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Whose influence?

One of the definitions of iInfluence18nfluence according to Webster’s New World Dictionary is, “the power of persons or things to affect others, seen only in its effects” (1998).

According to this definition, we all affect others, either positively or negatively, in one way or another, for good or for ill.  Perhaps we can also affect others in such a way that the other doesn’t act or react, too, to our “influence.”  Regardless, like the falling dominoes, what we do (or don’t do) impacts others.

The concern for influencing others (and how) is a concern for the Christian.  According to God’s Word, Christians want others to believe in Christ.  We can’t force another to believe, but we do want to live according to God’s Word, loving others, and hope also that those who see how we live and love will have a yearning for Christ and His blessed peace.

However, placing emphasis on our influence and what we do, while assuming the influence of our Savior and the Gospel to affect true change (in ourselves or others)Influence15 essentially lays the burden upon us, and demonstrates, not faithfulness to our Lord, but a failure to believe in the Lord’s Word and promise of forgiveness, drawing attention away from the Lord who bought us (1 Peter 1:17-19)[1].

In effect, to speak about our influence(s) upon others, without also referencing our sinfulness before God and our need for salvation in Christ (and sanctification), is to speak outside of the Christian faith and to emphasize piety over grace and our work over Christ’s work.

Consider the following statement and questions from a letter I received from a popular Christian ministry (name to follow, dated May 2013), and whose theology I presume many adhere too…

The letter begins, “As time goes by, (1) do you ever think about the influence you have on those around you?  (2) Do you wonder if you are making a difference in the lives of those you love or (3) if you are accomplishing anything of lasting significance?”

Red Flag8Immediately reading these words, for me, red flags go up.  I answer yes to the first (1) question, specifically, for as a husband and parent, I am concerned about the effects of my words and actions to them, and others, too.  As a pastor, I also answer in the affirmative, as I desire that my words and actions model Christ, and that through me, by God’s grace, the members of my congregation and those in my community (and more broadly still) are somehow encouraged to not only do what is right and pleasing to God, but also to believe in Him for their salvation.

With reference to the second (2) question, however, I honestly don’t have to wonder if I am making a difference in the lives of those I love.  I know I am, though not always in a positive way.  Where I speak and do (or don’t do) in a sinful way and not  according to God’s will and Word, I repent.  I try to do better, but according to God’s standards (i.e. Ten Commandments, Exodus 20; see also Matthew 5:13-27), I am WOEFULLY short.  I fail.  I fall.  My influence, except by God’s grace and HIS influence (not mine), is worth little (see Philippians 3:7-11)[2].  By myself, I am nothing (Romans 7:14-25)[3].  And far from pure pessimism, this is simply the truth according to God’s revelation, Holy Scripture (see also Genesis 6:6; 8:21; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3; etc.).  In light of these, my influence on others is not at all comparative to God’s Word of Judgment and Promise.  His influence is eternal.  Mine is only temporary.  Thus, do I seek, by God’s unmerited favor and grace, to point to Him and to Him alone (i.e. Galatians 6:14)[4].  I don’t want the attention and influence to be on me, but on Christ alone.  He’s worthy of that honor, and not me or you.

Thus, my influeBoast in the Lordnce on others is really, not the concern.  Rather, the concern is continuing in the love of God in Christ (faith) and loving neighbor (works), Matthew 22:37-40[5] (see also Romans 13:10).  Any influence, apart from Christ and His Word, is not lasting.  Only God’s Word and work is eternal (1 Peter 1:25)[6].  HIS work is what matters, not mine.  This is why questions about my or our influence upon others, as deceivingly worthwhile as they might appear, and as pious and well-meaning as they might sound, are really the wrong focus, as the focus becomes them and not on repentance and hope in Jesus.  If the focus is upon us and our influence, then the focus is not on Christ’s and His Word.  Also, focus upon ourselves and our own influence only caters to our sinful human nature that we self-improve (to feel better about ourselves) and not to genuine repentance and the faith (Hebrews 12:1-2)[7].

The third (3) question, do you wonder “if you are accomplishing anything of lasting significance” has been addressed above.  Honestly, I do wonder about this at times, and struggle with it, too, but in the end, my significance will not last.  Would I like a name for myself and for people to remember me?  Yes, I would.  However, if anyone only remembers me for me, then it really amounts to nothing.  Again, Christ is what matters, not me.

This is why I find letters as the one this blog is addressing so troublesome, especially as it is from a fairly well-known preacher and ministry, In Touch with Charles Stanley (www.intouch.org/). Instead of focusing on Christ alone, he draws attention away from Christ and places that attention on sinners, who, by nature, sin, and cannot and do not do otherwise.  This doesn’t mean that Stanley and In Touch ministries have little or no value, or that they don’t speak the truth at all.  But such distinctions between truth and error concerning God’s Word and doctrine continue to be necessary.  As we live in a fallen world, and as sinners, we can’t just assume the Gospel, but must proclaim it, for only the Gospel, the Good News of sins forgiven in Christ, is the message of salvation.  Instead of turning inward and to ourselves for certainty and confidence before God, God gives you Christ and says, “Look to Him alone for your help and salvation” (i.e. John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5-6).[8]

Instead of on sinners, the confidence of the Christian is Christ and Christ alone.  Instead of placing emphasis on our own works and our own influence, Christ is the emphasis, for only through Him do we have true hope and genuine peace with God.

