Compared to other parts of the world, people professing to be Christians in the U.S.A. have it pretty good.
Yes, the entertainment media typically portray followers of Christ and those who believe the Bible as buffoons, bigots or worse. The mainstream news media often don’t seem to know how to fairly report on someone that’s devoted to Jesus Christ. And angry atheists and freedom from religion types would rather people of faith be closeted, much as people of alternative lifestyles used to be. But looking around the globe, it seems clear American believers could have it much worse.
One of the most under-reported international scandals – at least as far as the U.S. media are concerned – is the intense persecution and slaughter of Christians in Iraq and Syria, as well as other nations, by Islamic extremists. Followers of Christ are systematically, and savagely, being purged from lands they have inhabited for 2,000 years.
Numerous media sources outside the United States say the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken control of the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, giving Christians three choices – renounce their faith and convert to Islam, pay a hefty tax, or be killed. Most have fled, leaving a region with more than 20 centuries of biblical heritage.
Across the river from modern-day Mosul lie ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh, where the Bible states the reluctant prophet Jonah was directed by God to spur a massive spiritual revival. Jonah’s tomb supposedly is housed in a mosque in the city. Yet today, having been expelled from their homes, Christians are virtually non-existent in that historic area.
I’m not an international affairs reporter, so all I know about this tragic situation comes from the BBC, Canadian news and other media sources. But it causes me to wonder: What if similar persecution occurred in the United States? Given the direction things seem to be taking, it could happen. What if all who professed faith in Jesus were told either to deny their faith or die? How would we respond?
Perhaps there’s an even greater question: If such persecution arose, would some of us as individuals be ignored, with the oppressors reasoning, “That person can’t be a Christ follower. There’s no evidence that he (or she) believes in Jesus. Nothing to indicate that at all. They’re harmless.”
In a court of law, the verdict is usually determined by the burden of proof. Therefore, if charged with being a follower of Jesus Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict any of us?
This question comes to mind because of a discussion I had recently with friends. James 2:17 declares, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by deeds, is dead.” Historians report this passage troubled reformer Martin Luther because he had been protesting the works orientation of the Roman Catholic church he was leaving. And Ephesians 2:8-9 does tell us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
But this doesn’t erase the responsibility for Jesus’ disciples to properly and consistently represent the Lord we claim to follow. If the Spirit of Christ lives in us, as the Bible asserts, shouldn’t there be outward evidence of what’s happening inside of us?
The next verse in the passage cited above says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus doesn’t just offer the hope of life after death, but also life before death – with a purpose.
He told His disciples and other listeners during the so-called “Sermon on the Mount, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Jesus wasn’t instructing us to generate light of our own, but to reflect His light. The best way, He said, is through our actions. And if we’re not reflecting the light of Christ in our homes, at our jobs, in the classroom, the athletic field or wherever we happen to be, it might be reasonable to doubt whether we truly know Him at all.