Friday, January 5, 2018

Suffering for the Gospel

“It will be hard for me to get the 10 Contact Reports … Because, I am not a Christian!”
Several years ago, a student came up to me after our first evangelism class session and said, “Dr. Johnston, it will be hard for me to do the 10 Contact Reports.” I asked her, “And why is that?” She answered, “Because I am not a Christian.!” Now that was unexpected—to say the least! I teach at a Baptist seminary. So I answered, “I see. Yes. That makes sense!”
This student was accepted as a “Special Admission” student and had since that time changed her mind about Christianity. Originally from Central Asia, she was a recent convert to Christianity. Upon experiencing the depravity of American culture, she began reconsidered her faith in Christ. Later she explained to me that she came to feel that her Hindu god was preferable to the Christian God.
Her falling away came because her presupposition that all Americans are born-again Christians. By the way, isn’t that a valid extrapolation from what we read in some sociologically-oriented books on American religiosity?
Here was her syllogism:
  • If all Americans were Christians and
  • If sin and depravity were so rampant in America,
  • Then problem there must be with their Christian religious system:
  • Therefore, their Christian God is weak—unable to restrain their depravity.

In her mind, the Christian God was not powerful enough to constrain Americans from their sin. Hence, she said to me after that class: “I am not a Christian!”
Because I had been introduced to this student several years before, I knew of her former membership in a Baptist church. So, I asked her if I could show her a gospel tract. She said, “Yes.” Right there at the end of class, I walked her through my “There Is Hope” tract. She agreed to each point. So when I asked her if she wanted to pray to receive Christ as her Savior, to my surprise, she answered, “Yes.” I led her in the Sinner’s Prayer at the end of the tract.
I was hesitant to know if she had prayed for my benefit, or if she was genuinely turning back to Christ. And it was her perseverance through suffering because of a verbal witness of the Gospel that proved to me that she had indeed made a genuine decision for Christ.
The Apostle Paul linked together suffering for the gospel of Christ with assurance of hope and salvation coming from the gospel of Christ. Here are Paul’s two logical progressions:
  • Just as you have suffered for the gospel of Christ
  • So, you have also received consolation from the gospel of Christ

And again:
  • Paul’s suffering in proclamation of the gospel occasioned their salvation
  • In like manner, their sufferings for participating in the work of the gospel...
  • Affirms their participation in the consolation provided by the gospel.

Hence, in these theme verses of 2 Corinthians, Paul linked together assurance of salvation with participation in suffering for the gospel.
Let us consider these important verses:
“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.” 2 Corinthians 1:5-7.
As Paul opened his Magnus opus on evangelism, his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, he bound together suffering for the gospel of Christ with assurance of salvation.
Similarly, Jesus linked together confessing His name before men with His confessing His followers before His Father in heaven:
“Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” Luke 12:8-9.
In Mark, Jesus added that if His followers are ashamed of Him—even because of possible persecution—, then Christ will be ashamed of them:
“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38.
For his part, Paul approached this argument from the standpoint of suffering. Suffering for the gospel confirms the Christian’s salvation. Now then, it makes sense that elsewhere Paul said that everyone who wants to live godly in Christ Jesus WILL encounter persecution:
“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 2 Timothy 3:12.
In God’s providential oversight of world affairs, He uses the persecution of His people for the sake of the Gospel as His divine winnowing fork to prove their endurance.
As for my student from Central Asia…
The next week she sat in the front of the class. Her eyes were full of excitement. When I asked her how it was going, she said, “Well.
Then after several weeks, she began to sit in the very back of the class. She sometimes arrived late. She began appearing dejected and down. Her spirits did seem to lift as we went through the class. But it was a tough time for her.
One day she told me that her father wanted her to return to her home country. I asked her if it was a good thing. She answered, “No.” I replied, “Why does he want you to come home?” “Because I am being too affected by Christianity,” was her reply. I then asked her, “Do you want to return home?” She said, “No.”
Because of the requirement of the Contact Reports, she began to share the gospel with others at her work. Persons were coming to Christ. God began to use her witness for of the gospel.
In the case of this student, it was her perseverance through persecution for the gospel confirmed to me that she had truly trusted in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. Her prayer with me was not merely to please me or to get a good grade. She suffered for the gospel, and her perseverance through that suffering was proof of her salvation.
Had she “prayed a prayer” only to please me, her professor? Or had my former student truly turned to Christ when she verbally called on His name to be saved? Persecution became the winnowing fork to prove her persevering faith.
Further, she began to make a differentiation between American religiosity and Evangelical Christianity. She said, “Now I know that there is a big difference between Christians and Evangelical Christians.”
It is hard to see. It is hard to experience. But praise the Lord for the fellowship of His sufferings!

“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Philippians 3:10.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing a personal story. I appreciate it. Liz