Do you ever wonder why the Church in China and the 10/40 window is so lively, while the Church in the West is so sleepy and ineffective?
Now hold on a second – this statement is obviously a broad, sweeping generalization. Not all churches and believers in the West are sleepy and ineffective, and I would imagine that the reverse is also true: Not all churches and believers in China and the 10/40 window are watchful and lively.
However, I think you’ll agree that that the prevailing character of the Church in China and the 10/40 window is one of bold witness and spiritual vigor, while that of the Church in the West is one of sleepiness and compromise.
Why is this the case? And what can we in the West learn from the example of our brothers and sisters in China and the rest of the 10/40 window?
A Cost and a Cross
The answer to this question is obviously complex and multifaceted. But I would suggest to you that one possible answer is this:
Christians in China and the 10/40 window tend to count the cost of following Christ more honestly and effectively that Christians in the West, and as a result, they are more prepared for the trials and temptations that follow.
Christians in China and the 10/40 window understand that when they accept Christ, they’re walking into a life of hardship, suffering and tribulation. There’s a cost – and a cross – involved in their decision to follow Christ.
In The Heavenly Man, Brother Yun’s wife Deling says, “The very first night as a believer I was taken to my first house church meeting. The Public Security Bureau came and we all had to escape on foot through the darkness. This was my very first introduction to what it would be like following the Lord” (Yun and Hattaway 32)! Because of frequent experiences like this, believers in China and the 10/40 window are prepared for trouble right from the get-go. And when trouble comes, by God’s grace they stand firm in the faith.
Conversely, there’s a bumper sticker here in the West that says, “Know Jesus, Know Peace; No Jesus, No Peace.” Obviously, this statement is true. Only through Christ can we obtain the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” [Philippians 4:7]. However, the way that we tend to interpret and understand this statement quite often falls short of the whole truth, doesn’t it?
What the believers in China and other places in the 10/40 window seem to understand is that this peace is about a whole lot more than obtaining some serene sense of happiness and fulfillment in this life which will then flow seamlessly into the next without so much as a bump or a bruise along the way.
The Whole Truth
The whole truth – which is infinitely more awesome – is that this peace is not intended merely to make us feel all warm and fuzzy, but to “guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 4:7]. It comes to us not in the form a ceasefire, but as peace in the storm, and as assurance of prior victory even in the heat of battle. This is vitally important, because when we are adopted into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we gain a threefold enemy: the flesh, the world and the devil. This is true regardless of where in the world we live.
And so, like the Christians in China and the rest of the 10/40 window, we must count the cost, pick up our cross, and consider who and what stands opposed to us from the very minute that we confess Christ as Lord.
Let’s consider this threefold enemy for a minute:
Before each of us was converted, we were at peace with our sinful nature. But now that we have come home to Christ, we have been crucified with him [Cf. Romans 6:6]. We’ve been given a new nature that desires above all things to please the Lord, and the Spirit in us stands opposed to the flesh [Cf. Galatians 5:17].
However, our sinful nature is not about to go down without a fight! It screams to have its wicked and sinful cravings fulfilled – not later, but now.
What does Paul say about this? “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” [Romans 7:21-22]. And this enemy is with us regardless of whether or not we live in a country that openly persecutes Christians.
How are we to deal with this enemy? The answer is that we must go to war! “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” [Romans 8:13].
Brothers and sisters, the flesh doesn’t want to be mortified. It wants to be satisfied. And it will oppose your decision to follow Jesus. It will persecute you, trouble you, pester you, and attempt to deceive you – daily.
If the flesh never seems to trouble you, then it’s likely that you’ve fallen asleep spiritually. Your condition is urgent! You need to wake up and recognize the traitor that dwells deep within your own heart.
That eminent Puritan, John Owen, says that “we may bewail the woeful sloth and negligence that is in the most, even in [professing Christians]. They live and walk as though they intended to go to heaven hood-winked and asleep, as though they had no enemy to deal with” (Owen 238-239). This was written in the seventeenth century, but isn’t it true of many of us here in the West today?
It’s true that the moment we put our faith in Jesus Christ, our sinful nature is very much already crucified with him [Cf. Romans 6:6]. We fight with the understanding that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” [Romans 8:37]. But the point here is that we are, indeed, instructed to fight – and that with gusto!
Again, what does the apostle Paul say about this? That choice saint testifies that “I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” [1 Corinthians 9:26-27].
Though it is defeated, the flesh continues to press upon us, assault us, and persecute us daily in our desire to follow Christ and grow in holiness. And our only choice is to kill or be killed: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you” (Owen 50).
The world will not approve of our decision to follow Jesus. Here in the West, we don’t face the same kind of open, government-endorsed persecution that believers in China and the 10/40 window often face, but the relative acceptance that we experience here in the West has another way of endangering our souls.
In China and the 10/40 window, Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” [1 Peter 5:8], but here in the West, he more often “disguises himself as an angel of light” [2 Corinthians 11:14]. We are presented with a kind of illusion that we can follow Christ and remain at peace with the world. And doesn’t this cause us to act with surprise and confusion when our allegiance to Christ does in fact result in some measure of persecution or rejection? We don’t remain watchful, because we don’t perceive that we’re in a battle. And as a result, we’re not prepared for trouble when it comes.
