As a disciple of Jesus, my highest calling is to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and to love my neighbor as myself.
But as a follower of Jesus who lives in the United States, I am deeply concerned about how the Christian Church here has surrendered to a comfortable gospel – a gospel that is unlike what Jesus preached.
We have compromised the truths of Scripture by conforming to culture, and we have done so for decades. But how do you find the courage to stand up to the metaphorical giant of conformism?
The prophet Daniel shows us how.
Daniel was a young Jew who had been kidnapped in Jerusalem as part of the Babylonian captivity. In 605 BC. Battle of Carchemish. Shortly after the death of his father, Nebuchadnezzar II became the ruler of the Babylonian Empire. The same year, he attacked Jerusalem. He attacked Jerusalem again in 597 BC and again in 586 BC when he finally succeeded in destroying the city and burning the temple. His men abducted the surviving Jews and forced them to travel 1,600 miles to Babylon.
Daniel lost everything except his faith.
Along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel was taken to the courts of King Nebuchadnezzar II to be trained to serve in the king’s palace. The four young men were isolated, re-educated, intimidated and renamed.
They had every reason to conform to Babylonian culture. They had suffered enormous losses and abuse. Conformity offered a possible escape from pain, ostracism and death.
Confronted with the chief eunuch who refused the king’s food and drink, Daniel requested that he and his friends be given only vegetables to eat, believing that God would take care of them. Daniel had “resolved in his heart not to defile himself,” so he asked for an alternative (Daniel 1: 8-16).
There was a line that Daniel would not cross and he let it be known that he would not cross it. But Daniel did not protest out loud or with raised fists. He has shown humility in his non-compliance. He knew that the rest of his life and the lives of his friends – and that of the chief eunuch – depended on this crucial moment.
Daniel’s choice began with an inner conviction. He faced isolation, re-education, intimidation and renaming with the determination to stay true to his God no matter what. The power of not conforming to what the culture around us is right is always internal work.
And Daniel didn’t make his choice because he thought he could transform Babylon. He knew he never could. In the end, he never did, although God used him in powerful ways because of his faithfulness.
Daniel was not trying to change Babylon – he had resolved in his heart that he was not going to let Babylon change him.
While Daniel did not live to see all the fruits of his faithfulness, others, like the Magi who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. The apostle Matthew writes: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying:” Where is he that was born King of the Jews? For we have seen her star when she arose and we have come to worship her ”(Matthew 2: 1-2).
But how did these men know how to find a Jewish king? They wouldn’t have known if someone hadn’t told them about him.
After Daniel successfully interpreted the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar II (Daniel 2), the king appointed him ruler of the whole province of Babylon and chief administrator of all the sages. While Daniel asked Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego to run Babylon instead, he remained at the king’s court and mentored the sages. Presumably he taught them his God. And the dominant theme of Daniel’s surviving writings is that a Jewish king will one day come to rule the world.
Centuries later, Daniel’s influence would culminate with Gentile astrologers of the Medo-Persian Empire – which overthrew the Babylonian Empire in 539 BCE – traveling hundreds of miles to worship the young Messiah.
All because Daniel refused to comply.
Of course, Daniel’s attitude and lifestyle did not save him from the persecution. After all, he was eventually thrown into a lion’s den for refusing to worship King Darius (Daniel 6). While God chose to miraculously save Daniel, he was willing to risk his life for his faith.
While we modern disciples of Jesus in the United States cannot parallel our situation with that of Daniel, we can still learn from his example. He lived with conviction, exercised his faith with humility and without compromise, and taught God to others in a respectful way, honoring and honoring Him.
Following Jesus is difficult, especially when our culture cries out to us that we are fools to follow him. But Jesus never said it would be easy. On the contrary, he said to his disciples: “For the gate is narrow, and the way difficult that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14).
We have to pray for the same kind of wisdom that Daniel had. And let’s not forget the meaning of Daniel’s name: God is my judge.
Skip Heitzig is the senior pastor of Calvary Church in New Mexico and is the author of numerous books and publications. His radio and television show, Connect with Skip Heitzig, is available in the United States and around the world.