(July 25, 2021) Dr Jim McClure, straight shooting theologian, dares every Christian to be a Daniel today…
Have you ever played the party game Truth or Dare?
It can be very funny or very embarrassing! Some ‘Truth’ questions could be, ‘What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever done?’ or, ‘When did you last tell a lie?’ If you do not like those questions, you may choose ‘Dare’ instead of ‘Truth’ and may, for example, be dared to ‘Eat a really hot chilli’ or ‘Try to touch your nose with your tongue.’ Consequently you can be confronted by all kinds of humiliating and challenging tests.
I have chosen that title for this article because I want to draw attention to something which is vitally relevant and challenging to Christians today. We are, I believe, at a time in history which is quite unlike any other. And I’m not referring to the Coronavirus but to something that is significantly more serious and invasive and dangerous – especially for Christians.
In so many ways we are at a crossroads today religiously, socially and morally.
In the early days of Christianity many attempts were made to crush the advance of Christian influence and to silence the sharing of the good news about Jesus Christ. Today that spirit of hostility has returned with a vengeance. Make no mistake about it – these are exceptional days of challenge and suppression when Christian values are being discarded and the Christian faith is being derided and attacked as being bigoted and out of date.
How do we respond to that? Do we just try to ignore the opposition and hope it will go away or should we, perhaps, become more flexible and change our values and beliefs and try to bring them more into line with contemporary social ideas and opinions?
That is what I want us to consider…
The prophet Jeremiah described the moral and spiritual situation in Judah his day in a way that reflects much of what is happening in our society. Jeremiah wrote: ‘But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. … Therefore say to them, “This is the nation that has not obeyed the Lord its God or responded to correction. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips”’ (Jeremiah 7:24, 28).
Truth has been a victim that has suffered badly in recent years and it is constantly under attack today. Let’s explore what ‘truth’ actually is in the light of the biblical revelation.
(i) Absolutism of truth
Currently many people would reject that statement. They say, ‘I make my own truth.’ They claim that truth is subjective, that what one person may consider to be true, may not be true for another person but that’s OK for both ‘truths’ are valid. The idea of objective truth, incontrovertible truth, is often rejected today as intolerance.
The biblical position on truth is that it is absolute. By absolute I mean that truth is not shaped according to circumstances, nor by our feelings nor can it be adjusted to suit our convenience. Truth cannot be moulded like play dough to any shape we wish. A circle is always a circle and a square is always a square. Regardless of how passionately we believe in something, regardless of how convinced we may be, we cannot make a false thing true! The bible affirms this in Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 which says, ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.’
How insightful that is. There are millions of people today who are convinced that the false things they believe are true. What may seem right in their eyes may, in fact, be wholly wrong. Let me explain what I mean. Many years ago my wife and I were on holiday in a rural part of Ireland. We came to a signpost that indicated the destination to which we wanted to go. So, confidently we followed that direction all the way to a point where the road petered out. We had confidently but mistakenly travelled in the wrong direction. So we had to turn around and find the right way, the true way. A false signpost will never lead to a true destination. In the same way a false opinion does not have the same authenticity or validity as the truth.
Yet in the past hundred year or so some prominent philosophers have argued that truth is not absolute. Here are a few:
Friedrich Nietzsche: ‘There are no eternal facts, as there are no eternal truths.’
T.E. Hulme: ‘There is no such thing as an absolute truth to be discovered.’
Paul Feyerabend: ‘The only absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths.’
Yet what Jesus said when he stood before Pilate, contradicted all those philosophers and others who so confidently dismiss the reality of absolute truth. Jesus told Pilate, ‘I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ And Pilate responded with the question, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:38). Pilate probably did not realise that he was asking one of the most profound questions ever. ‘What is truth?’ And most likely he did not even want an answer to his question for the conversation ended at that point. ‘Truth’ stood before Pilate, and sadly, like many people today he did not recognise it and so he rejected it.
