hardship.
However, as we consider what it means for Christians to be in the world but not of it, we have to accept that persecution is inevitable. There’s a natural friction between our faith and the world’s system bent in opposition to God and His Word. And inasmuch as we hold to the authority of God’s Word and adhere to the righteous example of His Son, we can expect to draw scrutiny and anger from a world that hates Him. Our lives are a testimony to the transforming work of the Lord through His Word, and the watching world finds that truth intolerable.
In simple terms, our faith invites persecution. In his book The Upper Room, John MacArthur explains how our lives are an offense to the world, and how its opposition is a good way to measure the strength and integrity of our testimony.
Ultimately, persecution is inevitable for righteous people living in the world. Paul warned Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13). Abuse from the world is an inescapable fact of godly living.
People who profess to be Christians but never personally experience any antagonism from the world need to examine themselves. Perhaps they haven’t faithfully declared their faith, so that it is not obvious to their non-Christian neighbors what they believe. Perhaps they are not genuine Christians at all. A true believer should stand out in the eyes of the world because he has been made holy through identification with Jesus Christ. He lives by markedly different values. He pursues righteousness and does not derive his identity from the world system. He doesn’t love the same things worldly people love. A genuine Christian represents God and Christ, and that is why Satan uses the world’s system to attack him.  John MacArthur, The Upper Room (The Woodlands, TX: Kress Biblical Resources, 2014) 200-201.
But it’s not merely our separation from the world that draws its ire. By living godly lives that contradict the values and vices of this world, we expose the rampant corruption and wickedness of Satan’s system. In the world’s backward moral economy, our purity is the greatest offense.
Our lives are to be a rebuke to the sinful world. Ephesians 5:11 says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” One of the reasons we may not feel as much hatred from the world as Jesus said we would is that our lives are not really a rebuke to the world’s conscience. To live for Christ in a hostile and perverted world, we must be blameless. Paul, writing to the Philippian church, cautioned them to avoid sin, “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among who you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
Romans 1:32 points out that people in the world’s immoral system “not only do [evil things] but give approval to those who practice them.” Some people have an affinity for people who are more wicked than they are because it makes them feel righteous by comparison. When a Christian’s life or teaching rebukes another’s sinfulness, they become hostile. But Jesus has called us to precisely that kind of confrontation.  The Upper Room, 201.
And although we’ve been called to confront the world, we need to do it in a godly way. We’re not to proudly parade our purity by arrogantly confronting the lost world with our spiritual supremacy. God did not rescue us from our spiritual darkness so we could live like the Pharisees.
In the constant conflict with the world, humility is paramount. We need to always remember that the world opposes us not because of our own inherent goodness or our spiritual savvy. As John MacArthur explains, the world hates us because of Christ.
Persecution is inevitable for Christians [because] the world desperately hates the Lord Jesus. Christ told the eleven, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:20 ESV). Because the world hates Him, it hates those of us who name Him as Lord. Not everyone rejects Christ, and not everyone will reject us. A few will listen and believe.
Yet much of our culture’s apparent acceptance of Jesus is nothing more than a façade. Most of the movies, songs, and books about Jesus written from a secular viewpoint only confuse and deceive people into thinking they understand the truth about Jesus. But no one can really know Him unless he or she knows something about sin and repentance.  The Upper Room, 203-204.
We should not be surprised by the recent slide we’ve seen in society. The world hasn’t suddenly turned its back on the Lord and the church—it has always been opposed to God’s truth and His people. What we’re seeing is not a radical shift, but a return to a more overt campaign of persecution against the church.
God has not removed His blessing from us—in fact, John MacArthur says we ought to see our persecution as an indication of God’s blessing.
There is a unique joy in being so identified with Jesus Christ that you suffer the rebuke, ridicule, and hatred this world directs at Him. Too many Christians today know nothing of that joy. In Philippians 3:10, Paul calls it “the fellowship of his sufferings” (KJV). First Peter 2:21 says, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (KJV). But when we share His sufferings, we also share His joy over those who come to saving faith. And that makes every sacrifice worthwhile.  The Upper Room, 204-205.
Let’s cultivate that attitude as we head into a new era of persecution for the church. We need to look for what the Lord is accomplishing in the midst of our trials, and rejoice as He uses our temporary suffering to magnify His eternal glory.