Religious liberty is a precious share of our heritage as citizens of the United States of America. I have frequently used this space to exhort readers to take measures to preserve our liberty for as long as we are able. We cherish religious liberty because it protects our freedom to proclaim the gospel and live our lives according to the gospel.
What if Christians lost many of the freedoms we take for granted? Believers in many countries today cannot preach the good news of Jesus Christ openly. Many followers of Christ around the world cannot openly meet in public to worship our Lord. It is illegal to possess a copy of the Scriptures in some areas of the world. What if restrictions like these become a reality in our country?
The book of Daniel in the Bible records the account of four young Jewish men who were living in exile in Babylon: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men were committed to serving God faithfully although they were forcibly removed from their homeland and made to live in the context of a foreign culture in a nation that had just militarily defeated their own.
The first test of their faith came when they were compelled to enter a three-year program to learn “the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (see Daniel chapter one). The regimen included a diet that was not permissible for Jews to eat. Daniel boldly, yet respectfully, persuaded the director of the program to allow them to alter their diet so that they would not defile themselves. God blessed the four men with such learning and skill that the king “found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.”
Another major test came when King Nebuchadnezzar had a large statue of himself made from gold (Daniel 3). Daniel had proven valuable in his service to the king so he was appointed to a position of high authority in the king’s court. Daniel used his favor to request favorable positions for his three friends (Daniel 2). The king required all of his officials to attend the dedication ceremony of statue. Everyone was ordered, not just to attend the ceremony, but to worship the golden image under penalty of death.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bow down and worship the golden image. They were brought before the king and were given one more chance to worship the king’s image. The king warned them again of the death penalty, saying specifically “you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.”
If you are familiar with the story, you know that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not obey the order and were thrown into the fire. God protected them so that even “the hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them.” In fact, the king publically blessed God and promoted the men within his kingdom.
What is sometimes overlooked in this story is that fact that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had no idea whether God would deliver them or not. Before he threw them into the fire, the king specifically challenged them and God saying, “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” The men replied,
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew God was able to deliver them but they openly admitted they had no idea whether He would. They made it clear to the king, however, that they would obey God whether He rescued them or not. They were prepared to die rather than disobey God.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had no religious liberty. They had no freedom of worship. There were no religious liberty lawyers to call. All they had was a choice: obey the king or die. Like Peter and the apostles in Acts 5, they effectively said, “We must obey God rather than men.”
President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Russell Moore, recently wrote, “Evangelicals may go wobbly here and there, but we will still be here, even if our sawdust trail leads again to the prison cell.” During a podcast earlier this year, author and professor of religion, Tripp York, took this sentiment even further exclaiming, “After 2,000 years of church history, how do we still think we’re going to get out of this alive?”
Are we prepared to follow Christ no matter what? No matter what Congress legislates, no matter what the President signs into law, no matter what the Supreme Court decides, Christians always have the ability to practice our faith. Our practice may not always enjoy civil protections but we will always be able to pray, share the gospel, and lay our lives down for our friends. We just have to choose to obey God rather than men.