What if the government starts to persecute Christians? What if we lose our freedoms? How should we respond? We’ve already seen that physical violence is not the answer. There is a time and place to for Christians to engage in civil disobedience, but it is probably not what many think. It’s not about armed revolutions against the government, but rather, a spiritual refusal to take part in that which is contrary to the will of God.
The apostles, Peter and John, made this quite clear to the Sanhedrin saying, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). They were respectful toward the authorities, even though they made it clear they would not obey any law or edict contrary to God’s will.
God expects Christ followers to refuse to comply with any statute standing against His own expressed will, regardless of what consequences could result by so doing.
Keep in mind that the early church was physically beaten, and many of them were even tortured to death because of this decision! Hebrews 11 tells us that people enduring physical attacks for the sake of their obedience to God is not new! “There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:35b-38).
Exactly this attitude is seen in Daniel’s friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (better known by their pagan nicknames: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego), who resist a powerful King’s idolatrous edict and are thrown into a fiery furnace as a result! The story, recorded in Daniel 3, begins with the pagan king's prideful edict that all must worship a golden statue he has made. Being worshippers of the true God, Daniel’s friends are caught between the rock of obedience to God, and a hard place of obeying the laws of the nation in which they reside, which also includes the penalty of being burned alive for failure to comply! They choose to face the fire.
Their response begins in Daniel 3:16. “16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 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” (Daniel 3:16-18).
Daniel’s friends expressed a confidence that God was able to take care of them, and indeed would care for them whether or not he choose to spare them from the agony of being burned alive. They believed that while God was certainly able to save them miraculously, that they did not know His mind to say whether He would or not! What a statement of faith! They both believed in the complete and ultimate power of God, but also they trusted so strongly in His infinite wisdom that they would not charge Him with wrongdoing should He not use His power to spare their lives!
**Side Note: This contrasts so strongly with the attitude of many today, which could be summarized as “I cannot believe (refuse to believe) in a God who would not do exactly what I think is best in any conceivable scenario regarding human suffering or death.” This is the assumption that all those who charge God with wrongdoing for allowing people to die from tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, cancer, or shark attacks make.**
Peter, John, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah all bravely refused to obey the sinful commands of their God-established authority figures, instead trusting God by obeying His stated will no matter what consequences would come as a result.
Their responses show exactly how Christians should respond whenever we face a conflict where we must choose between obeying God or our government. We must obey God rather than men.