Acts 8:1-3 ESV
“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”
This follows the stoning of the deacon Stephen after he spoke with the Jews concerning their history, and after he confronted them with their sins, and after he accused them justly of being a stiff-necked people who are uncircumcised in heart and ears, who always resist the Holy Spirit. He told them that as their fathers did so they did also. He said that their fathers had killed the prophets of old who announced the coming of Jesus, their Messiah, and that they had now betrayed and murdered Jesus Christ, God the Son.
But the Jews did not take kindly to Stephen’s words, although he told them the truth. In fact, they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. And after Stephen’s death there arose a great persecution against the church (the people who believed in Jesus Christ), and this forced the Christians to be scattered. And Saul, who was renamed Paul after his conversion, was ravaging the church (the people of God). He persecuted them severely, committed them to prison, and some were put to death.
Now, in America, the name “Jesus” does not normally bring people to anger to the point to where they want to persecute Christians. In fact, “Jesus” has been very popularized here with the recent TV drama series called, “The Chosen.” And there are other popular “Jesus movements” here in America. But it is not biblical Jesus they are portraying. In part they are, but they are altering his image and they are making him far too human and like us and so people feel like Jesus would be someone they would like to hang out with.
And then you have all these memes on social media which also present Jesus Christ as though he is your best friend even if you don’t have a relationship with him at all. Jesus Christ has been turned into a superstar who the people admire, even many who have not trusted in him as their Savior and Lord. In some respects the image portrayed is of historical and biblical Jesus, but so much of that is being twisted to make him out to be someone he was not, and someone they would not have murdered.
So, if you are actually following biblical Jesus, and if you are becoming like Christ in mind and heart and character, and so you are doing the kinds of things he did, and you are saying the kinds of things that he said, like Stephen did, then you are going to be treated like Stephen was, and like Jesus was treated by most of the Jews, in particular by those of power, rule, and influence in the temple of God. And you will be persecuted in many of the same ways in which Jesus was persecuted, and by church people, too.
[Matt 5:10-16; Matt 10:16-25; Matt 24:9-14; Matt 28:18-20; Lu 6:22-23; Lu 21:12-19; John 15:1-21; Jn 16:33; Acts 1:8; Acts 14:22; Acts 26:18; Rom 5:3-5; Rom 12:1-8; 1 Co 12:1-31; 2 Co 1:3-11; Eph 4:1-16; Eph 5:17-27; Phil 3:7-11; Col 3:16; 1 Thess 3:1-5; Jas 1:2-4; Heb 3:13; Heb 12:3-12; 1 Pet 1:6-7; 1 Pet 2:9; 1 Pet 4:12-17]
But if you are following the popularized friendlier version of biblical Jesus, then most likely people will accept you and they will not persecute you, because you won’t be confronting people in their sins, and you won’t be calling people to repentance and to obedience to the Lord. For you won’t want to offend people with the truth. And so if you share anything at all related to Jesus and to his gospel you are more likely to share a more socially acceptable image of Christ and of his gospel.
Acts 8:4-8 ESV
“Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.”
When we are sharing the truth of the gospel with people, and when the people respond to the truth of the gospel with God-given faith in Jesus Christ, it is obvious that there has been a heart transformation in their lives. For by the grace of God they are crucified with Christ in death to sin, and they are raised with Christ to walk in newness of life in him, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. They have now been set free from their slavery to sin and now they desire to walk in holiness.
They don’t want to live like they did before, but they want to now live to please God. This doesn’t mean they automatically become perfect people who never sin again, but it should be apparent that they have been turned from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God and so they have now received forgiveness of sins and a place among those sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ. The old has gone. The new has come. They have been transformed in heart and mind by the Spirit of God.
So, if someone professes faith in Jesus Christ but then nothing changes, and they continue, business as usual, committing all the same sins deliberately and habitually, without conscience or compassion for those they are hurting, then according to Scripture they do not have salvation from sin and they will not inherit eternal life with God. Their profession of faith was surface level only or it was just so that they could have the promise of heaven when they die, but it was not genuine faith in Jesus Christ that delivers us from our slavery to sin and which empowers us to live godly and holy lives.
Now, this is not to say that a Christian can never return to a former life of sin. It is possible. The Scriptures address this issue in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation where many of them had fallen away from their pure devotion to the Lord and they were not living for the Lord as they once had and some of them were engaged in sexual immorality. And Jesus told them that they had to repent of their sins and to turn from them and return to faithful obedience to him or they would face judgement.
So, what the Scriptures teach is that genuine faith in Jesus Christ involves us dying with Christ to sin, not just once, but daily, and it involves us walking in obedience to our Lord in walks of holiness and righteousness. But if we continue in deliberate and habitual sin, and if we do not obey our Lord, and if righteousness is not what we practice, then we do not have salvation from sin and eternal life with God. And if this is the message that you teach to others, then also you should also expect to be persecuted.
[Matt 7:21-23; Matt 24:9-14; Lu 9:23-26; Rom 1:18-32; Rom 2:6-8; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-14,24; Rom 12:1-2; Rom 13:11; 1 Co 6:9-10,19-20; 2 Co 5:10,15,21; 1 Co 1:18; 1 Co 15:1-2; 2 Tim 1:8-9; Heb 9:28; 1 Pet 1:5; Gal 5:16-21; Gal 6:7-8; Eph 2:8-10; Eph 4:17-32; Eph 5:3-6; Col 1:21-23; Col 3:5-17; 1 Pet 2:24; Tit 2:11-14; 1 Jn 1:5-9; 1 Jn 2:3-6,24-25; 1 Jn 3:4-10; Heb 3:6,14-15; Heb 10:23-31; Heb 12:1-2; Rev 21:8,27; Rev 22:14-15]
All The Way My Savior Leads Me
Lyrics by Frances J Crosby, pub. 1875
Music by Robert Lowry, pub. 1875
All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.
All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread,
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living Bread.
Though my weary steps may falter
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see.
All the way my Savior leads me,
Oh, the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages:
Jesus led me all the way.
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