A third kind of trial that we can expect is the test of identification. In chapters 15 and 17 of John’s gospel, Jesus told His disciples that they could expect the world to be rough on them, as it had been on Him. They could expect to be thrown out of the synagogue, to be disowned by their families, and, in some cases, even to be murdered—all because they bore His name and were identified with His cause.
History records that because the early church broke bread at Communion and said, “This is the body of Christ,” the culture of that day accused them of cannibalism. Christians claimed Communion as their love feast, and the culture of that day accused them of improprieties in those private observances. In the midst of this pressure, Peter encouraged the believers to persevere. He wrote to a suffering church, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us” (1 Pet. 2:12). He added:
How is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed (vv.20-24).
Now that America is becoming more secularized, we can expect trouble in an environment increasingly hostile toward the values of righteousness we hold dear. Now more than ever, we as God’s people must be prepared to pass the test of trials that come because of our identification with Christ.
Dennis was on the fast track upward with Cox newspapers, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. He had been the publisher of the Springfield News in Springfield, Ohio, and had served Cox as the publisher of the Dayton Daily News in Dayton, Ohio. In both settings, he had made the newspapers he managed profitable and was well thought of within the newspaper community.
As a Christian, Dennis applied biblical standards of righteousness to the decisions he made in the marketplace. Some of those decisions related to advertisements. It’s common for newspapers to reserve the right to advertise things they believe are constructive in the community and to withhold advertising for those things they believe are not helpful to their business or to the community at large. In light of that practice, Dennis eliminated advertisements for X-rated movies from the Dayton papers. He also refused to run notices and advertisements for gay and lesbian groups in the community.
Needless to say, that decision brought forth an outcry from the groups whose advertisements had been rejected. Yet Dennis remained committed to that which was righteous and true. The issue went to those in authority over him in Atlanta. Though they had backed him in similar decisions in the past, to his surprise they said he had to run the ads from the gay and lesbian groups or lose his job.
For Dennis, this was a trial of identification. He chose rather to identify with Christ than to continue in his career.
Hebrews 11:24-27 says of Moses:
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.
To stand for Christ and His values in a hostile environment is bound to bring trials into our lives. As Christians, we must realize that throughout church history, the church has usually been planted in a hostile environment. In fact, rarely has the church thrived in a friendly context. More and more, there will be tests involving our identity with Jesus Christ.
In the midst of trials of identification, the pattern of success is to persist in righteousness, regardless of the cost. Peter wrote:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name (1 Pet. 4:12-16).
Christians need to remain strong and demonstrate faithful perseverance in a test of identification.