When we read the New Testament, many aspects in the lives of first-century Christians seem distant and unimaginable to 21st-century Americans. We simply can’t relate to constant persecutions, prosecutions, and executions they endured. It was the “normal” for the early church.
Their normal is not our normal. When we talk about our trials, we think of an illness, a loss of a job, or a financial fiasco. These are all real difficulties, but our problems today do not qualify for “the trials of many kinds” described in James 1:2, or “fiery trials” of 1 Peter 1:7, or the cross Jesus told His disciples to take up and follow Him (Matt. 16:24). Their trials meant persecution for their faith in different ways, including torture and death. This, of course, cannot happen in America, we think. After all, this country is built on religious freedom; it’s the Land of the Free! Isn’t it how God has blessed the United States? Right?
Moody’s president, Dr. Paul Nyquist, begs to differ. In his new book, Prepare: Living Your Faith in an Increasingly Hostile Culture, available from Moody Publishers, he predicts the “real” trials, first-century style, awaiting the American Christians, and sooner than many of us think. Christians have lost the so-called culture war. In the book’s introduction he writes: It’s painful for me to admit that the country I love has radically changed, and the pace of change is accelerating. Followers of Jesus who awakened from a cultural sleep are facing hostility, rejection, and marginalization. The trend lines point to increased opposition, including genuine persecution.
Many things in this book might surprise you. You will learn that for Christians, persecution is normal, not strange; that God exposes us to persecution, not protects from it; and that it’s possible to view it as a true blessing from the Lord. You will never think about persecution in the same way again!
This is an important book to read in our time. You can order it on the Moody Publishers website, moodypublishers.com. Prepare is also a good companion to our study of the book of Romans in Today in the Word this month. It will help you apply many passages in Romans to your life today in a new way.
Prepare ends with a message of hope. The presence of Christ and the power of the gospel helped the early church endure and even thrive under persecution, and the same Christ and the same gospel are with us today. It might just happen that the terrifying possibility of enduring suffering for the sake of the gospel is the only way for us to understand and achieve Paul’s wish: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10). That is the true blessing of persecution. Let us prepare for what lies ahead. Let us strive to know Christ—no matter what!