How Christians Can Positively Impact Others
Do you know what it’s like walking on a bright sunny day into a dark movie theater? You may remark about how dark it is and you probably had to stand in the back for a few minutes until your eyes adjusted to the darkness. Before long, you could see without difficulty. Indeed, you seemed to be able to see “normally,” until you walked out into the sunlight again and the bright glare forced you to cover your eyes.
Christians are in the same predicament. We live in a dark world, where sin is the rule, not the exception. As the “children of the light” we must be on our guard not to become so accustomed to the world’s darkness that we think it’s normal and conform to its guidelines. It’s not normal! The moral confusion and spiritually dim insight of the world is not the standard that the Christian disciple is to walk in or live by.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:13-16).
The world can be divided into two kinds of people:
- Devoted disciples indwelt by the Spirit of God – “the children of light” (Eph. 5:8);
- Those deceived and enslaved by the god of this world – “the children of darkness.” They’re proud, self-sufficient and don’t understand their own sinfulness before a Holy God. Jesus put it this way: “Men love darkness rather than light...” (John 3:19).
Before we discuss how as Christians we can influence others, we have to examine the true nature of a Christian. Jesus describes these people in Matthew 5:3-12. We’ve come to know these verses as the Be (autiful) Attitudes.
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness…
What Does It Mean To Be Blessed?
The word blessed is often used of God Himself. David ended Psalms 68 with the declaration “Blessed be God!” Blessedness is a characteristic of God; we can only be characterized this way when we share in the divine nature. There is no blessedness, contentment or joy of the kind that Jesus is talking about here, except that which comes from a personal relationship to Him. Being blessed means having God’s nature within. 2 Peter 1:4 – through God’s promises we are “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”
So, to be blessed isn’t a superficial feeling of well-being based on circumstance, but a deep supernatural experience of contentment based on the fact that our life is right with God. Blessed people are: the people who realize their spiritual helplessness, show sorrow over sin and who are meek (submitted to God’s authority), hungry for God’s righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted because of Christ. Blessed people are the ones who make up the kingdom of heaven. The great blessings emphasized in Matthew 5:3-12 lead to the great responsibilities of Matthew 5:13-16 to be “salt” and “light” in a corrupt and dark world.
What Does It Mean To Be Salt And Light In The World?
The world needs salt because it’s morally corrupt and it needs light because it’s darkened in understanding. G. Campbell Morgan said, “Jesus, looking out over the multitudes of His day, saw the corruption, the disintegration of life at every point, its breakup, its spoilation; and because of His love of the multitudes, He knew the thing that they needed most was SALT in order that the corruption should be arrested. He saw them also wrapped in gloom, sitting in darkness, groping amid mists and fogs. He knew that they needed, above everything else,… LIGHT.”
The biblical worldview is that the world is corrupted and decayed, that it’s dark and getting darker. Paul stated in 2 Timothy 3:13 that “Evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Man is infected with sin, which has no cure apart from God. The world loves its own way and hates God’s way. Because of Christ, believers are those who belong to God and are eager to do what is good (Titus 2:14).
What is the difference between believers and unbelievers? One is spiritually alive and one is spiritually dead. The believer influences the unbeliever by what he is, not by what he has. In Matthew 5:13 Christ didn’t say, “You have salt and light to dispense,” but rather “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13, 14). The believer’s very presence in the world acts as salt and light, preventing moral corruption and exposing error. The only question, as Jesus goes on to say, is whether or not we are “tasteful salt” (13) and “visible light” (14).
2 Corinthians 2:14-16a says, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life…”
Returning back to Matthew 5:13-14, the “you” in both verses is plural. It’s His whole body, the church, which is called to be the world’s salt and light. Each person has ones own limited influence, but the church collectively-the city on a hill is to have an influence throughout the world. Christ is: 1) the source of our savor, and 2) the source of our light.
In John 9:5 Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” But now that He has physically left this world for a time, His light now shines through His Body – the church.
