There is nothing more fundamental to the Christian faith than the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul said: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
So great is our sin that the greatest act in all of history—the brutal crucifixion of our Savior, and the glorious power of His resurrection that proclaimed Christ’s triumph over sin and death—was necessary to save us from its penalty of eternal death.
Every New Testament apostle witnessed the risen Christ, along with more than 500 contemporaries.
When Peter stood in Jerusalem immediately following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, he preached the cross of Christ and thousands were converted. Soon after, while preaching at Solomon’s Colonnade, Peter was arrested by the temple guard and hauled off to jail because the apostles were “teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2).
When warned not to speak again in the Name of Jesus, Peter and John replied, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). There was absolutely no way the disciples of the Messiah would ever stop talking about the most marvelous, supernatural event in history.
When officials sought to obstruct their obedience to Christ, the apostles made it clear that they would always obey Christ rather than man. Their allegiance and loyalty to the risen Savior superseded the laws of men who sought to restrict the clear command of the Lord to go and preach the Gospel to all nations.
So it is today.
While believers in Christ are commanded to pray for all those in authority, and to honor the Lord by obeying the laws of the land, the Scriptures also make it clear that the exception is when those laws violate the principles of God’s Word. We are citizens of two kingdoms, the civil kingdom of this world as well as the heavenly kingdom. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). As citizens of that heavenly kingdom, our allegiance lies with the kingship of the Risen Christ, to whom belongs all rule and authority and might and dominion.
That is the principle that 72-year-old grandmother Barronelle Stutzman follows as she stands by her firm religious conviction to decline floral design services for a gay wedding in the state of Washington. She has employed and served gay people for several years—proving she does not discriminate. However, she does not believe she should be forced to violate her sincerely held religious belief in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.
Her case wound through state courts and bureaucracy for several years before finally coming to the Washington State Supreme Court in February where state justices ruled unanimously against her.
I had the privilege of meeting Barronelle last year when our Decision America Tour went to Washington. She is standing up for her faith, based on the clear teaching of Scripture, and is planning to appeal her case to the United States Supreme Court.
I admire Barronelle’s resolute faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ and encourage you to remember her in prayer in the days and months to come. If the Supreme Court agrees to hear her case—and I certainly hope they will—the ruling will be a landmark decision for religious liberty. Can Christians hold to their firm convictions without being prosecuted by authorities for doing so? Will the free exercise of religion be allowed in the public square, or only within the confines of church walls?
In the adjoining state of Oregon, Aaron and Melissa Klein are awaiting a ruling from the Oregon Court of Appeals. In 2013, the Kleins, who owned Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, politely declined to provide a cake for a gay wedding. The Kleins were sued by the lesbian couple, and an administrative law judge assigned by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled against the Kleins.
An egregious fine of $135,000 was levied against Aaron and Melissa, and their business has since been forced to shutter—all of this simply because they abided by their firmly held religious belief in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman—the same definition held by virtually every society in the world for millennia.
Those are but two cases where civil authorities have targeted businesses run by evangelical Christians who have taken a Biblically informed stand for their religious liberties and suffered persecution and harassment. In case after case, religious freedom has been trumped by the new sexual ethic that is hostile to Christian doctrine and faith.
Christians are not protesting and interrupting same-sex marriage ceremonies. Yet many Christians do not believe it is right to participate, celebrate or engage in activity the Bible clearly defines as sin. For Barronelle and the Kleins, state laws are forcing them to go against their deeply held beliefs about marriage. They are not hostile toward homosexual persons—they simply don’t want to participate in unbiblical conduct.
Like the Apostle Paul, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in front of Nebuchadnezzar, they disobeyed what St. Augustine called an “unjust law.”
I believe God has given our nation a brief window of opportunity to come to our senses and protect men and women who want to do nothing other than worship and follow the Lord Jesus Christ and His teachings.
Perhaps the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, which I trust Congress will soon approve, will be a step in the right direction. Gorsuch has been favorable to the cause of religious liberty, siding with Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor in their cases regarding contraceptive mandates under Obamacare.
Ultimately, however, our nation will survive as one nation under God only as true repentance, conversion and faith grip the souls of men. Authentic revival begins with the purification of believers: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).
As the church is strengthened and encouraged in holy living, and a clear witness of God’s saving, sanctifying power is provided to our increasingly pagan culture, we can stand boldly for the sake of the Gospel.
In the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus Christ, we live not in the fear of man, but in the holy fear of Almighty God to whom belongs glory and dominion forever. We want to “know [Christ] and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10, NKJV).
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. The Scripture marked NKJV is taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Photo: Ron Nickel/©2017 BGEA