As secularists in the United States push Christian faith entirely out of public life, we must be discerning about both our rights as citizens and God’s mission for our lives. Things are not always as simple as they seem.
I’ve been reading in Acts 25-26 the past few days. I’ve been struck by the interplay of Paul’s assertion of his rights as a Roman citizen, the death plot against him, and God’s intention for Paul to take the gospel to Rome:
(1) The Jewish leaders were planning to kill Paul. They requested Agrippa and Festus transfer Paul back to Jerusalem, planning to murder him en route. The politicians would have made the easy choice and agreed, except that Paul asserted his right to trial as a Roman citizen. So Paul remained in prison.
(2) After much deliberation, Agrippa and Festus agreed that Paul had done nothing deserving of prison or death and could have been set free, if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar. Paul’s assertion of his rights actually kept him in chains, when he could have had his freedom — if the politicians would have found the courage to do justice, instead of placating the hate-filled religious leaders.
(3) Paul’s continued imprisonment, to be tried before Caesar, fulfilled God’s mission for him to take the gospel to Rome.
When you consider these things, you realize the issue of Paul asserting his rights was no simple matter. If he had not asserted his rights, he might have remained free — or been turned over to the haters for execution. Asserting his rights meant he would continue to be imprisoned. Remaining in prison, however, also set him on a path to fulfill God’s mission for his life.
When you contrast Paul’s decision to assert his rights with Jesus silently enduring the injustice of his “trial” and execution, you realize that the paramount issue for believers must be understanding God’s mission for our lives, not simply asserting our rights as citizens. God’s redemptive purpose may mean we need to suffer injustice.
Are you willing to suffer unjustly at the hands of haters so others can be reconciled to God through Christ? Will you stand up for your rights if you realize that doing so will mean punishment? What if God’s path for you requires you to endure persecution?
The anti-Christ spirit abroad in this country means your constitutional right to freely express your faith is going to meet opposition — and that opposition increasingly will be supported by government power. It’s one thing when the issue is whether Hobby Lobby’s David Green must pay Obamacare’s mandated abortion tax. It will be quite another when the issue is your church’s freedom to teach the Bible’s plain truth or your right to disagree with your school district’s “gender diversity” agenda or your denomination’s freedom to conduct evangelistic block parties in the run-up to an annual meeting.
And, of course, the U.S. knows nothing about real persecution.
The U.S. constitution guarantees absolutely that the federal government cannot pass a law prohibiting the free exercise of your faith, but we live in an age that discovered a “right to privacy” in that constitution and decided that right to privacy included the right to kill an unborn child and to live out whatever “sexual identity” your brokenness demands, regardless of biology. There’s no telling what perverse rationalization the Department of Justice will advance against your rights as a citizen — and not just in terms of religious liberty. There’s no telling what outrageous demands will be made of your conscience. I suspect that, as we say in Flyover Country, “you ain’t seen nothin yet.”
One thing I know for sure: When Injustice shows up on your doorstep, your reaction should not be a knee-jerk defense of your rights as a citizen. You will need to know what God’s mission is for you specifically and have discerning ears attuned to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Hear the advice Paul wrote, while in Roman chains, to the believers at Ephesus :
So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do. (Ephesians 5:15-17 NLT)