- Colossians 1:13: “For He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,…”
- Ephesians 5:8: “For you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk (live) as children of light.” We are God’s salt to retard the moral corruption and His light to reveal the spiritual truth about Him (2 Cor. 3:3). God has changed us from being part of the corrupted/corrupting world to being salt that can help preserve it. God has transferred us from the kingdom of darkness to His Kingdom, to be His agents of light and love to others.
By definition, an influence must be different from that which it influences, and Christians therefore must be distinctively and delightfully different from the world they’re called to influence. We can’t influence the world for God when we are worldly ourselves. We can’t give light to the world if we hide our light and revert to a lifestyle of darkness ourselves.
Now salt is often used as a preservative. Rubbed into meat, a little salt will slow decay. Strictly speaking salt can’t lose its saltiness; sodium chloride is a stable compound. So what was Jesus talking about when he talked about the salt losing its saltiness? Most salt in the ancient world derived from salt marshes or the like rather than by evaporation of salt water, and therefore contained many impurities. Much salt in Palestine, such as that found on the shores of the Dead Sea, is contaminated with gypsum and other minerals that make it taste flat or even repulsive. The salt, being more soluble than the impurities, could leach out; leaving a residue diluted and of little worth. When a batch of such contaminated salt found its way into a household and was discovered, it was thrown out. People would be careful not to throw it on a garden, because it would kill whatever was planted. Instead it would be thrown onto a path or road, where it would gradually be ground into the dirt and disappear.
Jesus isn’t speaking here of losing salvation. John 10:27-28: “My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.”
Christians can’t lose their salvation, just as salt can’t lose its inherent saltiness. But Christians can lose their value and effectiveness in the kingdom when sin and worldliness contaminate their lives, just as salt can become tasteless when contaminated by other minerals. So Jesus is implying that His disciples have a particular function to perform on earth and if they fail to perform it, they might as well not exist for all the good they will do (1 Cor. 9:27).
Since the disciples are spoken of as the salt of the earth in the same context of the Sermon on the Mount in which they are also spoken of as the light of the world and a city set on a hill, it’s evidently their public life that’s in view. They must be seen by others as living examples of the power and grace of God, examples which others are encouraged to follow. If we don’t evidence the love and truth that others want or need, why would they emulate us?
Light, too, is in danger of becoming useless. Like salt, it can’t lose its essential nature. A hidden light is still light, but it’s useless. That is why people don’t light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a lamp stand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. A light that’s hidden under a bushel basket is of no use at all to the person hiding it or anyone else. If we don’t do God’s will, God’s way, for God’s glory, all our efforts will be in vain! (1 Cor. 15:58)
Jesus concludes by telling His disciples to let their light “shine before men in such a way that they may see their good works, and glorify their Father who is in heaven” (vs.14). The word for “good” that Jesus uses here emphasizes attractiveness and beautiful appearance. The purpose of letting our light shine and reveal our good works is not to bring attention or praise to ourselves but to bring glory to God.
Our intent should be that, in what we are and in what we do, others may see God “in order that they may glorify [our] Father who is in heaven.” Everything we do should be done to cause others to give praise to God who is the source of all that’s good. That’s the kind of “salt” and “light” God wants His kingdom people to be. That’s what it means to glorify God.
What Does It Mean To Be Separated From The World?
If we are going to influence our culture, we need to realize that salt needs to be separated from other earthly elements to reach its purest form. Does this mean believers must be physically separated from unbelievers?
Jesus didn’t say that, on the contrary, he said in John 17:15, 18: “I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one…. As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”
Lest we become like salt to be thrown out, as long as we indwell these earthly bodies, we need to remember that:
- Colossians 3:1-5: “If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.“
- 2 Corinthians 6:14-18: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership has righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord. And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me, Says the Lord Almighty.” Lest we need any further motivation, listen to 2 Corinthians 5:9-10: “Therefore also we have as our ambition, [is] to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
Separation from the world is a very important responsibility for every Christian. Permit me to share with you a few brief points that can be related to being salt and light in our corrupt and darkened world. We can’t be salty salt and visible light if we allow ourselves to be adversely influenced by the culture.
