Summary: If our faith changes or bends under any circumstance, even in the face of certain death, we have a preference and not a conviction.
In 1972 the Supreme Court ruled in Wisconsin vs. Yoder that the only religious beliefs protected under the First Amendment are convictions. Preferences, the Court said, are not. [Amish families did not want their children in Public School pass the 8th grade and the state said they must attend till age 16. It was against their religion to expose children to worldly knowledge and was a possible threat to their very salvation.]
According to the supreme court, a preference could be a very strong belief, held with great strength. You can give your entire life in a full-time way to the service of that belief/preference, you can also give your entire material wealth in the name of that belief which is your preference. You can also energetically proselytize others to your belief/preference. You can also want to teach this belief/preference to your children, and the Supreme Court may still rule that it is a preference.
A preference could be a strong belief, but a belief that you will change under the right circumstances. Circumstances such as:
1) peer pressure; if your beliefs are such that other people must stand with you before you will stand, your beliefs are preferences, not convictions.
2) If family pressures you to believe or not believe, you have a preference.
3) If the threat of lawsuits force you to change your beliefs, you have a preference.
4) If the threat of jail or prison time makes you change what you believe, then you have a preference.
5) If under the threat of death; you change what you believe, you have a preference.
A conviction is a belief that you will not change. A conviction is not something that you discover, it is something that you purpose in your heart. Why? A man believes that his God requires it of him. Even under the threat of certain death, a true conviction will not change.
Convictions on the inside will always show up on the outside, in a person’s lifestyle. To violate a conviction would be a grave sin to that person. A Conviction is:
1) Self-determined. You choose to accept. A gut level decision.
2) Non Negotiable.
3) Consistent with a person's lifestyle. Practiced daily.
Preferences aren’t protected by the constitution. So the question we must ask ourselves regarding our beliefs: Do we have a preference or a conviction?
Daniel 3 is a familiar story, and you know the story; It all started in Daniel 1 – Daniel and his 3 friends – captives from Israel, but into service of the king. But they would not allow themselves to be defiled - They purposed to live holy lives despite their circumstances.
Daniel 1:8 (NASB95) But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself …
I like the NKJV – “But Daniel purposed in his heart …” Daniel and his three friends made a gut level decision, they made a conviction to honor God in all they do. And God blessed them.
Then one day… King Nebuchadnezzar commanded that all should worship an image of himself – why? To unite the kingdom? Assured the allegiance of his the leaders? Serve his ego? The bible does not really say but we can look at the big picture and figure there must have been a reason for Nebuchadnezzar to do so. But the facts remain. For all he call called, all the officials in his kingdom the only option was to bow or burn.
It’s not easy to stand your ground when everyone else is bowing to the gods of political correctness, to the gods of altered morality. It is not easy to maintain sexual purity in a sexually charged culture and world. It is not easy to remain sober when the rest of the world is partying, getting high, and getting drunk. It was hard for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego to remain standing when the everyone one else was bowing.
They probably stood out like a sore thumb. They did not try to blend in. They did not try to camouflage their standing. They did not make excuses. They did not say “maybe just this once, then we can continue to get on with our lives.” Their choice was clear – They had made a conviction to serve only their God, they choose to burn rather than to bow.
As we examine this story, I’m breaking it down into three parts: 1) The Accusation; 2) The Confrontation; 3) Their Response.
THE ACCUSATION: and there are always those who will make accusations.
Daniel 3:8 (NASB95) For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews.
These were the guys that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were promoted over – they took their jobs. These Chaldeans reminded the king of his commands: