Conviction vs. Preference

By Dallas Roberts

 The year was 593 BC.  The location was a plain located south-east of the city of Babylon.  All of the realm’s governors, princes, and rulers were assembled, by order of the king, for the dedication ceremony of his newest creation – a golden statue, that towered over the plain of Dura at a height of 60 cubits by 6 cubits wide by 6 cubits deep ( about 90x9x9’). [Note: that when width only is given, the depth is the same as the width.]

The order was given to those who were assembled that when they heard the sound of the music, they were to fall down and worship the image that king Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Now among these assembled rulers were 3 young men who were different from the rest. As the music sounded across the plain of Dura, the crowds collapsed to their knees with one accord- all that is, except 3 lone figures, standing tall and erect among their peers.

Immediately some Chaldeans went running to report to the king about the violation of his law. This news stirred up the king’s temper and he ordered the 3 Hebrews brought to him. Although he was extremely angry, the king loved justice. The 3 accused Hebrews were his most trusted officers and for them he entertained a high regard. He hoped he could maintain his dignity and at the same time save the Hebrew officials. Maybe they would yield when they were brought into his presence. Before him conquered kings and princes had sunk in cowering terror, begging for mercy and favor.                

But these 3 young men are calm and unafraid. Even through his blinding rage the king recognized true nobility and courage. His heart was softened and he decided to give them another chance. But Nebuchadnezzar had already been exposed to their standards and was well aware of their religious beliefs. This so-called second chance was just a subtle attempt to get them to compromise. Was their faith a preference or a conviction? 

To the king’s offer of mercy and the threat of punishment was added a challenge to their God. “and who [is] that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” verse 15.

Pharaoh had said, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?” and the ten plagues were the answer. Sennacherib defied and challenged the God of Hezekiah and in answer the angel of death visited his army and destroyed 185,000 men.

This same God heard and accepted the challenge of Nebuchadnezzar.

The 3 Hebrews realized what was at stake and without a second thought of their dangerous position they informed the king that they did not need a second chance, that they had understood the decree; their minds were made up and their answer was ready. Their decision had not been made in a moment. It was the result of a purpose formed in early life; of a multitude of decisions leading up to this crisis. They had learned to say “no” to what was wrong even in the little things of life. They had deliberately and on purpose defied the king’s decree, and their decision was irreversible!

This enraged the king and he had them bound and thrown into the fiery furnace which had been heated 7 times hotter. With the Babylonians, as with the Hebrews, the number 7 represented completeness, it was the perfect number. The furnace had been heated to its full capacity. This would actually be for the benefit of the condemned men, because it would kill them rapidly. A small fire would have greatly prolonged and intensified their suffering. The defiant rebels would be given over into the hands of I-SUM, the fire-god of the Babylonians, and where was the God who could deliver them from this Babylonian god?

The mighty men that the king commanded to throw them into the furnace were no doubt the king’s special body-guard. Like the famous guards of the Persian kings, they were selected for their height and physical strength and were called “The Immortals”. These “mighty men” were killed by the heat from the furnace. The death of the executioners was an exhibition of the eternal law of justice. “They that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” (Those who kill with fire, must be killed with fire)

When the king looked into the furnace he saw that not only had the ropes used to tie the men been burnt off but the 3 men were walking around in the fire unharmed and they had been joined by a 4th man. This 4th man had the appearance of the Son of God.

To understand some of the points revealed in this story, it is necessary to go back a few years to the year 605 BC. These 3 Hebrews had been brought to Babylon as captives from the city of Jerusalem. They were worshipers of the true God, the Creator.

In Daniel 1:8 these men “purposed” in their hearts that they would not defile their bodies with the king’s meat. They overcame the temptation of appetite by refusing the king’s meat and requesting a vegetarian diet in exchange. Now in the position that they were in – refusing the king’s meat was a dangerous thing to do. Not only were they going against the direct command of the king, but they were dangerously close to insulting him. But they realized that by compromising with his command that they would be going against the command of God. They showed by the stand that they chose to take in that earlier test, the character needed to stand in the future test, and that they had more than just a preference – They had conviction! Had they compromised in the first test, they would not have had the conviction to pass the second test! They would have shown that their beliefs were only a preference!

Turn in your Bibles to Revelation 13:11-18

Here we have a description of the United States and the approaching Sunday law here in America. We usually think of the books of Daniel and Revelation as two separate books. But in truth, the book of Revelation is just a revealing of the book of Daniel. The stories in the book of Daniel are “Acted Parables” describing the characteristics of the remnant and the events involving them at the end of time. Each story adds more description and builds on the stories before it.

