I want to be popular. Most people do. Only masochists want to be reviled, ridiculed, and rejected. I put on a good show and try to appear like I don’t care what others think about me, but deep down inside, I desperately want to be liked and respected.
Before my time, people tried to be “hip” and “groovy.” Growing up, the goal was to be “cool.” Years later, everyone wanted to be “bad.” About that time, I lost track of (as well as significant interest in) the ever-evolving latest term for being “relevant,” “popular,” and one of the “in crowd.”
Once upon a time in America, being a Christian did not automatically disqualify you from being acceptable to others. There were enough people around who thought Christians weren’t so bad, even if they weren’t Christians themselves. Many of the social norms and expectations revolved around some of the basic moral (but often distorted) teachings of the Bible. People were not afraid to identify themselves as Christians, even if their understanding of that term was nominal at best.
These days, it’s not so easy to identify as a genuine Christ-follower. It’s no longer “cool” to defend and promote a traditional view of marriage (for example) or to suggest that sincere faith in Jesus Christ is the exclusive and only means to know and spend eternity with God.
Almost 2,000 years ago, it was not popular to identify oneself as a follower of Jesus either. It was much easier to “go with the flow” and not cause trouble by condemning sexual immorality or refusing to syncretize and compromise one’s religious faith. In fact, refusing to follow the crowd could even get you imprisoned or killed. It was not an easy time to claim and proclaim the name of Jesus Christ.
In this respect, contemporary attitudes toward certain aspects of our faith place us in a long and storied history of being ridiculed and rejected for believing in Jesus. And this should come as no surprise. The Bible never said it would be easy or fun to follow hard after Christ. God never assured us that we would be loved and accepted by others for following Him. Instead, 2 Timothy 3:12 provides us with this precious and magnificent promise: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
And 1 Peter 4:1 reminds us that since Christ suffered, as his followers, we should be ready to suffer as well. Peter goes on to say we should not be surprised when we suffer for our faith, but rather, we should “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. . . . If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”
Jesus makes a similar promise in Luke 6:22-23 when He states, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.”
Paul also reminds us in Galatians 1:10 that our goal in life is not to be accepted and well-liked by everyone around us. Rather, we are to seek to please God by fearlessly and single-mindedly serving Christ.
Of course, we do not intentionally seek to be odd or offensive for Christ. But the goal of our lives is not to be cool, but to be clear, clear about the sometimes offensive simplicity of the gospel—that Jesus died to save sinners like you and like me, and that apart from Him, there is no hope of salvation in this life or the next. If we face suffering for saying so and living our lives in light of it, we can rejoice, just as the disciples did in Acts 5:41, and thank God that He counts us worthy to suffer shame for His name.