The Bible states that followers of Jesus will be persecuted when they live godly lives in godless societies (2 Timothy 3:12). This prospect can make us anxious! So, how can we try to avoid persecution? And is this a good thing to do?
I want to flee to another country to escape persecution and suffering. Is that okay?
This is first and foremost a matter between you and God. Can you discern what is your will and what is God’s will? There can be times in which God indeed asks you to flee. Even Jesus avoided difficulties sometimes because it wasn’t His time yet (Matthew 2:13-14; 10:23; Luke 4:30; John 8:59). The same applies to Paul (Acts 9:25; 9:30; 17:10). However, let’s not close our eyes for the fact that God is asking His people in many circumstances to stay and endure. Some people chose to flee but regretted it afterwards because they felt God asked them to stay. Once you left, there is often no way back.
Our purpose on earth is not to escape persecution, but to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, telling others the life-saving news of Jesus Christ. How will others be saved if you and I constantly flee from persecution? Jesus chose neither to flee nor fight in the darkest hour of His life. He persevered, endured and stood strong through the storm (Luke 22:41-52). Yes, staying and enduring can be extremely difficult. It can even be that God asks someone to give his life. A special crown is awaiting those who lay down their lives for their faith (Revelation 2:10). But we don’t have to seek martyrdom. Rather, when we stay, we may seek justice – for ourselves and for others.
In many cases, even the persecuted have legal rights. Use them, like Paul did. He used his Roman citizenship (Acts 22:24-29) and appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:9-11). Make your circumstances known to the worldwide body of Christ, document the incidents, look for an advocate and exercise all legal rights you have. And don’t forget that Christ will always be with us – no matter what we have to endure.
Is it okay to follow Christ in secret so that I will not be persecuted?
Sometimes, following Christ in secret can mean that you can preserve your life, or that you can avoid severe persecution. If this is the choice you have to make, then you are in a very difficult position. We can say a lot of things about it, but it is as always best to see what the Bible has to say. Jesus Himself gives us the answer: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:32-34). So, while it is understandable for someone to keep their faith in Christ a secret in order to save their life, for a Christian, a secret faith is from a biblical perspective simply not an option.
Your next question could easily be: Why does God make it so difficult? The answer is again simple: our purpose on earth is eventually not to preserve our lives, but to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, telling others the life-saving news of Jesus Christ. How will others be saved if you and I practice our faith only in secret? Yes, sometimes we risk persecution in doing so, and sometimes we risk our own lives. But we know it is God’s will that we share His truth with others, and we also know He is powerful enough to protect us until our mission on earth is completed.
Yes, living for Christ in this world can be difficult. But this world is not our home. The trials of life are the tools God uses for building us up and making us more like Jesus. Whatever hardships may come, we are assured of one thing: He will be with us. Just before His ascension into heaven, Jesus gave us His final command to spread the gospel to the world. With that He also gave us His final promise. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). And that is at the end of the day all that matters.