|Volume 17 Number 4 April 2015||
Influence is a two-edged sword. On one side, influence can be and is a powerful tool for good. However, on the other side, influence can be and is a powerful tool for evil as demonstrated by the moral and spiritual condition of the nation in which we live.
As Christians, we are in the world, but not of the world (John 17:12-16). We belong to Christ after having obeyed His Gospel. Therefore, we live in a Christ-like manner. We will not be conformed to the world, but we will transform ourselves into the image of the Christ our Savior (Romans 8:29). As Christians, we have been called out of the world of darkness of sin and into the marvelous light of Christ by the Gospel. Because we have answered the call of the Gospel, we are to make a difference in this world. We are to exert an influence for good in this world of sin and wickedness. Let’s examine some terms that describe the actions and power of Christian influence.
First, our influence as Christians must be positive. It is possible for our influence as Christians to be negative or harmful. Our influence—positive or negative—is manifested by how we conduct ourselves in words, actions and dispositions toward others. It is possible to turn people away from the Gospel of Christ simply by conducting ourselves toward others in an un-Christ-like manner. There is no excuse for men rejecting the Gospel, but let it be also said there is no excuse for hypocritical conduct by the children of God.
The best demonstration of the power of the Gospel is for others to see its good effect in our lives. We are to imitate Christ who is our perfect example (1 Peter 2:21). When we live Christ-like before others who are without Christ, we can influence them by our conduct to obey the Gospel (1 Peter 3:1-2). We teach the Gospel not just orally, but also when we conduct ourselves in a Christ-like manner.
Second, our influence as Christians must be bright (Matthew 5:14-16). Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12). As Christians, we are to shine as lights in this present world, which is full of darkness. We understand that we do not shine our own personal lights, but rather by conforming our lives to the One who died for us and who has redeemed us through His blood, we are letting His image live in us. Thus, as we live, we are letting the light of Christ and the Gospel be seen in us. Christ’s light is manifested by our conduct, which will in turn have a positive influence on others (Matthew 5:16).
Third, our influence as Christians must be flavorful (Matthew 5:13). Salt provides a seasoning flavor to foods. In addition, salt also preserves. We Christians must have a flavorful influence over the earth. We must not only teach the Gospel orally, but we must teach it by living it out in our lives. If we do not have this flavorful and preserving influence, then just as salt that has lost its flavor is no good, so are we doing no one any good (especially ourselves).
Fourth, our influence as Christians must be pervasive. In the great section of parables regarding the kingdom in Matthew 13, there is a single verse parable (“leaven” v. 33) that deals with the growth of the spiritual kingdom of Christ. Leaven (similar to yeast) is the active ingredient in bread making. In order for the dough to rise, there must be yeast present to influence it. Leaven is often times used in the Scriptures in reference to evil influence (1 Corinthians 5), but in this context it deals with the positive influence the Gospel would have when preached in bringing about growth of the kingdom. Certainly when we look at the Book of Acts and the early preaching of the Gospel, we see the powerful influence that the pure, simple and unadulterated Word of God has when it is proclaimed as God demands. As Christians today, we need to maintain the leavening influence of the Gospel in our lives by our proclamation of it, but also as we conduct ourselves daily.
Yes, the influence we wield is very important. As Christians, members of the beautiful bride, the church of Christ, are we being salt, lights and leaven as the Lord would have us to be in this present world? Is our influence positive or negative? Remember, not only will others be affected by our conduct, but we ourselves will be affected even more so because how we conduct ourselves in this present world will determine where we will be in eternity.
I, as some would say, “grew up in the church.” When I say that, what I mean is that my parents became Christians, and they took me to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday evening and pretty much any other function of the church (e.g., fellowships, youth functions, etc.). I watched my father preach, teach and lead the church in many ways. I witnessed my mother setting the wonderful example of what it means to be benevolent, kind, merciful and loving. I had every spiritual advantage one might be able to list.
I left anyhow. Oh! I don’t mean I wasn’t at some building on the “appointed days, at the appointed hour.” What I mean is that years ago, I checked out mentally and was biding my time for—well, I didn’t know what, but I knew I hadn’t found it. I was a minimalistic Christian, which is kind of like saying, “I saw a jackalope or chupacabra.” I rode the faith of my parents hard for the benefits of social interaction with other girls and boys my age, but I had no faith of my own. I had not made the necessary jump from memorizing the list of facts doled out by my Bible class teachers to the place where I understood and embraced them. I had help, though, in reaching this comfortless, comfortable, meaningful, purposeless spiritual existence.
Have you ever noticed that kids ask a lot of questions? Sure you have. However, have you ever noticed how those questions grow more pointed and challenging as children reach a certain age when maturity begins to blossom? All questions from our children, regardless of age, are important ones. However, those pointed and challenging questions are the ones that ought to receive the greatest amount of attention and exploration. Why? These questions usually represent some hurdle our kids have regarding faith. They are finally exploring it for themselves, and very often they gravitate toward the gaps where their understanding is often thin or non-existent.
“But, how can we know there is a God if we have never seen or heard or touched Him,” they may ask. Their experience tells them that we must have evidence for belief. The Bible teacher says it. The preacher says it. Mom and dad say it. The schoolteacher says it. Thus, they have been trained to find answers and fill the gaps. Faith, after all, is the “evidence of things unseen.” In other words, there is a reason behind faith, and faith is reasonable. If it is not, then, it does not match the faith described in the Bible.
If these questions go unanswered, young people’s faith can wane or even disintegrate completely. This is not due to unwillingness on the child’s part or because the belief is inaccurate, but it may occur because they have been given no reason to believe. They may have no reason to connect with it on a personal level and adopt it as their own understanding. When we give mediocre, lame answers to valid and probing questions (even those that seem confrontational at times), then we contribute to this lack of faith. When we give transparent answers that do not even convince us, though they may be the “traditional answers” that the “church” has given, our children see right through the explanation. That experience widens the gap between them and the acceptance of a reasonable faith.
We do the same thing when we set a bad example, don’t follow our own teaching, teach with an inherent disposition of superiority or simply say, “You’ve got to have faith.” Faith is what they are trying to build with their questions.
Many adults today remain faithless not because they fail to know the facts, but because the process of building a strong faith broke down. You can help by always being ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within you—a hope that is built on a faith that you won through hard fought battles over your own doubts and fears. Mediocre Christians create more of the same. Look around! Do we need any more of them?
Get serious about your faith. Ask the hard questions. What kind of answers do you have? Why do you believe what you believe? Is it reasonable? When you find it, teach the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).