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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Living as a Christian in a Secular Humanistic Society
Text:Daniel 1:1-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-02-03
Updated:2022-03-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Selections from the 1976 Psalter Hymnal:

36 – The Ends of All the Earth Shall Hear

285 1-3, 6 – By Babel’s Streams We Sat and Wept

408 – Great Is Thy Faithfulness

466 - Onward Christian Soldiers

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


03/13/2022
 
Living as a Christian in a Secular Humanistic Society”
Daniel 1:1-21
 
Daniel and his friends were part of a large group of captives brought from their native Jerusalem to the cruel nation of Babylon. Their exile was part of the Babylonian captivity which happened when Nebuchadnezzar besieged the city during the reign of King Jehoiakim. Over a span of about 19 years, he made three separate attacks on Jerusalem, destroying the Temple and the city, killing innumerable people, and taking many others into captivity in Babylon.
 
As Daniel and his friends were brought captive to Babylon, they were brought into a society that can be defined by the same two words that define our society today: secular humanism. Babylonians measured everything by man’s measure, not God’s. As the late Dr. James Montgomery Boice wrote in his book The Foundations of Christian Faith, “The chief characteristic of the secular city, illustrated by earthly Babylon, is its radical secular humanism which may be described as being of man, by man, and for man exclusively.” (pg. 663)
 
In other words, secular humanism makes man the measure of all things instead of God. Far from being a new problem, secular humanism reaches back to the dawn of recorded history. As soon as Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, they plunged humanity into sin, and the term “secular humanism” could be employed. The term could be employed because instead of using God's Word as the standard of how to live their lives, they used their own human wisdom; they used their limited human understanding and brought great misery upon themselves and their posterity. 
 
Ever since that fatal fall we have seen secular humanism, as a philosophy of living, pitted against the clear teaching of Scripture as to how we are to live our lives. And as we see Daniel and his friends taken into captivity in Babylon, we see that the ruler of Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar, was above all else a secular humanist. 
 
At least that is how he was in the opening chapters of Daniel before God dealt powerfully with him. He wasn’t totally “secular” because he also worshipped many false gods, but so do the secular humanists of our day; they just don’t realize it. They don’t realize that they have made many false gods out of material possessions and pleasures as they worship, among other things, the creation instead of the Creator.
 
Perhaps nowhere does the secular humanism of Nebuchadnezzar come out more clearly than in that statement he made as he was walking on the roof of his palace overlooking Babylon. Daniel 4:30, (printed on the top of your sermon outlines), records these boastful words of Nebuchadnezzar: “As the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?’” 
 
Because of Nebuchadnezzar's mindset, we are able to see how to cope in a secular humanistic society as we look at the life of Daniel and his faithful friends. We learn from Daniel how we are to live in the secular humanistic culture we find ourselves in, for our society still uses the same principles and methods Nebuchadnezzar used so long ago. Those methods include efforts to isolate God's people, to indoctrinate God's people, to tempt God's people to compromise, and to try to strip God’s people of their identity as his people so that they are conformed to culture, not to Christ.
 
Tactics Designed to Deconstruct
 
Whether living in Daniel's day or living today, every Christian faces, first of all, isolation. Did you notice how the first thing Nebuchadnezzar did with Daniel and his friends was to isolate them? He took them from their own country and put them under the care of Ashpenaz, the chief of his court officials.
 
Daniel and his friends were isolated from their families and they were isolated from the values of their families. They had grown up in Jerusalem. They had been taught about the Lord and had worshiped in the Temple, but now the good influence of their godly upbringing was separated from them. Daniel was a teenager at this time, but the influence and the comfort and guidance that his parents could give him were gone. He was a captive in a foreign land.
 
Although we don't face that same situation of being captives in a foreign land in the sense that Daniel did in Babylon, we do still face that same isolation. We face isolation because we are, spiritually speaking, in a very real sense, foreigners in the world. We who are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem are just passing through this life. We are pilgrims and sojourners, and because of that, we don't fit in with the value system of the world in which we live. By our very nature as Christians, we are isolated by those in the world because we do not share the same values and beliefs of the world in which we live. 
 
And the world and its leaders will do everything possible to indoctrinate God's people into its ways. That is the second thing that Nebuchadnezzar did with Daniel and his friends. Having isolated them from their families and their homes in Jerusalem he began to indoctrinate them. The last part of verse 4 describes how Ashpenaz “was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.”
 
This wasn't just an interesting history class, to teach Daniel and his friends the history of the land where they had been taken as captives. Rather this was a three-year effort to indoctrinate them in such a way that they would no longer speak, think and act like the Hebrews that they were, as citizens of Jerusalem, the city of God. The three years of training were intended to deconstruct their faith in God. The goal was to make them speak and think and act like Babylonians.
 
And in our world today that indoctrination continues. Perhaps nowhere do we see it more clearly than in public education. Our government wants an ever-bigger role in bringing up our children. Part of that role is isolating children from the values that their parents have instilled within them, especially if those values are based on the Bible.
 
