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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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Christ is No New Lawgiver

The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Luke 19:10

Christ is no new lawgiver.  The Bible is more than just a book of do’s and don’ts.  It is the precious book of salvation, as is Christ the precious Savior of the sinner.

Though Jesus does indeed accuse, convict, and condemn by the Law, so much more does He acquit, forgive, and save by means of the Gospel.  He speaks words of sins forgiven to those who are troubled and laid low by what they have done, what they think, and by their own sinful wants and desires.

Come seeking Christ to be a judge of your sin, and so shall He be.  The Law of God is too firm to be shaken, too fixed to be flexible, and too solid to be moved.  You can’t undo what undoable.  You can’t avoid what is unavoidable.  The only thing you can do before the Law is plead for God to be merciful.

Should you not see yourself as God sees you, then you will fail to see your absolute dependence on God’s mercy in Christ.  Should you not see yourself as God sees you according to His Law (The Ten Commandments), then you will surely not see your dire need for Jesus to be your Savior, and you will reject God’s abundant love towards you.

On the other hand, should you see yourself as God sees you, you will thus see yourself rightly.  And listening to His Word, you will know how utterly lost your situation is of yourself.  Nothing you do can change how God sees you.  Nothing you change can alter your standing before God.  If it were up to you, all would truly be lost!

Yet by God’s mercy, your standing before God is not up to you.  By God’s mercy, how God sees you is not up to you.

Reject Christ and His Word and before God, there is only that accusing, convicting, and condemning Word of Law which will ring in your ears.  But hear Christ and His blessed Word of forgiveness, life, and salvation, and there is only that acquitting, forgiving, and saving Word of the Gospel.

By God’s mercy your standing before God remains upon Christ.  By God’s mercy, how God sees you is how God the Father sees His Son.  Now, the Father’s words of His Son are also the Father’s words on you, “This is my son, in whom I am pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

In Christ, then, the Father finds you and saves you.  In Christ, no longer are you lost, but found.  And in Christ, your salvation is sure.

Luther

“If Christ gave Himself into death for our sins, then undoubtedly He is not a tormentor. He is not One who will cast clown the troubled, but One who will raise up the fallen and bring propitiation and consolation to the terrified. Otherwise Paul would be lying when he says “who gave Himself for our sins.” If I define Christ this way, I define Him correctly, grasp the authentic Christ, and truly make Him my own. I avoid all speculations about the Divine Majesty and take my stand in the humanity of Christ. There is no fear here; there is sheer sweetness, joy, and the like. This kindles a light that shows me the true knowledge of God, of myself, of all creatures, and of all the wickedness of the kingdom of the devil.”  (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p39).

Prayer: Lord, help me to remain ever closer to Jesus, believing His precious promise of forgiveness to me a sinner.  Help me not falter in my faith, but all the more to seek Your abundant help in Christ my Savior.  Amen.

This is a faithful saying…

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

1 Timothy 1:15

It is an easy thing to see what others do and to lay blame, point the finger, and criticize.  It is also an easy thing to look at another’s faults without also seeing one’s own.  This habit is common to all sinners.  We notice what others do or do not do that is not to our liking, and we immediately make judgments.  We compare ourselves with others, using our own criteria as the measuring stick.

God works differently.  St. Paul the Apostle writes that, “There is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11).  He judges all the same with the same judgment—guilty as charged, having fault, condemned (Romans 3:23).

This means, that before God, as the Bible says, “There is none righteous” (Romans 3:10).  All of us are in the same boat.  One is not better than another.  Nor is one worse than another.  There are only sinners here.

But the Good News is that, because of Christ, God does not hold that damning, condemning, judging sin against you.  Though everyone stands before God a sinner, on account of Christ, that very same sin which condemns no longer condemns.  Christ has born that judgment for you.  He did this on the cross when He was crucified.  There, He took away your sins that they no longer have the last word over you (Romans 6:14).  You still struggle with them, and with judging others as more sinful than yourself, but in light of God’s Law, all are humbled (or will be), either at the present, or in time to come.  Thus do we learn that it is not what we say of others that is final (nor of what others say about us), but what God says.  This and this alone is of lasting significance.

