“Although our nation is rotting on the inside and hostile forces are determined to take away our freedom, our greatest problem might just be that there are too many people who neither know nor care. Not until all is lost will many awake to the painful reality that America as we once knew it is gone. Because the transition is happening over a number of years, millions don’t realize it’s happening at all.”
Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Pastor Emeritus
Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois
As we look back at how the early Church changed their world for Jesus, we see the power of God at work. Early Christianity was a revolution that swept through the ancient world like fire through dry timber. It was a countercultural movement that challenged and changed the established institutions of the Roman world and the spiritual and moral precepts of the day. When people’s lives have been changed by Jesus, it changes the lives of others, and by the end of the 1stcentury, what had begun with 120 had turned into hundreds of thousands of followers of Jesus living throughout the entire Roman world.
The Church in America today is lacking the power that Jesus spoke of when He gave His 120 followers their marching orders in Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” He could have said anything but He left them with this, “You shall receive power…”The early Church was known for its power, and the word Jesus used for power is the word “dunamis” from which we get the word dynamite. It was like saying, “When the Holy Spirit comes, you will receive some dynamite power, some explosive power!”
Jesus told His followers to be His “witnesses,” which comes from the Greek word “martys” from which we get the word “martyr.” What Jesus’ followers literally heard was “you shall be martyrs to Me.” And they took literally what He said. They were all too familiar with the Roman cross, and when Jesus told them to take up their cross, they understood it was a call to suffer and sacrifice.
In the early Church, new believers heard a very different message than we hear today. They understood there was a cost to follow Christ. What we hear today is, “Come to Jesus and your life will get better.” “Come to Jesus and you’ll be rich, healthy, and wealthy.” That’s the modern theology of western Christianity, and it’s the reason our faith is being marginalized by American culture and we’re losing our nation. We must return to 1stcentury Christianity if we want the power of God in the 21stcentury.
The early followers of Jesus took Him literally and hundreds of thousands of them laid down their lives and became martyrs for Christ. That’s what it meant to be a follower of Jesus for the first 250 years of Church history. God’s power in a Church is directly proportionate to the level of martyrdom among the people.
The Church in America lacks power because it lacks followers of Jesus who are so sold out and surrendered that they are willing to lay down their lives for Jesus Christ! That was the power source of the early Church and the reason Christianity spread so quickly. The very fact that Christians were willing to suffer unspeakable horrors and to die rather than disown their God was the single most effective evangelistic tool they had. Their lives were often taken from them, but what you couldn’t take from them was their faith. They would not disavow Jesus, and people all over the Roman world were changed by what they saw.
What do people see today when they look at the lives of Christians or those who claim to be? Luis Palau said, “America, where 80% of the people claim to be Christians, but few live any differently than pagans or atheists, as though God has no claim on their lives. Their hearts have not been changed.”
Do you see the difference in what nonbelievers are seeing today from what they saw then? The early Christians were willing to die for Christ, but sometimes we’re not willing to even live for Him and that is why we live powerless lives and the Church in America is powerless to change our nation.
If you’re a born-again follower of Jesus, the power is still here – the Holy Spirit has never departed. But if we want the power, it’s going to cost us our lives. The Church has lost its witness because the Church has lost its martyrs. We’re not going to reach our city, much less our nation, except through the same power of the 1stcentury Church, and that will require our personal sacrifice for the cause of Christ.
1) Surrender all that you are and all that you have to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Give Him all of your life, and through your changed life, He can change the lives of others. 1 Corinthians 6:20, “We are not our own for we’ve been bought at a price.” Jesus Christ should be the owner and ruler of all that we are and all that we have.
2) Stand in the gap for our nation and pray for revival! Ezekiel 22:30, “So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.” God is looking for men and women who will stand in the gap through prayer. Pray for God to fill the Churches in America with martyrs for Jesus Christ who are serious about rebuilding the walls of our nation and reaching a dying generation.