As we begin the story in Daniel 3:1-4, we have a king, a political power, ruling over the world superpower at that time and he assembles all the rulers and princes of the then known world to the dedication of his image.

So also here in Rev. 13, we have a nation or kingdom, a political power, the only world superpower calling the whole world to worship the image that he has set up.

In Daniel 3 the image is set up to honor Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who in chapter 4 loses his mind and becomes like a beast in the field. So we actually have an image to the beast.

In Rev. 13 we have the United States forming an image to the first beast, Rome, which is spiritual Babylon.

In Dan. 3 there is an image whose numerical measurement 60x6x6 cubits and in Rev. 13 the number of the beast is 600-60-6. In the study of the number code, which is called Gematria, 0’s do not have any meaning and are merely place holders. Therefore both the image in Daniel 3 and the number of the beast in Rev. 13 can be expressed as 666.

In both texts failure to obey the laws of the land results in the death penalty.

When the Hebrew worthies refused to worship his image Nebuchadnezzar’s form of visage changed.

“When the king saw that his will was not received as the will of God, he was "full of fury," and the form of his visage was changed against these men. Satanic attributes made his countenance appear as the countenance of a demon;”  Signs of the Times 5-6-97

In Rev. 13 the second beast that looks like a lamb, changes and speaks like a dragon.

Just as the 3 Hebrews were thrown into the fiery furnace – so God’s people at the end will be thrown into the “fires of persecution”.

And while the 3 Hebrews had physical ropes that burned off in the fire, the remnant will have the last traces of their bonds of sin burnt off in the “fires of persecution” for it is the persecution that purifies them and fits them for heaven.

And just like the Son of God joined the Hebrews in the furnace – so He will be with His people through the final crisis.

It is interesting to note that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are the ones chosen to represent God’s people at the end of time. To get the full meaning though, we have to see what their Hebrew names mean, because their Babylonian names are centered around pagan gods. Shadrach’s Hebrew name was Hannaniah which means – Jah has favored, to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior.  Meshach’s Hebrew name was Mishael which means – Who is what God is? And Abednego’s name was Azariah which means – Jah has helped, surround, protect, aid.

These names give a description of the characteristics of the remnant in the last days. The remnant in the last days will be the ones who are favored by God; who reflect His image and character; and will be shielded and protected by Him.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not successful because they came out of the fiery furnace, they were successful because they went in! God brought them out, but they, by their refusal to obey a law opposed to God’s law, put themselves in!

Just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were called to testify for their conviction, we will be called someday, in the not too distant future, to answer for our beliefs. Just as they were the only 3 out of many Hebrews to take a stand, while the rest of the Hebrews compromised and obeyed the king’s decree; so, very soon we will have to stand for the right even though the majority of our former brethren and family members have become our worst enemies.

The question is, “Is your belief a conviction, or a preference?”

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, “Every single religious belief is one of two types. It doesn’t matter what your belief structure is, or who you are, every single religious belief you have is one of two types. It is either a Conviction or a Preference.” 

Now you might ask, “Why does it matter?”

            It matters because in the United States of America only Convictions are protected (at least for the time being) by the constitution. Preferences are not. Nor does it seem that it is any different in God’s judicial system. 

Lets look at a Preference. A Preference is a very, very strong belief. It can be so strong that you will invest all your time and money in it. You can be a minister of the gospel, a Christian school teacher, or a missionary. You can go out and witness to others and have a lot of zeal for the cause. You can raise your children to share your same belief. You can do all this and still only have a Preference. Why? Because a Preference is a very strong belief, but it is a belief you will change! You prefer it, but under some circumstances you will change it.

The courts have reviewed these circumstances and have found some circumstances that cause people to change their beliefs. The first circumstance is called “peer pressure.”

If your friends, other people in the congregation, ministers, employers, or co-workers, can get you to bend or change,- then your belief is a preference. You want to do it, you resolved to do it, you prefer to do it, but you changed! 

The second circumstance is “family pressure”. If your spouse, or your children can get you to bend or change your belief – then it is a preference. 

The third circumstance is the threat of a “lawsuit”. If the state sues you and takes you to court, will you change your belief? If you will change because of a lawsuit – your belief is a preference. 

