Publicly fretting over the potential loss of freedom is something that’s easily done in a free society. This isn’t unreasonable, given how many once-thriving countries have swiftly fallen to various forms of oppressive rule. When someone asked Benjamin Franklin what had been accomplished the Constitutional Convention, he reportedly gave this pithy reply: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Nevertheless, a journey through the corridors of history will reveal many stories of individuals who made remarkably noble and selfless choices despite appalling circumstances that continue to inspire and challenge us today.
This simple realization has come far too gradually for me: as Christians whose allegiance is foremostly and forever to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords we are in fact always free to obey Him and bear witness to the testimony about Christ. In the book The Insanity of God Nik Ripken (a brother in Christ for whom I am incredibly grateful and respect deeply) writes:
“This is one of the most important lessons that we learned from believers in persecution: They (and you and I) are just as free to share Jesus today in Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and communist countries as you and I are in America. It isn’t a matter of political freedom. It is simply a matter of obedience…”
Here’s the heart of it:
“…The price for obedience might be different in different places – but it is always possible to obey Christ’s call to make disciples. Every believer – in every place- is always free to make that choice.”
Indeed the price may be high. For the saints mentioned in Hebrews 11:35-40 as well as for many in the early church and onward it was and is homelessness, exclusion, and for some, martyrdom.
Yet they continued in their witness, obeying Christ’s command to be His witnesses regardless of the potential cost:
“After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, “Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man’s blood on us! But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging Him on a tree. God exalted this man to His right hand as ruler and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” – Acts 5:29-32
Paul writes the second letter to Timothy from a prison cell, clearly frustrated about his circumstances, but confident that nothing will stop God’s gospel from reaching His children:
“Keep your attention on Jesus Christ as risen from the dead and descended from David. This is according to my gospel. I suffer for it to the point of being bound like a criminal, but God’s message is not bound. This is why I endure all things for the elect: so that they also may obtain salvation, which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” – 2 Timothy 2:8-10
The director of a camp I worked at in high school and college once observed that in modern language the word consequence(s) is typically only used in a negative sense. He asked us to consider thinking about the word and attached meaning as also holding a positive side. Good choices, etc –> good consequences!
I’ve applied that in my own life and in my parenting, and I think it applies here. There will be consequences when we cross the street or an ocean to tell others about Jesus’ great love and God’s call to repent and believe in His Son. Often to our eyes and hearts they will seem hard- we may lose a friendship or be disowned by family. Or they may be beautiful – God may use us to lead another to Christ! Regardless of how our choice to witness plays out this side of heaven, there will be a good consequence when we stand before our Master in heaven and receive, as Paul wrote to Timothy “the crown of righteousness [given] to all of those who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).
May He embolden and strengthen you wherever you are today.