I sympathize with Christians who struggle to distinguish a kingdom lifestyle from the lifestyle of the world. When society grants religious freedom and holds many healthy values, the distinctions blur. The color contrasts fade with proximity. We grow up fully immersed in our native culture. Normal seems natural—and mostly good. Saintly unbelievers are commonplace, and we all know believers who shrug off Christian behavioral expectations as tedious, outdated, and legalistic. “Be nice and be happy” is the bland, new, one-size-fits-all motto.
So, what are the standards of a kingdom lifestyle and what is unnecessary legalism? It helps to read about the lives of biblical people of faith. From the distance of two or three millennia, the contrast between the world and the kingdom of God is easier to see. Take Daniel, he lived a godly life in a godless kingdom. So, how did he do it?
We meet Daniel in Babylonian exile, robbed of his freedom and forced into a royal finishing school. Babylon tried to squeeze godly life and noble identity out of him—re-educating him, providing food from the royal restaurant, putting his natural abilities into foreign service, and assigning to him a pagan name, Belteshazzar.1
It sounds nice (especially the food). Daniel might have been very happy, but he made a dangerous stand—against the food. A dissenting prisoner of war who hardly spoke the language could have been dispatched with a click of the royal fingers. But God granted favor; Daniel was spared the defiling diet.
Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself. Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials, and the commander of the officials said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has appointed your food and your drink; for why should he see your faces looking more haggard than the youths who are your own age? Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king.” But Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king’s choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see.” (Daniel 1:8-13)
Daniel and his friends became models of healthy eating and came top of their class. They entered royal service and excelled. It was the first of three tests for Daniel. He and his friends also refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image (Dan. 3) and Daniel continued to petition God despite King Darius’ stern decree (Dan. 6).
Instead of losing their identity and their heads, the men flourished. Their identities remained intact (notice that the book calls them by their Hebrew names, not their Babylonian ones) and they kept their anointing. As they honored God, He gave them favor. Their gifts did serve the pagan kingdom, but without compromise. Daniel pointed the Babylonian kings beyond their realms to God’s kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus both came to respect God because of Daniel.
Daniel and his friends showed us how to live a kingdom lifestyle in a lost world. There should be no compromise in three areas:
- Worship belongs to God alone.
- Prayer is our communication with God. Are you going elsewhere for guidance, provision, or deliverance?
- God’s instructions. Dietary laws found in Scripture distinguished the Jewish life. Although Jesus changed the focus of the Christian life, standards remain for the kingdom lifestyle.
What motivated Daniel to risk his life for these three things? Perhaps Daniel’s name provides a clue. “Daniel” means “God is my judge.” As the Judge, God does not simply punish disobedience; he also rewards loyalty. Daniel remained conscious that God saw everything that he did and would bring a just reward.
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- Daniel 1:1-7. [↩]