Hebrews Chapter 11 goes on to describe some of the consequences that were experienced by Old Testament people who had faith. They lived before the earthly lifetime of Christ, but they were people of faith who were committed to our God.
Hebrews 11 (NASB95) and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. 39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised…
True Christian men and women continue to find themselves in the same types of difficult situations as Old Testament people. God tested people of the Old Testament to build up their faith, and He tests our faith as children of the New Covenant in the same way today.
Testing is God’s most powerful tool for strengthening our faith. Testing and trials reveal our faith to us and show us the faith of other true Christians. Testing distinguishes real faith from false faith. In other words, life threatening testing and trials will separate true believers from false professors.
In the early centuries of Christianity, it was the Roman Empire that persecuted Christians and provided the opportunity for their faith to be tested. The early Christians were killed by the hundreds of thousands when they refused to acknowledge Caesar as lord. When they declared that Jesus is Lord, they were either killed on the spot, or were set aside for execution. Some were fed to the lions in mass executions in the coliseum, while others were set on fire to burn as living torches to amuse people such as the Emperor Nero.
The testing of Christians did not end in 313 A.D. when the Emperor Constantine declared that Christianity was to be the official religion of the Roman Empire. There was a lull in persecutions for a while, but it would not be too many more years until persecution would be established again from another direction.
The dominant religious organization that grew out of the Roman Empire was called the Roman Catholic Church. It was ruled by a long secession of Popes who sought to be the controlling power over all cities, districts, and countries. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) was not content to be the dominant religious power in Europe, it sought to be the sole political power over the entire Earth.
To expand its power, the RCC systematically adopted practices that went far beyond the doctrines of the Bible. It adopted extra-biblical requirements that all people were to follow, because it believes that the Pope is the supreme power of God on Earth and he speaks for Christ Jesus. Eventually, the RCC perceived any disagreement about its new doctrines or any challenge to its authority as an attack on the one and only true church and the Pope. As a result, anyone who insisted on biblical inerrancy and biblical sufficiency was in serious conflict with the RCC. If a person read the Bible, denied the efficacy of infant baptism and the sacramental system, believed the Mass was a form of pagan worship, believed that Mary was not immaculately conceived, did not affirm that Mary was a perpetual virgin and was not the co-mediator with Jesus as the queen of heaven, believed that the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ was a lie, did not believe in purgatory and the sale of indulgences, believed that the Pope did not speak with the full authority of Christ and was actually the anti-Christ, then he or she would be persecuted. If a person would not submit to the authority of the Pope, bishops, or priests in all matters of doctrine, then he or she would be charged with heresy, tortured, and eventually executed if there was not a change of mind.
Christian persecution by the RCC began with torture, which was designed to force a person to recant any and all beliefs that were not in conformity with the RCC. Disabling and debilitating torture and slow death was used to get people to change their mind. The RCC killed people by the hundreds of thousands when the faith of the true believers could not be broken. The Christians who were tortured and killed by the RCC knew that their faith was being tested and this gave them the strength to endure.
From the beginning of the Dark Ages that began when the Roman Empire fell, through the 19th century, the RCC used its Inquisition to persecute those who did not agree with the Pope and his manmade doctrines. During those years, the persecution always boiled down to a single question, “Who is lord?” Persecution always seems to entangle those who dare to preach the true Gospel of Christ Jesus, and who insist on living by the full counsel of God as presented in scripture without any deletions or additions. Jesus will always be Lord for true Christians, and they will live their lives according to biblical principles. Jesus must be supreme and life must be lived by faith.
Prior to Constantine, Christians had to declare allegiance to either Caesar or Christ Jesus. During the first thousand years of the RCC, Christians had to choose between the Pope and Christ Jesus. To choose Jesus as Lord, and to not choose either Caesar or the Pope, meant certain death during these centuries. Large scale executions by the RCC did not end during the era of the Protestant Reformation. Whole villages and entire districts of villages in Europe were destroyed before the reformation began and such attacks continued long afterward. These atrocities were repeated by the RCC whenever Christians refused to convert to the Church of Rome and to submit to the Pope as Lord.
