Living for Christ in the Midst of Opposition and Social Chaos

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:9-13, ESV

Our first mission at Biblia Global is to equip Christians in restricted places with the Word of God. As we equip those Christians, there is a tremendous amount we can learn back from them as they live as shining stars in dark, oppressive places. In the United States, life has become darker the last 12 months. We have faced increased societal chaos, lawlessness, the flipping of good and evil in the public square, and the silencing of opposing voices and views. If we are willing to listen, there is much that the church in closed countries can teach us as we navigate our darkening landscape:

1.  Cultural opposition and persecution are opportunities for us to demonstrate what Christianity is really about to a lost world – Jesus was radical in how he taught his followers to live. His words are just as radical to us today. It seems the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day had taken the famous Lex Talionis “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” Mosaic law[1] - given by Moses for governing authorities to punish evil doers with a punishment that fit the crime - and were applying it to personal relationships and interactions.  Jesus turned this way of thinking upside down by teaching that one should turn the other check to personal insults[2] loving ones enemies, and praying for the persecutor[3]. This was the new way of the Kingdom of God. Jesus did not condemn self-defense or the defense of the vulnerable but introduced the Christian way of responding to personal slights and insults: responding in love, prayer for our persecutors, and forgive as God has forgiven us [4]. Paul instructs the Romans to,

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:14-21, ESV

A number of years ago, I met with a Hmong pastor in rural Vietnam who shared about when he first came to Christ and started his church. When Pastor Lao first came to Christ, the governing authorities would not allow Christian fellowship or worship to take place. He and the other believers in the village would worship in the middle of the night on a high mountain top to evade detection. Eventually, the authorities learned about pastor Lao’s faith and the church he had started and tried to convince him to give up Christianity by promising him land. Refusing to give up his faith, Pastor Lao was then arrested.  When he refused to renounce his faith after being arrested, the authorities arrested his sister, wife and mother.  They would all be released safely if pastor Lao would renounce his faith. Still refusing, the pastor was beaten badly, multiple times until his body became numb. Pastor Lao told his captors that even if they beat him like this every day for 40 years, he still would not renounce his faith.  Exasperated, the authorities drug pastor Lao out to a field where they further mocked and beat him saying, “if Jesus is God, ask him to make it rain!” Pastor Lao prayed and it started raining immediately! Shocked, the authorities immediately released the pastor and his family!

While all stories of persecution don’t end up with a happy ending here on earth, pastor Lao’s story is a modern-day example of a faithful believer standing firm in the Lord, not responding in kind to beatings and insults, and entrusting God to work in a difficult situation. And God eventually brought justice: within two months of being released, all of Pastor Lao’s tormentors had died of various “natural” causes.

See also 1 Corinthians 4:11-13

2.  Opposition to the truth, cultural shame and ridicule separates the wheat from the chaff – Jesus said,

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14, ESV. [5]

It is hard and perilous to follow Jesus when there is opposition. There are many easy off ramps when the narrow way gets hard. One of the clearest things I have seen in closed countries is being counted among the followers of Jesus invites dire consequences.  In Laos, believers can be kicked out of their village and societal support structure if they become Christian. In Myanmar, being a Christian prevents educational, vocational, financial, and legal opportunities. In China it can mean getting a significantly lower social credit score which would prevent flying on planes, trains, educational opportunities, ability to bank, and ability to work (to name a few). Essentially one becomes a non-person in China as others are also dinged for associating with a person of a low social credit score.  Even in a free country like Japan, to be the first believer in a family and reject the cultural Shinto way of living, believers often become dead to their other family members.  Consequently, the believers in closed countries are the real deal because there is a significant cost to following Jesus. Make-believers cannot take the heat.  There are not many cultural Christians, because the cost is too high for those who only follow Him with a half heart. Jesus says that as things become more difficult, many will fall away, many will follow false teaching and false prophets, and the love [of God] for many will grow cold. It is he [or she] who perseveres to the end will show themselves as ones truly saved[6].

