Is it possible to have a thriving relationship with God even in the middle of a culture gone crazy? Absolutely! And my confidence is bolstered by the testimony of an ancient biblical prophet named Daniel. He lived most of his life in Babylon as a servant of tyrants and still managed to hear from God, speak for God, and live his life in a way that was pleasing to God. And I think he has much to teach believers today.
Daniel was probably about fourteen years old when he was taken captive along with many other survivors of Nebuchadnezzar’s sack of the city of Jerusalem. He was transported, along with some dear friends, to the capital city of the world’s greatest empire at the time – Babylon.
Babylon’s biblical history dates back to the earliest chapters of the first book of the Bible, where we find a hunter named Nimrod who started a cult and founded Babel (the more ancient name for Babylon). He led his followers to worship the stars and Babylon became the birthplace of astrology, the occult, and every kind of debauchery and evil. Babylon is also used in Scripture in the Revelation of St. John to refer to the secular system that opposes God’s agenda throughout all time with commercial, political, and religious ramifications.
In other words Babylon, while a beautiful and magnificent ancient city to behold, was also a very pagan and violent place. It was quite a change for Daniel who had grown up in the royal family in the shadow of the holy temple and the palace compound of Israel.
We might conclude that Babylon would have been a tough place for a Christian to live. If you, like me, live in the context of western Christianity, this is probably because we have a pretty cushy view of religious life. We’ve had it good. Christendom’s influence has been far reaching and we’re still reaping some of the nice benefits of the remains of the Holy Roman Empire. But Christendom is falling, and we were never commissioned to erect or maintain it to begin with.
The United States and Ireland both recently legalized same-sex marriage a decade after Canada did so, and many other western nations will be following suit. This is a tough issue to navigate for Christians who have historically believed that marriage is a sacred institution reserved for a lifelong bond of one man and one woman.
Abortion happens, and that would likely be most shocking to ancient Christians. To think that we will come up with a dozen half-baked excuses to use forceps and suction to kill and remove the life of a unique, pre-born individual human being, created in the image of God, from the womb of its mother and first defender is a little mind-boggling.
There are plenty of other hot button issues I could mention that have created tremendous conflict between people of the Christian faith and the laws and customs of our land. Suffice it to say that our modern Babylon is changing rapidly around us, and it’s creating a clash between timeless truth and modern thinking.
When other Christians want me to be madder about the way things are or get angry that our Judeo-Christian values are being replaced, I hesitate, reminding myself that we live in Babylon. And we are prophets, we are servants, and we are missionaries to a culture that has never actually been “Christian” to begin with.
As I’ve taught through the Book of Daniel at Grace Hills, I’ve been a little blown away by some of the parallels between his world and ours. For example…
- If you’re young, take your spiritual formation seriously now. Daniel was 14 when he had to make really tough choices about some boundaries that honored God.
- If you’re a parent, it’s important to prepare your kids for heaven, yes. But it’s even more important to prepare them for life in Babylon.
- We don’t have to have a “Christian” nation, government, or culture to thrive spiritually. In fact, there really is no such thing on earth.
- We belong to a kingdom that is not of this world. We hold dual citizenship. So stop reacting to changes in your earthly kingdom with panic. King Jesus still reigns.
- People are never the enemy, be they political leaders, philosophers, or professors. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood but against spiritual, invisible forces at work.
- There is a time to refuse to bow, when God’s truth directs us in conflict with what the culture around us says. And when we refuse to bow, we have to be prepared to get burned.
- All of us are builders, and that’s not bad, unless we’re more interested in building our personal empires than in extending God’s rule and reign. Seek his kingdom first.
- When the handwriting is on the wall and we know where our culture is headed, it’s time to be prophetic in people’s lives, sharing grace and truth with the loving accent of Jesus.
- Lions’ dens are uncomfortable, but our fate there rests in God’s hands, and we’re always better off in his hands than in anyone else’s.
- No matter how long we’ve been following Jesus, our proper posture before God is humility and repentance. We’re never better than the Babylonians. We’re just better off by grace.
- There is a spiritual conflict happening all the time, all around us in the unseen, heavenly realm. Angels fight for us against demons who wish to destroy us, and prayer makes a difference.
- The grand finale of history and the final judgment of God is set in stone. It’s coming. All will face eternity in a state of life or a state of death. Jesus makes the difference.
And there is more. I don’t know about you, but in the middle of my current cultural surroundings, I need this kind of wisdom. I need some basic, common sense, practical answers about what to do and what not to do as I relate to the world around me. From Daniel, I learn my role in this world…
- DO live for Jesus regardless of the environment.
- DON’T compromise your faith-fed values.
- DO serve people, Christian and non-Christian.
- DON’T bow to the false gods and systems of the world around you.
- DO raise kids to know and love Jesus and recognize him as their King.
- DON’T force, coerce, or pressure others to believe or live the same way.
- DO have friends and find a community of faith.
- DON’T ignore the needs of people and become isolated from others.
- DO pray, in all circumstances, about everything.
- DON’T stay angry or react in ways that uphold truth but fail to show grace.
I’m halfway through my preaching series in this awesome book. This Sunday, we’re “in the lions’ den.” Join me in praying for more people lost and blinded in our modern Babylon to find Jesus, to see God’s truth, and to experience the grace of God. We’ll never make Babylon be Christian, but we can help people become Christians, even in Babylon.