In Europe during the 16th and 17th century, Christians had to decide between three options. They had to decide whether they would confess allegiance to the Pope as lord, to Christ Jesus as Lord, or to the state as lord. In certain geographical areas of Europe, to confess Christ Jesus as Lord, and to place Him above the authority of the city council, meant death. The various city councils of the Protestant Reformation era exterminated thousands of people who would not submit to the authority of the secular governing councils in matters of biblical interpretation and religious practices.
As a result, people who insisted that Jesus must be Lord were tortured and executed by the Roman Empire, by the Pope and his church, and by certain 16th and 17th century city councils who operated in full cooperation with Protestant Reformation leaders such as John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and the early Lutheran church. The rejection of the authority of the RCC during the era of the Protestant Reformation was not new. Many times since the fall of the Roman Empire, when people were able to read the Bible, people rediscovered the truth that is revealed by scripture and they were set free. The price of freedom was persecution by the dominant church organizations whether it was Roman Catholic or Protestant.
In Martin Luther’s early writing, he saw the need for the church to not be controlled by the power of the state, but later, he compromised and allowed his church to become subordinate to the power of the state and it performed acts of great violence against those who did not agree with its doctrines. Similarly, Ulrich Zwingli believed in adult baptism and the independence of the church, but he changed his mind and chose to let the council decide such matters for the church. Zwingli died in a military battle in an attempt to destroy the RCC through force. John Calvin’s authority overshadowed the power of the council of Geneva and they did his bidding. His Institutes of the Christian Religion became the law of Geneva and death sentences were implemented for those who disagreed with him.
Each of the most famous reformers compromised the authority of Jesus and the Bible by allowing men to be the head of the church instead of Christ Jesus. Under these Protestant councils, thousands of Christians were martyred because they insisted that Jesus was Lord and they looked to scripture and the Holy Spirit to govern their lives. If they were really false teachers, then they should have been treated as tax collectors and gentiles (Matthew 18:15-20) and put out of the church.
It was the hatred of the Pope and the RCC that drove many people into what are now called Protestant churches, but these new churches quickly established their own non-biblical hierarchy and setup their own form of papacy. Many who joined with Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin were not necessarily Christians. They were former Roman Catholics who valued reform and simply changed church buildings.
I realize that these are very strong statements I am making about the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. I am not saying that Calvin, Zwingli, and Luther were not Christians. I am also not saying that they did not provide important theological contributions to our understanding of scripture. I am simply saying that they are not the real heroes of biblical Christianity or the models of our faith. And most certainly, we must not make these men, or the Protestant Reformation itself, into idols. The real heroes are the millions of men and women who shared the Gospel of Jesus with lost sinners and were willing to live by every word that proceeded from the mouth of God as recorded in scripture. Our true heroes are the people who were persecuted by the church and the state for the past two thousand years, because of their faith. These mostly nameless and forgotten heroes were martyred, because they would not compromise faithfulness to Jesus.
Today, Christians also must decide who is Lord. We must decide whether: the Pope is lord, prominent historical theologians are lord, a certain pastor or church organization is lord, a king or dictator is lord, national pride/government is lord, fraternity/unity is lord, the universal great spirit god is lord, the modern Jesus is lord, military power/pride is lord, money is lord, education is Lord, self-empowerment is lord, self-indulgence is lord, or whether the one true God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is the one and only true Lord God almighty! Over the past hundred years in Europe and North America there hasn’t been much persecution of Christians in response to the decision to declare Jesus as Lord. However, Christianity has been increasingly marginalized by the political process during the previous century. At this point, anyone in the United States can call anything lord, and we are all expected to respect such decisions. However, true Christians better not declare that there is only one Lord and His name is Christ Jesus. We also better not declare that God’s precepts for living given to us in scripture apply to every person on this Earth regardless of who they believe is lord. Those who violate the standards of post-modern tolerance in this way better watch out, because persecution is near.
During the twentieth century in Europe and North America, the worship of God has been largely replaced by the worship of the state. The gospel of tolerance has replaced the Gospel of Jesus in most churches, and Protestant Christianity has been split into factions. We now see liberal churches that pay homage to the tolerance of sin and worship all deviant lifestyles, and we see conservative churches that worship nationalism, the military, the flag, and the physical Bible itself. Liberal churches have written a new gospel and worship a god of their own creation. Conservative churches have kept the words of the Gospel of Jesus, but they have redefined the words and worship a Jesus who does not require them to renounce sin or to show evidence of converted lifestyles.
