Occasionally discussions arise that include the questions of what it would have been like to be a Christian at different times in history. As one examines the times of the first century and sees the persecutions that were endured by Christians at the hands of Jewish authorities (Acts 8:1-4) or the Roman government (Rev. 2:13), it is often commented how difficult it must have been to live as a Christian in those days. When we study the Romans as they make it their mission to destroy as many Christians as they can at the end of the first century and the first half of the second century; or when Catholicism strikes out against those who try to hold to God’s Word as the exclusive authority in the middle ages, we look back and we say, “I’m glad I did not live back then.”
But there is something to be said for those times in the history of Christianity. The individual who followed God and was obedient to his will knew the position in which he was placing himself. He understood the ramifications it could, and likely would, have on his life. These Christians looked squarely at the world around them and said before God and man that God is more important than all else. That being said, consider with me if you would the most difficult time to be a Christian.
The most difficult time to be a Christian… is when everyone else claims to be one. Christianity is a religion of distinctiveness. Paul wrote, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord,” (2 Cor. 4:17). Christians in the first century were distinctive because of the way that they lived their lives, but also in the name they wore.
In the United States today, more than 70% of the population consider themselves “Christians.” It does not mean they believe and practice the Bible, it does not mean they attend services anywhere, it does not even mean that they really know what the word means and the implications of their claim. Therefore, when you speak to someone about what it means to be a Christian from the Biblical perspective, they simply grin and nod saying that they are one too. When everyone is claiming to be a Christian, it is much harder to present unblemished Christianity and have others see the difference.
The most difficult time to be a Christian… is when it costs me nothing. In the first century, becoming a Christian was a life altering proposition. Paul discusses all that he had to let go in order to become a Christian (Phi. 3:4-8). In the early days of the church, becoming a Christian could cost you your family’s acceptance, your job, your house, and your influence and prestige in the community. Those who became Christians had to be willing to lose everything, and many of them did.
In the United States today, there is no such fear for most people. Most people consider the acceptance of Christianity simply a change in the way the path is taken, not a change of path entirely. In our country, most Christians retain their job, house, cars, income, family, position, and economic status without interruption. A look at the outward lives of many Christians, in a before and after view, would not present that much of a difference to the naked eye. Jesus would speak at various times about the need to be willing to give up family, riches, position, etc. in order to follow him; but for most in America such is not considered “necessary,” therefore it is oftentimes harder for an individual to be as strong a Christian as they should, because bearing the name “Christian” won’t cost them anything in our society. Therefore, they do not feel it requires as much from them as it should in their day-to-day lives.
The most difficult time to be a Christian… is when hypocrisy is considered the norm. In the first century, individuals within congregations who tried to live their lives on both sides of the street would have their names called out before all; not just by other members of the congregation, but by apostles or the Lord himself (Rev. 2-3; 3 John, 1 Cor., etc.). Hypocrisy was not tolerated in the first century church, because it would destroy the congregation of God’s people, their reputation, and their acceptability before God. John wrote of such people when he stated, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John 2:19).
In the United States today, our pews are filled with hypocrisy to the point that we oftentimes do not even see it when it confronts us. We live in an age where Christians will make public pleas for morality; then they will turn around and take their children to dances, argue for the entertainment value of vulgar television shows and movies, and take their families to the all-you-can-see antics of the ungodly at the beach. Christians will argue for the necessity of service to God, but refuse to attend and participate in works and events that evince that service. They will argue for putting God first in life; then they will attend every sporting event, family reunion, and PTA meeting before they attend worship services, Gospel meetings, and Bible classes. One of the hardest times to be a Christian is when those around you, who are supposed to be the examples of godliness and circumspect living, are the greatest stumbling-blocks of all.
Before we get our self-righteous noses in the air and begin talking about how glad we are we don’t live in a time where it is so difficult to serve God, we need to understand what makes it difficult. In the first century, their difficulties were found in those who were trying to mix the Old Law or idolatry with the Law of Christ. Their difficulties came from those on the outside who were trying to physically destroy them and all their works. Yet, the clarity of who they were, what was required of them, and who they served is clearly seen.
Christianity is a challenge no matter when you live. But I would contend the most difficult time to be a true Christian is when there is no resistance, regardless of the choices made, when being a “Christian” means going along with the crowd instead of separating yourself from it, when hypocrisy is so rampant that living the Christian life is considered to be “radical,” even among the servants of God. I would contend that among the most difficult times to be a Christian is now in the United States of America.