Our study of the book of Daniel in the Bible has revealed that it is possible for a believer to not only survive but thrive in a foreign or strange culture that is adverse and even hostile to faith in God. We’re only getting the highlights of Daniel’s experience. It’s hard to cover 70 years in just 12 chapters, but we get a practical guide on how to do things the right way, God’s way. We have to remember that Daniel was human and imperfect, but he never gives up or gives into the pressures of assimilation. He refuses to “defile” himself (Daniel 1:8). Instead of conforming to the world around him, he transforms it for the glory of God.
“2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 NIV
This passage is from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans some 500 years later, but its message is a central theme or core message of the entire Bible, and it fits perfectly into our study of Daniel.
God’s “pleasing and perfect will” is for us to be “holy as he is holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7, 20:26, 21:8; Deuteronomy 23:14; 1 Peter 1:16). Adam and Eve were created to be “holy as he is holy” but they chose to conform to the world, an alternate self-serving world that never delivered on its promise of enlightenment.
“14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” John 17:14-18 NIV
The references to the “world” in Romans 12 and John 17 are both physical and spiritual. There is a physical manifestation or realm that God has created for our physical existence and our enjoyment in accordance with His will. However, there is another “world”, a spiritual one, that according to Jesus we must be protected from. This spiritual world Jesus talks about is inhabited and influenced by a spiritual being, “the evil one”, a.k.a. the serpent, satan, lucifer, the devil, or the deceiver. His spiritual realm or “world” is in direct opposition to God’s will. The good news is that his power is limited and still under God’s control.
Of course, our existence is both physical and spiritual and God originally created both worlds to be in perfect harmony. They weren’t meant to be separate. We were meant to live with Him in both realities simultaneously, but because of sin the harmony of that dual reality was broken, severed, and splintered into a new alternate reality where evil exists. No this is not a Coca Cola commercial or science fiction movie, but you may be wondering where in the heck I’m going with all this and what it has to do with the book of Daniel. Just hang in there. I’m hoping to circle the wagons at the end.
“15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:15-17 NIV
John, the disciple whom Jesus loved and writer of several New Testament books including Revelation, gives us a clearer picture of the “world” Jesus wants to protect us from in John 17. According to John, and many other Biblical writers, this “new world” that sin ushered in is “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”. It is what the Apostle Paul calls the “pattern of this world” in Romans 12:2, a pattern of behavior that emanates from sin and self-will rather than God’s will.
This ungodly or sinful alternate reality that we choose to live in didn’t come from God. It came from us, a world of our own making. Rather than allowing God to transform us into His image, we choose our own image, another identity apart from Him. Rather than being “of” or “belonging” to God, we choose to “belong” or be “just like” the world, the sinful world that Jesus wants to protect us from. If you’ve heard the expression “In the world not of it” in church or Christian circles, it is a paraphrase of John 17. Yes, we live, exist, move, and have our being in this physical world, but we are not supposed to be “of” it, “like” it, or “belong to” it. We belong to God. We live in Christ.
As I attempted to decipher these two code words in John 17, “in” and “of”. I got a little bogged down in the grammatical usage. I was going to try and sound like a smarty pants, but it made my brain hurt and you would have wanted to slap me, so I refrained.
Even though sin has altered our course and quality of life “in” this world , God’s beautiful creation can still be enjoyed within the parameters of His will. We can still experience the kingdom of God and a relationship with Him right here on earth despite the evil that exists around us, but we do need some protection. Therefore, Jesus says ”Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” in John 17:17. Truth, God’s truth is our protection and a weapon, our greatest weapon, against everything the world and the evil one will throw at us. (Read Ephesians 6:10-20) It is specifically designed to counter the evil one’s greatest weapon, which is deception or lies. Remember the garden of Eden? Eve said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:13 NIV) How was Eve deceived? It wasn’t the fruit. She seemed to be okay with God’s command not to eat it, but the serpent wanted to test her commitment, and plant seeds of doubt in her mind about God’s truth. Eve was deceived by a question and a lie.
- The Question: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) Are you sure that’s what God said? Are you sure that’s what He meant? Seeds of doubt.
- The Lie: “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)
We must remember that sin and our slide into worldliness doesn’t start with an act or behavior. It’s subtle and begins in the mind with lies, confusion, rationalization, and a series of questions that are designed to plant seeds of doubt, to alter and suppress the truth of God.
“18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:18-20 NIV
Today the world uses things like humanism, secularism, relativism, and other free-thinking ideologies, even mixing them with just enough of God’s truth to make it more palatable. It’s the same subtle strategy of deception that the serpent (the evil one) has been using since the beginning, and it’s still working like a charm. I could go on and on with this, but I better start landing the plane.
The challenge of living “in the world but not of it” can be overwhelming, but salvation and redemption are possible if we remain faithful to God. Like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we can survive and thrive in any culture or strange land because of God’s truth, favor, and our commitment or faithfulness to him. No matter what the “world” or the “evil one” may throw at us, we can be “more than conquerors through him who loved us”. (Romans 8:37 NIV)
Have a great weekend! Love y’all!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC