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Conviction versus 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

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 three young men who were different from the

As the music sounded across the plain of Dura, the crowds collapsed to their knees with
one accord -all that is, except three lone figures, standing tall and erect among their

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 three Hebrews brought to
him. Although he was extremely angry, the king loved justice. The three 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 three 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

To the king's offer of mercy and the threat of punishment was added a challenge to their
God. “Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" (Daniel 3:15) Pharaoh in
Moses’ day had said much the same thing, "Who is the Lord that I should obey His
voice?" (Exodus 5:2) 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

The three 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 seven 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 Gira,
Gibil, Nusku, the three fire-gods of the Babylonians, and where was the God who could
deliver them from these Babylonian gods?

The mighty men that the king commanded to throw them into the furnace were no doubt
the king's special body-guards. 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" Matthew 26:52 (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 three men were walking around in the fire unharmed and
they had been joined by a fourth man. This fourth man had the appearance of the Son of

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 three 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 bad 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!

In Revelation 13: 11-18 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 in Revelation chapter 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 Revelation 13 we have the United States forming an image to the
first beast, Rome, which is spiritual Babylon.

In Daniel 3 there is an image whose numerical measurement 60x6x6 cubits and in

Revelation 13 the number of the beast is 600, 60 and 6. In the study of the number code,
which is called Gematria, zeroes do not have any meaning and are merely place
holders. Therefore both the image in Daniel 3 and the number of the beast in Revelation
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, May 6,
1897.) In Revelation 13 the second beast that looks like a lamb, changes and speaks
like a dragon.

Just as the three 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 three 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, “Yah 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, “Yah 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.

Hannaniah, Mishael, and Azariah 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 the three men on the plain of Dura 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 three out of many Hebrews to take a stand, while the rest of the
Hebrews compromised and obeyed the king's decree; soon, 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 a 1972 landmark case
(Wisconsin v. Yoder), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the only religious beliefs
protected (at least for the time being) under the First Amendment are convictions.
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 Supreme 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

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 the 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

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

1st 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

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
taking your- family to the local cafe 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 three 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." E.G. White, Prophets and Kings page 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." E.G. White, Education page 57.

The history of this world is fast closing!

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