The inner peace of the Christian life
Enduring persecution with joy
Growing up in a contemporary Christian household, I was led to believe in the peculiar notion that if I accepted Christ and became a born-again Christian, my life would be filled with ease, happiness and tranquility, free from stress and worry.
Later in life, I realized that this was a misunderstanding.
Yes, the Christian life is the most incredible experience a person can have here on earth. But not how I was led to believe. The reality is instead experiencing Christ’s inner peace despite life’s difficulties, which is very different.
Following Christ with full commitment can be strenuous and challenging. Despite the incredible rewards of living a Christian life, it can also be filled with hardships and adversity.
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The Apostle Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:12 (MEV), makes a blunt statement: “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” There are no ‘if’s or ‘but’s in what he says. In unambiguous terms, Paul makes it very clear that anyone who truly desires to live a godly life in Christ will suffer persecution.
Paul himself was not naive. While in prison, he prayed and praised God (Acts 16:25 MEV) – quite strange behaviour, at least for modern times. Though he had to suffer so much for Christ time and again, he can be seen experiencing a joy, which was, in a word, uncanny.
Paul’s statement is an axiom; time, place and setting are irrelevant. Whether in a pagan or Christian world, a barbarian or Roman society, old or modern times, this principle applies evenly. No matter where genuine Christians find themselves, they will surely face persecution, claims Paul.
Persecution may have changed its connotation in the West, but the grim reality remains.
The term ‘persecution’ may seem unfamiliar. The connotation the word has – of having your hands and legs in handcuffs, being imprisoned indefinitely, being slapped, beaten or even killed in the streets, all for Christ and his righteousness – has changed, specifically in Western countries.
Not only that, but things have significantly improved, as Tom Holland, a modern scholar, points out in his book Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind. The world is still broken, true. But infanticide, rape, violence and murder have all been criminalized. Slavery has been abolished. Workers now have a right to unionize. And universal suffrage has become a reality.
Regardless, Paul’s assertion remains steadfast. Persecution may have changed its connotation in the West, but the grim reality remains. It may not be typical for Christians living in the West to be physically assaulted, killed or imprisoned indefinitely, but they will still be unjustly treated, reviled, ridiculed, insulted, threatened and alienated from society. They could lose a promotion or their job altogether.
The world has an affinity for conduct that is rebellious, unfair, deceitful, cruel, spiteful, quarrelsome, malicious, violent – in a word, unjust. It rejects behavior that is orderly, fair, forthright, merciful, kind, peaceable, benevolent, gentle – in a word, godly. Because Christians will peacefully refuse to do what is unjust, they will not always be tolerated.
In fact, the deeper Christians walk with Christ, obey God, love the Scriptures, show practical love to their neighbors, hate sin, injustice and cruelty, and do their best to live a just life, the more the world will reject them.
Jesus was never ambiguous about what it entails to be his follower.
Jesus’ life is the blueprint for a faithful Christian. Just like he was unjustly treated, Christians will also be unfairly treated. If Christ did nothing wrong and was still persecuted – even condemned to death – can his faithful followers expect anything else? (John 15:20 MEV) Unfortunately not.
In Luke 9:23, Christ tells his disciples, “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Taking up one’s cross means suffering. Jesus was never ambiguous about what it entails to be his follower. He never said it was going to be easy. Never.
When someone comes to Christ and becomes a genuine Christian, they undergo a complete change. They are made alive through the blood of Christ Jesus, and all their sins and trespasses are forgiven. (Ephesians 2:1-5 MEV) Moreover, not only are they saved from condemnation, but their life gets a new direction, peace and, ultimately, eternal life.
Even here on earth, a faithful Christian will enjoy the abundant life that Christ promised his disciples (John 10:10 MEV). Amid life’s difficulties, hardships and adversities, and even amid persecution, they will experience Christ’s inner peace (John 16:33).
Walking deeper with Christ will lead us to enjoy the abundant life Christ promised. Christians do have freedom in their walk with Christ; we can decide whether we want to know him more. We choose how to spend our time and resources. To some extent, whether we want to experience Christ abundantly is up to us.
Thus, when Paul boldly claims that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” he clearly distinguishes between those who genuinely desire to live a godly life and those who don’t. The Christian who does what is right, loves mercy and walks humbly with God (Micah 6:8 MEV) should not be surprised by persecution.
In the end, a genuine Christian’s reality may be grim along the way. But it is crucial to remember that God will also bless us in ways that are hard to imagine. Those who have walked this road have experienced the true inner peace of Christ, the ability to love one’s neighbor when treated unfairly and the joy of suffering unjustly – an uncanny and incomparable inner peace.