Just a few years after Jesus went back to heaven, those who followed Him began to be persecuted. In AD 202, the Roman emperor issued an edict against all Christians. Among those arrested was a young mother in her early 20s named Perpetua. Born in North Africa, Perpetua grew up in a prosperous family with the benefits of a good education and a happy childhood. Her mother was devoted to Christ and raised Perpetua and her brothers to love and follow Jesus.
Perpetua was tried and sentenced to execution, along with a group of other believers. Her father, who did not believe in Christ, begged her to renounce her faith. He reminded her that her baby boy would become motherless if she did not recant. She replied, “Father, do you see this water pitcher? Can it be called by any other name than what it is? So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am—a Christian.”
On the night before she was to be killed, Perpetua wrote of experiencing God’s comforting strength: “I saw that I should not fight with beasts but with the devil; I knew the victory to be mine.” The next day a group of Christians were marched into an arena. There before a crowd of cheering people, Perpetua and the others were killed by wild animals.
Perpetua, a beautiful young mother, knew that this life is only temporary and looked forward to the life that lasts forever in heaven. After her death, her chief jailer committed his life to Jesus Christ, so inspired was he by her confident faith. And the truth she died for became an example to her son that he, too, should stand firm in Jesus as she did.
Almost 2,000 years after Perpetua, there lived in the country of Germany a young pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer who also paid a great price for his faith. Dietrich was born into a prosperous family, and his godly mother taught him and his siblings to love and obey Jesus. Dietrich’s life was happy, safe, and secure until he reached his mid-20s. It was then that the ruling Nazi party under Adolf Hitler turned against those of the truth.
As Dietrich and his family and friends learned of crimes being committed against the Jews and the handicapped, they talked about what they should do. The majority of the Christians in Germany ignored the evil because they were afraid. But Bonhoeffer believed it was more important to obey God than men and that safety on earth was not as important as pleasing God.
After much prayer and careful study of the Bible, Dietrich came to the conclusion that he must help those who were trying to stop Hitler. And for this he was arrested and put in jail. In the period before his execution, he wrote about listening to God in difficult circumstances and then following God without reservation. He said that believers must be ready “to sacrifice all” and to be completely obedient and loyal to God alone.
Believing the truth may not always be easy. In fact, it will be extremely difficult at times. Knowing what God has for us is an individual matter. We cannot find God’s will by looking to what others are doing.
One day after the Resurrection, Jesus’ disciples went fishing in the Sea of Galilee. In John 21 we read that, after returning to the shore, they found that Jesus was there and had already built a fire to cook breakfast for them. After they all ate, Jesus asked Peter several times, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter answered yes, Jesus gave him a command: “Feed my lambs” … “Tend my sheep” … “Follow me.”
Peter turned his head and saw the disciple John and asked Jesus, “What about this man?” It is so like us humans to want to know what Jesus plans for someone else. We want to compare what God asks another person to do with what He asks us to do. But Jesus’ answer to Peter is also His answer to us: “… what is that to you? You follow me!”
Jesus asks each one who believes to stand firm in the truth, but He designs our circumstances uniquely. The faithfulness of believers like Perpetua and Dietrich Bonhoeffer cause us to ask ourselves, what will we believe when challenged by hard times? Will we stand firm in the truth as they did? Will we remember that it is God we must please?
Perpetua and Bonhoeffer knew they would stand before Jesus Christ one day and give an account (Romans 14:12). And so will we.
Questions about truth
- What does it mean to stand firm for the truth? What kinds of things does God want to accomplish through those who obey Him courageously—including you?
- How can you stand strong when someone says that what you believe about Jesus is just a myth or a fairy tale?
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced terribly hard choices. Think about being taken to jail or even beaten as a result of your faith. What Bible verses would you read and follow? What would you do and say?
Truth in action
- Draft a “Family Statement of Faith.” In one or two paragraphs, briefly summarize the truths of God’s Word that your family believes and will stand on, no matter what anyone else says or does. Consider memorizing this statement of faith together. Or post it somewhere in your home where family members can see it often and be reminded of the truth of the Christian faith.
- To learn more about the timeless truths that provide clear direction—and hope—for our future, read The Family Manifesto. You can find it here.
Praying together for truth
I pray that you, the One before whom we will stand, will help me remember the shortness of time and the nearness of eternity. May I never forget that Your eye always sees, Your ear always hears, and Your heart of love always seeks to save. May I fulfill that which You have created me to do and stand firmly in the truth until my last breath. Amen.