How do we engage an increasingly secularized and sexualized culture? Do we isolate? Accommodate? Or do we engage by sharing the uncompromising but transforming love of Jesus Christ? If we engage, how do we remain faithful to biblical truth under the relentless pressure to conform to standards contrary to God and His word?
Faithfulness must be an active response to God and His word that says, “God, you said it, therefore I will DO IT.” Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, demonstrated this kind of faithfulness. They responded to God’s Word unconcerned about the consequences. They were simply obedient to the truth. They resolved together to be faithful to God whatever the cost, and their faithfulness resulted in unparalleled influence and excellence in service to the King of Babylon!
Despite some instances of successful civil disobedience such as not eating at the king’s table, there were other times when similar disobedience brought them disdain and punishment as we read in Daniel 3:1:
King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisors, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set…” Daniel 3:1-2 NIV
The King summoned all the political officials to a giant pep rally on the plains of Dura. Since Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were among these ruling elites, they were expected to attend and participate. The statue was a towering monument to the ego that said, “I will have what I will have, when and wherever I decide to have it.” Whatever the actual image, it was a visual picture of the self’s divinity.
Despite enormous pressure, these three young men remained faithful, courageous, and resilient. They didn’t bow to the statue or give in to second thoughts before the consequential furnace. By their example, they call us to do the same whether before a board, a jury, or a judge. They knew what was right because they knew God’s word. They had an anchor and a moral compass. They knew God’s faithfulness and love. So, they said to the King: “But even if he [God] does not save us from the fire, we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Today, the common philosophical thread uniting Western secularism is the insistence upon individual rights and the right to pursue them without limit. Carl Trueman and others have described this thread as, “the rise and triumph of the modern, autonomous self.” It is the spirit of our age and infuses our culture. It has birthed discussions on sexual and gender identity, who defines it, and how it is actualized. This spirit not only defines our secular culture, but also seeks to shape our self-identity. We stand together with the three young men on the plains of a new Dura. We discover with them that we must answer the unconscionable demands of the culture not simply in words but in deeds that stand out.
As we stand with these three men in Daniel’s Babylon, we see three lessons in resisting cultural conformity:
- When you stand up, God has someone to stand with you.
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood up and stood out, they did so TOGETHER. We don’t know where Daniel was at this point—the text is silent—but we do know from the previous chapter that they met together and took counsel (2:17-18). It was in this small group that they encouraged each other to exercise godly influence, to model godly behavior, to represent Yahweh in hostile situations, to draw the line, and then STAND TOGETHER to influence a nation and a culture! Within your sphere of influence, who has God given to stand with you? He is not calling you to stand alone.
- God may not save you FROM the furnace; he may be saving you FOR the furnace.
God did not save these men from the furnace; in fact, it got even hotter—7x hotter as they heated it up! They had faith for a miracle, but their faith didn’t rest on a miracle.
Our God can rescue us, but it’s clear in this case that he was saving these men for the furnace. Why? Because God is more concerned about our hearts and character than our church attendance, buildings, programs, or even our success in defending religious liberty. To quote another great Christian apologist, Dallas Willard, God is looking for people who he can trust with his kingdom, his power, and his glory. Our ultimate example is Jesus who was trustworthy as he went through his “furnace” with faith, courage, and resilience.
Is it possible that God is calling us through a furnace of persecution toward a deeper and refined trust in Christ alone? Does he want to refine us and make us more dependent on Him than on our possessions? More focused on his mission than maintenance?
Unbound and unharmed, the three men walked out of the furnace. Where once they were bound, there were now no ropes at all, no hair on their head singed, no part of their clothing scorched, and no smell of fire on them! In the end, the only thing that burned were the cords that bound them.
As we enter a time of increasingly aggressive secularism and religious pluralism, we need to ask what BINDS US from witnessing as faithfully to God as these three young men did. Are we “tied up in knots” about offending others, or about losing family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers? Are we anxious about losing opportunities for promotion and influence?
- God often uses furnaces to increase the spiritual authority we have in our own sphere of influence.
Notice the priority and the sequence of events after these faithful companions emerged from the furnace. First, the King praised not Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego but their God, and then recognized their faith and trust in God. He then decreed that all people “of any language or nation” within Babylon must give respect and honor to Yahweh. The King elevated their religious liberty to a first principle in his kingdom! Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were promoted! In the end, these Hebrew saints received all the glory, power, and influence they could ever have wanted because they passed through the fire of faithfulness first.
These are a few of the lessons from our Formed Conferences where you can find faithful friends in Christ who will walk with you through the refining fires you experience. May all of us walk into a deeper trust and more powerful witness as we share the transforming love of Christ in a culture closer to Babylon than Jerusalem!