Free to Live and Free to Die

“We who are free to worship and serve the Lord must never forget those who are not.” At first glance these words seem, at least to me, to be saying that Christians should remember, pray for, and preach the Gospel to those who do not know that God sent His Son to be the sacrifice for our sins. They appeared, though, in a context of remembering our brethren who are persecuted (which is clearly commanded in the Bible)! I believe they were attributed to Chuck Swindoll. However, who said them does not matter. What matters is not even that anyone said them. What matters is many Christians think that, in persecution, Christians are not free to worship and serve the Lord; to be more careful, many who think they are Christians think this, and many Christians think that they think this.

In America, many of these Christians think that they are free to worship and serve God because they are not persecuted; there is no risk of losing their jobs. There is no risk of being imprisoned. They do not fear torture or execution or sexual abuse. Therefore, they are free to worship and serve God. However, Christians in places like North Korea, where simply not worshiping the pictures of the Kims leads to imprisonment in horrendous labor camps, are not free, they think, to worship God. If they had the threat of torture hanging over their heads if they so much as spoke aloud the name of Jesus, why then, they would not be free to worship God either! If death or imprisonment was a not-unlikely consequence of gathering with other Christians to worship, they would not be free to worship God.

This is ridiculous. Kim Jong-un, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and whoever else can never take away the freedom Christ has bought for us. There is no freedom to worship God except by the blood of Christ; only in Jesus can anyone serve God. Jesus Christ is God Almighty, and no one can take away what He gives. It is a form of idolatry to think that persecutors are able to take away our freedom.

It would not surprise me if there is less worship of the Lord and less service to the Lord in America than in Saudi Arabia or North Korea or Somalia. We, Christians, are free to live and free to die. It is an act of worship when we pray. It is an act of worship when we tell someone about Jesus. It is an act of worship when we gather with other believers to exhort and encourage one another and to praise the Lord together. It is an act of worship when we confess Jesus as Lord. It is an act of worship when we are willingly tortured for His love. There is plenty of opportunity for worshiping the Lord anywhere; after all, many of these Christians sing in their weakness and their pain! If you want a picture of worship, America is probably not the best place to find it.

What is an obstacle to worship? Attachments of the heart to anything but God. These are so easy – and, apparently, so nearly unnoticeable for many in America. I think the fact that many think they are free to worship because there is no danger proves this fact. I think it may also indicate that their worship is not worship. Worship is a joyous offering of oneself to God in love because God is worthy and good – because God loves you, and you love Him in return. How, I ask, is this any less possible in an Eritrean prison than in an American church service? Worship is always a miraculous grace of God… and it may be a greater miracle in the United States than in Afghanistan (if any miracle is greater than another)! I wonder, too, if there is no persecution in America because there is very little worship… if many of these people have no persecution to fear because they are not truly offering themselves to the Lord, but are instead compromising with the world. After all, we are told, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men persecute you, and revile you, speaking all kinds of evil against you for My Name’s sake. Rejoice and be glad in that day, for great is your reward in heaven. Even so did your fathers treat the prophets before you.” The indication here is that persecution is normal and to be expected. There is a parallel passage that says, “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for even so did your fathers treat the false prophets.” Jesus told us that “A servant is not above his Master; if they have called the head of the house Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” and, again, “As they persecuted Me, they will persecute you. As they listened to My words, they will listen to yours… In fact, a time will come when everyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” Given this, the lack of persecution in American and the degree to which the church in America is even honored by some (not all) of the government and the world – after all, the churches are recognized by the State and not persecuted – indicates that much of the church in America may, in fact, be false. Furthermore, throughout the Acts (and history) persecution and conversions seem to go together. When people believe in Jesus, persecution follows. Just read about Thessalonica and Berea, and how the Jews of Thessalonica, after Paul and his companions left Thessalonia, upon hearing that the Gospel was being received in Berea went there to stir up persecution! Earlier in Acts, when the Apostles are flogged, it went side by side with conversions. Stephen, the first martyr, was a man full of the Holy Spirit. Later, Tertullian (one of the Church Fathers of the early centuries) wrote, “Torture us! Crucify us! Condemn us! Destroy us!… Your cruelties prove only an enticement to our religion… The more we are hewn down by you, the more we sprout up! The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” I have heard that it was expected that Mao and the Communists would eradicate Christianity in China. Instead, the Church flourished in numbers and in strength. I have heard that there were very few Christians in Iran before the revolution and the theocracy. Now, there are many! It seems to me that there may be very few coming to believe in Jesus (that is, very few Christians) in the United States of America.

Because Jesus Christ is our High Priest who has gone through the heavens, we have the boldness to approach God’s throne of mercy. As Christians, our identity is in Him. Worshiping God in Him, because His Holy Spirit lives within us, we can serve God anywhere. Nothing can ever be the smallest obstacle to the abundant life that we have in Him – He Himself is our life. Those who are in their sins cannot worship or serve God; we can offer our entire beings, heart, body, soul and mind to Him in worship, in life and in death. Everywhere, the Father’s love is sovereign. No power of the devil or the world can ever hinder the power of Jesus’ blood. We are seated with Him in the heavenly places, and the circumstances of our lives or the places where we live are of very secondary importance. Jesus said, “If you know the Truth” that is, He Himself, “then the Truth will set you free.” Again it is written, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you slaves again to fear, but the spirit of adoption by which you cry, “Abba! Father!” – that is, the spirit of worship. Yet again, it is written, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but the spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind.” And, again, it is written, “By this we have confidence on the day of judgment – that as He is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not yet made perfect in love.” Again, it is written, “I have learned the secret of being content in every circumstances. Indeed, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Our freedom, our salvation, our ability to love, worship, and serve God is based on the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ our Lord. It is to question the power of the sovereign YHWH and the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to think that the powers of the world can take away a Christian’s freedom to live in Christ Jesus, for His glory, worshiping Him, serving Him, and spreading the news of His sacrifice and eternal life.

 

Copyright 2018 Raina Nightingale

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