There are a small minority of people who are true Christians. They are the faithful remnant. They are not liberal, conservative, Protestant, or Roman Catholic; though they may still use some of these common labels for ease of communication. They prefer to avoid affiliating with political parties and to avoid using the names of men or church denominations to describe their theology or their relationship to God. They are content to simply say they are Christians who live in the way of Jesus. These are people who refuse to call anyone or anything lord other than Christ Jesus. These people not only believe in Jesus, they also believe every commandment and instruction that Jesus gave to us. They believe that the Bible as it was adopted in the year 395 A.D. is complete and without error. These are people who are not excited by church buildings and playing the social game of church. These are people who have responded to the regeneration of their hearts with a full and complete commitment to following Jesus as Lord through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
Even in the 20th century, Christians, who by faith, insisted that Jesus was Lord, were targeted for extermination. They were persecuted by Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Ceausescu, Mao Zedong, and other leaders. They were martyred, because they would not submit to any lord other than Jesus Christ.
The testing of faith continues today. Today Christians in many Islamic countries are tortured, imprisoned, skinned alive, and beheaded when they refuse to stop preaching the Gospel. These true Christian men and women would rather follow the great commission to go and preach the Gospel to all the world rather than to submit to Islam or the power of the state, which demands that they not evangelize lost sinners. In China and many other countries, independent Christianity is a crime punishable by imprisonment and/or death. Yet underground Christianity thrives in these countries. True Christians will find it difficult or even impossible to participate in Godless churches run by the state or in churches that worship a false Jesus, because to do so would be to submit to being led by Satan and his representatives.
Today, in Europe and in North America there are two trends that are moving on rails of steel. The first involves churches that are slowly but steadily sliding toward submission to the authority of the Pope. The Pope will not require that they become Roman Catholic, he will only require that they submit to him as the one and only infallible representative of Jesus Christ on Earth. The second church movement is seen in the trend toward state controlled churches. There are now a large number of churches that have elevated national pride, the flag, patriotism, fear of terrorism, and homeland security above anything that Jesus has commanded. They have embraced a new god and will gladly submit to the authority of the state in all matters. In the time of Adolf Hitler, the swastika was prominently displayed on the altars of the state church system that was established under the authority of the Third Reich. True Christians will follow the laws of the country in which they live so long as they are not asked to either stop living by biblical principles or to do things that are prohibited by scripture. If a true Christian must choose between following the commandments of Jesus, or to submit to the state or the Pope, then he or she will always choose Jesus regardless of the consequences.
As church denominations and individual churches continue to move toward being controlled by the state or by Rome, the faith of Christians will be tested. Those with false faith will gladly submit to the Pope and/or to the state. True Christians will not bow the neck or bend the knee to anyone other than Christ Jesus. Ultimately, faith will be essential to our ability to follow Jesus while the great majority of Christians march toward the state church and the Church of Rome. There will be a great price to pay at some point for those who will not go along with the crowd. I will not speculate about the future, but will remind you of history. I will simply say that one of the earliest groups of people who were imprisoned by Hitler were Christians who would not join and submit to the state church. They refused to accept the authority of the state in matters of their Christian faith. The mentally ill, the physically disabled, people living a homosexual lifestyle, and Christians who objected to Hitler’s plan for the churches, were all executed before Hitler started executing the Jews.
Jesus told us that Christians will be hated, persecuted, and put to death for His sake. This will be carried out by the state and by church people who believe they are performing a service for Jesus. We have been told that we are not to resist evil and we are to follow the example of Jesus, which means that we may be led like lambs to the slaughter. It has always been this way since the earliest days of the church.
