Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. [Matthew 5:10-11 ESV]
Persecution for righteousness’ sake is always undeserved suffering which means it is not deserved. Christ’s death was undeserved. This does not mean all violence against a Christian is because of God’s imputed righteousness. Christians are covered with the blood of Christ, the sentence for their sin placed upon His shoulders. But, Christians still sin. We still say things we should not. Do what we should not. Do not do what we should. Suffering which comes as a consequence of personal sin is not suffering for righteousness’ sake.
Suffering for righteousness’ sake does not come because of the Christian but because of Whom the Christian represents.
Living according to the righteous leading of the Spirit is the evidence of God’s blessing upon the Christian. Yet, God does not force the Christian to live according to the leading of the Spirit. Christians have wills. It is possible to grieve the Spirit of God by our rebellion. We must still obey as His servants would obey but often do only the bare minimum and sometimes not even that.
He tests those who are His. These tests are internal and external. How do we struggle against temptation and sin? Where is our resolve and our love for Him who redeemed us? Are we truly servants of the only God? Relinquishing control is internal, an act of the intelligence and the moral/emotional self shown through obedience which is shown in what we do daily. This daily living for Christ draws people to us, questioning our actions, forging opinion about why we do what we do. Our internal life is a preparation for eternity. Our external life is a witness for God who calls people to Himself.
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” [1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV]
We are holy because of the God who created us, recreated us, and claims us for His own. If there is one thing Scripture teaches it is God’s holiness, His demand for holiness, and the complete rebellion of the world against Him.
Genesis 4 suggests there are only four people alive. They are Adam and Eve and their first two children, Cain and Abel. Abel offered a righteous sacrifice, according to the intimately known moral standards of God. Cain’s sacrifice was not righteous because Cain was not righteous. Cain killed Abel because God judged Abel’s sacrifice righteous, not because his brother was righteous. God’s work in us, in fitting us for eternity with Him, takes the murderous unrighteousness of Cain, found in everyone, and purges it through continuous testing and refining. We become obedient, leaving behind all acts of unrighteousness, embracing His holiness.
Yet, the world hates God’s holiness and His righteousness and all those who obediently follow Him. Being loved by God automatically means being hated by the world. Those who have rejected Him will reject anything which belongs to Him. The evidence of Christ’s life and sacrifice is neither meager or compromised but substantial and solid. We should never be surprised by the evidence of the world’s hatred for God. We should be concerned when the world does not “revile” and “utter all kinds of evil against you” because of obedience to Christ.
The object of persecution is not the Christian, even though it is Christians who receive the brunt of the physical, emotional, and intellectual violence. All persecution is directed toward God. Whether we admit it or not, everything begins with Him, revolves around Him, and ends with Him. We should not view ourselves but the God whom we serve as the object of persecution.
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. [1Peter 4:1-5 ESV]