Daniel 1 is a popular chapter of the Bible for evangelicals. In many churches, you will hear sermons from this text about what it means to be faithful to God while living and working in a sinful culture. If you aren’t familiar with the biblical book, the first chapter essentially pivots on an episode where David and his friends are tempted to compromise their Jewish practices after being kidnapped by an invading country and forced into a pagan training school.
As I sat and listened to a sermon at my own church from this text, I started thinking about what faithfulness really means. I believe there are two approaches to faithfulness in Christian practice. There is biblical precedence for both, but often Christians and churches lean one way or the other, which ends up robbing them of the bigger picture. I also think God has a bias towards number two, and I’ll explain why.
1.) Faithfulness as sin avoidance
The first type of faithfulness is the defensive posture. As I said, there are biblical reasons for this type of faithfulness. One good example of this is found in Romans 12:2, which reads, “Do not be conformed to this world.” Obviously, in giving this command, there is an implied concern that the readers will be conformed if not warned. The same concern can be seen in 1 Corinthians 6:15. Where there are Christians who are involving themselves in sexual immorality, Paul writes, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” From this biblical evidence (and more), we can see that avoiding sin is one way of being faithful to God. But this is not the full story.
2.) Faithfulness as doing what is right
There is a second kind of faithfulness that I think the Bible emphasizes more than mere sin avoidance. That is, faithfulness in taking responsibility for what is right. This principle can be seen throughout Scripture, but one clear example is in the parable of the talents. In this parable, the servant that was rebuked was the very one who did not do anything wrong, per say. We could say he guarded himself against corruption or incompetence, but in the very act of doing so he failed to do what was right. Thus, it is not enough to be uncorrupted by bad things, Christians must also do good.
Why this matters
From my experience, it seems like immature Christianity (at least that of fundamentalism) tends to overemphasize the first type of faithfulness. It seems to me that many Christians are content with being faithful by not erring doctrinally or not falling into sexual sin or not hurting others, but they don’t tend to focus as much on doing something with their doctrine or celebrating sex when it is done right or helping those that are in need.
In fact, when Paul condemns the unbelieving world as having rejected God, he says, “They knew God, but they did not give glory to God or thank him (Rom. 1:21).” It wasn’t what they did wrong that ultimately condemned them, it was what they did not do.
I think this is important because it affects how we posture our lives and churches. When Jesus put the stake in the ground to establish his church he said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Mat. 16:18).” This is a distinctively offensive posture.
Many Christians live as if the gates of Hell are coming at them and they are supposed to stand against the gate. But gates don’t attack—they are by nature defensive. Christians and churches are supposed to posture themselves in such a way that they are more focused on doing what is right, rather than worrying about what they are doing wrong.
“Focusing on organizational weakness leaves little time or energy for maximizing strengths. It puts everyone on the defensive. And while it may result in a ministry with few major flaws, it will also produce one without any major strengths.” – Larry Osborne (Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership Team and Staff on the Same Page)
This is not to say that personal purity (or organizational correction) is not important, but there is one amazing phrase found in Galatians that summarizes the intent of personal purity and turns even the acts of abstaining from the bad into a way of doing something good—namely, loving others. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Gal. 5:14).”
In truth, the line between avoiding bad and doing good is often hard to define, but it is there and it really does affect life and practice. Grace and love and mercy free us to be about the good work of the kingdom, and yes, there are certain things that we must stay away from because it ruins our witness, ruins our relationships, and ruins us, but while we must face those things, we must be obsessed with the kingdom responsibilities and privileges we have inherited through our adoptions as sons and daughters of God through Jesus!
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:8-10