In the nation birthed out of a determined quest for religious freedom, it is impossible today not to notice how faith-based Americans are increasingly marginalized, if not openly opposed, by a growing strain of anti-religious sentiment. In particular, it is Bible-believing Christians whose faith is relentlessly being pushed out of every part of public life. For genuine believers within a rapidly changing culture, it is becoming clear that they stand much to lose by their continued obedience to the God they serve.

The enduring challenge for America is to maintain a society within which people of diverse beliefs can live out their convictions freely, yet harmoniously. A freedom that is wrought with strife and void of harmony is hardly a freedom worth having. On the other hand, societal harmony without freedom is the very definition of tyranny. Ultimately, America must have both at once, or none at all.

Today, our nation is experiencing a decrease in cultural harmony because our differing belief systems continue to align in more direct conflict with one another. In this case, the Christian worldview stands in direct conflict with the unholy trinity of moral relativism, secular humanism, and state-imposed socialism (we’ll call the faithful adherents of this religion “secularists”). Their goals are completely at odds.

The secularists’ solution to this conflict is [to attempt] to eliminate all opposing viewpoints (so far, mostly Christians). Insistence on conformity to a particular set of secular beliefs, ironically championed in the name of “diversity”, becomes for them the pathway to societal harmony. But it comes at the expense of religious freedom. In such terrain, as one state’s Supreme Court Justice recently put it, people of faith “now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives. … [But] it is the price of citizenship” in this new America.

But herein enters the problem. Inasmuch as the Christian’s faith in Jesus Christ transforms his life and becomes his deepest identity, the Christian can no more cast off his faith than he can cast off his own skin. More than a mere description of the things he does, his faith reflects the very essence of his being. Therefore, in failing to accept, condone, applaud, endorse, participate in, celebrate, or worship something which violates the Christian’s foremost loyalty to God, it is not merely that he will not do it; rather, it is that he cannot do it.

It is important for the secularist to understand that a Christian’s refusal to violate his conscience is not so much a matter of volition, whereby he responds with defiance. It is a matter of capacity, in that he lacks the ability carry it out. It is not in him to do, because it is inconsistent with his very nature – the new nature that God has given him through the Holy Spirit now dwelling within him. (See Galatians 2:20)      

So when a Christian declines to take part in celebrating a same-sex commitment ceremony by lending her artistic expressions (in the form of a specialized cake, photography, floral arrangements, etc.) to further that celebration, it is because she cannot do it while being faithful to God – her chief aim.

Or when a Christian refuses to treat a biological man as if he were a woman for the purposes of providing certain public accommodations or in the use of certain pronouns, it is because he senses that to do so would be to deny God’s truth and dishonor God’s sacred design in creating male and female – and that is something he cannot do.      

It is not ultimately a matter of what he wants. It is a matter of who he is in Christ.

Here is what the secularists need to recognize as they make every attempt to compel Christians into absolute conformity with their beliefs: Demanding that a person do a thing for which they lack the capacity, and then punishing them when they fail to do it, is pure abject cruelty. It would be like ordering a financial investor to perform open heart surgery on the spot, and then suing him for malpractice when the patient doesn’t survive. It’s unthinkable and unconscionable because the investor lacks the capacity to carry it out. It was a futile effort from the start. No one would demand such a thing except out of great cruelty, extreme desperation, or bona fide insanity.

Nevertheless, these kinds of demands on Bible-believing Christ followers will likely only increase as more conflicts inevitably rise to the surface. Christians, meanwhile, can look to some good biblical examples for how to respond in these situations.

One of them occurs in the book of Acts chapter 4. Peter and John were confronted by the civil authorities because they were preaching about Jesus, and many of the people were believing their message by faith. The authorities felt threatened by the apostles because their message about Jesus was disrupting the conformity of beliefs which they sought so hard to maintain. Over and above affirming what was true, their desire was for the control of ideas. 

17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called [Peter and John] and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But [they] answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

From this story, we get a few important takeaways. First, the followers of Jesus continued to recognize the God-given position of authority of the civil servants. Notice the first part of their response wherein they exhort the authorities: “you must judge”. In the midst of their conflict, they did not try to deny the right of the authorities to judge the rightness of their conduct. In this way, they honored both God and the civil authority, while exemplifying good citizenship.

Secondly, the followers of Jesus made it absolutely clear, at least by inference, that God’s commands took precedence over the civil authorities when the two were in conflict. It was essentially rhetorical to suggest to a group of Jewish priests that they had to decide whose word should win – theirs or God’s. They got the point.    

Finally, when the followers of Jesus were commanded to do something that would violate their commitment to God, they made it clear that they “cannot” comply. It was simply not within them to keep silent about Jesus. It had nothing to do with defiance towards the civil authorities. It had everything to do with obedience to God.

And so it is also with followers of Christ in 21st century America. Secularists, take note.