In China and the 10/40 window, believers are told quite often that they will face severe consequences if they refuse to deny Jesus. As such, the enmity between God and the world can easily be seen [Cf. James 4:4]. The enemy – which is not the people of the world but rather the spirit of the world – is clearly visible. However, in the West, the world often comes to us asking for much smaller compromises. “You can keep your Jesus,” it says, “but just give me this one small thing.”
And so, many of us yield in all kinds of ways without even realizing that we’ve made peace with the enemy. Like the simple one who turns aside to follow the “woman Folly” in the book of Proverbs, we don’t even know “that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol” [Proverbs 9:13-18].
Part of the reason that we don’t experience more persecution from the world here in the West is undoubtedly because we’re so conformed to its ways. We don’t feel the great strength that it puts forth to turn us from Christ, because most of the time we simply don’t oppose it: “He shall find the stream to be strong who swims against it, though he who rolls along with it be insensible of it” (Owen 235). In this quote, Owen is talking about the flesh, not the world – but I think it’s safe to say that the same principle applies.
Make no mistake, brothers and sisters – “friendship with the world is enmity with God” [James 4:4]. That doesn’t mean that association with the people of the world is enmity with God. No, we should treat unbelievers with patience, love, mercy and compassion. Paul tells the Corinthians, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world” [1 Corinthians 5:9-10].
The unconverted people of the world are not our enemies, though while anyone remains unconverted (and even sometimes after he or she is converted, for that matter) he or she does operate in the service of the enemy. Our actual enemy, as far as the world is concerned, is what John calls “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” [1 Jn. 2:16]. As mentioned previously, our enemy is the spirit of the world, which attempts to draw us off from our allegiance to Christ in the interest of acquiring worldly pleasures, comforts, riches and glory. Unfortunately, many of us get this all mixed up and flip things around – we zealously avoid the people of the world, while shamelessly conforming to the spirit of the world.
A Vietnamese pastor once visited my church here in Canada, and our pastor told us that during pre-service prayer, he prayed against the “persecution of materialism” that so often takes place here in the West. It’s persecution of a different sort than what we see in China and the 10/40 window, but it’s persecution nonetheless.
Finally, the apostle Paul tells us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” [Ephesians 6:12]. And this brings us to our last enemy – the devil. Much could obviously be said here, and there are many who are far more qualified than me to address this subject. Perhaps it will be the main subject of a future article! For now, I’m going to limit my comments to this one important consideration:
Part of the reason that Satan is such a powerful enemy is that he finds within each one of us a willing accomplice to each one of his lies, schemes and deceptions. “Christ had only the suffering part of temptation when he entered into it; we have also the sinning part of it. When the prince of this world came to Christ, he had ‘no part in him’ [John 14:30]; but when he comes to us, he has so in us” (Owen 183).
Satan would be dangerous enough if he had no willing accomplice within our own hearts, but the fact that he does means that we must be ever watchful and ever-dependent for our victory on “he who searches mind and heart” [Revelation 2:23]. We must pray along with the Psalmist often, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” [Psalm 139:23-24]!
And so, you can see how all three of these enemies – the flesh, the world and the devil – work together and strengthen each other in their attempt to oppose the lordship of Christ in our lives.
What are we to do?
So, what are we to do about this? How are we to deal with this threefold enemy of the flesh, the world and the devil? We need to learn a lesson from the disciples of Jesus in China and the 10/40 window! There are two directives that I think are particularly essential:
First, count the cost of your decision to follow Jesus. Understand that as a disciple of Jesus, you’ve been thrust into the midst of a war that is far more fierce and fiery – with far more at stake – than any earthly war that has ever been fought in human history. And, as the Lord is a man of war [Cf. Exodus 15:3], so must the Christian be a person of war in this life: “He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze” [Psalm 18:34]. Until we realize and remember this, the flesh, the world and the devil will continue to catch us unawares and get many a victory over us in the life of faith.
Second, remain in the Lord every day through prayer and the reading of Scripture. And, don’t do it haphazardly. Do it purposefully and deliberately. These are the primary means that God has provided for us to grow in His grace: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” [John 15:5]; “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore… praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” [Ephesians 6:13-14, 18]; “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” [Psalm 119:11]. John Owen says – quite rightly – that “he that would be little in temptation, let him be much in prayer… If we do not abide in prayer, we shall abide in cursed temptations” (Owen 196).
Finally, remember what the Scriptures tell us, and be encouraged: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” [Galatians 5:16]; “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have [Jesus has] overcome the world” [John 16:33]; “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” [James 4:7].
We may be in a war, but we are not alone, and “[the] Father, who has given [us] to [Christ], is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch [us] out of the Father’s hand” [John 10:29].
Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway. The Heavenly Man: the remarkable true story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun. Monarch Books, 2002.
Owen, John. Overcoming Sin and Temptation. Edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor, Crossway, 2006.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.”