There are occasions when we must let go of our God-given personal rights and suffer for the sake of Christ, even though it is the result of injustice. God is a God of justice but may wish to use the occasion to reveal His character and will to a watching world. There are times when the world needs a lesson on sacrifice and selflessness, and we may be required to give up our rights to fulfill God’s will for that particular occasion.
The fact that justice is a part of the nature of God and that God is a just God raises the expectation and hope of Christians, since they are followers of the just God, that they should always receive justice. Life should be fair; but, of course, it is not. At the same time, acknowledging the biblical principle of suffering for others may mean that giving up one’s rights on behalf of others is often necessary. It is a part of God’s plan to reach the world. The rights are legitimate but forgoing certain personal rights for the right reasons and for the sake of the kingdom is also legitimate.
To forgo one’s personal rights does not mean that we set aside the desire for justice. It is perfectly legitimate to desire that persecutors be held accountable, for example (see Psalm 119:84). Giving up our personal rights does not alter the need for social justice, administrated by God or the courts. We love our persecutors and desire their salvation but neither do we want justice to be perverted. We may forgive those who are unjust and we do not seek vengeance, but a higher authority (God and/or the justice system of a particular country) may exact a penalty for their unjust behavior. We may appeal for appropriate justice but we do not seek revenge. The Apostle Paul, who was the master persecutor, was confronted by Christ about the injustice he was perpetrating on Christians and on Himself (see 1 Timothy 1:13). He was held accountable by God and it led to his conversion. We want our persecutors to become fellow believers.
Forgoing personal rights is based on the premise that justice will ultimately prevail because the God of justice will ultimately prevail when His kingdom comes in its fullness. To give up our rights is not to say that we agree with injustice, but in the same way that suffering and death can bring life, allowing ourselves to experience injustice for the sake of Christ can ultimately bring about justice. We are deferring to Christ who will “lead justice to victory” (Matthew 12:20; Isaiah 42:1, 4). It is a part of our struggle and present groaning for resolution—for a time when sin, evil, injustice, and persecution are ultimately defeated.
Come, Lord Jesus!
Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.