Is it easy to be a Christian? It is not, and for a variety of reasons.
There is a cross to take up. “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. 24 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:23, 24).
There is suffering to be endured. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
There is a call to be faithful, even unto death. “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
In the early Church, many Christians suffered persecution under Rome, not because they were Christians and worshipped Jesus, but because they were viewed as rebels against Rome. Christians refused to engage in Caesar Worship. So, Rome persecuted those who were non-patriotic. There was also talk of the Christians being cannibals, immoral, and atheistic. Did the Christians not eat the body and drink the blood of their Leader? Did the Christians not engage in love feasts? And did the Christians not refuse to worship the many gods and goddesses of Rome? Did they not worship the One and only God?
Of course the Christians deserved to be thrown to the wild beasts, crucified, punished, and slaughtered! It was for the good of society they be eliminated.
Then, the Jew opposed Christians because they believed followers of The Way were teaching contrary to the Law of Moses. To make matter worse, the profitable Jewish sacrificial system was being abolished. And finally, the tax-exempt status of the Jews was being lost for the Christians were viewed by Rome as Jewish rebels.
It was not easy to be a Christian in Rome, nor is it easy to be a Christian in modern society.
There is temptation to overcome. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:14, 15).
There is a message to proclaim. In the early Church the strength of the message was that God has spoken to the world through the prophets, and through His Son Jesus Christ. Who and what Jesus is, and what He taught is the focal point. The centrality of Christ in every facet of life must be proclaimed for He is both Lord, and Savior.
The Christian message is rooted in a universal understanding of life, with eternal values by which to live.
The Christian message is rooted in the presupposition that God exists, “In the beginning God” (Gen. 1:1), and that God has spoken in a way people can understand. It is the Christian who knows what is right, what is wrong, and how to judge the state for one day the Church shall judge the angels (1 Cor. 6:3).
The Christian message continues and declares that people are unique because people are made in the image of God with will, intellect, and emotion. It is to God that individuals are ultimately accountable so that all should fear Him, and live humble and righteous lives. There is a basic dignity and value of each individual so that no one should be aborted, murdered, enslaved, or sacrificed in an unjust war.
If the early Christians had worshipped Jesus and Caesar, no real harm would have come to them by the state of Rome. But the Christians did not love their life unto death but were willing to wear the martyr’s crown.
If the early Christians had not sat in ultimate judgment upon a totalitarian state they might have come to no official harm in the Empire. But the Lord Jesus has made His people to be “kings and priests unto God and His Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen,” (Rev. 1:6), and so the Church could not remain silent.
When the Church sits in judgment upon government and tells it abortion is wrong, greed is wrong, and homosexuality is wrong, then the Beast of Government is angry and strikes back. The Church was counted as the enemy because it had a basis to judge all people and every situation.
Rome had only the state to stand upon and the power of the sword. Jesus said those who live by the sword shall die by the sword (Matt. 26:52). The cross is mightier than the sword, and prophesied was fulfilled (Daniel 2:34).
As Rome declined in power and glory, it satiated societal passions with public displays of violence and sensuality. Gladiatorial games were held in many places. In Pompei, the phallus cult was strong. The bonds of marriage and family were loosened.
Even though official persecution of Christians ended in AD 313, and became the official state religion in AD 381, the majority of people in the Roman Empire continued to live without God. This led to a spirit of indifference. Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow is death.
Intellectual life gave way to an emphasis on a social life. Creativity was lost in art and moved towards expressions of decadence. Music became increasingly bombastic. Syncopation was prevalent. Every facet of life was marked by apathy including the desire to be free with individual rights. People allowed government to grow. A large government needs a large income to sustain itself and so the tax burden grew. Authoritarian increased. Fewer people were inclined to work. More freedoms were lost. Eventually, people did not think the old civilization was worth saving.
It is instructive that in America today, the concepts that destroyed the Roman Empire have seized the nation. Modern technology has made many people apathetic to work. Church attendance is in decline. Marriages are easily made, and more easily broken. Syncopation characterizes much.
Art and architecture is decadent in style, structure, and beauty. Government continues to grow in size, and invites more people to be dependent upon it. People openly talk about destroying capitalism and say it is not worth saving. The Barbarians are not coming to destroy America, they have arrived.
If the Lord tarries, America will be swept into the dustbin of history if her citizens do not remember that an elite group of intellectuals cannot save the nation, nor can false gods of human imagination, nor can a strong authoritarian government. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord (Psalm 33:12).
And what will save the Christian community, which is itself a holy nation among the other nations on earth (1 Peter 2:9)? The answer is this. Belief in God, faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, submission to His Lordship, and living out the ethics of the Bible will save the Church.