Written By Ivan Phanada, Singapore
Let’s face it . . . being a Christian can be hard in the current climate of hostility—where Christians around the world face physical oppression and persecutions, and the Church is labelled “archaic” and “irrelevant” in its stand on modern issues.
This hit home for me as a university student, when a professor whom I highly respected stopped mid-lecture, having seen me with a cross necklace, to call me out and attack me for my faith. In front of my peers, I was ridiculed for being “stupid”’ enough to buy into my faith, and was told that I would never be a good scientist just because I’m a Christian. It left me feeling embarrassed and self-conscious.
My desire to fit in with the rest of my friends and family also put me in a difficult spot, since conforming completely to their lifestyles and expectations would often require compromising my Christian faith. As a result, I often feel left out, rejected, and ostracized by my circle of close friends and family members.Sometimes, this sense of not belonging is enough to make me question my faith. How can I avoid falling into this temptation to leave Christianity altogether and join everyone else, especially when they all appear to be doing just fine?
During times like these, I take comfort in knowing that feeling like a stranger is a heritage and birthright of Christians. God’s people have always lived as strangers exiled from their own homes; first out of the Garden (Genesis 3), then into slavery (Exodus 1), then in the wilderness out of the promised land (Numbers 20), eventually in Babylon (Daniel 1) and also again, even during the time of Jesus, in Rome.
As the apostle Peter puts it, we are “elect exiles” (1 Peter 1:1)–exiled from the world but set aside to belong into God’s glorious family of wanderers (1 Peter 2:9). Elect, because we have been personally selected by the Father, personally redeemed by the Son, and personally sanctified by the Spirit (1 Peter 1:2), so that we may be part of God’s royal family, a glorious family of exiles and wanderers (1 Peter 2:9). When I feel small in the face of opposition, knowing that I have been called by God makes me big.
However, despite knowing this truth, the problem still persists: And when the pressure of the world closes in tighter by day, I turn to these three “R”s to help me live out my faith in a way that seeks to glorify God in the face of hostility.
1. Remember who we are and who God is
Knowing our true identity as citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20), set apart by God and for God (1 Peter 2:9), helps us remain grounded.
Being a Christian is not mere proclamation. Instead, our identity calls us to live differently. Even in the midst of pressure to conform, God calls us to live courageously and consistently, remaining prayerful without any compromise, trusting that He is in control and will deliver us—just as He delivered Daniel and his friends from the fire and the lion’s den (Daniel 3:27, Daniel 6:22).
Furthermore, we need to remember that no opposition or authority in this world remains forever, and that God will one day restore His eternal dominion. This helps me remain faithful in God’s promise of deliverance, even if deliverance doesn’t first appear in the way I expected or wanted it to.
After the encounter with my professor, I expected some form of apology from him or a reward from God. Instead, God helped me realize I wasn’t alone in my battle—and surrounded me with brothers and sisters who had witnessed the encounter and reached out to encourage me. Through that experience, we grew closer and formed a community of support, reminding each other to keep our eyes on Christ instead of the hostilities we face for our faith.
Knowing who God is calls for me to refine my faith and hold steadfast to the hope I have in Him (1 Peter 1:8-9).
2. Re-align our hearts to God’s purpose
“If the opposition will not disappear, surely we can disappear from the opposition, right?” I thought, as I became tempted to spend time almost exclusively with believing friends, attending only church events and Christian fellowship, hiding behind the excuse of “serving more” and “being intentional.” Nothing could be more wrong than this.
Christ never intended to remove us from our present hostile world (John 17:15-16). Instead, He left a mission for us—to proclaim His message to the ends of the unbelieving world (Acts 1:8). And part of this mission is to love our enemies the way Christ did (Matthew 5:43-48). During His ministry in this world, Christ never chose comfort, but embraced His enemies, so much so He took this love all the way to the cross, offering forgiveness to all. This, too, is how we are called to love.
When I am faced with criticism or snarky comments from family members about my Christian living, I want to run away. In fact, I used studying overseas as an opportunity to detach myself from their hurtful words. But when COVID-19 forced me to stay home, I was responsible for taking care of vulnerable family members—the very people who criticize me. I had to learn to love these people even harder despite their opposition.
My heart learned to be broken, not by their criticisms, but by their hardened hearts, and I weep for them to know God and share the peace of God. I truly learned how to be a humble servant, seeking to show them the light of Christ, so that through my love for them, they can encounter Christ and would be inspired to follow Him.
We are placed in exile for now, but we are exiled for a purpose: to love. Knowing my God-given purpose in this world calls for me to love even those who oppose me.
3. Raise our praise even in the midst of opposition
I have always wondered, how did Jesus do it—glorifying and honoring the Father in spite of the immense oppositions He faced? Hebrews 12:2-3 tells us that it is by carrying joy in His heart and fixing His perspective on the outcome. It is in fact this very joy that sustained the ministry of the early church despite intense persecution (Acts 5:41).I often look for joy in the things of this world, but I’ve come to realize that joy from the world is fleeting, but true joy comes from a conscious choice to worship and exalt the Lord in spite of opposition.
As I choose to praise and rejoice in Christ despite trials in university, friends have started asking me, “how do you do it?” or “how do you stay positive?” Beyond the surface level of curiosity, this has given me opportunities to pray for them and share the peace of Christ with them. Carrying joy in the midst of opposition makes us good ambassadors and testaments to the abounding joy Christ has to offer.
When we rejoice and ground ourselves by singing praises to the Lord and exhorting each other, evil and temptation can’t fall on us as easily. Knowing that I can have joy even in the face of opposition keeps me going when the opposition intensifies.
Being a Christian can sometimes feel like we are walking one way when the rest of the world is walking the other way. But it is when I face opposition that I truly understand what these four words really mean: faith, hope, love and joy—faith in Christ places hope in me, so that I can live joyfully and love my friends and family in spite of opposition. I’m not always aware that Jesus is by my side, until I face opposition and need to grip His hand even tighter. Then, I realize He’s been holding my hand all along.
Don’t let the climate of the world change who we are. There are a lot of things we can’t control in this world, but if there is one thing we always can control, it is choosing to walk with God. Let us, as followers of Christ, unite together in one mission, to instead change the climate of the world around us. In a hostile world, we can be agents of hope so that we can fill our communities with the light and love of Christ, showing others the joy they can partake in as they live for Christ.