Those of us living in what is known as the western world are increasingly finding much of the established culture, that for centuries was influenced by Christian thought, now eroded and what we now see around us is a pagan world. By pagan I mean a world that openly rejects the truth about the God of the bible and worships anything other than the true God. Many Christians in other parts of the world have always lived with this reality and as we shall see, so have many of Gods people that we read about in the bible.
In reality there has never been a Christian country. True disciples of Christ have always been at odds with the world culture around them. However there was at least a certain amount of Christian consciousness and God fearing that restrained the worst of iniquity and gave a platform in which to present the gospel message. Today it is different. There seems very little restraint and one cannot assume even a basic understanding of gospel truth. So how should we live among this pagan world?
In Philippians 2:14-16 we read:
"Do all things without murmurings and disputings:
That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
Holding forth the word of life"
We live in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation (generation). Gods way is the straight way. Crooked means they have bent that which is true and straight. Perverse is to turn aside from the true path.
As Christians we are to be lights that shine into the darkness of this perverse and crooked world by holding out the word of life. It is the word of life that is the light that will expose the crookedness and perverseness and show the true and straight path (Psalm 119:105).
Did you notice the first verse though? Without murmurings or disputings. Now this is a hard one it seems. We should not be murmuring or disputing about our lives in this world, but instead holding out the word of life.
Peter exhorts us to remember that we are strangers and pilgrims on earth and that this world is not our home, so be careful how we live our lives here.
1 Peter 2:11-12: "Dearly beloved, I beseech [you] as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by [your] good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation".
Let us remind ourselves of some of the characteristics of this present world.
Satan is the god of this world, who has blinded the minds of unbelieving mankind (2 Cor 4:4) and controls the children of disobedience (Eph 2:2).
As such, this world is an enemy of God and those belong to God. Therefore being a friend of this world makes one an enemy of God (James 4:4).
This world worships many false gods. We read in Acts 17 of the ministry of the Apostle Paul and his confrontation on Mars Hill with a multitude of idols. This was typical of the Greco-Roman world. Today we still have many idols and false gods such as Islam; Hinduism; Buddhism; New age philosophies, etc, etc. The list is almost endless. Added to these false religions is the worship of materialism; human endeavour, pleasure, entertainment, etc, etc.
This world system controlled by satan is working to mould everyone into its image. This includes Christians, so we are warned in Romans 12:2 not to be conformed (moulded) to this world, but be transformed by renewing our minds.
It tries to do this moulding by deceit, through lying spirits, by un-godly philosophy, peer pressure, etc. We resist this by having our minds (thinking) in line with Gods thoughts. We considered earlier how the world perverts and bends that which is true. It then makes the crooked and perverse seem normal and correct. Only if we stay with Gods word can we distinguish the true from the perverse.
2 Cor 11:3: "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ".
Col 2:8: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ".
When it says the rudiments of the world it means the basic principles of the world. This world operates on principles and philosophies that that are opposed to God and are empty (vain). We should always keep that in mind when we are inter-acting with the world in which we live.
So how should we live in this world that wars against our souls and is at enmity to the God we love and serve?
Daniel is a good example to us in this regard, so let us take a look at how he lived in what was a very pagan world.
We read in the first chapter of the book of Daniel how king Nebuchadnezzar bought all the best of the Jewish young men from Jerusalem to Babylon, which included Daniel, for the purpose of educating them in the ways and culture of Babylon. These were bright, good looking, gifted young men (Dan 1:3-4).
The extent that they were to be conditioned to Babylon went as far as changing their Hebrew names to Babylonian names that gave honour to the Babylonian gods. Daniels name was changed to Belteshazzar (Dan 1:7), which means Bels prince. Bel being one of the Babylonian gods.
There was three years intense training for them in the philosophy of Babylon and to aid in this they were to be given the best food and wine from the kings table. Why would the king over such a mighty empire give the best from his table to these Jewish captives? I suggest it was because he knew what weakens men and draws them into accepting his philosophies. It is no different today, for it is the cares, riches and pleasures of life that choke the word (Luke 8:14).
Daniel and the other young Jews were very much plunged into a pagan world. So how would you or I stand in such a situation? We know Daniel did stand and became an instrument in the hand of God to that nation and an encouragement to his fellow Jews in the same situation.
Keys to Daniels success:
1. First he purposed in his heart not to defile himself (Dan 1:8). He refused the offer of sumptuous food, maybe because it was not kosher and against the law of God, but maybe also because he knew the effect it would have on his soul. Whichever it was, what he did was to purpose in his heart, which has to be the foundation for us as well. We can never have victory and stand if we do not first purpose in our heart to love righteousness and hate wickedness (Psalm 45:7).
2. He was strong in faith toward God. He trusted God would keep him (Dan 1:12-13), answer his prayers (Dan 2:16-18) and give him the words to speak (Dan 2:28).
His faith pleased God and God honoured him. We need to know that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him (Heb 11:6).
3. He knew God (Dan 11:32), not just about God. If we know the Lord, we will not be so easily moved or shaken by the things that the world will throw at us. In times of testing and intense pressure to conform, those who know their God will be strong.
4. He knew Gods voice, heard His word and spoke His word. Jesus said my sheep hear my voice and will not follow another (John 10:27 & John 10:5).
Knowing and hearing the voice of the shepherd is natural if we are allowing the great Shepherd to lead us and will cause us not to follow the voices of this world.
