The struggles of the early Christians shall be an inspiration to children of God in all ages. The things they endured, the sacrifices they made for Christ, have stood as a monument to their firm and unshakable conviction of the truth of the gospel. Their hope was begotten by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, a matter with them of proved fact; but their ultimate hope of glory rested upon their "holding fast the beginning of their confidence, firm unto the end."
However, their faith was tried, proved, put to the test by severe trials, as said Peter, "ye have been put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1: 6-7.) So shall the faith of every Christian be tried; he is not to consider trial as a "strange thing" (1 Peter 4: 12); but that "all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Tim. 3: 12.) God tests the faith of his children to determine whether it be genuine. Such testing usually determines one point in particular: whether the individual is a Christian by conviction or convenience.
When Paul reasoned before Felix, the governor desired a "convenient season," but such could not be found. There is no such thing as a Christian by convenience. A Christian is one, who, in his conviction of truth, has rendered obedience thereunto. Probably one of the most loosely used words of today is the word "Christian," which has come to mean to the average person, anything from merely being a citizen of this country, to one who is simply religious after a fashion. But in the New Testament the word designated a relationship to Christ which stood for all that Christ procures, and that discipleship incurs. A relationship which resulted from the obedience of the individual to Christ, "from the heart."
The actions of early Christians were with a definite end: They "turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God." Unto-from-for a purpose. It was not a matter of mere sentimentality, and of convenience. Their convictions with regard to the principles of the gospel became to them dearer than property or life itself. Of some Hebrew Christians it is said, "Ye endured a great conflict of sufferings … being made a gazing stock both by reproaches and afflictions … and ye took joyfully the spoiling of your possessions." (Heb. 10: 32-34.) Of certain Christians from among the Gentiles, it is said, "So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which ye endure." (2 Thess. 1: 4.)
Men do not endure such things simply because it is "convenient"—but because the principles involved are dearer than life, and their "convictions" in these things are deeply rooted. Men and women today who are Christians out of conviction to principles find no place to compromise at any price. With them it is "yes" when "yes" is the answer; it is "no" when "no" is the answer. These realize that to "deny him" is to have him "also deny us"; that "he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself."
Convenience is a mere compromise, Satan's most subtle weapon. When Pharaoh offered Moses a compromise with regard to the Israelites leaving Egypt, it was in the form of a more convenient way to serve God. It was more convenient to "Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land"; or "I will let you go … only ye shall not go very far away"; or "Go now ye that are men, and serve Jehovah," which would leave the little ones; or finally, "Go ye, serve Jehovah; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed," than to let them do exactly what God had commanded. Moses saw through the whole thing; he was not looking for a convenient way to serve God, nor was he to be deterred from his course by compromise. With him it was obedience to God, the result of conviction that God's way must be honored.
Today when individuals are members of the church because it was the convenient thing to do, they usually have little or no conviction with regard to things sacred. They have yet to learn that Christianity is more than crying "Lord, Lord"; that it demands a conviction that puts Christ above all things held dear to human affections. "If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple," said the Christ. (Luke 14: 26.) It is a conviction that "takes up the cross daily, and follows" Him.
Consider today, the number in the church who "grew up in it," so to speak, and were baptized simply because they had been brought up that way, and their parents were members of the church. Whatever may have been the conviction of the parents in their earlier years, these of the second-generation oft-times are the most worthless, compromising members in the body. Too many of them do not know "whether Christ was crucified on Calvary, or shot on Bunker's hill," as Brother Arceneaux would express it. Their religion is simply a matter of convenience, not of conviction. The church made up of such is sure to become soft, compromising, and end in apostasy, unless these are taught, and grounded in the truth "as truth is in Jesus."
Another addition by convenience is that of the unbeliever who marries a member of the church, and then "joins the church," (that is what he does), because the companion is in it. There is no obedience unto God unless the motive goes much deeper than that. Sometimes it is a compromise by a couple who cannot decide on the religious faith of either, so they seek a third. This would not please God, even if both were baptized by a gospel preacher into the church. Such would be no matter of conviction, or of obedience from the heart, but merely a compromise of convenience.
The church is growing large in many communities, and as a result, in some places becoming popular. The church should have "favor with all the people," to be sure, but that favor should be a whole-hearted respect for it because of what it stands for, and stands against; not favor just because it is popular. Some preachers may seek to make the church popular by becoming professional back-slappers, but they need to learn that preaching the gospel is not running a popularity contest. One baptized because he likes the preacher, and finds him to be sociable and jovial, will have little conviction on moral issues, and none on doctrinal points, when that preacher is gone, or the real test comes.
Every Christian should be deeply anxious to see people obey God, but that desire should be to see them obey God, and not merely "be baptized." It should be a desire to see them become Christians because of their deep conviction in the matter, and not because it is a convenient "soul salve," easily applied.
Right here the future of the church shall be determined. If our preaching and teaching for the next few years baptizes only a few, but these few act out of conviction, the future triumph is secured. But if we should baptize large numbers, but only because the season should be convenient, it will end in disastrous compromise, for convenience compromises at the very first real obstacle and test that it meets. Let the church be enriched, then, with Christians of conviction, and not impoverished with members by convenience.