Separation from the world has always been one of the evidences of God’s work of grace in the heart. Those who have really been born again will see the need to separate from the world, whereas those who are nominal Christians always refuse to come out and be separate. The subject is especially important today, because many are trying to make Christianity as easy as possible and to avoid the need for repentance and self-denial. The world and its lusts are a source of great spiritual danger for they wage war against our souls.
By the world, I don’t mean the physical world in which we live. When I speak of the world I mean all that is evil and against God. The world involves systemic evil and includes all ungodly people, together with their way of life, opinions, tastes, ambitions and outlook. Because this world is so dangerous, we must be spiritually separate.
What does God’s Word say about the world? (See appendix for more verses.)
- James 4:4: “…don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
- 1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”These texts are clear. No rational person can deny that they teach that the world is the Christian’s enemy. Moreover, Christian experience confirms this. The greatest damage to Christ’s cause is the love of the world. Thousands who think they are Christians get shipwrecked here. They don’t deliberately choose evil, or reject any biblical doctrine. But they love the world instead of separating from it. It’s their love of the world which leads them down the broad way of destruction. In fleeing the destruction of Sodom, what happened to Lot’s wife? (Gen. 19:26)
What Separation From The World Doesn’t Mean
Let me now show you what separation from the world doesn’t mean. It’s important to be clear about this, for sometimes we can do great harm by acting on a false understanding of what separation from the world means.
- It doesn’t mean that we should give up our vocation or occupation in the world. Cornelius the soldier, Luke the doctor, and Zenas the lawyer are examples of men in secular work. It’s sinful to be idle and idleness often leads us into temptation. We mustn’t give up any honorable occupation. What we ought to do is to take Christ with us into our places of employment in the world.
- It doesn’t mean that we should not associate with unconverted people. Jesus was a friend of sinners. He went to a marriage feast and had a meal in a Pharisee’s house. In 1 Corinthians 10:27 Paul tells us how to behave if an unbeliever invites us to a feast. He doesn’t tell us not to go. We mustn’t cut ourselves off from opportunities of doing good. If Christ is with us wherever we go, we may be the means of helping others without harming ourselves.
- It doesn’t mean that we should take no interest in anything except reading the Bible. You may think it’s spiritual to neglect science, art, literature and politics, to read no books except spiritual ones, to read no newspapers and to know nothing about our government. I think that is an idle and selfish neglect of duty. Paul valued good government (1 Tim. 2:2); he quoted heathen writers in his sermons; he knew the laws and customs of the world, as we see from his illustrations. Christians who pride themselves on their ignorance bring Christianity into contempt.
- It doesn’t mean that we should be eccentric in our dress, manners or speech. We should never attract attention to ourselves by these things. There’s no reason to suppose that Jesus and His disciples dressed and behaved differently from others of their own culture. The Lord condemned the Pharisees for trying to appear more holy, spiritual or righteous than they truly were by what they wore and the way they acted.
- It doesn’t mean that we should retreat from society and live in solitude. We can’t keep the devil out of our hearts by retreating into a corner. True Christianity and un-worldliness are better seen when we bravely stand our ground and show the power of grace to overcome evil, than when we forsake the post where God has placed us.
- It doesn’t mean that we should withdraw from every church that’s imperfect. In all Paul’s letters we see the faults and corruption of churches reproved, but we’re never told to leave those churches because they were not perfect.
We need to consider these six points carefully. Many people make mistakes in relation to each of them. Much misery and unhappiness is caused by those mistakes. Here are two pieces of advice (especially if you are a young Christian).
- We must win the right to be heard, and when we do we must speak the truth in love. Some may think it’s right to quarrel with all our unconverted relatives, cut off all our friends, withdraw completely from society, give up every act of normal courtesy and devote our self entirely to the direct work of Christ. It may satisfy one’s conscience and save some trouble. But often it’s a selfish, unloving and lazy way of behaving.