(ii) Basis of truth
Truth is a dominant theme in both the Old and New Testaments. The word ‘truth’ is found 127 times in the Old Testament and the Hebrew word refers to things that are sure, authentic and permanent. For the Hebrews truth lay at the very core of morality and integrity. In the New Testament the word is found 119 times. God wants his people to be people of truth, who believe the truth, who live by the truth, who will not compromise the truth. That is the Christian lifestyle that God wants from his people.
In Jesus’ great prayer to his Father, just before he was arrested and crucified, He prayed for His disciples, ‘Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth’ (John 17:17). Truth is the foundation of Christian living and Christian values and those values are sourced in God.
That truth, which is found in the written word, is personified in Jesus Christ, the word made flesh. And the heart that seeks after truth will find it in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the embodiment of truth, the manifestation of truth, the revelation of the very essence of truth. In John’s gospel Jesus is introduced in this way, ‘The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).
When Pilate asked Jesus, ‘What is truth,’ he didn’t wait for an answer but Jesus had previously given that answer to Thomas. We find it in John 14:6 where Jesus said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’ The original Greek could be better translated as, ‘I myself am the way, the truth and the life.’
79 times in the gospels we read that Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth.’ Obviously this was a very important statement that the gospel writers wanted their readers to get hold of. One day Jesus said, ‘I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete’ (Luke 6:47-49).
Once you remove the foundation of truth on which Christian living, and indeed, on which sound civilisation is established, you create societies that replace the solid basis of truth with a crumbling foundation of falsehood!
(iii) Centrality of truth
The Greek word for ‘truth’ can also be translated as ‘reality.’ In other words ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ are the same thing and those who reject truth are actually rejecting reality and we see so many examples of this today. No longer is it acknowledged that there are only two genders, male and female. At the last count there were 52 genders listed! Gender is no longer determined by the reality of biology, DNA, bone density and other objective criteria. Gender is now considered to be whatever people think it is regardless of the reality.
New Zealand has a member in its Olympic team who was a mediocre male weightlifter but since he choose to become a woman weightlifter in 2012, he has been smashing women’s records.
Now it seems that a person can not only change gender but also change race! An Englishman, Oli London, who no longer considers himself to be a male, now claims also to have changed his race. After spending more than $100,000 on plastic surgery, he now calls himself a Korean!
Such madness occurs once reality is discarded. If truth is reality, it cannot deny reality! Despite the pressure of the social manipulation of the media in many areas and the insistence of those who promote what is called ‘wokeism’ and ‘political-correctness,’ God’s truth, which is reality, is not changed by the whims or current ideas and practices of radical groups in society. The Bible affirms that truth is not abstract but absolute, inflexible, unvarying and permanent.
As Christians, as people committed to the Lord God Almighty, we must be people who embrace and live by truthful values.
King David’s prayer was on target, ‘Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.’ (Psalm 86:11).
I began this article with a reference to the party game, ‘Truth or Dare.’ Let me say that the Christian life does not offer such alternatives. We not only need to commit ourselves to truth but we also need to dare to be a Christian, especially in troubling times when being a committed Christian may be a challenging and threatening thing.
In the early days of Christianity, beginning shortly after Pentecost, it was a daring thing to be a committed Christian. In Acts 4 we read that Peter and John were arrested for preaching about Jesus and they were strictly forbidden to do that. But Peter daringly replied, ’We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4:20).
In the second century the theologian Tertullian wrote, ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’ He was referring to the daring witness of early Christians who were prepared to die rather than surrender or compromise their faith. And today, also, in many countries Christians are being persecuted and slaughtered daily because of their commitment to God and yet they continue to dare to follow Christ!
A great biblical example of a person who dared to live as a person committed to God was Daniel. About 150 years ago the hymnwriter Philip Bliss wrote a hymn called Dare to be a Daniel. The chorus declares:
‘Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known.’
Let’s consider how Daniel responded to the pressures and threats he experienced as he lived in Babylon.
