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TRUE CHRISTIANS CANNOT ESCAPE PERSECUTION!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, February 21, 2009

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12).


We have just showed a video of people suffering for Christ in other parts of the world – in China, in Indonesia, in Pakistan and other far off lands. Pastor Richard Wurmbrand was shown suffering for Christ in a Romanian Communist concentration camp. Another pastor in a Communist country was shown having a red-hot torch stuck into his neck. His own son was brought into his prison cell and tortured in front of his father, in an attempt to force the pastor to renounce his faith in Christ. Then the pastor was put into a smaller cell and starving, flesh-eating rats were poured into that prison cell to gnaw on his body. He could not lay down or the rats would eat him alive. He had to stand in the darkness for hours, beating away these flesh-hungry rodents.

But then, toward the end of the film, an American narrator with blow-dried hair and makeup on his face, dressed in an expensive suit, came on the video with a smile and said, “Of course, not all Christians have to suffer.” I asked the man in charge to cut the sound and fast forward the video, because I did not want you to hear that false statement, “not all Christians have to suffer.” I thought, “That isn’t true to the Bible. I don’t want our young people to hear him say, ‘not all Christians have to suffer.’” Then I thought of our text, which makes it very plain that the narrator was wrong. The text says,

“All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”
      (II Timothy 3:12).

The false statement this narrator made was, I believe, given to comfort soft new-evangelicals who are not living “godly in Christ Jesus,” and so, naturally will not “suffer persecution,” but will go on living as nominal Christians. The word “nominal” means “in name only.” Yes, in a sense the narrator was right, nominal Christians, who are Christians “in name only,” will not suffer persecution. To the church at Sardis, Jesus said,

“I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Revelation 3:1).

Nominal Christians, Christians in name only, have “a name that [they] live, [but] are dead.” Christ tells them that it is not enough to have the name of “Christian” only, but that such people are really “dead,” “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). No, of course nominal Christians, who have a name-only religion, will not be persecuted. Why should they be persecuted? What do they do that would raise the anger of Satan against them? Why would he want to stop them, or persecute them, since they are doing nothing to invade his kingdom? What do they do that would irritate an unbelieving world enough to persecute them? What do they say that would raise the anger of hardened sinners to persecute them? They remain always at peace because nothing they say or do disturbs the Devil and his followers.

“Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead
      (Revelation 3:1).

The fact that they are “dead” in sin means that they have never been converted. No wonder the unbelieving world sees no need to persecute them! Unconverted people, dead in sin, cause no alarm to Satan and a Christ-rejecting world!

But our text speaks of an entirely different kind of Christians – the real ones! The real ones are not Christians in name only. It is of these real Christians that our text speaks,

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12).

Only “dead” nominal Christians, never having been converted, escape from persecution. All real Christians suffer a certain amount of persecution.

C. T. Studd was a man who was “godly in Christ Jesus” – and he was persecuted for it. He gave up the large inheritance he had received, and went to China as a missionary. Then, in the last few years of his life, he went to Africa as the first missionary to the Pygmies. It cost him his life and everything he owned. People for years persecuted him by calling him “crazy” and “unstable,” even by former friends and some of his family. But C. T. Studd had made up his mind not to be a nominal Christian – but a real one. He won many to Christ, and it was C. T. Studd who said,

“Only one life,
   ‘Twill soon be past;
Only what’s done for Christ
   Will last.”
(“Only One Life” by C. T. Studd, 1860-1931).

For C. T. Studd, the Apostle Paul’s words were a call for all real Christians to live for Christ with such holy zeal for evangelism that the words of our text would describe them perfectly,

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12).

The late evangelist Dr. John R. Rice said,

Some people have the foolish idea that to be a really good Christian makes everybody love you, but that is false. The better Christian you are, the more people will treat you as they treated the Lord Jesus. Men hated Him, lied about Him, tried to throw Him over a cliff, tried to stone him, lied about Him. Later, when God’s time was come, they were allowed to spit in His face, to pluck out His beard, to hit Him over the head with a reed when He was blindfolded, saying, “Prophecy…who… smote thee.” He was beaten with a Roman scourge, stripped of His garments, and nailed to a Roman cross where the howling crowd mocked Him while He died. Remember that Jesus said, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you,” John 15:18 (John R. Rice, D.D., What It Costs to Be a Good Christian, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1952, p. 24).

The Bible says,

“Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (I Peter 2:21).

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12).

Jesus said,

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).

Dr. Rice said,

Jesus blessed those who are talked about, those who lose their friends, those who are hated and persecuted for His sake! (John R. Rice, ibid., p. 25).

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12).

I wonder if that may be what is keeping you from being converted. Jesus said,

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate” (Luke 13:24).

Are you unwilling to bear the pain that comes by striving to enter in to Christ? The word “strive” translates the Greek word “agōnizomai.” It literally means “to struggle” (Strong), “to labor fervently…to fight” (Vine). It means “effort, anxiety, conflict” (Strong). When Jesus said, “Strive to enter in,” He meant you must fight and struggle to enter in to Christ, with fervent “effort, anxiety and conflict.”

No one becomes a real Christian without effort, anxiety and conflict. The Apostle Paul was blinded for three days, and went through those three days fasting, without food or water, before he was filled with the Holy Spirit, received sight, and was baptized (Acts 9:9, 17, 18). Augustine, Luther, Bunyan and Spurgeon went through similar agony when they were converted. R. A. Torrey experienced such mental agony that he was ready to cut his own throat with a straight razor when he was converted. My former pastor, Dr. Timothy Lin, while still in China, went through an extended period of anxiety and conflict when he was converted as a young man. Why should it be any easier for you to be converted? Charlotte Elliott, who wrote “Just As I Am,” said that she went through “many a conflict, many a doubt” and experienced “fightings and fears within, without” when she came to Jesus (“Just As I Am,” third verse). She wrote about her own conversion in the third verse of that great song. She said,

Just as I am, though tossed about,
   With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
   O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
(“Just As I Am” by Charlotte Elliott, 1789-1871).

Why should it be any different when you are converted? Why should it be any easier for you to

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate”? (Luke 13:24).

Your best thoughts, toil and earnest labor to enter in to Christ are really very small sufferings compared with what Christ went through to save you, beaten in the face, flogged with a Roman whip, His hands and feet nailed to a Cross. The struggle we go through, the agony we bear, is small to find Jesus, who bought you and paid for you with His own suffering and Blood on the Cross. And when a person goes through striving and mental agony to enter in to Jesus, that person will have a little taste of the experience Jesus went through when He sweat great drops of Blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, was flogged to the point of near death, and was nailed hand and foot to the Cross to pay for your sin. If you go through the agony of striving to enter in to Christ, you will forever after think it not too much for you to suffer persecution for Jesus’ sake. You will then know and accept the fact that

“All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”
      (II Timothy 3:12).

That was true of Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, founder of The Voice of the Martyrs, and it will be true of you if you, like he did, as an atheist and a Jew,

“Strive to enter in [to Christ] at the strait gate” (Luke 13:24).

(END OF SERMON)
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