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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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The Christian’s boast is in Christ

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — that, as it is written,

“He who boasts, let him boast in the LORD.”

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

 

Christians are a peculiar people. They live in the flesh.  They live in the world.  But they are not of the world.  They live by faith in Jesus Christ (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17, etc.).  Jesus is their confidence.  He alone is their boast and their glory.

Whether having little or much, we learn, by God’s grace, that it matters not whether we have abundance or lack (Philippians 4:13).  Having Christ, we have everything we need, for what is more needful than God’s judgment and condemnation for our sin subsiding?  What greater need does the sinner have before God but to have that sin atoned for, taken away, and not counted against the sinner?

Nothing compares to what we have in Christ Jesus.  Nothing!  Nothing in the world at all approaches the grace of God.  And yet, we take it for granted.  We neglect the forgiveness of our sins and consider it an insignificant thing to replace Christ with our own interests, activities, and life.  We neglect the hearing of God’s Word.  We complain and grumble that things are not the way that we think things should be.  We seek our own way out of trouble rather than waiting on the Lord (Psalm 27:14).  In effect, we boast and glory in our own accomplishments, trying to make them our own, and consider God to be our servant, imploring Him to do our bidding instead of we being His servants and seeking to do His bidding according to His Word.  We fret and get all worked up because God does not do things our way and thus, we lose sight of God’s ways for our own and in the process, call our ways good and God’s ways evil.

Through Isaiah the prophet, God speaks of this when He declares, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And prudent in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21)

Instead of putting yourselves before God and His ways, like Peter who wanted nothing of a suffering Christ and who was rightly rebuked (Matthew 16:21-23), be mindful of the things of God, not the things of men (see also Colossians 3:1-4ff).  Consider who you are in the light of God’s Holy Law—a sinner, a sinner in need of God’s salvation in Christ; a sinner for whom Christ died, willingly, that you might live.

Consider now your place as God’s blessed child, having been baptized into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Consider that you are no longer your own, but God’s child, purchased with the price of Christ’s blood (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23; 1 Peter 1:18-19).

Now that you know that God is “for you” in Christ, and that nothing can separate you from God’s love in Christ (Romans 8), so now live.  Live in confidence!  Should even Satan stand against you, he cannot prevail, for Christ is victor!  Since such is the case, what need you fear the things of this life?  “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

You have no reason not to boast and glory in Christ, for God forgives your sins, you have eternal life promised you, and you belong to your Heavenly Father.  God is your God!  Salvation is yours!

Luther

“Now Christians know their boast in Christ, not that we are rich and worth a fortune, nor that we win a kingdom and principality, but that through Christ we become loosed from sins, from death and the devil and are established in hope.  So to this extent, we are brought into the eternal kingdom and we boast that we have a gracious God and Father because we are baptized and believe in the man who can give us eternal life, of whom no Turk, no divisive spirit, no bishop or the pope, no prince, no teacher or false saint and in summary, the whole world, knows nothing.” (Geo. Link, Luther’s Family Devotions, 644)

Prayer: Dear Jesus, forgive us for our pride before you, lamenting that we do not have what we think we ought and for seeking what you do not promise.  Help us to recognize and believe that You only are our everything, and that having You, we need no more, for You will provide and care for us of Your bountiful mercies.  Amen.

Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ…)

Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me

Galatians 1:1-2

To the Christians in Thessalonica, St. Paul wrote, “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

The Christian Thessalonians, when they heard the Word from Paul and his companions, they accepted it as God’s Word.  How foolish they would have been not to do so!  Paul wasn’t preaching his own Word, but the very Word that the Lord gave him to speak.

So also with preachers today, preachers who do indeed preach only according to the Word!  It is them you are to hear.  They direct you to God and His Word.  They direct you to Christ.  If any preacher direct you elsewhere, then he is not a faithful preacher of Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23).

The servant of the Lord preaches God’s Word.  He doesn’t just say that he does; he actually does.  This doesn’t imply perfection.  But it does indeed indicate that he preaches nothing else than Jesus, for only in God’s Son do you have the hope of eternal life.

It would be foolish to listen to another, to another who doesn’t preach God’s Word and Jesus our Savior!

Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).

The Lord’s sheep hear His Word.  Thus do they go to hear where the Lord’s Word is truly preached and spoken.  Thus do they rejoice and give thanks for Godly ministers who really do preach the truth.  And that’s where they go—not because of the man, but because of the Word!

Luther

What does Paul intend by this bragging?  I reply: This doctrine has as its purpose that every minister of the Word of God should be sure of his calling.  In the sight of both God and man he should boldly glory that he preaches the Gospel as one who has been called and sent.  Thus the king’s emissary boasts and glories that he does not come as a private person but as the emissary of the king.  Because of this dignity as the king’s emissary he is honored and given the position of highest honor, which he would never receive if he were to come as a private person…When Paul commends his calling so highly, he is not arrogantly seeking his own praise, as some people suppose; he is elevating his ministry with a necessary and a holy pride…He has to do this to maintain his authority, so that those who hear this may be more attentive and more willing to listen to him.  For they are not listening to Paul; but in Paul they are listening to Christ Himself and to God the Father, who sends him forth…Just as men should devoutly honor the authority and majesty of God, so they should reverently receive and listen to His messengers, who bring His Word. (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p16)

Prayer: Lead us, heavenly Father, to rejoice and give thanks for Your Holy Word, through which You, according to Your abundant mercy, make known to us our salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.  Help us to uphold and encourage those who preach the truth, that we honor them rightly as Your called and ordained servants.  Amen.

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