It was election time in the Persian Kingdom, and Daniel was in the running. Based upon his past service and the king’s delight, Daniel appeared to be the front runner. That was when his opponents went to work. It was time for them to pull out another “October Surprise.” They determined they would fully vet Daniel, and it would not be long before his dirty laundry would be hanging for all to see. At least, that’s what they thought.
Daniel 6:4-5 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”
They scoured his personal and corporate financial records. They searched his attic, basement, and closets. His family, friends, and foes were all interviewed. They even went through his iPhone, personal computer, and server. In the end, nothing was amiss; nothing damaging could be found. And what was their conclusion? The only way he could be taken down would be to make his worship illegal. Then and only then could they damage Dan.
So how are we to think through and apply this passage to our current lives?
Option 1: Be Like Daniel; Do What Daniel Does!
For most of my life, this appears to be the default sermon or Sunday school lesson. Bottom line, Daniel looks really good. He doesn’t cheat on his taxes or his wife. He is squeaky clean. He is a blameless man without reproach. And because of his faithfulness, he is approved by God and honored by men. Therefore, we should “Dare to be like Daniel.” We should look at him and walk after his model. We ought to say “no” to sin and “yes” to Jesus with such consistency that — if people vetted us — we might come forth shining in holiness. Therefore, let us do more! Let’s be better! Let’s get our act together and allow people to see how good we are. For if we do so, God will bless us in accordance with our works. God will approve, and we will be honored.
Within this interpretation and application much truth is found:
- God has given us his very good and wise will.
- God has told us how he expects us to walk after his precepts.
- God is watching all that men desire, think, speak, and do.
- God always approves of those who perfectly keep his ways.
- It is good that men desire to walk in accordance with God’s laws.
- It is good that men see the external display and find it squeaky clean.
However, within this interpretation and application, much folly is also found:
- Daniel and all men are naturally born.
- Daniel and all men are sinfully warped; they are wholly unholy.
- Daniel and all men struggle with disbelieving God’s love and wisdom.
- Daniel and all men struggle with desiring God’s will and ways.
- Daniel and all men struggle with doing God’s precepts and principles.
- Daniel and all men never perfectly perform; they sin in a host of ways.
- Daniel and all men can hide their sin from human external vetters.
- Daniel and all men can be praised for their moral fruits.
- Daniel and all men are also being vetted by the omniscient God.
- Daniel and all men, though they have squeaky clean exteriors, have thoroughly disgusting interiors. (Outside of Cup vs. Inside of Cup)
- Daniel and all men can try harder, but they can never measure up to the expectations of the Holy God.
However, as earlier stated, this appears to be the default message. It is the message of “Be Like Joseph … Be Like Abraham … Be Like Moses … Be Like David … Be Like Hannah … Be Like Ruth … Be Like Daniel … Do More Good … Be Better … And when you do, you will be approved by God and honored in this life.
Friends, this is the message of any atheistic self-help guru. It is a sermon that could be preached by any Jesus-loathing Jewish rabbi. All cults and clans preach moralistic sermons like this, and it is far too often found in Gospel-loving denominations like yours and mine. Sadly, this the message that I preached for years. It is the message of covenant-fidelity that still weasels out of me more times than I desire. It is the legalistic sermon that promises grace from God conditioned upon the personal performance of man. It is a Covenant of Works sermon. It is a damning sermon, and it is all too prevalent.
No, we cannot merit God’s salvation.
No, we cannot merit God’s presence or Spirit.
No, we cannot merit God’s fatherly approval.
No, we cannot merit God’s health, wealth, and prosperity.
No, we cannot merit God’s trophies, crowns, or mansions.
Think about it; we cannot even make it throughout the morning without horribly sinning against God in one way or another. We don’t do all we should do; we do those things we should not. Though being saved, we still have fleshly natures that show themselves in our lack of love and desire to sin. Though we have been perfectly reconciled to God, we still have the “old man,” the “old nature,” or “the flesh.” We will have that until glory, and until that day, our “old selves” taint everything we do. Yes, we can look good on the outside, but the inside of our cups is disgusting. We are only wholly unholy — that’s who we are in our natural selves.
But, there is very good news. This is not all we are.
Option 2: Be Graced Like Daniel and Rejoice in What God Does!
Daniel was greatly sinned against by his parents, peers, pastors, and politicians. As a result of their decisions, Israel was besieged, invaded, plundered, desecrated, and destroyed. In the process, Daniel and his peers were kidnapped, trafficked, renamed, reeducated, and repurposed. Through no fault of his own, Daniel found himself being groomed to be a choice servant of a gross and godless king.
However, Daniel experienced grace. Through it all, from his early years to those of seniority, Daniel found himself under the watchful gaze of an always-present, all-knowing, and all-powerful Heavenly Father — one who loved to give him that which he did not have and could not deserve. Consequently, in the book of Daniel we see what God …
- Giving him the gift of faith
- Granting him a Godward affection
- Encouraging him to associate with likeminded, worshiping brothers
- Motivating him to not defile himself
- Encouraging him to trust God’s provision vs. man’s wisdom
- Granting him in natural knowledge, character, and skill
- Granting him supernatural gifts to be used in God’s service
- Granting him vocational success in the eyes of his superiors
- Promoting and preserving his position though kings came and went
- Safeguarding him through several seasons of religious persecution
- Revealing to him prophetic mysteries
- Preserving him in his faith
- Working in him a fantastically intimate and powerful prayer life
- Working in him a pristine external testimony
- Using him to promote the mysterious ways and glorious name of the Lord
My friends, the primary actor in Daniel is not Daniel. This book is not primary about a sold-out, all-in, self-denying, over-achieving, top-drawer, naming and claiming, never-dying, defying the odds, more than a conquering, no turning back, gutting it out, religious winner.
No, Daniel is the story a wholly unholy, spiritually warped, devilish sinner who received God’s undeserved affection and grace. All the sweet accolades and high-points of his story represent God’s gracious work. Daniel is the story of God’s gracious performance.
And because God is the same — yesterday, today, and forever, — this is our story as well. All of our righteous affections, thoughts, words, and deeds — they are of his grace! Great is the power of our God working without us, towards us, within us, and through us! To God be the glory, great things he hath done and is doing! He, who has already begun a great work in us, he it is who is finishing it. How fantastic is it to receive grace upon grace! How marvelous is the promised Holy Spirit — he who consecrates, sets apart, and sanctifies us completely, and he who continues to work in us that we might have more joy in practicing the saintly sanctification placed within us!
Therefore, today, let us go to pray, repent and rejoice. Let us …
- Look at God’s Law and see what is good.
- Look at our hearts and see what is evil.
- Look at the cross; hear the Gospel, and rejoice in the performance of our Lover – Jesus Christ.
- Relax and start our day with, “You are my Son; in you I am well pleased.”
- Relax and end our day with, “Well done my good and faithful servant,”
- Look again at God’s Law and see what is good.
- Get on our knees and have another talk with Jesus.
- Expect the Holy Spirit to change our affections, thoughts, words, and deeds.
- Practice that which he produces from the inside-out.
- Give him all the glory as the good fruit he produces shows itself.