See also Revelation 3:15-16, 1 Peter 1:5-6, Acts 14:21-22

3.  This fallen earth – and country – are not our true home – 1 Peter 2:11 calls us “Aliens and strangers” (1984 NIV) and “foreigners and exiles” (2011 NIV) here on earth. Paul says, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”[7]  The author of the book of Hebrews writes,

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city ... For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Hebrews 11:16, 13:14, ESV

It is easy to become distressed when we see the place we have called our home changing for the worse. For me this has been a challenging lesson that God has been teaching me the last 12 months, to hold loosely of my identity as an American, and grow in my identity and hope as a citizen of heaven, as a citizen in the kingdom of God.  The Lord is preparing a place for us in the next life that we will share with Him and the believers through the ages no matter how bad things get here. I am a co-citizen with Lahu believers in Myanmar; Hmong believers in Vietnam; Khmu believers in Laos; and Chinese believers in China. Adjusting our perspective and ultimate identity away from the places we reside actually frees us to live more effectively in the here and now.  C.S. Lewis famously said, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. Since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

See also John 14:2-4

4.  Value nothing more than God’s Truth and God’s Word – The current environment we in the west find ourselves in takes Biblical truth and flips it on its head. Right has become wrong, wrong has become right and what is right according to the mob is constantly shifting. The Prophet Isaiah wrote,

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5:20, ESV

God’s Word is timeless and lasts forever [8]. His truth does not change. Never compromise what you know is right and what the inspired Word of God says. Stand true to what is right and just. One day, men and women will give an account for their lives. Everything said and done in public and in secret will be made known[9]. Never compromise that Jesus is the only way given by God for salvation[10]. In both Nazi Germany during WWII and modern day China, there were and are elements of the church who compromised their faith to align with the demands of atheistic leaders. Yet there is always a remnant who choose not to bow to political pressure and agree to change Biblical truth and theology to suit oppressive leaders or the mob. Whether it was the confessing church in Nazi Germany, or the underground church in China, the remnant of the true faith remains strong. Don’t apologize or back down for believing in Jesus or believing in the claims of the Bible.

5.  For much of the last 2,000 years, the church has existed and thrived in the midst of a restrictive environment. If we find ourselves in the same place, God will sustain us – Paul wrote, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake”[11] and, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”[12] For much of human history, men and woman did not have the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, a bill of rights, or rule of law that we enjoy in the United States or the west. Jesus lived under a highly oppressive Roman government in first century Palestine. Whether it was the first 300 years under the Roman Empire; the prohibition of the Bible from being translated into native tongues from Latin, Greek, or Hebrew; or the many places in the 21st century that Christians still cannot practice their faith freely or speak openly without fear of imprisonment or death; the Church is strengthened and grows the most when the culture and government are the darkest and against it.  In fact, the paradox of freedom and prosperity is the temptation for a lazy or lukewarm faith.

What has been called the greatest revival in human history in modern China [12b] - where the Christian population is projected to grow to 250 million believers by 2030 [12c] – Has occurred under the most repressive government system in all of human history.  As terrible as it is for some of us to imagine, if the United States were to regress in the freedoms we enjoy or were to cease to exist, a restrictive or repressive environment is the where the Church can really shine because it has to fully depend upon the Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

See also Matthew 5:10-12, 1 Peter 4:12-14, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, 2 Timothy 3:12, Philippians 1:29, John 15:18-27, 1 John 3:13-14

6.  Cultural opposition and persecution are opportunities for our faith to be purified  – James says to,

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4, ESV

Just like a hot fire heats impurity out of precious metals, suffering acts as a purifying process from God to cause our faith to grow, for us to be conformed more into the image of Jesus Christ, and for us to experience Jesus more and more. As I have encountered believers in closed countries, many times I have walked feeling like I have been closer to Jesus himself and encountered a person who almost literally has the light of Christ shooting out of their pores!  God’s power rests on those who need Him and truly seek Him. As you seek Jesus, seek him with your whole heart in repentance: as God’s Spirit is poured out, conviction of sin and repentance are key responses to continuing the momentum of the work of the Spirit in our lives.

