So you say you’re a Christian. So what?
What difference does your being a Christian make? How different is the life you are living – whether it is the person you are or the things you do – from that of anyone who follows any other God?
In Singapore, it’s so easy to be a Christian. I don’t want to belittle some of your situations – I’m sure there are many of us who face a certain amount of resistance from family or friends for your faith. But for the most part, in Singapore, freedom of religion is a very real thing.
This is not a complaint. We should be very, very thankful that we’re not, say, Christians in Syria. We should daily thank God that the time for serious persecution isn’t here yet.
But … what happens when our faith is put to the test? What happens when we get asked to choose between God and the world?
Hypothetically speaking, what if you take away all the good stuff? What if being a Christian is hard? What if there’s perspiration, persecution? What if you’re called to suffer?
Will you still love God when there is no tangible earthly benefit for doing so?
Consider the example of three men in the Bible, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. If their names don’t ring a bell, maybe you’ll know them by their other names: Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego. Or maybe you’re more familiar with their good friend, Daniel.
A really quick recap about the book of Daniel. At this time the Northern kingdom of Israel, 10 tribes in all, had been attacked and wiped out. Only 2 tribes remained – they were known as Judah, the Southern kingdom of Israel – until Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon attacked and took all of Israel into exile.
There he decided to pick some of Israel’s finest men to serve in his court. How fine were these men? Mighty fine. The Bible describes them as (Daniel 1:3) some of the king’s descendants and some of the nobles, youths in whom was no blemish, who were handsome and skilful in every branch of wisdom and gifted with understanding and discerning knowledge.
And top of this heap were Daniel, and those three men: Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, who King Nebuchadnezzar renamed Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego.
We come to the point in the book of Daniel where King Neb was making a golden statue of himself, 60 cubits high. That’s 27 metres, or about 10 storeys. And he told everyone that when the royal music played, everyone had to fall down and worship, or be thrown into a fiery furnace.
But some men who didn’t like the Jews ratted on the three.
“So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? If you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?’
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’” (Daniel 3:13-16)
Stop and read that last verse again. I think this is one of the most amazing moments in the Bible, one that perfectly describes the so what of Christianity.
First, we are to expect challenges in this journey. Second, we are given the choice of whether we will then, in the face of persecution, express our convictions. And in so doing, when we surrender our future to Him, we experience Christ.
Much of discipleship, in truth, is about overcoming the challenges we will face as we follow Christ.
We are challenged by our bodies. We keep wanting to do bad things, but we know we shouldn’t. Paul says, what I want to do I do not, but what I don’t want to do I do (Romans 7:19).
We are challenged by our baggage. The sins of our fathers and the resulting curses, and the ungodly beliefs we form as a result. We read the Bible and know what it says, but we can’t bring ourselves to surrender to its greater wisdom.
We are challenged by the world. What the world says usually contradicts God, because of who’s in charge here: According to John 12:31 and John 14:30, Satan is the prince of the world, and dictates what the world wants to believe.
So in this world, our beliefs will always be challenged by that of the world. So we must expect challenges – we must expect to have to make a choice. You are either for God or against God.
There is no dilemma here; it is clear as night and day. No dilemma – only temptation. We know what God says. But the world tastes so good, or exerts so much pressure. It’s not a dilemma; it’s be bold, or be tempted.
So here’s a fundamental truth about Christianity that we need to understand: The Christian walk is completely counter-cultural. It is completely counter-natural. It goes against our culture and it goes against our nature.
We must be conscious of this fact. Don’t expect Christianity to come naturally. Submission is unnatural, counter to our very nature. Walking away from temptation is unnatural. Putting others before self is unnatural.
The natural state is fallen. In the natural, humans will tend towards self-gratification and self-glorification. But Christianity calls us in the opposite, unnatural direction, toward God-gratification and God-glorification.
Christianity calls us to walk away from that which we naturally want. Christianity calls us to resist the values of the world, in order to hold fast to the value we have in God.
Will this be easy? No, it’s a lifelong challenge. Challenges in the body. Challenges from those around us. Challenges from society.
In the face of challenges, we can either give in, give up, compromise our walk. We can live a double life: Saying we’re Christian, supernaturally blessed, but living in the natural.
Or we can reach the next level – the level God desires of you. When our body tells us what it wants, we say, no, I have to do what God wants. When people tell us what to do, we say, no, this is what God wants me to do. When the kings of this earth order us to bow the knee and worship their idols, we say, no, I only bow my knee to God.
This is boldness. This is courage. This is living empowered by the Spirit. This is being the counter-culture Christian.
Our friends Shadrech, Meschach and Abednego expressed their convictions in two ways: With their mouths and with their bodies. First they said, we will not bow our knees to worldly kings and idols. Then, to prove it’s not lip service, they put their bodies on the line, to be thrown into the fiery furnace.
“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us out of your hand, O King. But even if He does not, we will not serve your gods.”
In 1 Corinthians 10:21, Paul describes it this way: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.”
In truth, Shadrech, Meschach and Abednego could have tried to drink from both cups. When the music played, they could have quietly hidden among the crowd, bow just enough that people don’t ask questions, and no one would have reported them to the king. Easy, right?
They could even have justified it. I have to be a strategic Christian. I must live to fight another day.
Maybe some among us are “strategic Christians”. Secret agents. But so often, when it’s time to stand up for God, these secret agents sit down. When it’s time to fight the good fight, these secret agents are so secret that no one can find them.
Is that what we’re called to do? Or do we stand before kings and tell them about the King of Kings?
In the face of challenges, do we express our convictions, regardless of the threatened consequences, and then put our fate in the hands of God?
And the third and most important step: Do we allow ourselves to experience Christ at work in our lives?
This is the part that doesn’t make sense. This is the part that makes Christians Christian. What makes us Christian isn’t the things we do in Church, our holy-fied vocabulary. Not even our boldness and courage, because anyone can talk big. What makes us Christian is … Christ.
The blood of Jesus is the basis of our boldness and courage.
There is a very fine line between bravery and stupidity. Anyone can charge into battle full of adrenaline. But it’s one thing being merely full of optimism; it’s another thing being full of faith. The basis of our faith is knowing that when we take a stand for Jesus, he fights the fight for us.
You know how the story of our three friends ends. They’re thrown in, but they are unharmed in the furnace, where a fourth man – “He looks like a son of the gods!” cries King Neb – accompanies them.
“Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!’
So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.
Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. No other God can save in this way.” (Daniel 3:24-28)
When encounter challenges and express our convictions, we are saved, empowered, carried through by the grace of God.
Today we know the grace of God by another name: Christ, the Messiah. No other God can save.
Think of God as saying, remember how I am the God of yesterday, today, and forevermore? Well I know the future cos I’ve been there. You’ll do fine. Just stay with me.
God says, I know there’s a big ugly King trying to scare you. I know there’s a fiery furnace there waiting for you to fall in. I know, in the natural, you’re scared. But I saw you expect the challenge. And I saw you express your convictions, your faith convictions. That was your part.
Now, God says, will you let me carry you through your fiery furnace? Will you experience the miracle of grace?