Should you, as a Christian, be relevant to the culture around you? Is the gospel message of the Bible relevant to society? Should you be relevant? Are you relevant?
Culture changes, and it changes quite fast. What we are able to do in our modern, connected, Internet age would astound even recent generations—not to mention how foreign it would be to characters of the Bible. But, while the methods of communication have changed, the message to be communicated never changes.
Babylon is an archetype of civilization in opposition to God. In many ways every country is a continuation of the ancient Babylonian way.
The message of God, His Word, is always relevant—if only people would truly understand what it is. In our world today the god of this age, Satan the devil, has blinded humanity to the relevance of the gospel message (2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 12:9).
One example of the importance of cultural relevance when it comes to the Bible is the YouVersion Bible app for smartphones and tablets. This app was created by Life.Church with one purpose—leveraging technology to engage people in God’s Word. YouVersion’s Bible App features 1,492 Bible versions, in 1,074 languages, with audio Bibles of popular versions. This is a form of being culturally relevant in engaging people with the biblical message “where they are,” which is on their mobile devices.
So Life.Church created something very culturally relevant that leveraged the biblical text and put it into the hands of the populace. What are you doing to be relevant?
Daniel—in Babylon but not of it
Someone who became very relevant with his faith amid his society was the biblical prophet Daniel. The way he lived his life and showed the way to God was groundbreaking in his time. He was a godly citizen of Babylon. Are you a godly citizen in today’s Babylon? Daniel confronted the culture of his day and showed God’s way to be relevant.
Besides being a prophet, with his book containing the most comprehensive and sweeping prophecies in the Old Testament, Daniel also worked as a government official and scholar. As one of the most learned men of Old Testament times, he was thoroughly trained for his important role in government, history, wisdom and literature.
We might wonder: What must it have been like for him to live in Babylon back then? What kind of cultural challenges did the people of God face then? Perhaps we should consider: What’s it like for God’s people today to live in America or, really, any country in a sinful, fallen world?
Babylon or Babel, site of the famous tower and starting place of the first empire after the Flood (Genesis 10:8-10; Genesis 11:1-9), is an archetype of civilization in opposition to God. In many ways our country, along with every country, is a continuation of the ancient Babylonian way! What good did Daniel bring to his society? What good can we bring to ours? How can we ensure the biblical message is relevant to those we interact with on a daily basis?
After all, while we must live in the Babylon of this world, we are not to be of it. The requirement to come out of Babylon means to come out of its ways (see John 17:14-18; Revelation 18:4-5).
Living in Babylon without assimilating
The opening verses of Daniel give the historical setting, which includes the first siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 605 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon demanded tribute from this new part of his empire, along with certain Jewish men to be trained to serve in his court.
Among these were Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who were all renamed with Babylonian names—Daniel as Belteshazzar and his three friends as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego (Daniel 1:1-7).
This takeover of Judah and initial deportation of Jews to Babylon was part of the fulfillment of many warnings from the biblical prophets about Israel and Judah’s coming disaster because of their sins against God. The nation had repeatedly forsaken the law and ignored God’s covenant—including the Sabbath day—and gone into idolatry (Ezekiel 20:12-13; Ezekiel 20:16-24).
The people of Israel (to the north of Judah) had been overrun and deported by the Assyrians more than a century earlier, and now the southern kingdom of Judah was to be captured by the Babylonians. Sin resulted in the people of Judah being likewise carried off captive—now and in greater numbers in two more invasions over the next 18 years—to Babylon, itself a center of idolatry and one of the most wicked cities in the ancient world.
How did Daniel and his friends live in that society? Consider too: How do we live in Babylon today? Just as the Babylonians? Or maintaining godly distinctiveness?
Imagine if you were dragged out of your home to serve a foreign dictator. Maybe you’re given a new name to show his power over you, as it was for Daniel and his friends. Maybe you’re put in compromising situations that challenge your faith. What example would you set? What would identify you? Would you partake of the “king’s delicacies,” as we find in the next verse in Daniel 1?
Notice: “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself” (verse 8, emphasis added throughout). With God’s help, Daniel and his three friends made it through this situation and worse difficulties to follow without giving in.
Daniel later foretold a more severe testing that would come to the Jewish people more than 400 years later under Greek Syrian rule (see Daniel 11:28-32). Some historical details of what happened can be found in apocryphal books, one of which states: “But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die” (1 Maccabees 1:62-63).
