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 2 Corinthians 4:4In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine to them.
American King James Version×; Revelation 12:9 Revelation 12:9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
American King James Version×).
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 10:8-10 8 And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth.
9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: why it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD.
10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.
American King James Version×; Genesis 11:1-9 Genesis 11:1-9 1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelled there. 3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach to heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad on the face of the whole earth. 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built. 6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there on the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from there did the LORD scatter them abroad on the face of all the earth.
American King James Version×), 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 John 17:14-18 14 I have given them your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
15 I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil.
16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
17 Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth.
18 As you have sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.
American King James Version×; Revelation 18:4-5 Revelation 18:4-5 4 And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues. 5 For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.
American King James Version×).
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 Daniel 1:1-7 1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem, and besieged it.
2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.
3 And the king spoke to Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes;
4 Children in whom was no blemish, but well favored, and skillful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.
5 And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.
6 Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah:
7 To whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave to Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego.
American King James Version×).
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 20:12-13 12 Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them.
13 But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury on them in the wilderness, to consume them.
American King James Version×; Ezekiel 20:16-24 Ezekiel 20:16-24 16 Because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols. 17 Nevertheless my eye spared them from destroying them, neither did I make an end of them in the wilderness. 18 But I said to their children in the wilderness, Walk you not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols: 19 I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; 20 And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God. 21 Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my sabbaths: then I said, I would pour out my fury on them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness. 22 Nevertheless I withdrew my hand, and worked for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen, in whose sight I brought them forth. 23 I lifted up my hand to them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries; 24 Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols.
American King James Version×).
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 Daniel 11:28-32 28 Then shall he return into his land with great riches; and his heart shall be against the holy covenant; and he shall do exploits, and return to his own land.
29 At the time appointed he shall return, and come toward the south; but it shall not be as the former, or as the latter.
30 For the ships of Chittim shall come against him: therefore he shall be grieved, and return, and have indignation against the holy covenant: so shall he do; he shall even return, and have intelligence with them that forsake the holy covenant.
31 And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that makes desolate.
32 And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.
American King James Version×). 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” ( 1:62-63 1:62-63
American King James Version×).
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 1:17As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.
American King James Version×).
Daniel and his three friends had an intelligent understand-ing of the language and literature of the Chaldeans (Daniel 1:4 Daniel 1:4Children in whom was no blemish, but well favored, and skillful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.
American King James Version×) 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 1 Corinthians 5:9-12 9 I wrote to you in an letter not to company with fornicators:
10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortionists, or with idolaters; for then must you needs go out of the world.
11 But now I have written to you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortionist; with such an one no not to eat.
12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not you judge them that are within?
American King James Version×). 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 29:1Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon;
American King James Version×; Jeremiah 29:4-8 Jeremiah 29:4-8 4 Thus said the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon; 5 Build you houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; 6 Take you wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that you may be increased there, and not diminished. 7 And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray to the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall you have peace. 8 For thus said the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the middle of you, deceive you, neither listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed.
American King James Version×).
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 John 16:33These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
American King James Version×). 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 5:11There is a man in your kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar your father, the king, I say, your father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers;
American King James Version×).
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 Luke 16:10-11 10 He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
11 If therefore you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
American King James Version×). 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 Daniel 6:10Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled on his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.
American King James Version×).
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 1 Thessalonians 5:17Pray without ceasing.
American King James Version×). 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 Acts 4:13Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.
American King James Version×).
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!