5. Daniel read, understood and responded to Gods word (Dan 9 1-3). An intimate knowledge of Gods word and daily meditation on it is essential for keeping our minds safe from being led astray by worldly thinking. In every area of life where we have dealings with this world we will be hearing and encountering a Godless philosophy in one degree or another. If we dont have Gods word established in our hearts and at the forefront of our minds we will be led astray by empty deceitful philosophies (Col 2:8).
Now because of these points above Daniel kept himself true and separated to God, which enabled God to use him in a very unique ways. It has to be noted that Daniel did not separate himself from involvement with the Babylonian world in which he lived. In fact we see that God raised him to a place of high office within that pagan government. God raised him because he did not compromise at all and having been put in that position, he remained loyal to God and the covenant.
Daniel was very much in the world of Babylon, but not of it. He was separated in his heart. This I think is the key. Christians can fall into two extremes of error. Either they separate themselves from the world in the sense they have no meaningful inter-action with it and thereby cannot be the influence that God planned for us. The other error is that they become so part of the world that they live in, absorbing its culture and philosophy and are no longer a light in a dark world.
So let us have our hearts established to live for God and not be defiled, having strong faith in Gods faithfulness like Daniel. This will enable us to live in this world as useful servants for God, to use us as He requires and not shrink away in fear.
With this in mind, let us consider the role of the conscience in our walk.
The conscience is mans consciousness (knowledge) of good and evil. For the mature Christian who knows the word of God, his conscience is strong, good and in line with Gods righteousness, but for the immature Christian and those without knowledge of Gods word of righteousness, it is weak at best or defiled.
There is an important principle in Pauls letter to the Corinthians about those who are strong or weak in conscience in regard to the things of this world, which gives us some helpful insights.
1 Cor 8:4 - 8: "As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol [is] nothing in the world, and that [there is] none other God but one.
For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
But to us [there is but] one God, the Father, of whom [are] all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom [are] all things, and we by him.
Howbeit [there is] not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat [it] as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse".
Those with a strong conscience (knowledge of what is good or evil) have liberty to eat meat that has been offered to an idol because they know that an idol is nothing and cannot affect the food, but those who are weak in conscience (not having correct knowledge) eat this food acknowledging the idol and therefore they defile their already weak conscience.
So what is happening here? The strong in conscience is not joining in the act of idolatry, they are just eating. They are not contaminated by such things and are separated in their hearts to the Lord. However the weak brother is joining in by eating with an understanding that it is honouring an idol. This then causes his conscience to be polluted because he now thinks it is acceptable to worship both the true God and idols. Isnt this the very issue that Paul was dealing with in this same letter when he says Flee from idolatry (1 Cor 10:14) and You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons (1 Cor 10:21).
Paul the adds a warning to those who are strong, not to stumble the weak.
V9 11 "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak.
For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died"?
So those who are strong in their conscience and have liberty in what they approve of have to be aware of a brother that may be stumbled by their liberty because they misunderstand (have a weak conscience).
What is the application for us today? In this pagan world where we live we will find ourselves in many situations where what is being practised is worship of something other than God (i.e. an idol). It may be the idol of pleasure, self-indulgence, humanism or similar things. If we find ourselves in these situations because of circumstances such as our employment, family gatherings or just going about our general daily business we can, if we have a good and strong conscience remain undefiled by such things. For example, in our employment we will be mixing with unbelievers in various situations and their conversation and conduct will at times be in direct conflict with godliness. However, if we are strong in our conscience we will not be defiled by these situations. In fact we can and should be a positive influence and witness for Christ there. A common experience would be the need to go into a store to buy something and the store is playing un-godly music and maybe have items such as statues of false gods (Buddha seems to be the popular god at the moment). If we are in the store because that is where we need to go to purchase what we need, then these things should not defile us.
So we see the importance of having a good conscience (understanding of good and evil) to protect us in a pagan society. The key to maintaining a good conscience is by having a good understanding of Gods will by continuing live by Gods word and letting this form our thinking (Romans 12:2). We must be in Gods word continuously and allow it to shine in every area of our lives if we are to be strong and stand in these difficult days. If we allow our minds to be filled with this worlds philosophies through meditating on the wrong things and thereby defile our conscience, we will not stand, but be drawn away into sin. One of the main strategies that Satan uses today to do this is through the media of T.V. films, books, etc. Everything we do should be with a consciousness of the truth which is in Christ and in particular anything presented to our mind should be actively discerned in this light. If we are doing any of these things for entertainment and not using discernment, then there is huge danger that we will receive a lie.
Jesus Christ came from heaven to this world in the likeness of men (Phil 2:7) and He experienced our weaknesses. "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as [we are, yet] without sin". (Heb 4:15).
The phrase be touched with the feeling is one word in the original Greek, sympatheō. Its our word sympathy. It means to be affected with the same feelings as another. This is a great encouragement to us, to know that Jesus Christ understands and knows what temptation from this world is like. He has shown us how to be victorious and resist temptation, but more than that He gives us His divine nature to be strong and overcome through our knowledge of Him. Consider this amazing portion of scripture:
2Pe 1:3 "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that [pertain] unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
2Pe 1:4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust".
This tells us that it is by the knowledge of God through His promises that we partake of His nature and escape the corruption of this pagan world. It is not just an intellectual knowledge, but partaking of the nature of God (doing the word) that will keep us safe and enable us to be a positive influence in this world.
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue (abide) in my word, [then] are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32).