Not compromising on God’s law in Babylon or successor kingdoms was serious business! You could be put to death. Daniel’s strong devotion to biblical law came from a deep devotion to the God who gave it. Daniel’s identity came from his God, not from Babylon. Does your identity come from your relationship with God, or from the world in which you live?
Contribute to society; be a good citizen
There are some elemental points we can glean from the life of Daniel and his companions in Babylon. Note, for instance: “As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (Daniel 1:17).
Daniel and his three friends had an intelligent understand-ing of the language and literature of the Chaldeans (Daniel 1:4) and were able to judge wisely between what was true and what was false. And they did all this while living as part of the Babylonian society!
This shows that education outside of the Bible can be good—provided it does not replace biblical truth. Daniel had skill in Babylonian culture and literature. We see that God does not expect us to close ourselves off from the world and live in a commune or monastery (compare 1 Corinthians 5:9-12). Again, we are to live in the world, while not being of the world. We live in Babylon, while not conforming to it.
And here’s more to this point. Jeremiah 29 instructs the Jews in Babylonian exile to live and work for the good of the pagan society in which they were immersed—yet without compromising on God’s way. The Babylonian bureaucracy was hostile to the God of Daniel and his countrymen. But if they worked hard and set a godly example, they could have positive interaction and communication with the highest leaders in the empire.
The prophet Jeremiah lived at the same time as Daniel, although Jeremiah was around 20 years older. Here is what Jeremiah wrote from Jerusalem to Daniel and the other captives in Babylon:
“Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the remainder of the elders who were carried away captive—to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon . . .
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished.”
“And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace . . . Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you” (Jeremiah 29:1; Jeremiah 29:4-8).
How do we live in Babylon? Jeremiah says to be a good citizen! Have families. Grow fruit trees and vegetables. Build homes. Don’t break the law. Contribute to its peace. Don’t follow false prophets who lead you away from God’s instructions.
So, do we live out godly principles that are a blessing to the city in which we work, in which we go to school? Do you live like Daniel and his friends?
The Bible gives us solid, moral examples and instruction of how to live in Babylon—showing what it looks like to live faithfully in a religiously hostile world. Be a peaceful contributor to society. Grow gardens, raise families, work hard!
Today some claim to follow God but, in reality, live a life of cultural accommodation. In trying to become relevant they become irrelevant in representing God. We must instead stand for and live according to the truth even when doing so is hard.
We need to follow Daniel’s courageous example. Instead of letting our friends, the media and the latest crisis determine our outlook, we need to let Scripture and God’s Spirit determine it.
Furthermore, Daniel genuinely desired the best interests of his captors. He endeared himself to them with humble service and a heartfelt concern for their well-being. Yet he never joined in their wrong behavior and beliefs, going along to get along, which actually would have proven ultimately harmful to them and himself.
Here is a warning to you and me: When a church stops being a light in Babylon it becomes a fading church—it becomes irrelevant. It is no longer a witness as Jesus Christ said His disciples should be. Can you imagine how different the story of Daniel would have been if he decided it was not worth being a light in the king’s court?
What is the solution? We must live like Daniel. Live a disciplined life. Daniel was a faithful witness of God’s way—whether he was ruling in the king’s court, or later stuck in the king’s prison. Godly ethics are the solution.
We cannot afford to try to deconstruct biblical truth. We must be unwavering and uncompromising when it comes to God’s commandments, including Sabbath-keeping. We must be a light. Daniel’s faith was not a secret. It is not a life of secrecy. We talk about what we love.
Social scientists have shown that the moment a church abandons its orthodoxy, the moment it goes liberal, the moment it becomes morally ambivalent, is when it signs its death warrant.
Major battles we face in Babylon today
Look at some of the major battles we face in Babylon today.
Self is at the center of everything. There is a disproportion-ate sense of self-awareness and “me”: I am of the utmost importance. I can do anything I put my mind to. I have the most social media followers. “Like” me!
One of the biggest goals of people today is to become famous.
We live in a time when everything comes to us immediately, quickly. I want it now! We get impatient at the microwave, at the elevator, on the freeway!
But what is the remedy? God should be at the center of your life, not yourself, not the wish for fame.
Another notion to resist is the idea that there is no absolute truth. Our culture today is amoral, leading to immorality. There is no right or wrong, so let’s decide it for ourselves. It’s that tree from the Garden of Eden again!
