The third chapter of 2 Timothy describes the terrible situation Paul calls the “last days.” These verses speak of the way things were following the coming of the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ when he first came to earth. They also tell us about the days leading up to his second coming. In the middle of that chapter (verse 12) Paul says: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
He was contrasting the genuinely godly with those who claimed to be godly but who denied any real connection with God (“a form of godliness”). Their works proved that they were not connected to a holy God. They were described as boastful, proud, abusive, brutal and conceited, among other things. Paul says these people may be acceptable to the world, while those who truly live a holy life will not be appreciated, and their lifestyle will be in conflict with the lifestyle of the world. As a result, the world will be unable to tolerate truly godly Christians and may lash out and persecute Christians.
Very early in my Christian life, Rom. 12:1-2 became a favorite passage for me. It spoke to me of being totally dedicated to God and developing godliness without conforming to the world’s system or way of thinking. It also taught me not to participate in moral behavior that was not pleasing to God, the kind of immoral behavior that enveloped many of my contemporaries.
Erwin Lutzer, in his book Pastor to Pastor, reports George Gallup shared with a group of church leaders that the lifestyle of Christians in America is little different than the rest of American culture. Gallup also said: “Only two in ten said they would be willing to suffer for their faith” (p. 76). Culture has a powerful effect upon people. We are bombarded from every angle to submit to the world’s way of thinking. One television commercial sums up the present attitude: “I want it all and I want it now!’
In the early years of my Christian life I recall that there was a great emphasis on how being holy was good for us — it would make us physically and psychologically healthy. It was a way, I think, of convincing young people to be holy in life and thought. They thought, I suppose, that we might consider it if it was good for us, like a good diet or good attitude. However, that very idea is a part of our culture’s self-centered belief system — “what’s in it for me?” Should we be holy because it is good for us?
Later it dawned on me that the reason to pursue holiness is not that it is good for us (although it is), but that it is good for God’s mission to the world. The Bible teaches that we are to be holy for God’s sake. We are commanded to be holy in order to represent God among the nations. We are to be holy to bring glory and honor to God and not to blaspheme God’s holy name by living unholy lives!
The source of the ability to be holy and to live the holy life is Christ, “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age” (Gal. 1:3-4). We are, by grace, transformed and empowered to live a holy life. As it says in Acts 1:8, we tarry before God so we can have the powerful infilling of the Holy Spirit that will make us bold witnesses, but also helps us remain steadfast not only in the face of temptation but also in the face of serious persecution.
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.