Through faith, we are not to fear man, but are to fear God. Through faith, we are to live by biblical standards in all things and to go on loving God with all our heart, strength, mind, and soul, and to continue loving our neighbors as ourselves. We are to faithfully love our brothers and sisters in Christ and to continue serving one another as Christ served His disciples. We are not to fear man who can only kill the body, but to fear God who could destroy body and soul. Let us remember that no matter what happens, there is a new heaven and a new earth coming. We have a place in eternity with Jesus if our hearts have been regenerated and we persist in our faith to the end of our lives.
There are many accounts of men and women who were publically burned at the stake in the 16th and 17th centuries. Some lived on the continent of Europe and some lived in the British Isles. They were given derogatory names by those who hated them, because they refused to recant biblical truths, to believe lies promoted by church officials, or to submit to the authority of the Roman Pope or the state. These Christian martyrs are our true heroes. They are our models of faith. They went to their deaths singing songs of praise, preaching the Gospel, and praying for those who were executing them. The strength of their faith enabled them to die in complete peace and to prove to their brothers and sisters that dying in this way for Jesus was a privilege and a deed of love that they were giving for those who were still lost in their sin. One of the magistrates in Zurich was reported to have complained that these people were springing up faster than he could kill them. The reason for this was that there was a true revival going on in the barns, caves, and forests throughout much of Europe, and it was the persecution by the dominant church organizations and the state, which was fanning the flames of Gospel truth and Christian living.
I have great respect for the Puritan martyrs, the Anabaptists martyrs, and the martyrs of many other unnamed groups who died for their faith. The true historical accounts of the lives of these Christians have been distorted by the Jesuits and other church organizations, but it is still possible to discern the truth. When careful and extensive research is done, then the beauty of their faith shines forth in their living and in their dying.
Before their executions, some of these heroes of our Christian faith had arranged certain signs that they would make to show their brothers and sisters that being burned alive was in fact bearable. In one case, a man had told his friends that he would raise a finger on each hand as he was dying to show that all was well with him. When the ropes had burned off of his hands and he could move his fingers he raised the appropriate chard fingers to deliver his sign just before he died.
The millions of Christian men and women who have died a martyr’s death since the time of Jesus are our heroes of faith and our inspiration. They loved Jesus so much that they were willing to die for him rather than compromise their faith and submit to any other lord. The time is coming soon that we may find ourselves in the same situation where we must choose between lords. Our faith will be tested in the very same way as the martyrs who have gone before us. Some of us may die a martyr’s death and some of us will need to watch the death of our brothers and sisters as they are martyred. Regardless of how we are to serve, Jesus will be with us to the very end. He will give us enough faith to endure anything Satan brings against us.
There is much more that could be said about faith. We could go on to consider the many references that Jesus made to faith in the Gospels, the frequent references that Paul made to faith in his letters, and the teachings on faith in other epistles. But I will leave that work to your independent Bible study. At this point I simply wish to make a final comment about the experience of faith and to offer a closing prayer.
Even though we may long to have an emotional experience of faith, faith is mostly observed in the will. We may be able to use logic to explain faith and reason to describe the origin and expression of faith, nevertheless, faith is ultimately found in what we do with our lives. Sometimes people say, “I don’t feel like I have much faith.” This is true for most of us if we only contemplate our feelings. Our emotions are a gift from God and have great value, but they are not an instrument for measuring faith. Satan wants us to use our feelings to measure faith, but we must resist this temptation. We must focus on our will when examining our faith, and look to the Holy Spirit who will reveal truth to us about our faith. Ultimately, our faith is expressed and measured through Godly living, Godly works, and faithfulness to Jesus.
James 2:20 (NASB95)
But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
Our Father in Heaven,
I know you are real, because of what you have done in my life.
I know that you love me, because of the chastening and testing, the pruning and refining.
I know that you will not forsake me, because you do not forsake those who belong to you.
Prepare me for the work that you have designed for me to complete.
Build into my life the level of faith that is needed to serve you.
Remove from my heart and mind the selfishness that impedes the building up of my faith.
Most holy Father,
Make me holy as you are holy.
Conform me to the image of your son Christ Jesus.
Make me a trustworthy servant who is honored to carry the truth that you have written on my
Your life is the model of faith that inspires me.
Your faith was shown through your works, and your works glorified our Father in heaven.
Lord, grant to me the opportunity to glorify you and our Father through my faith and my works.