The questions that all of this brings us to consider are: what do we do when God's Word and our leadership disagree? Should Christians break the law if the law is wrong? How should Christians respond when the government makes or mandates Christianity illegal?
As a child, I remember hearing the story of "The Hebrew Boys and the Fiery Furnace" and being inspired to stand up for my beliefs. But to be honest, the thought of being thrown into a bonfire for my beliefs seemed farfetched.
I didn't think that there was any way I would be sentenced to death, let alone physically punished for praying, reading the Bible, or worshiping God. Even though by high school, I was getting picked on for my beliefs, I figured that real persecution is what believers in other countries experienced — not here.
However, over the last several years, I have heard more and more stories of believers facing social persecution, legal trouble, physical harm, and even prison time for their stance on biblical values. Businesses have been closed, churches have been burned, families have been attacked, and individuals have been killed for their faith.
Then in the year 2020, the American government deemed churches “non-essential” (along with other businesses, of course) and told them to close because of a new virus.
The reasons for “shutting down” were inconsistent at best, but most people and churches followed them for fear of legal trouble or inadvertently making someone sick.
Among the social, economic, and spiritual fallout of the closings and isolation is that Christians around the world (including America) know what it is like to face harm, fines, and prison time for disobeying the government's regulations that were against our fundamental beliefs.
Even more recently, a middle-aged lady and an army veteran were arrested for praying in public on separate occasions. As outlandish as that sounds, it gets worse: they were praying silently. Where did this happen? It was not in a communist or Islamic country or even a country that is opposed to Christianity. It was in Britain.
The questions that all of this brings us to consider are: what do we do when God's Word and our leadership disagree? Should Christians break the law if the law is wrong? How should Christians respond when the government makes or mandates Christianity illegal? Is it ever right to disobey our leaders?
What Does the Bible Say about the Law?
To give us the proper perspective, let's look back at that "Fiery Furnace" story to see if there are any lessons and we can learn to apply to our lives today.
In Daniel 3, we read about an arrogant king named Nebuchadnezzar who made a gaudy, ridiculously tall, golden statue to honor his favorite person — himself!
When he called all of his subjects to come look at it, he made up a new rule: when the music plays, everyone has to bow down and worship the statue (in case you were wondering, this wasn't hard-rock music, they were playing pleasant-sounding instruments like horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, and pipes).
For most of the people in attendance, this was not a big deal because they saw the king as a god figure anyway. But right in the midst of the pagan culture of Babylon were God worshipers living as captives because they had been stolen from their homeland of Israel.
The most famous of them was Daniel, but he was away in the "king's court," unaware of what was happening. However, three of Daniel's friends (originally named Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah until Nebuchadnezzar changed their names to Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego) were there faced with a dilemma: deny their faith or disobey their ego-tripping king. And if they did decide to worship the One True God, they would be thrown into a “blazing furnace."
So, the music played, and everyone bowed down except for Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, who stayed standing. The king may not have noticed because of the size of the crowd, but some astrologers tattled on them.
The king “flew into a rage,” had the three men brought to him, and gave them one more chance (probably because of his connection to them that we read about Daniel 1-2).
But this time, he directed an interesting “jab” at them and said, “What god will be able to rescue you from my power?” (Daniel 3:15). Nebuchadnezzar was not really challenging the Hebrews — he was challenging God himself!
But instead of cowering or even defending themselves, the Hebrew men responded to the self-asserting king by saying, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t… that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up” (v. 18).
They were not disrespectful; they just declared that they were going to do the right thing and only worship God no matter what happened. The king, unimpressed by their bravery, heated up the flames even hotter (to match his temperament) and had some soldiers tie them up and throw them in, which killed the soldiers in the process.
But no sooner had he thrown them into the fire that he noticed they were walking around, untethered and untouched by the flames. Not only that but there was also a fourth man with them in the fire that he said, “Looks like a god” (because it probably was!) (v.26).
So, the baffled, humbled king called the men to come out, which they did on their own accord. God had completely protected them, and their clothes did not even smell like smoke. The king responded to them with this:
“Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God… “There is no other god who can rescue like this!” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon” (v. 28).
The men’s heroism in enduring the furnace is inspirational. But they were not brave because they were strong enough to fight their way out or tough enough to endure the flames. They were completely confident in God — that either he would save them or take them to heaven. Either way, they were only going to worship Him.
How Does This Apply to Us Today?
Now let’s think about what would happen if the government, your boss, or your parents told you that you cannot worship God, pray, read your Bible, or talk about Jesus. What if they threatened you, your family, your business, or your church with social ruin, fines, harm, prison, or death?
My conclusion is that if God sits on the throne of our hearts and we worship him first, then when we are faced with deciding between obeying Him or obeying the law, our response must be to obey God. When earthly rulers disagree with the Heavenly Ruler, whichever one we obey is a declaration of which one we worship.
Of course, not every situation will be as obvious as the story in Daniel 3. In our specific situations, we will need to seek God’s will, use discernment, and get help from other Christians to think through our problems. But there is still much we can learn from this story.
Here are four applications from Daniel 3 that can help us in our time of decision on this difficult topic:
1. Don’t stand alone. Just like the Hebrew men, we need other Christian friends to help keep us standing. When life gets hard, and everything is against us, those who stand alone will fall.
2. Trust God. When we are faced with this difficult decision, we can trust that God’s Word is true and the Holy Spirit’s direction will always be best. And when we are faced with persecution, we can trust that the Creator and Sustainer of all things are able to protect us.
And even if we are penalized, persecuted, or executed for our faith, we can trust that God has a purpose for our suffering and that one day he will completely deliver us by bringing us to heaven to be with him.
3. Know that God is with you. Just like God was present in the fire, our Immanuel is a “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1-3) and “is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (Nahum 1:7).
As Joshua told his army, “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8, ESV). A song from Hillsong titled “Another in the Fire” beautifully illustrates this point.
The lyrics read: “I won’t bow to the things of this world, and I know I will never be alone. There is another in the fire standing next to me. There is another in the waters holding back the seas. And should I ever need reminding what power set me free, there is a grave that holds nobody, and now that power lives in me.”
4. Be faithful and bring God glory. Just like King Nebuchadnezzar eventually changed his mind and praised God, our standing for God against all odds will result in God’s glory.
Why Does This Matter?
As the famous quote by Tertullian reads, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Of course, there is no greater example of this than Jesus Christ himself. And this was Apostle Paul’s perspective, too. He wrote in 2 Timothy 2:3-11:
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. Remember Jesus Christ… for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
May we, too, share in whatever suffering we face as a good soldiers of Christ Jesus.
For further reading:
Should Christians Follow the Book of the Law Today?
Does God Appoint Godly Leaders?
What Does it Mean to Obey the Laws of the Land?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Rawf8
Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking, and his YouTube channel. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.