This year at Redeemer we are emphasizing Formation: the practices necessary for being formed spiritually. But for us to properly leverage our spiritual formation for God’s purpose, we need to live out of an identity founded in Christ with our friends, neighbors and coworkers who are not Christian. If we want them to encounter the life-giving hope of the gospel, we must be willing to identify ourselves as followers of Christ. We have to be ready and willing to share the joy, freedom and hope that comes from the gospel with the people God puts in our life.
There are many inspirational images that come to mind when we think about taking a stand. We might think of those who marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in the face of terrible threats and grave danger to stand against the injustice of racial segregation and institutional racism in the United States. Or we might think of a person like the Apostle Paul who was willing to preach the gospel in places where his life was nearly lost for doing so. Events and stories where someone stands against injustice, or works to bring hope to those who have lost it, inspire us to consider how we should live.
In Daniel chapter 3 we read about such an occasion in the lives of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They were willing to take a stand against government instituted idolatry, knowing that it could cost them everything — their jobs, their reputations, and their lives. These three young men decided to stand and be identified with the God of Israel when thousands of others would not. They were willing to identify themselves with their God even if it meant being thrown into a fire. As we think this year about being formed to be sent out to love and serve the city, there are three things we can learn from their experience.
First, they were willing to be identified — to stand out even when no one else would. They had courage because they were sure of their identity in their God. They knew it would be difficult to take a counter-cultural position. They would be criticized and even threatened. They decided it was more important to be public with their faith and stand on their identity in the God of Israel rather than to retain their advantages of education, position, and wealth.
To the degree we are formed more fully to live out of an identity founded in Christ, the more natural and comfortable we will be when we “stand” to love, serve and share our hope in the gospel with the people we know.
Second, they were willing to stand even though they didn’t know how or even if God would respond in that moment. When the king gave them a second chance to bow down to the statue and demonstrate their allegiance to him, they gave a memorable response. “the God we serve is able to deliver us from the fire... But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” They were confident in the power and plan God had for them even though they didn’t know what God would do or if he would do anything at all in that situation. They chose to trust and put their faith in God.
As we live out the gospel with our friends, neighbors and coworkers, we need to be, first and foremost, true friends, where our joy and hope in the gospel is evident, winsome and intriguing. Whether we can see God working in a situation or not, we are called to live with the hope of the gospel and trust God to do the rest.
When the three men declined the king’s second offer and said they would not join the rest of the culture in bowing to an idol, it made the king furious. He ordered the furnace made seven times hotter, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were bound and thrown into the fire.
Which brings us to a third thing we discover in the story — Jesus stands with us in the fire. When the king looked into the fire he saw the three men walking around and a fourth person who looked like the Son of God. Jesus met them in the fire and brought them through unharmed.
When we are concerned about how difficult it might be to share our faith or take a stand and be identified as a Christian, when it seems like the fire of the situation might be too much, we have the confidence that Jesus is there with us and is faithfully forming us into the people he wants us to become. We can trust that he is using the situation to bring about renewal and restoration beyond what we can see or know.
We can stand with the hope and joy of the gospel knowing that Christ stood for us. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane he asked if there was a way to not go into the fire of God’s wrath: “Let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not my will but thine be done.” Because Jesus submitted to God’s will, he had to stand before Pilate, he had to stand before the mobs, he had to stand before the cross and allow himself to be executed. Christ mirrored the words “even if he does not” when he prayed to let the cup of wrath pass. Only when he took a stand for us, he was cast into the ultimate fire that our sin deserved, so that we wouldn’t have to be.
We can see how the gospel is beautifully threaded into the stand Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego took. It should inspire us, that as the Holy Spirit forms us, we can stand and be public with our faith with joy and hope because Jesus was willing to say “even if not” for us. When we live out of that identity we can have the strength and faith to stand and extend the hope, joy and truth of the gospel to the people in our lives who haven’t yet experienced it.
Would you like to learn how to become better at sharing your faith? In February, the second of three Formation conferences will be held on the topic of Public Faith: Sharing the hope we have in the gospel. Redeemer congregants are encouraged to attend in order to be equipped to share your faith with winsomeness and courage. Registration for non-Redeemer congregants, as well as joining by Livestream is also available. For more information visit redeemer.com/formationconference.