I understand that this is not a popular message, even among Christians today.  And I would assume that such proclamation of Christ would be deemed as heresy in many a congregation, too, as it does not focus on us and our doing.

But search the SIsaiah 53criptures (John 5:39)[9], and you’ll find that they’re not really about us improving ourselves or our influence on others.  Instead, you’ll find that the Bible is God’s revelation of His salvation of real sinners (i.e. you) by a real Savior (Jesus), born on Christmas Day (though not December 25 when the Church celebrates the incarnation of our Lord), God in the flesh (John 1:14)[10], “who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25) [Reflect also on Luke 24:44-47 & John 20:30-31]  Our lives, too, are not about us, as much as we might think that they are.

In conclusion, consider upon whom Stanley places the emphasis, whether on you, the sinner, or on Christ, the Savior, by how he summarizes what “matters.”

In summarizing what “matters,” Stanley does rightly say, “It doesn’t matter how much you own, who seeks your counsel, the power you wield, the honors you’ve earned, or the number of people who know your name.”  Regrettably, though, he does say, “What matters is the love and obedience you have for God” (emphasis mine).  Yet what of God’s grace and mercy in Christ?  Where is Christ in Stanley’s answer and summary of what matters?  Is God’s unmerited favor and boundless kindness dependent upon our love and our obedience that we have for God?  If it is, then woe to us, for then, we are still in our sin.

Thanks be to God that your confidence[11] and mine is not at all dependent on you or your works[12] or my own, or your influence on others (good or bad), but on Christ, upon whom the Father declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)!


[1] “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” [Note that Peter does not discount the necessity of good works, but these are distinguished from God’s work in Christ (and death), which alone is the means of our redemption] (All Scripture quotations are from the NKJV)

[2] “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” [Whose “influence” is greater here?  Who alone provides the help and salvation we so desperately]

[3] “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”

[4] “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

[5] “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’”

[6] “But the word of the LORD endures forever.”

[7] “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” [Note: Attention given to the “great cloud of witnesses” was not made in order to move Christians to have greater influence on others, but rather, that they, too, focus on Jesus and not on their own works.]

[8] John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”

Acts 4:12 “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

1 Timothy 2:5-6 “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all…”

[9] “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”

[10] “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

[11] Romans 5:1-2 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

[12] Galatians 3:9-14 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith.’ Yet the law is not of faith, but ‘the man who does them shall live by them.’ Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

 

 

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4 Responses

  1. Pastor
    It seems that many of these “Christian” writers inject ideas that have the “you”, “me”, “I”, etc. in their works. The average lay-person, like me, has a difficult time discerning the right and wrong doctrines. For me, to prevent me falling or following them, reading their books, etc., I stick with the LCMS Pastors writings and blogs.

    When I was in my 20’s (now 65) I read books by Norman Vincent Peale, and other “Christian” pastors and writers. I stayed with the LCMS all my life but found out after a few years that some of these works were self-directed of self-improving by us doing something.

    Times have not changed but more writings are available than ever before. There are the likes of Joel Osteen who really gets many people to follow his wrongly conceived religion. (I can’t call that Christian when most of the time he directs a person to themselves.)

    Still, I rely on Orthodox LCMS pastors such as yourself to direct me to the appropriate book, Bible passage, and especially, how God does everything. Thank you so very much for your blog.

    • The injected ideas of “you,” “me,” “I,” etc. are often in error, due to the common use of these words. Often, they either do not speak rightly about our sinfulness, or they might speak in half-truths. Be watchful with LCMS pastors, too, as we have the “bug” of the sinful human nature, too. Compare what is preached, written, said, etc. with the Word, centered on Christ (i.e. John 5:39). I agree with you concerning Osteen (and others). I, too, would not call them Christian, except perhaps in “name” (or claim) only.

      I thank you for your encouragement. How is your pastor?

      • Yes, I do also watch all pastors in our church body, too, but have found little error 🙂 Our late pastor, whom was with us over 30 years, said more than a few times that we are always to check what HE said with the Bible. I, learned that from him. In general though, our pastors keep to the Word and doctrine. I point this fact out to people who tell me that they want to go to “non-denominational”; they will have to constantly check the pastor’s preaching all the time.

        On our pastor,he is great! He already helped my husband and I with counseling to see that forgiveness in marriage is essential. After a few private, then as a couple, discussions last fall, we seem to be much better than before in our 22 years together. By just this one thing, forgiveness, we’ve had more patience for each other, too.
        He is a new pastor, having just graduated in May 2013 from the Ft. Wayne Sem. and ordained at our church in July.
        I am handicapped and we are both deaf but speak and Pastor Bill understands. He comes here once a month for me to have communion if I cannot be there in church. He is Orthodox LCMS, like yourself, and has nice service and sermon.
        I did not have high expectations of a new pastor and I was wrong. He studied for 8 years he said and always wanted to be a pastor. God just knew who our little congregation needed.
        We now have 55 people coming vs. 40 people. I am still praying that we could get back more yet.
        We feel very blessed to have an energetic pastor given to us. Pls. keep us in your prayers as we will for your church, too.

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