A Childlike Trust In
To the early Christian, trusting God meant more than
a teary-eyed testimony about “the time I came to trust
the Lord.” It meant believing that even if obedience
to God entailed great suffering, God was trustworthy
to bring a person through it.
“A person who does not do what God has commanded shows
he really does not believe God,” Clement declared.
To the early Christians, to claim to trust God while
refusing to obey Him was a contradiction (1 John 2:4).
Their Christianity was more than verbal. As one early
Christian expressed it, “We don't speak great things—we
One distinguishing mark of the early Christians was
their childlike, literal obedience to the teachings
of Jesus and the apostles. They didn't feel they had
to understand the reason for a commandment before they
would obey it. They just trusted that God's way was
always the best way. Clement asked, “Who then is so
irreverent as to disbelieve God, and to demand explanations
from God as from men?”
They trusted God because they lived in awe of His
majesty and wisdom. Felix, a Christian lawyer in Rome
and a contemporary of Tertullian, put it this way: “God
is greater than all our perceptions—He is infinite,
immense. Only He truly understands His true greatness;
our hearts are too limited to really understand Him.
We are making a worthy estimation of Him when we say
that He is beyond estimation.... Anyone who thinks
he knows the magnitude of God, diminishes His greatness.”
The supreme example of their absolute trust in God
was their acceptance of persecution. From the time
of the Emperor Trajan (around A.D. 100) until the Edict
of Milan was issued in 313, the practice of Christianity
was illegal within the boundaries of the Roman Empire.
Being a Christian was a crime punishable by death.
But the Roman officials didn't generally hunt out Christians.
They ignored them unless someone formally accused a
person of being a Christian. As a result, persecution
was intermittent. Christians in one town would suffer
horrible tortures and death while Christians in a nearby
area would be untouched. It was totally unpredictable.
Yet, every Christian lived daily with a death sentence
hanging over his head.
The very fact that Christians were willing to suffer
unspeakable horrors and to die rather than disown their
God was, next to their lifestyle, their single most
effective evangelistic tool. Few, if any, Romans would
die for their gods. There had to be some substance
to Christianity if it meant so much to those who practiced
it. In fact, the Greek word for “witness” is martyr.
Not surprisingly, this is also the Greek word for “martyr.” In
many places where our Bibles use the word “witness,” the
early Christians were reading “martyr.” For example,
in our Bibles, Revelation 2:13 refers to “Antipas,
my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city.” The
early Christians were understanding the passage to
say, “Antipas, my faithful martyr.” Although most Christians
tried to flee local persecution when possible, they
rejected any mass exodus from the Roman Empire. Like
little children, they believed their Master when He
said His Church would be built on a rock and that the
gates of Hades could not overpower it (Matt. 16:18).
They realized that thousands of them might die monstrous
deaths, experience excruciating tortures, and suffer
imprisonment. But they were absolutely convinced that
their Father wouldn't let the church be annihilated.
Christians stood before the Romans with naked hands,
letting them know that Christians would not use human
means to try to preserve the church. They trusted God,
and God alone, as their protector.
As Origen told the Romans: “When God gives the Tempter
permission to persecute us, we suffer persecution.
And when God wishes us to be free from suffering, even
though surrounded by a world that hates us, we enjoy
a wonderful peace. We trust in the protection of the
One who said, ‘Be of good cheer, for I have overcome
the world.' And truly He has overcome the world. Therefore,
the world prevails only as long as it is permitted
to by Him who received power from the Father to overcome
the world. From His victory we take courage. Even if
He should again wish us to suffer and contend for our
faith, let the enemy come against us. We will say to
them, ‘I can do all things through Christ Jesus our
Lord who strengthens me.'”
Origen had lost his father to persecution when he
was a teenager, and he himself eventually died from
torture and imprisonment at the hands of the Romans.
Yet, with unshakable confidence he told the Romans, “Eventually,
every form of worship will be destroyed except the
religion of Christ, which alone will stand. In fact,
it will one day triumph, for its teachings take hold
of men's minds more and more each day.”