If God calls you a sinner, so you must be.  If God declares you forgiven, so also must you be.

Therefore, instead of denying the truth as God so readily reveals through His Holy Word for your salvation, believe it.  Believe that you are a sinner as God makes known to you through His inescapable Law.  See yourselves as God sees you according to His Word.

Also, and especially, believe yourselves to be as God declares you to be on account of Jesus-forgiven, blessed of God, God’s own child. All this apart from what you have done or have not done.  All this because of Jesus (Romans 4).

Luther

“Do not permit your sins to be merely sins; let them be your very own sins. That is, believe that Christ was given not only for the sins of others but also for yours. Hold to this firmly, and do not let anything deprive you of this sweet definition of Christ, which brings joy even to the angels in heaven: that Christ is, in the strictest of terms, not a Moses, a tormentor, or an executioner but the Mediator for sins and the Donor of grace, who gave Himself, not for our merits, holiness, glory, and holy life but for our sins.”  (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p38).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me faith to believe that your Son’s death covers all of my sins.  Help me not to doubt or despair Your grace in Christ towards me, an undeserving sinner, because of the sin that I know or feel.  Strengthen my confidence in You.  Amen.

LUke 18:9-17, The Tax Collector and the Pharisee

The tax collector’s need was nothing but God’s compassion and mercy. He had nothing else upon which to lean. He was without hope and without help. The world could do nothing for him. He was a sinner, an outcast, a publican—the one that no one wanted to be with or around—the one that no one wanted to be like.

Yet he recognized and acknowledged his lost condition. And on the Lord alone he sought help and pardon and peace for his transgressions—for all that he had done wrong and for all that he had not done right. He turned to the Lord alone for forgiveness, entrusting and commending himself to God’s mercy for salvation from his sin. And there—and only there—he had it.

The tax collector, Jesus says, Went down to his house justified. The other, however, the self-righteous Pharisee, did not.

The self-righteous Pharisee was not at all like the tax collector. He didn’t even see himself as a sinner before God, let alone the sinner, as the humble tax collector had. Instead, he actually thanked God that he was not like the tax collector.

Rather than humble himself before God and demonstrate a true faith by seeking God’s compassion and mercy according to His Word and promise (for this is what true faith does), the Pharisee instead demonstrated crass unbelief and idolatry by rejecting any need for forgiveness or further kindness from God. It was as if the Pharisee believed that God was to thank him for being as he was, that God should reward him for what he did, that he himself was God’s gift to the world.

Lk18.9-17, Pentecost 22, 2010C.pdf

Luke 14:1-14, “Dining with Jesus”

Moved by the Holy Spirit, the writer of Proverbs wrote, The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; He who keeps his way preserves his soul. Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, Than to divide the spoil with the proud. He who heeds the word wisely will find good, And whoever trusts in the LORD, happy is he (Proverbs 16:17-20).

True humility is a rare bird. It is on the endangered species list in our day. Many people talk about it and admire it, but few actually practice it.

Lk14.1-14, Pentecost 14, 2010C.pdf

Comment on an advertisement for the movie “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry”

An advertisement for the movie, “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry” reads, “There have already been hundreds of decisions for Christ as a direct result of watching this movie.”  This could actually be a sad commentary on the movie.  I haven’t seen the movie, but such an ad is reason for caution.

That phrase, “decision for Christ,” carries the baggage of a false theology of conversion.  It advances the belief that we ourselves can “make a decision.”  Though few might believe this, the phrase itself cannot but lead to such conclusions.

The Bible says that “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and that there are none righteous, “no, not one” (Romans 3:10).  The Psalmist states, “There is none who does good” (Psalm 14:1).  Isaiah writes, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).

Since the Fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, just as recorded in the book of Genesis, man is unable to “decide” for God or for Christ.  Since the fall, man doesn’t have the “free will” that so many dream he has.  The sinner in his inherited sinful state hates God and doesn’t “fear, love, and trust” in Him above all things.

The only remedy for such a predicament is not “making a decision,” but Christ Himself, who through His Word creates faith in the heart (Romans 10:17).

Instead of “making a decision for Christ,” rather hear His Word preached, and there you will hear God’s goodness and kindness towards you in Christ—sins forgiven.

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