Persecuted Christians Are Lights in the Darkness
Abdul Baith has lived in Pakistan most of his life and is a Christian of immense courage. He is not ashamed of the gospel, nor is he afraid of saying what needs to be said.
As I sat across the table from him, drinking his delightful Pakistani tea, I needed him to say something. It’s something that has hung in the back of my mind for the past several years, something I’d always felt was true but maybe never wanted to admit was true. I was fearful of what it might mean for myself and for some of the people I cared about.
I’d just asked him to assess the relationship between Christianity and persecution. He told me that none of the Christians in Pakistan want persecution, but they weren’t afraid of it. They, like him, were not ashamed of the gospel or of their faith which has the power to save.
That’s a powerful teaching, a powerful thought right out of Romans 1:16, but it didn’t really answer the question I wanted to ask.
I opened my Bible to 1 Peter chapter 4 and read its first verse.
“So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you are willing to suffer for Christ you have decided to stop sinning.”
Abdul gave an audible “Mmm” as I read the passage. I could tell he was tracking with me, and because we’d talked for over two hours, I knew he wouldn’t pull any punches.
“Can you be a Christian and not experience persecution?”
Abdul’s answer: no.
He brought up Matthew chapter 10 which contains Jesus’ instructions to the twelve before he sends them out to preach and demonstrate the power of God. In this section Jesus tells them that they will be arrested and beaten, standing trial before kings because of their faith in him. They would be sheep among wolves, and they would be called servants of evil. Jesus says his message will produce strife and division, even among families. Persecution and suffering will surround his followers.
And in Christ’s own words, “The world would love you if you belonged to it, but you don’t. I chose you to come out of the world, and so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A servant is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you” (John 15:19-20).
“The Bible can’t be wrong. It says Christians will be persecuted.”
If you’re a Christian, you will be persecuted. So, if you are not persecuted…are you a Christian?
Even in asking that question, I quiver at the potential ramifications of taking a stance.
The things of God are not to be taken lightly (Philippians 2:12), and we will be held accountable for what we say (Matthew 12:36/James 3:1). As such, I want to make it clear that the intent is not to disqualify people from salvation. God alone makes that choice, and his decision is just. However, I stand rooted in the biblical teachings outlined explicitly in Scripture by Jesus himself. Persecution and Christianity go hand in hand. There’s no skirting that reality.
As it is written at the end of 1 Peter 4:1, when a person decides to stop sinning (being part of this sinful world, Satan’s realm), he or she can expect suffering. If a person hasn’t given up sinning, the world has no need to hate it because he or she is still part of the world. We can’t be part of this world and expect to be a friend of God. We can’t be a friend of God and expect to be part of this world (James 4:4). Those two things will be at odds until the day of Christ’s return. It’s a constant struggle, a war of will and spirit.
And if we are really engaged in full-scale war, we have to be fighting. So, if we’re taking shots across the bow, why wouldn’t we expect some in return?
If we’re not under fire, could it be because we’re not actually fighting?
If we’re not fighting, whose side are we really on?
This world is enemy territory, and our enemy’s very nature is destruction (John 10:10); it seems illogical to think he wouldn’t fight back against a Christ follower.
Persecution and Christianity go hand in hand. There’s no skirting that reality.
Now Satan obviously fights in different ways.
Persecution doesn’t necessarily mean we take a brick to the teeth every time we declare the lordship of Christ. Satan is just as good at lulling us to sleep. Sin lurks at our doorsteps (Genesis 4:7), and Satan can gently and slowly pry those doors open. And the things of this world fight against our very souls on a daily basis (1 Peter 2:11).
However, I don’t want to mitigate the sting of the questions just to ease people’s conscience. Make no mistake; the early church was hated, and many of its members were brutally murdered on account of the gospel. Persecution was evident all throughout church history and the Bible. And brutal and physical persecution still pervades some Christian communities today. The world does not like the message of the cross. It despises the lordship of Jesus Christ. Satan actively seeks destruction for our hearts.
But an active combatant (a Christian) is ready for spiritual warfare, armed from head to toe. (Ephesians 6:10-20). An active combatant has a mission and fights for it daily because eternity is at stake. An active combatant is known.
Does the enemy know who you are?
If Jesus came back today to destroy all enemy combatants and evil forever, would he know which side you are on (Matthew 7:21-23)?
For those honest enough to assess themselves right now, it could cut pretty deep.
It should be as clear as a light in the darkness.
The analogy of light and darkness is littered all throughout Scripture. It paints the vivid picture that a person is either in or out. There’s no middle ground. The light will not be hidden in darkness; it’s evident at all times. If the light is not evident, then it’s not there. Light that you can’t see is nonsensical. A Christian without a light is no Christian after all.
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise you heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
“If anyone acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will openly acknowledge that person before my Father in heaven. But if anyone denies me here on earth, I will deny that person before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)
A Christian is made evident in both word and deed, publicly, for all to see. A Christian is known; his or her beliefs are evident to all, at all times. A person who thinks he or she just hasn’t been noticed yet is living in denial. And denial in heaven is a serious thing.
“Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil people and impostors will flourish. They will go on deceiving others, and they themselves will be deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:12-13)
So, what does it look like to be a light in the darkness? What does it look like to fight for Jesus, to stand for truth? Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from our brothers and sisters in Pakistan.
An enviable trait of the Pakistani people is that they don’t live in denial.
There are basically two options in Pakistan: Christian or Muslim. Pakistani Christians are known by their families, neighbors, and grocery store clerks. No Christian denies the inerrancy of Scripture or the falsehood of anti-Christian beliefs. There is no political correctness or masking tolerance with shoddy doctrine and silence. There is truth, and that’s it, nothing else. Even if it means prison or death, Pakistanis won’t back down.
Here is a clear picture of what they face:
In a country of roughly 225 million, only 3-5% are Christians, and those Christians are not liked. They are referred to often as second-class citizens, sometimes deemed untouchable. They can be beaten, imprisoned, raped, or killed for their faith. The Islamic state rules with an iron fist. It owns the resources, the law, and the courtroom. The infamous “blasphemy law” (between 1982-1986) put this persecution to paper. Anyone who openly denies the teachings of the Quran, the prophetic nature of Muhammed, or the belief in Allah is subject to Islamic law: death or life imprisonment. Islam propitiates its beliefs by whatever means necessary.
Legally, Christians count as half citizens in Pakistan. In a courtroom, their testimony is dismissible unless corroborated by someone else. They aren’t protected from false testimony and have virtually no chance of avoiding punishment if a Muslim decides to turn them in, for whatever reason. A simple lie is all it takes for a Christian to lose everything.
Yet, for the last several decades, Pakistani Christians have more often than not experienced the goodwill of the Muslim people. Persecution hasn’t been wildly overt, but the winds appear to be changing. A deep uncertainty hangs over Christian homes. At any moment, they could be dragged to the courtrooms and thrown in prison, perhaps even murdered. Radical Muslims have openly proclaimed plans to kill all Christians and Jews, in accordance with their scriptures, for example Sura 5:51 which says, “O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies; some of them are allies of one another. Whoever of you allies himself with them is one of them. God does not guide the wrongdoing people.”
But to reiterate, the Pakistani Christians are not afraid; they are not ashamed.
Abdul Baith encourages his flock by reminding it that it is a set of living stones for God’s temple, built on the firm cornerstone of Jesus Christ, a stone that can’t be displaced.
They are a chosen people, a royal priesthood; they should be proud and confident in who they are and in the message of the cross. They are God’s own possession and should demonstrate the goodness of God, “for he called [them] out of the darkness and into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:4-10). God’s children have great purpose, pride, and protection through the power of Christ. They shouldn’t worry or be afraid, but rather rejoice in the strength of Jesus which sustains them in every circumstance.
And Christians everywhere ought to live out God’s commands spoken through Peter:
“So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you are willing to suffer for Christ you have decided to stop sinning. And you won’t spend the rest of your life chasing after evil desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God. You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols. Of course, your former friends are very surprised when you no longer join them in their wicked things they do, and they say evil things about you. But just remember that they will have to face God, who will judge everyone, both the living and the dead.” (1 Peter 4:1-5)
“Dear brothers and sisters, you are foreigners and aliens here. So I warn you to keep away from evil desires because they fight against your very souls. Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will believe and give honor to God when he comes to judge the world.” (1 Peter 2:11-12)
These are the teachings that Pakistani Christians cling to, and it invigorates their faith. Along with their faithfulness, God has granted the church growth and impact.
Muslim neighbors see that Christians’ lives are different.
Christians dress modestly, have respectful families, are honest, don’t get divorced, don’t cheat on their spouses, treat women with respect, value children, and show forgiveness and grace. The message of Christianity is effective because the church stands for absolute truth; it fails when the people dally in the gray lines. People who dabble in the gray lose their testimony because they have no light; their lives are not discernible from the darkness. Pakistani Christians proclaim the truth, and then they live it out. Their faith produces true fruit and growth, demonstrating the power of God to all who see them.
When the message of the cross is lived out, it will not be stopped. Those who follow the cross will be hated; they will look foolish to those who don’t believe. But the power of the Living God will dwell inside of them, a light that burns eternally, insatiably, omnipotently, an all-consuming fire (1 Corinthians 1:18). It burns bright in the darkness, and it is raging in Pakistan.
Abdul Baith asks that we keep our Pakistani brethren in our prayers. He asks that we use our resources to aid the growth of the church around the world. America is truly a land of excess, of opulence; its storehouses are full. And it is written that those storehouses will stand as evidence against us on the day of judgement should we not use them for God’s Kingdom (James 5:3). “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). It’s time to invest in the Kingdom of God. We cannot show real love to our persecuted brothers and sisters by spare money and spare time.
It’s time for the world to know which side we are on. It’s time for the power of the church to be known, for the light to shine. It’s time to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 5:41). We have decided to stop sinning (1 Peter 4:1).
We don’t seek out persecution, but we are not afraid of it. We fear God, and God alone.
It’s time for the power of the church to be known, for the light to shine.