Because of that, I'm thankful for Christians who are active in the public education system, seeking to be salt and light. I'm also thankful for the work of Christian organizations on secular university campuses such as Reformed University Fellowship, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ). 
 
It is crucial to have Christian fellowship while you are in the world because there will always be peer pressure to try to conform you to the world system. You, young people, face a great challenge because there is always an effort in the world to indoctrinate you in the ways of the world's thinking and to isolate you from the upbringing that you have had in a Christian family, in a Bible-believing church, and for many of you, in a Christian school or Christian home school.
 
The true history of our nation has been totally rewritten. The God whom the early settlers of our land desired to worship is no longer mentioned. Instead, life is centered on the self, on humanity, including the most deviant aspects of humanity which are upheld as worthwhile and proper lifestyles, lifestyles that when denounced reveal a heart of malice and hatred that must be silenced by the world.
 
Already many decades ago, when I was a student at Montana State University, I took a course in New Testament studies where the professor prided himself on being a “post Christian.” He was an articulate speaker with a persuasive personality. Whenever a Christian tried to refute what he taught, he would – in the most condescending manner imaginable – say, “I used to believe all that too. But now that I'm a post Christian, I know that those things in the Bible are just myths and legends. We have more knowledge now than we used to have. You don’t need to hang on to the myths and legends of the Bible storybook anymore.”
 
Biblical values are shredded apart in public education at virtually every grade, from kindergarten on into college. In their place, the values of Babylon – the values of the world – are taught with authoritarian power. 
 
In a very real sense you young people, as well as those of us who are older, face not only isolation – as our true citizenship is in heaven and not here on earth – but also indoctrination, not only in public education but in so many other areas.
 
For instance, how many of you have stopped at a historical marker maybe out west by the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or some other place of great natural beauty, and read the historical post put up by the federal government? So often the signs explain – they teach and indoctrinate – that the beauty that is before you evolved over millions and millions of years; it is all part of the evolutionary process that leaves God completely out of the picture.
 
Whether in Daniel’s day or today, every Christian living in a secular humanistic society faces isolation and indoctrination. And then, right along with it is the temptation to compromise our values, to make us conform to culture, not to Christ, through an effort to strip us of our identity as God’s people.
 
In verse 5 we read how Daniel and his friends were assigned a daily amount of food and wine from the king's table. Then in verse 8, we read how Daniel resolved not to defile himself with that royal food and wine.
 
Much has been written about why Daniel didn't want to eat the king’s food. Some believe it was because the meat was consecrated by prayer to false gods and so he would want no part of it. Others point out that pork and other unclean meat may have been served which a Hebrew would not eat. 
 
But most commentators point out that Daniel recognized that this food and wine from the king's table was an effort to seduce him into a lifestyle he had never known. It was an effort to make him embrace the things taught in the classroom of indoctrination because, after all, the food was so good, the wine so smooth, and the ambiance of Babylon so pleasant it would erode the memory of Jerusalem and the worship of the Lord in the temple there.
              
It would also cause Daniel to think his daily bread – the provisions of life – were from the king of Babylon instead of from the Lord God revealed in Scripture. It was an effort to conform him to Babylonian culture, and not to the God of Israel.
 
The new names given to Daniel and his friends were also an attempt to strip them of their identity as God's people and to conform them to Babylonian culture. Names in Scripture are invariably significant, and that was certainly true for Daniel and his friends, both with the names they had from Jerusalem, the city of God, and the names given to them in Babylon, the city of this fallen world:
 
Daniel means God is my judge; Belteshazzar is named after the Babylonian god, Bel.
 
Hananiah means Yahweh is gracious; Shadrack is a name linked to the moon god of Babylon.
 
Mishael means Who God is; Meshack means who is like Aku – another false god of Babylon.
 
Azariah means Yahweh is a helper; Abednego means a servant of the shining one, referring to Nebo, another false god.
 
The re-naming of Daniel and his friends was done with the specific intent of stripping their identity from the one true God of Scripture and causing them to identify with the false gods and with the humanistic culture and worldview of Babylon. And in our world today there is still that effort to pressure Christians into compromise, and to strip us from our identity with our God, to instill doubt within us, and to indoctrinate us in the ways of Babylon – the ways of the world – in an effort to make us conform, not to Christ but to the culture of this fallen world.
 
Daniel’s Resolve and Ours
 
Seeing the similarities, how do we apply this chapter? What do we learn from Daniel's response to help us live as vibrant Christians, shining the light of the gospel into the darkness of our secular, humanistic and hostile culture?
 
First, in a world that puts before us every temptation to compromise we are to resolve not to be defiled. That is what Daniel did in verse 8, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.”
 
Resolutions are not spur of the moment ideas but are carefully planned out goals. We often make light of resolutions at New Year's, but every Christian should make the same serious resolution that Daniel did, not to be defiled by the temptations of the world.
 