The fourth circumstance is “jail”. A lot of people like to think of jail as a souped up hotel or free room and board. But they forget that when you go to jail, you are isolated from all your Christian influence. They tell you when to go to bed, when to get up, when to eat, how to eat, when to stand, when to sit, they rule your life! And suddenly you are thrown into all that in the middle of a group of brutal men. Men who relish the thought of beating the pulp out of a “bible-toter”. If, under this circumstance, you will change your beliefs, then they are preferences. 

Another thing that the courts decided is that you must be prepared to die for your belief. If the threat of death can make you change your beliefs then those are preferences. 

The court said a “Conviction”, on the other hand, is a belief that you Will Not Change!

Why? What creates a conviction? The court said only one thing. “A man believes that his God requires it of him. A belief that is God ordered is a conviction! When you believe that your God has required something of you, you will withstand all the tests they have spoken about!” 

In the story of the three Hebrews, they were the only ones to stand. The court says that if you require that other people stand with you before you will stand, then your belief is a preference. 

When the Hebrews answered the king, what they were telling him is “This matter of our faith is non-negotiable!” The court says that, “If you can discuss the negotiation of your faith, then your faith is a matter of Preference and not Conviction because Convictions are non-negotiable!” Why? The court says you can not negotiate something that is God ordered. So if they can get you into a dialogue where you negotiate, then it is a preference and not a conviction.

Now the court said they had another problem. How do they know when a person is telling the truth about their conviction? So they came up with a test. They said that a conviction will always show up in a person’s lifestyle. What is on the inside of a man will always show on the outside. You do not have the right to say you have a conviction unless we can see you live that conviction with some element of consistency. 

Where do we get convictions from? From the Word of God. There are not any preferences in this book (Bible)! From cover to cover, it is conviction!! When a child comes to Sabbath school we teach them that to disobey the Word of God is sin. The court says that the opposite of Conviction is Sin! If the Bible requires it, it is God ordered. If it is God ordered, it is a conviction. If it is a conviction and God ordered then what is it to not do it? It is a sin, because it is disobedience to what God has ordered. So before you say that something is a conviction, you must be prepared to take a stand to say that the opposite of that is a sin. For example: If you say, “I have a conviction that God created the earth in six literal days” – you must say the opposite, the theory of evolution and the Big Bang is a sin – or it is not a conviction. A person who says “I believe I ought to do something, but I think I should be more tolerant, a little more open minded about this,” then he is saying his is a preference, and the court says, “Make up your mind, what you believe!”

The court says that knowledge about your beliefs is critical in the courtroom! You must be able to determine what you believe and why!

1 Peter 3:15 says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”

Now if your belief in Creation is a conviction, then the court is going to look at your life and see if you follow your conviction. Do you send your children to public school where they will be taught the “Sin” of Evolution? If so, you have, by your actions, proven to the court that your belief in Creation is not a conviction but a preference! 

What about stewardship? You say, “I have a conviction that the money I have is lent to me from God and that I should pay a faithful tithe and faithful offering and that I should use it to help build God’s kingdom.” Then the court will ask, “Have you ever gambled? Gone out and bought an unnecessary item like say maybe, a boat, a fourth car, a fur coat? 

Well, I have a conviction that the seventh day is the Sabbath and that we are not to work during those hours. Then the court will ask, “Have you ever stayed at work just a little past sundown on Friday night to finish your work for an important deadline? How about taken your family to the local café after church for lunch? Or maybe helped your buddy work on his car Saturday afternoon because he wanted to use it Saturday night? After all, it is helping your neighbor, and isn’t that what we are supposed to do?

If so, your belief is a preference and not a conviction! 

I have a conviction that we are not to commit adultery. Then the court will ask, “Have you ever viewed pornography? How about getting a little too friendly with your secretary? What about watching adultery on TV? Wearing a bikini at the beach, or maybe wearing a short skirt? What does your life show about you? 

The 3 Hebrews had shown by their lives in the past, that theirs was a conviction and that they were willing to die for it!

            “As in the days of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, so in the closing period of earth's history the Lord will work mightily in behalf of those who stand steadfastly for the right. He who walked with the Hebrew worthies in the fiery furnace will be with His followers wherever they are. His abiding presence will comfort and sustain. In the midst of the time of trouble--trouble such as has not been since there was a nation--His chosen ones will stand unmoved. Satan with all the hosts of evil cannot destroy the weakest of God's saints. Angels that excel in strength will protect them, and in their behalf Jehovah will reveal Himself as a "God of gods," able to save to the uttermost those who have put their trust in Him.” PK p.513

            “The greatest want of the world is the want of men-- men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.” Ed. p.57 

The history of this world is fast closing!

So what about you? Are your beliefs a conviction, or a preference?