(i) Aware of the situation
Daniel was fully aware of his perilous situation in the society in which he was living – he was a Jew who was devoted to God and living in an alien land among people and authorities who opposed him and his faith.
In Daniel chapter 1 we read that Daniel and his friends recognised the dangers they faced in the culture in which they now lived. We read that they refused to eat the food presented to them – possibly because the meat was from animals that their Jewish faith considered as unclean or had perhaps been previously offered to idols. The wine also had likely been first offered to the false gods. Risky as their refusal to eat that food was, they dared to stand firm and at that time no action was taken against them.
Later a more dangerous situation arose when Daniel’s enemies, knowing that he was a man of prayer, attacked him by tricking the king into signing a decree that forbade anyone from praying to God for 30 days. Failure to obey was to be punished by being cast into a lions’ den. Daniel’s enemies believed that they had cleverly trapped him and he would not be able to escape from his predicament. Daniel was fully aware of the dangerous situation he was in.
As Christians we too need to be aware of our situation in today’s world which is getting increasingly hostile to Christians. Our faith in God, our trust in Christ, our commitment to God’s word and our affirmation of biblical values are now being strongly challenged and severely criticised.
It appears that many Christians today choose not to be informed or be aware of the threat under which they are living and are accepting instead the false principle of ‘ignorance is bliss.’ Yet regularly various levels of government are passing legislation that wholly opposes the core principles and ethical standards that have always been foundational to our faith.
Our biblical understanding of sexual morality, for example, is being derided and discarded, our Bible-based convictions of the sacredness of life are being overthrown. Christians are being prosecuted and imprisoned for acting in accordance with their faith values – and it is getting worse each year. Recently more than two dozen churches in Canada have been burned to the ground.
In the face of all this currently increasing opposition should we just ignore what is happening, keep our heads down and our mouths shut and hope that all the ‘bad stuff’ will just go away? Can we respond? Should we respond?
(ii) Boldness in living out our faith
How did Daniel handle the predicament he was in? His response, which is recorded in chapter 6, was daring indeed. It was courageous. He did not compromise his faith or try to hide it. Instead we read in Daniel 6:10, ‘Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.’
He did not stop praying even though he knew that this could result in his death. With great daring he did not attempt to conceal his commitment to God. We read that he was thrown into a lions’ den but miraculously survived.
The main point to notice in this account is that Daniel dared to exercise his faith regardless of whatever consequences he may have had to face. What an example of courageous faith! And that is the challenge that lies before us today.
(iii) Confidence in the knowledge that God is in control
Daniel was a man whose confidence was in God whom he knew was in control regardless of what was taking place around him. When he exited the lion’s den, he told the king, ‘My God sent his angel and he shut the mouths of the lions’ (22).
The pagan king was so impressed that he excitedly declared, ‘He is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions’ (6:26-27).
When Daniel entered the lions’ den, he did not know if he would come out of it alive. But he did know that regardless of the outcome, Almighty God was still in control. With this confidence we too can ‘dare to be a Daniel.’
As Christians it would be so easy to be overwhelmed by the current God-denying culture with its truth-distorting arguments, perverted lifestyles and corrupt legislation. But when everything around us may seem out of control, we must remember that God is always in control!
Fifty-nine years ago in Northern Ireland I preached my first sermon which was based on Psalm 73. I want to finish with two verses from that psalm, verses 26-27, that are a reassurance to all believers in every age and which have ever been an encouragement to me.
‘Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portionforever’ (Psalm 73:25-26).
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books such as the enlightening Grace Revisited and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
Offered free, all of Dr Jim’s writings are highly recommended – such as Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, Overview of the Old and New Testaments, Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, The Masonic Deception, Word of Life in the Old and New Testaments, Interpreting the Letter of James, and Faith Works – A Commentary on the Letter of James. All are available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and. Link for orders and questions: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com
Excellent encouragement and challenge Jim, the Lord is indeed the God of all truth and the faithful one to His children, giving us His strength in time of need.