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, in his excellent commentary on Daniel, points out that Jonathan Edwards, the theologian and pastor who was instrumental in starting an early revival in our nation, began compiling resolutions when he was in his late teens. By the time he turned twenty he had come up with seventy different resolutions including:
 
“Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God.”
 
“Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour before I should hear the last trumpet.”
 
“Picture Daniel,” writes Ferguson, saying: “Resolved, I will not defile myself here in Babylon, regardless of what the consequences may be.” (The Communicator’s Commentary, Daniel, pg. 40)
 
As we are bombarded by so many secular humanistic teachings, we, like Daniel, must resolve not to become defiled by the culture in which we live. At the same time, we are to trust the Lord to do what is humanly impossible. In verse 12, Daniel asked the guard to give them nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. He said in verse 13, “Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.”
 
The outcome was that Daniel and his friends looked healthier and better nourished than any of the other young men who had eaten the royal food. Consequently, they received a diet of vegetables and water thereafter.
 
Perhaps you recall that several years ago the so-called “Daniel Diet” became popular. There were some who taught that Daniel was a vegetarian and we should all be vegetarians as well. That is not at all the point of the passage. The point of the passage is that Daniel did not want to be defiled by the royal food and by the king's wine, so he asked for vegetables and water, trusting that God would do what was humanly impossible – allow Daniel and his friends on a restricted diet to have a better appearance than those who were on the king’s diet.
 
This was tied in with his resolution not to be defiled by anything in Babylon, including the food and the wine. In the process he put his trust in the Lord, trusting God to bless the meager diet of water and vegetables. Still today we are to trust God to do that which is impossible for us to do. In answer to prayer, according to God's will, he does above what we can ask or imagine. As Jesus said, in Luke 18:27, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
 
Left to ourselves, we would be consumed by our culture. But God is able to conform us to his Son, by the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work through the living and active Word of God, the Holy Bible.
 
Knowledge and Wisdom
 
A third application: As we also live in a corrupt culture centered around the city of man rather than the city of God, we are to ask God for knowledge and wisdom. In verse 17 we read how God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning to these four young men. And we read how Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. Verse 20 tells us: “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.”
 
Where did they get such wisdom? God gave them that knowledge and wisdom, but it was certainly in answer to prayer. Daniel was a faithful man of prayer. In fact, it was his devoted prayer life that got him thrown into the den of lions. Three times a day he opened his windows toward Jerusalem and prayed. Certainly, his prayers included petitions for wisdom and guidance in the secular world to which he had been taken.
 
And that wisdom from God is free for the asking. In the New Testament, we read in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” God may not give us the ability to decipher dreams. His revelation to us is complete in the Bible, so revelation in dreams and visions is no longer needed. But God does promise wisdom to all who ask. And that wisdom is found in the pages of the Bible as it reveals Christ, in whom, Colossians 2:3 tells us, "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
 
Considering that we also live in a secular world that tries to strip us of our Christian identity, a world that tempts us to compromise our values as it isolates us and indoctrinates us, how we need to be people of prayer, asking the Lord for his wisdom, knowledge of his Word, and his Spirit’s indwelling and sanctifying presence to help us live that Word out in our lives so that we are conformed to Christ and not to our culture.
____
 
The last verse of this first chapter tells us that Daniel remained in Babylon until the first year of King Cyrus. That would be some 70 years later when Daniel would be an old man. But by telling us that, the Scripture reminds us that our God is faithful. He was faithful to Daniel through the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, through the reign of King Belshazzar, the reign of King Darius, and into the reign of King Cyrus. As the well-known hymn puts it: 
 
Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail. (Onward Christian Soldiers, stanza 3, Sa­bine Bar­ing-Gould, 1865) 
 
Just as the Lord preserved his people so long ago in Babylon, so he promises to preserve us today, in our secular humanistic culture, as we look to Christ with saving faith and strive to live according to his precious Word! Amen.
 
 
Sermon Outline: 
 
…As the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon,
he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence,
by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” - Daniel 4:29b-30
 
           “Living as a Christian in a Secular Humanistic Society”
                                            Daniel 1:1-21
 
I.  Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon in Daniel’s day, exemplified
     secular humanism, which makes man the measure of all things
     instead of God (Daniel 4:30)
 
 
 
II. Whether in Daniel’s day or today, every Christian living in a
     secular humanistic society faces:
      1) Isolation and indoctrination (3, 4, 5b)
 
 
 
 
      2) The temptation to compromise (5a) as an intense effort is made
           to conform us to culture, not to Christ, as symbolized through
           the new names (6, 7)
 
 
 
III. Applications: As we live in a secular, humanistic society we must:
       1) Resolve not to be defiled (8)
 
 
 
       2) Trust the Lord (12-16; Luke 18:27) 
 
 
 
       3) Ask God for knowledge and wisdom (17, 20; James 1:5)
 
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Ted Gray

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