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Persecution & Suffering of Christians: Catalyst for Maturity and Holiness

Recently I received news that a friend I have known for over 30 years had rejected his faith in Jesus Christ! He is now a “none”—a person with no religious belief. I was wondering what circumstances in his life or what little foxes had crept into his heart to lead him down this path of rejecting Jesus Christ. I am sure it wasn’t a one-time decision but rather a slow fade to disillusionment. Then I think about those Christians who are willing to sacrifice their lives for Christ when pressured to deny him by torturers or family members. How is one person able stand under such intense pressure and how is another willing to abandon his Lord so easy?

What leads a person to abandon his or her faith? Maybe the roots of their faith grew on the wayside, rocky soil, or among thorns (Matt.13:18-23); maybe philosophies of this present age deceived them (Col. 2:8); maybe they believed a Gospel that only good should come to a believer and never trials (Job 2:10); or maybe they did not have a biblical perspective that persecution and suffering are a normal part of the discipleship process to produce maturity and holiness in the life of the believer (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-9). Whatever the reason, we can see a clear teaching in Scripture that two of the purposes for suffering and persecution in this life are the testing of our faith and for our maturity in Christ. That concept may seem foreign for some individuals who feel God only has their comfort in mind—not their maturity. The truth: God is not concerned with our comfort but our commitment. Here are few admonishments for us from the Word of God about persecution and suffering:

  • “For I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18, NIV)

  • “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5, ESV)

  • “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)

As I am writing this, Hurricane Idalia is passing very close to the area where I am staying. For days, forecasters have been trying to project its path and strength. The path and strength of a hurricane is determined by multiple variables so the forecasters provide a widening “cone” to predict the future impact area. Much like a hurricane, persecution and suffering depends on many variables. Is our faith solidly established on the foundation of Jesus Christ and do we trust His character that “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Remember God is working IN YOU in all circumstance for your maturity and holiness. He is working “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7, ESV).

Let persecution for Jesus’ sake and the sufferings of this present age serve as a catalyst to spur you on to maturity and holiness in Christ. Through all these things, may our roots of faith be stronger, our character more Christ-like, and our hope securely grounded in Christ’s love.

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