What is the solution? The ethics of God are not the ethics of Babylon. Don’t be morally ambiguous. We need a godly, moral firmness.
Today’s Babylon has an obsession with spectacle and noise. We’ve given ourselves to the great gods of entertainment and media, of fantasy, of Hollywood, of spectacle. We escape the chaos and pressure of life through entertainment and imagineering. Babylonians live a life that favors stadium-filled concerts, images, moving pictures and visuals rather than things of substance. The world, modern Babylon, is on a different trajectory than each of us should be.
It is better to have conflict with society around us than to have conflict with God and diminished faithfulness to Him. “In this world you will have tribulation,” we are told (John 16:33). We cannot be neutral about our faith, but that is what many people prefer to be. People want to be part of the system, to become Babylonians.
Could the following be said of you, like the queen mother said to the new ruler in Babylon about Daniel?
“There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. And in the days of your [grand]father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and King Nebuchadnezzar your [grand]father—your [grand]father the king—made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers” (Daniel 5:11).
Daniel did not go with the Babylonian flow. No, he had the Spirit of the Holy God, and it was recognized by others. Is that Spirit recognized in you and me?
Daniel’s God was seen as very different from the gods of the Babylonians. Daniel’s God was from outside of creation—from the spirit realm. But Babylonian gods came from everything around them, from inside creation—from the river, from the trees, from nature. They worshipped the creation rather than the Creator! The Spirit of the Holy God was very different from the gods of Babylon.
We will not all face a den of lions, as Daniel did late in life under Persian rule. For us it may be more subtle. Perhaps it will be a gradual decline of faith and obedience. But we are reminded that even in the smallest of matters we must not be godless Babylonians.
Faithfulness and time with God
We must not partake of the “king’s delicacies,” as noted earlier, if they are in opposition to God’s way. To put it in modern language, we cannot partake of the king’s (our boss’s) Christmas party, Halloween celebration or New Year’s Eve revelry.
We must live in Babylon but not become ungodly Babylonians. What is the solution? How do we do it?
Do everything to the best of your ability. Be faithful even in the little things (Luke 16:10-11). Put your best into all you do.
As recorded in Luke 16, dishonesty, even in the smallest amount, leads to dishonesty in even greater portions. Dishonesty is directly opposed to godly truth.
Our character must line up with our God-given calling. Daniel’s respect for God far outweighed his fear of what man could do to him.
If you don’t make time for God, don’t be surprised if your faith fails—or if it seems that God is distant.
Whether our relationship with God will fall apart depends on the time we give to Him—just like in a marriage. Do we read our Bible? Do we pray? If not, then of course God is not going to be fully real to us.
If we don’t spend time with God, we will end up spending our time on something else—devoting our time to other aspects of life.
God was real to Daniel. He did pray—every day—even three times a day, as was his custom (Daniel 6:10).
What’s the solution for us, then? We have to learn to discern God’s voice among the multitude of voices constantly vying for our attention in Babylon. We are whatever we give ourselves to, whether to movies, music, gaming, imagineering, media, fantasy—or to truth. Whether to the Word of God or to Babylon.
Prayer is an antidote to drifting astray. The apostle Paul said, “Pray without ceasing, for this is the will of God” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). And successful prayer often comes from quality time reading, studying and meditating on Scripture. Scripture, a great teacher, is readily available. Don’t blame God if you don’t do your homework!
Uncompromising moral character
The narrative of Daniel is lasting testimony to the power of God in a dark hour of Judah’s history. The faithfulness of Daniel and his friends shone bright in Babylon. Yet in every age, not just back then, God is looking for those whom He can use. We have to live God’s way in everything.
The testimony of Daniel and these three young men is a source of strength to every one of us—we who are now living in end-time Babylon. Like Daniel, we too must be men and women of prayer and uncompromising moral character, whom God will soon honor with eternal life in His Kingdom.
Daniel and his companions represented the testimony of God, serving as His true witnesses, even in dark hours of Jewish apostasy and divine judgment. The noble example of these young men serves to encourage all of us in our great trials in the time of the end.
And of course, the Bible gives us so many more men and women of faith to emulate. Look, finally, at this example of two of Christ’s apostles: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
Is it obvious that you have been with Jesus? Is it obvious that you are a man or a woman of God? If not, make it so!