Is there ever a time in a believer’s life when he has no choice but to sin? Thoughtful Christians would say no and quote I Corinthians 10:13. God will not allow us to be tempted beyond that which we are able and He will provide a way out. This is certainly a wonderful and precious promise. But I have to confess that there are times, in spite of this verse and more often than I’d like to admit, I think to myself, “Well, maybe in this case I just have no choice but to sin.”
This morning I was struck by Jerry Bridges’ insight into I Samuel 13 in his book The Pursuit of Holiness. King Saul was about to go into an important battle with the Philistines. He had been commanded to wait at Gilgal until Samuel came to offer the sacrifices. In the meantime, seven days had passed. The Philistines were an imminent threat and no doubt the men of Israel were getting restless. So Saul took it upon himself to offer the burnt offerings.
The Bible says that as soon as he was finished Samuel arrived and asked, “What have you done?” Saul was full of excuses: the people were scattering, you weren’t coming, and the Philistines were assembling. Therefore, Saul says, “I forced myself to offer the burnt offering.” Translation: I had to sin.
Samuel is unimpressed with Saul’s reasons. “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you…now your kingdom will not endure.” In God’s eyes there was no excuse to disobey. Saul’s problem was the same as ours: he failed to grasp how much God hates sin. Saul needed to remember that sin is worse than Samuel’s tardiness, the Philistines attacking and the Israelites scattering.
According to the scriptures I never have to sin. I don’t have to get angry at the person who pulls out in front of me and drives slow. I don’t have to dwell on an image on a screen. I don’t have to revile when I’ve been reviled. I am in Christ and sin is no longer my master. Rather than looking at my circumstances I can look at the cross where I see God’s holy hatred of sin poured out on His beloved Son. In the cross, I see the terrible consequences of sin on full display and I see God’s self-sacrificing love as He suffers in my place. When I am focused on the cross I can clearly see how terrible sin is so that I can choose to live in obedience. In light of the cross the question could be: should I let the driver escape my wrath for having been momentarily inconvenienced or should I willfully offend a holy God?
The scriptures are clear: God will never put you in a position where you have no choice but to sin. In fact, He has promised that He will never tempt anyone to evil (James 1:13). It is good for me to remember that God has promised that in every temptation He will provide a way of escape. An important way of escape would be to set my mind upon the cross so that I can be reminded how holy God is, how terrible sin is and how far He is willing to go to deliver me from it.
I’ve been in Rochester, Minnesota all week teaching on the book of Daniel. I’ve been blessed immeasurably by the people here at Victory Baptist Church. And I don’t take it for granted that it is a rare joy to be able to stop and immerse oneself in a book of the Bible for a whole week. Since Sunday I have lived and breathed Daniel.
Having reached the end of the historical section of Daniel (a phrase I use loosely since much of the rest of the book, though considered to be prophecy, has already taken place in history), I think we can confidently affirm that while Daniel lived a blessed life, it would be absolutely incorrect to say that Daniel lived an easy life. Taken away from his home as a young teenager he was separated from family and friends and marched some 900 miles to a distant land. Upon arrival he was chosen to be trained and serve in the court of the king only to discover that he could not in good conscience eat the food provided. Soon after, he was awoken in the middle of the night by the king’s chief executioner who had come to “tear him limb from limb.” At 80, in a city surrounded by a ruthless enemy, he was called by another king who didn’t even bother to disguise his contempt for him to read the writing on the wall and proclaim judgment on Babylon. And then, pushing 90, having been once again appointed the court of the ruler of the known world, he was cast into a den of lions for the crime of prayer.
Daniel had been sent to Babylon at a time when God’s glory was in danger. God’s people had been defeated by a pagan nation. In that day that meant that their God had been defeated by the gods of Babylon. God raised up Daniel to show that He was still on His throne. Because of Daniel’s faithfulness (and that of his three friends) 2 different pagan rulers issued 4 separate decrees proclaiming the God of Daniel. By the time Daniel died the glory of God had been declared to the nations in every direction. And then, through Daniel’s prophecies, God declared the whole history of the world all, the way to the Kingdom of the Messiah. Can you imagine the joy of being used like that for the glory of God?
At the end of chapter 6 as he is hoisted out of the lion’s den we read: “no injury whatever was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” This could serve as summary of Daniel’s life. Do not think that Daniel was a spiritual super man. Like Elijah he was a man with a nature like ours. Do not think that Daniel had an easy life. From a young age he endured great suffering. But through it all Daniel was faithful. He was faithful where God had him whether marching into exile or studying in the Babylonian University system. He spoke wisdom, truth and sometimes even judgment to three pagan kings all the while maintaining his habit of praying three times a day.
What does it mean to be a Daniel? It means faithfully obeying God in every circumstance. It means speaking the truth in love to those God has put in your life. It means fearing God more than man. It means that, in the words of Peter, you “keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (I Peter 2:12)