See also Romans 5:3-5, 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, 4:7-12; Philippians 3:7-11

7.  Maintaining connections to other believers in small groups and fellowship is critical – Growth cannot happen outside of the context of community and the same can be said of sustaining the faith when there is opposition. Like logs on a fire, single logs rarely keep a flame going long.  It is groups of logs together that keep a flame hot and sustained. God speaks to us through the community of believers to keep us rooted in the faith, keep us from theological extremes and error, and exposes lies we believe. If the situation we find ourselves in gets really dark, relationships cultivated in easy times become the groundwork for a network of trusted community, resources and encouragement.  Solomon wrote,

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, ESV

As I have visited unofficial and underground church in closed countries, I am always struck by the power of the body of Christ coming together in simple settings. God’s Spirit meets these believers where they are at, and they go forth set afire.  Years ago in Vietnam, I arrived at a Hmong house church and within minutes, dozens of believers arrived from the mountainside to the tiny, open walled building to worship together.  We worshiped the Lord together, prayed for one another with tears, read the Bible together, and then shared a meal prepared by the Hmong believers.  We were as different as two groups of humans could be. Their normally tan hands and feet were blue from mixing indigo to dye their handmade hemp clothing from scratch while my skin is white and pink and my beard is a bright red-orange. We had to translate English to Vietnamese, and Vietnamese to Hmong just to communicate. Yet I had more in common with these Hmong than a westerner who looked exactly like me but didn’t follow Jesus Christ. It is this community and type of gathering that will sustain a true faith in an oppressive environment.

See also Proverbs 17:17, 27:17; Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35; Hebrews 10:24-25

8.  God is in control. Nothing surprises Him – If there is one major, overarching theme in the Bible, it is the sovereignty of God in the events of humanity. There is no chance.  There is no randomness. Belief in the sovereignty of God provides comfort in difficulty because we know the events that happen – whether personal or globally – had to first pass through His hands to reach us, and are a part of a bigger plan God is working on [14]. He chose followers of Christ before the foundation of the world [15]; He governs everything that takes place [16]; He appoints kings and leaders [17]; He ordains the rise and fall of kingdoms [18]; He allows sicknesses and our physical ailments [19]; he ordains and knows the days of our birth and death [20]; by Him all things exist [21]. Speaking of Jesus, Paul writes,

“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” Colossians 1:16-18

As you encounter challenges and trails, friend, never forget that God sees what you are going through and is with you in your situation.  He is in control of your circumstances and will provide for everything according to his glorious riches if you seek his kingdom and righteousness first[22].


There are three books I have found helpful in understanding what is happening in the United States from a Christian perspective and what our response as the Church should be. I would highly recommend these for further reading:


[1] Matthew 5:38, Exodus 21:23-25

[2] Matthew 5:38-42

[3] Matthew 5:43-48

[4] See 1 Peter 2:20b-23

[5] See also Matthew 16:24-26.

[6] Author’s paraphrase, Matthew 24:9-13

[7] Philippians 3:20

[8] Isaiah 40:8, 55:10-11

[9] Matthew 10:26-33, 1 Pet. 4:5

[10] John 14:6; Acts 4:12

[11] Philippians 1:29

[12] 2 Timothy 3:12

[12b] See Paul Hattaway’s China Chronicles.

[12c] "Religion in China: Cracks in the Atheist Edifice" The Economist, [home page online]; available from ; accessed 7 December 2014.

[14] Proverbs 16:4

[15] Ephesians 1:4, 11

[16] Ephesians 2:11; 1 John 4:4

[17]Psalm 22:28; Proverbs 21:1; Daniel 2:21, 4:25, 5:21

[18] 2 Kings 19:25-26; Job 12:23-25

[19] Exodus 4:10-11; John 9:3

[20] Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6-8; Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16; Matthew 10:29-31; Acts 17:26

[21] Psalm 104, 147:3-4; Hebrews 2:10

[22] Philippians 4:19, Matthew 6:25-34