- Being separate from the world doesn’t mean that we have a sour, unattractive, unpleasant way of behaving. We need to strive to show others that our faith in Christ makes us cheerful, agreeable, good-tempered, unselfish, considerate of others and ready to take an interest in everything that’s virtuous and good. Let there be no needless separation. We need to be separate from the world, but in the right way. So…
What Does Separation From The World Really Mean?
- We must consistently refuse to be guided by the world’s standard of right and wrong. We shouldn’t do things just because everybody else does them. We must be: a) Christ centered, b) biblically-based, and c) culturally relevant.
- We must be careful how we spend our leisure time, for it can be a time of temptation. We need to be careful how we spend our evenings and make sure that we always make time alone with God: for Bible reading and prayer.
- We must consistently resolve not to be swallowed up and absorbed by the secular of the world (2 Tim. 2:3, 4). As Christians we must strive to do our earthly business to the very best of our ability. But we must not allow it to come between us and Christ. If you are too busy for worshipping and serving God, you are too busy!
- We must be moderate in our use of healthy recreation. We all need recreation, both for our bodies and minds. But even good recreations become wrong when they take up an inordinate amount of our time, money or attention. We must abstain from entertainment that’s inseparably connected with sin (i.e., establish movie standards).
- We must be careful about close relationships with unhealthy people. I’m not saying we should have nothing to do with unconverted people, quite the contrary. But they shouldn’t be our primary reference group. If we choose for our close friends, people who care nothing about salvation, Jesus, or the Bible, we’ll hinder our spiritual progress. We should be able to realize that our unregenerate friend’s tastes and ways are not the same as ours, and we will have to choose between the two. “Do not be deceived, bad company ruins good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).
- We must realize this principle has special application when it comes to choosing a spouse. We can’t choose a worldly partner without doing immense harm to our spiritual life or happiness. If you’re not yet married, resolve that you won’t even consider marrying someone who is not a fully devoted follower of Christ (no missionary dating).
What should we do when we are uncertain how to properly apply these principles? First, we should pray for wisdom (Jas. 1:5). God is always with us and will help us make the right choice. We need to ask ourselves which course of action we would want to be found pursuing when Christ comes again. Also, it’s helpful to consider how other godly Christians have behaved in similar circumstances. If we can’t clearly see our own way, it’s not wrong to follow good or godly examples.
I’ll close with a story. Before the colonialists imposed national boundaries on Laos and Vietnam, the kings of Laos and Vietnam reached an agreement on taxation in the border areas. Those who ate short-grain rice, built their houses on stilts, and decorated them with Indian-style serpents were considered Laotians. On the other hand, those who ate long-grain rice, built their houses on the ground, and decorated them with Chinese-style dragons were considered Vietnamese. The exact location of a person’s home wasn’t what determined his or her nationality. Instead, each person belonged to the kingdom whose cultural values he or she exhibited. So it is with us: We live in the world, but as part of God’s kingdom, we’re to live according to the values of His Kingdom. How about you?
Do you subscribe to the secular values of this world or the spiritual values of God’s Kingdom?
Appendix: Scriptures Concerning the World, Christ and the Christian
- Romans 12:2 – “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:12 – “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”
- Galatians 1:4 – “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age according to the will of our God and Father…”
- Ephesians 2:2 – “…in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”
- 2 Timothy 4:10 – “…for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.”
- James 1:27 – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
- James 4:4 – “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
- 1 John 2:15-17– “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”
- 1 John 3:1– “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”
- 1 John 4:5 – “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world and the world listens to them.”
- 1 John 5:4 – “…everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world…our faith.”
- 1 John 5:19 – “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”
- John 17:16 – “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”
- Matthew 13:22 – “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”
- John 8:23 – “But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.”
- John 14:17 – “…the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
- John 15:18-19 – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
- John 16:33 – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”