by Jeremiah Johnson
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
Martin Luther wrote those stirring words during the height of the Reformation, as he and his friends faced fierce physical persecution—and even death—for their faith. For almost five hundred years, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” has been a rallying cry for the church, buoying heavy hearts in the midst of Satan’s attacks.
And while we don’t often encounter the same level of persecution Luther did, his words remain a powerful encouragement to this day. They’re a helpful reminder of the Lord’s sovereignty, especially in the face of institutionalized immorality and the aggressive perversion of God’s design.
We shouldn’t be surprised when a government full of unrepentant sinners institutes sinful laws and policies. We shouldn’t be shocked when immorality is celebrated and purity is ridiculed. And we shouldn’t be scared when the church is vilified as the enemy of progress, science, or society at large.
In fact, no persecution, in any form, should surprise us. Christ Himself warned His followers that they would face fierce opposition: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). The apostle John echoed that warning in 1 John 3:13: “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.”
In fact the surprise is not that Western society has turned against the church in America, but that it ever tolerated the influence of the church in the first place.
This is where we remind ourselves of the great comfort and freedom we know in serving a sovereign God. While the appetite for His Word and tolerance for His people may wax and wane in society, the light of His truth cannot be extinguished. He is still on His throne, and nothing that happens to us is outside of His plans or His control.
The true danger for the church, then, is not any external threat that the culture presents to us. They can mock us, fine us, outlaw us, and even kill us—God’s truth will march on.
Instead, the true danger facing the church is the internal threat that comes from loving and following the world. In terms of halting the progress of the gospel and tarnishing its testimony, persecution has nothing on compromise and corruption. For too long the church has sought to pacify, mimic, and attract the world, hewing as closely as possible to its interests, trends, and appetites, and inevitably ending in spiritual shipwreck.
But when those trends are overtly sinful and the appetites only for immorality, how does the seeker-friendly church manufacture and maintain its relevance? Sadly, it seems those who prize the cultural relevance of the church are content to continue their pattern of compromise.
Twenty years ago, in his commentary on the book of Titus, John MacArthur described how the church was giving in to the corrupting influence of another worldly movement, and the danger it represented.
As with many worldly influences, the feminist movement has made great inroads in the church, including the evangelical church. In the name of women’s rights, the Word of God is dishonored as being sexist, chauvinistic, and unfairly limiting. Some feminists maintain that standards set forth in these and similar passages were culturally oriented to New Testament times or were simply Paul’s personal beliefs. In either case, they are considered irrelevant and non-binding for Christians today.
The God-ordained institutions of marriage and family, which are the primary foundation of a healthy society, are attacked as archaic and outrageous or, at best, unnecessary. Tragically, many unthinking, poorly taught Christians are seduced by feminist rhetoric into believing that traditional roles of women—in the family, in society, and in the church—are outdated and oppressive. The phrase “women’s liberation” has an attractive, democratic ring, which, on the surface, seems reasonable and justified.John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Titus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), p. 79.
Those arguments might sound familiar—they’re some of Satan’s oldest lies, simply updated to fit a new immoral cause. The homosexual movement has merely picked up where previous attacks on God’s Word had left off. And you can be sure that another movement will soon come along to deepen and extend those same attacks.
Faced with intense and growing pressure from outside and inside the church, what are believers to do? How do we remain salt and light in a world that has no interest in either? And how do we protect our testimony from a savorless, dim church bent on compromise and capitulation?
In the book of Titus, Paul gives clear instructions to believers on how they should live lives set apart from the world for the sake of adorning the gospel. In the coming days we’ll consider his practical teaching, and how purity is the best response to persecution.
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