Once upon a time in America, obeying God’s Word was a relatively easy thing to do, which is to say that, by comparison with other nations and cultures throughout history, the government, societal institutions, and the general culture tended to look favorably upon, or at least to offer few external hindrances to, serving the Lord. Not so today. Without exaggeration, the United States government, the country’s institutions, and culture are uniformly and actively antichrist. And so, the question arises: “How shall we then live?” The Apostle Peter, facing far more stringent consequences than exist for us today, tells us. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29b). The forms in which “men” come in opposition against us take many shapes.
1. Obey God rather than family or friends. Satan knows the fact that many Christians might be strong enough to resist governmental pressures to compromise their faith. So he attacks our soft underbelly, namely, through our family and friends. A compromise that no governmental agency could force on us, we will fall prey to when enticed by someone close to us. As a matter of fact, God attributes the fall to just such an approach. God told Adam that “because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’” (Gen. 3:17a), you, the entire human race that follows you, and the very earth itself are all cursed. Quite possibly Adam might have resisted direct enticements to sin from Satan, but he did not reject his wife’s enticements. God gave Adam no quarter. We must obey God rather than family or friends.
2. Obey God rather than employers. Satan understands the necessity of employment. What a believer might refuse to do in other circumstances, he might do in order to retain his job. Daniel faced just such a choice. Though King Nebuchadnezzar was the de facto government of Babylon, his requirement that Daniel and his Israelite brethren eat his food did not arise, perhaps, so much from his role in government as his role as “employer” of governmental administrators. Though he faced losing his “job” (not to mention his head), “Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank” (Dan. 1:8a). But notice that Daniel did not defy the king (that might have been an essential last course of action); rather, he used the channels open to him to maintain a clear conscience before God: “he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself” (v. 8b). We must obey God rather than employers.
3. Obey God rather than religion. Satan realizes that man is inveterately religious. Doing or shunning certain activities as meritorious acts is built into our DNA. And though we are rebellious by nature, we still tend to submit to the instructions of our religious authorities. Peter and John surely felt pressure from their childhood training to obey the Jewish council in Jerusalem, who “commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). But they refused to knuckle under to unscriptural religious pressure: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (vv. 19b, 20). God had told them to preach the gospel of Christ. They did. We must obey God rather than religion.
4. Obey God rather than majority opinion. God had told Saul to “utterly destroy” (I Sam. 15:3) King Amalek, his people, and their possessions. When confronted by Samuel with the fact that he had failed to do so, Saul’s excuse was that he “feared the people and listened to their voice” (v. 24). Though Saul’s attribution was a flimsy excuse, it illustrates what Satan recognizes as the power of public opinion. We want to be among the majority; the flesh wants to be thought well of and liked. God’s way is often a lonely way, and the burden is on saints to conform. But we must obey God rather than majority opinion.
We have not even mentioned the need to resist our own fallen nature and will. But God knows the power exerted by these various forces and will give us overcoming strength if we will look to Him.
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