In a report on wnd.com by Michael Carl from September 17th, 2012, two U.S.-based religious freedom groups say that anti-Christian persecution is on the rise in America. The joint report by Texas-based Liberty Institute and Washington-based Family Research Council says government agencies around the U.S. are trying to push Christian expression out the door. “It is dramatic,” says Liberty Institute Founder Kelly Shackleford, of the recent hike in reported incidents of persecution. “There are children being prohibited from writing Merry Christmas to the soldiers, senior citizens being banned from praying over their meals in the Senior Center, the VA banning the mention of God in military funerals, numerous attempts to have veterans memorials torn down if they have any religious symbols such as a cross, and I could go on and on,” Shackleford said. Christian civil rights organization senior counsel David French says many of the new cases come from colleges. “Our knowledge of incidents is only as good as the reporting,” French says. “However, it’s clear that – particularly on college and university campuses – we have seen a significant rise in attempts to silence Christian organizations by the misapplication of nondiscrimination laws.” French adds that many public facilities are also covering over Christianity. “One of the most strident examples: the misuse of the Establishment Clause to attempt to ban any mention of God from historical markers, monuments or even museum exhibits,” French says. “This represents an effort to whitewash God from American history and change our national identity.” And this has not all occurred since 2008…“the seeds for these attacks were dropped in Supreme Court opinions in the ’40s, and it really began to take off in the 1960s. The thing that is shocking now, and different, is that the attacks have dramatically picked up speed,” Shackleford says. “There can be as many as 100 new attacks per month. While Liberty Institute has the highest win rate of any group in the country (at over 99 percent), we just can’t currently cover all these with our current resources.” This is the world that we live in today, a pluralistic world of religion, and much of it is no longer friendly toward Christianity. But, jumping to end of the “story”, we can put on our rose-colored glasses, for in this section, Jesus provides this important message -- "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33, NIV)
There are two important themes that run together in this section of John (15:18-27) – the opposition of the world against Christianity and the ministry of the Holy Spirit to and through God’s people. Jesus has been talking about love, but now He discusses hatred. The contrast between the way Christians are to treat one another and the way the world reacts to Christians could not be more evident. Jesus has already mentioned that persecution will come…back in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:10-12), and in His commissioning message (Matthew 10:16-23). Throughout John is it evident that as Jesus ministers for three years, the religious establishment not only opposes Jesus, but seeks to kill Him…there is a tide of open resentment, hatred and then open opposition against Him. We must clarify what “the world” is, because it is really a three-fold concept -- it can mean the created world, (John 1:10), the world of humanity, (John 3:16) or society apart from God and opposed to God. Sometimes, we call this this third aspect “the world system”. This is what I have typically called it in order to differentiate. From a Christian perspective, it involves all of the people, plans, organizations, activities, philosophies, values that belong to a society without God. Some of these matters are cultural…but all have their origins in the heart and mind of sinful man and promote what sinful man wants to enjoy and accomplish, and so are corrupt. What may seem right to the flesh is so wrong to the Spirit and to the spirit. Christians must not love the world system (1 John 2:15-17) or be conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2). Jesus tells His disciples that their situation in the world will be serious and even dangerous. If worldly people hated Jesus, they will also hate those who are identified with Him. (15:20)
When we trusted in Christ, we moved (or at least we were supposed to move) into a new spiritual position…we are now “in Christ” and “out of the world (system).” We do live in the world physically, but are not to be of it spiritually. This does not mean that “we are so heavenly-minded that we are not any earthly good,” but it means that we consider the things of this world from a different point of view. The world system functions on the basis of conformity, and as long as a person follows the fads and fashions and accepts the values of the world, he or she will “get along.” But, the Christian refuses to conform to the world. The believer is a “new creation” and no longer wants to live “the old life.” It is apparent that we must live in a world of persecution and opposition, but how do we do it? What is the secret to success? It is through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Jesus sends God’s personal power, the Holy Spirit, to indwell His people (Acts 2:38-39). If we did not have the Holy Spirit within, we would not be able to serve the Lord in this present evil world. We are to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), “worship in the Spirit” (Philippians 3:3, and “witness in the Spirit” (Acts 1:8). Believers can stand and withstand in the midst of the world’s hatred because of the special ministries of the Holy Spirit. We will pursue this in the next section of John’s message.
Steve Goodier shares this -- when Henry Ward Beecher was a young boy in school, he learned a lesson in self-confidence, which he never forgot. He was called upon to recite in front of the class. He had hardly begun when the teacher interrupted with an emphatic, "No!" He started over and again the teacher thundered, "No!" Humiliated, Henry sat down. The next boy rose to recite and had just begun when the teacher shouted, "No!" This student, however, kept on with the recitation until he completed it. As he sat down, the teacher responded, "Very good!" Henry was irritated. "I recited just as he did," he complained to the teacher. But the instructor replied, "It is not enough to know your lesson, you must be sure. When you allowed me to stop you, it meant that you were uncertain. If the entire world says, 'No!' it is your business to say, 'Yes!' and prove it." The world says, "No!" in a thousand ways: "No! You can't do that." "No! You are wrong." "No! You are too old." "No! You are too young." "No! You are too weak." "No! It will never work." "No! You don't have the education." "No! You don't have the background." "No! You don't have the money." "No! It can't be done." And each "No!" you hear has the potential to erode your confidence bit by bit until you quit altogether. Though the world says, "No!" to you today, will you determine to say, "Yes!" and prove it?
The world says “no” to the way we want to live for God…but the Holy Spirit empowers us to say “yes” to God and “no” to the world system. Many believers want to have their cake and eat it too, as it relates to the fundamental spiritual battle that we face, but as Word of God reveals – if you willingly live compromised with the world system, then you are not Jesus’ friend…and furthermore, you quench the Holy Spirit’s power in your life. I have seen the warning signs in people's eyes and heard it in their speech on numerous occasions (unfortunately). The evil one is always looking to cause individuals to stumble by sowing seeds of discontentment, discouragement and distraction. We must guard our hearts and minds, keeping sensitive to the heart and the will of the Lord by doing some regular self-examination, telling ourselves the truth with honest self-talk, standing firm in our commitment to spiritual disciplines and in our relationship with Him and our spiritual family. We have a choice to make…and sometimes it occurs even on a daily basis…will we trust in the power of God through His Spirit in order that we will live like Jesus, or will we compromise our witness? Be salt and light.