Preston Sprinkle frequently talks about Christians as “exiles living in Babylon.” The idea is that the Christian church today finds itself very much like Daniel: pilgrims striving to be faithful to God in a strange, pagan world. The Bible makes it clear that the unbelieving world is opposed to the truth of Jesus Christ. As Christ’s people, we seek to live obediently in a hostile world.
Of course, this does not mean that we live in an irreligious world. Quite the contrary: Though we will frequently bump into hardened secularists and ardent atheists, we also encounter Muslims and Hindus and Jews and Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. We are surrounded by a complex blend of religion and irreligion. As we seek to walk obediently to Christ, the surrounding world entices us to cast off the shackles of divine authority. Sociologist James Davison Hunter suggests that this battle is waged along at least five fronts.
First, the war against a hostile world is waged in the family. From the beginning, God defined what the family looks like: one natural man married to one natural woman until death working together to raise a godly offspring (Genesis 1:27–28; cf. Malachi 2:15). Literally every aspect of that definition is questioned by Babylonian culture. Polyamory scoffs at the idea of “one” and “one.” The very definition of “man” and “woman” is questioned. “Until death” is laughed at. And children are increasingly considered an optional (and inconvenient) extra.
Second, the war against a hostile world is waged in education. Christian parents are responsible to give their children a thoroughly Christian worldview, but Babylonian educational systems work against this. Billy Graham observed this sixty years ago when he said, “Self-styled progressives have made great changes in our philosophy of education. They have used the classroom as a soapbox for their gospel of the new social order.” This “gospel,” he added, has “ruled out moral convictions and taken God from the hearts of our young people. They have no rock upon which to build their lives. They are floundering, restless and confused.” The goal of Babylonian education is to make children in the Babylonian image. Education is a war for the mind.
Third, the war against a hostile world is waged in popular media. A generation or two ago, Christians pulled out of mainstream entertainment and formed subculture of “Christian education.” Today, Christian influence in mainstream media is virtually nonexistent. Films, TV series, books, and movies strongly promote a godless worldview.
Fourth, the war against a hostile world is waged in law. It comes as no surprise that Babylonian laws increasingly reflect Babylonian ethics. The law of God is systematically sidelined as Babylonian ethics and laws rule the hearts of men.
Fifth, the war against a hostile world is waged in electoral politics. Politics is another area that generations past gave over to the world. Politicians are eager to bow to the whims of godless influencers in their bid to be (re-)elected.
So how do we live in Babylon, where we wage war in these five areas? Daniel and his friends learned some lessons that we do well to learn. We can draw particular attention to at least five.
First, the friends learned not to make too much of where they had lived. Jerusalem was precious to them, but they realised that they were where they were by God’s sovereign decree. We may long for “the good old days” in which Christian ethics were more prevalent, but we do well to recognise that we live where and when we live by God’s sovereign decree. Recognising this truth, we live where we find ourselves as best as we can for God’s glory.
Second, the friends learned that they could not grow too comfortable in the Babylon in which they lived. While they were there by God’s sovereign decree, it was a place of exile, where they did not belong. It will help us in our warfare to realise that we are living in exile and we cannot therefore grow too comfortable in Babylon.
Third, the friends needed to learn to make the most of where they lived. While they could not cave to culture, they could live in culture in such a way that they could bear witness to the glory of God and bring others to believe by their witness. We do well to learn to approach our exile constructively—that is, to live our exile in a way in which the glory of God is magnified so that sinners might come to believe.
Fourth, the friends realised that they could not live in Babylon alone. If they would prosper in their land of exile, they needed each other. We likewise need our fellow exiles if we will live constructively in Babylon. The faithful Christian life cannot be lived in isolation.
Fifth, the friends learned to use the means of grace at their disposal as they lived in Babylon. They used the gifts that God gave them to serve God faithfully. God has likewise given us means of grace (e.g. gathering, preaching, prayer, fellowship, the ordinances) to enable us to live faithfully in Babylon. We will fail miserably if we neglect those means of grace.
As you meditate on Daniel 1 this morning, recognise that you live in Babylon and then commit to live in such a way that your faithfulness will be a witness of God’s glory to the Babylonians around you.