How could it be that Joseph, the eleventh son of his father and sold into slavery was raised up to have influence over all of Egypt? How does it happen that David, a mere shepherd boy, and youngest son can become the greatest king of Israel? How can a man by the name of Jesus walk up to Simon and Andrew and ask them to “come, follow me”, whereby they left their fishing nets and followed this stranger?
The answer is simple – each of these men was chosen by God and had a relationship with God. The level of their relationship affected their influence upon others, and the level they were influenced by others.
Whether in our workplace, school, church or family, influence is something that we all desire. Influence in itself, however, should not be taken lightly as it is defined as the power to produce change. Many gain influence through money, popularity or charisma, and most use their influence to push their own ideals, opinions or agendas so that they feel or seem more powerful.
Real influence can only be established by the authority invested in us for a given situation. This authority, or power, then produces change passively rather than aggressively.
So often we have heard from the pulpit or read about having an impact on the world around us. After all, Jesus did say, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
This command has incorrectly become “go and get all of the world saved,” rather than “go, disciple and influence the nations, bringing everything under the authority and power of the one true God.” This misinterpretation has got us so excited about “doing” something for God that we have designed programs and created situations whereby we can have an “impact” on the community and see people “saved.” Our goal is often, but not always, to meet people, have an impact, and see them become part of the church. Unfortunately, seeing people born again or saved is not the ultimate purpose of God, it is only a part of Jesus command.
How do I influence the world for Christ then?
Many of us try our hardest to build relationships with those around us and ultimately influence them to follow Christ. We put so much effort and energy into getting people “saved” that it is frustrating that the message doesn’t seem to be getting through. Word for word we follow procedures and guidelines as set out in books or preached to us, but nothing seems to be happening. It seems we are sometimes able to establish some good friendships and spend some quality time with others, but that is about the extent of our efforts. If we are successful in getting somebody “saved”, we then defer our focus to somebody else, because we have achieved our goal.
To us it seems implausible that others would not want to receive “eternal life” by accepting Christ. Equally, it feels so unfair that others tend to have a far greater impact on others lives. Unfortunately we have become so hung up on the result of getting someone to the first step of repentance or being born again that we forget, or disregard what salvation actually is, and whom it belongs to.
Scripture tells us that salvation is a personal, ongoing process. Salvation is not simply repenting of sins once and then your life will be changed, it is a lifelong commitment to live for Christ and develop a relationship with him.
12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13).
Many went to the Jordan to be baptised by John as a sign of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. However, as Nicodemus found out, simple repentance from sin and being “born again” is not enough to enter into the Kingdom of God. It will help us to see it, but it does not give us entry.
1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a good teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
4”How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9”How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10”You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 12If I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”
Nicodemus wanted to understand the process of salvation, but he was hindered from receiving the fullness of Jesus’ response because of the limitations of his human thinking. He was a man of influence, Israel’s teacher, but he could not grasp the concept that salvation was not a religious act, but in fact a divine act of God. What Nicodemus struggled to hold onto was that salvation does not belong to a person, institution, set of religious rules, or to man, but salvation belongs to God.
9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)
1After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2for true and just are his judgements.” (Revelation 19:1-2)
Scripture confirms God as the owner of our salvation, and that all glory and power belong to him as well. However, we must let go of our notion that leading people to repentance (getting them saved) is, in fact, leading them to eternal life. Paul makes it clear that we must continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12-13). We need to understand that true salvation does lead to eternal life, but it is a lifelong process that an individual must walk through together with God, and not a single act of repentance.
What then, is eternal life?
A simple definition of eternal life would be living forever. Equally, those that are cast into hell are also confronted with eternal life, although this will involve constant torment. Living forever is not sufficient to describe what Jesus was talking about when he talked of eternal life. His prayer to the Father in the gospel of John describes a quality of relationship with God, rather than simply living forever.
1After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:
“Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2For you granted Him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you have me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (John 17:1-5)
The word “know” used in this text describes far more than believing in God. Rather, it describes an intimate knowledge of, or relationship with the person described, in this case being God and Jesus Christ.
1And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. (Genesis 4:1 KJV)
Paul uses “knowledge of God” to describe a person’s relationship with God. Without this relationship we do not have eternal life. He describes the knowledge of God as riches in his letter to the Romans.
33O, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements, and his ways past finding out!
(Romans 11:33 KJV)
As a contrast to a relationship with God being riches, Paul also tells those that were part of the church in Corinth but did not have a relationship with God to sin no more.
34Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:34 KJV)
Here, Paul was talking to the church members who believed they were “saved”, but they had still not “awaken to righteousness.” He goes on to describe the need to use our spiritual weapons against all strongholds and areas in our lives that keep us from furthering our relationship with God.
4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
(2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
Paul then describes the importance of growing in relationship with God in order to please Him and receive the inheritance set apart for the saints, as he continually prayed for the church.
9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:9-12)
Those with hardened hearts have no knowledge of the Lord and therefore no relationship with Him. This leaves them exposed to sin (1 Cor 15:34) and the Judgements of God leading to a lifetime of torment because of their inability to soften themselves before the Lord.
2Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2)
Pharaoh’s hardness led to the many plagues and judgements in Egypt because he refused to let the people of God go. His selfishness and pride became the stronghold that held Israel back from moving on in God at that time.
We can see that eternal life is something that requires our constant attention. In order to attain to eternal life, we must continually grow in relationship with God. We need to be open to Him and allow Him to work within us in order to fulfil what He desires. Moses gives us the perfect example of this. The current state of Moses’ relationship with God had no bearing on his desire to come into deeper relationship with His creator. He knew that it was only a deep and growing relationship with God that would lead him to salvation and eternal life.
11The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent. 12Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favour with me.’ 13If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you.” (Exodus 33:11-13)
Moses saw that a constant and intimate relationship with the Lord, more than simply doing good works, was what pertained to eternal life. Even though Moses had obviously found favour with God and was able to speak to God as to a friend, he knew that he needed to continue building his relationship unto eternal life. He wanted the Lord to teach him His ways so that he could understand the mysteries of God and enter into His eternal Kingdom.
Jesus clarified what Moses understood thousands of years earlier when he said,
21”Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day (day of Judgement), ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
From this scripture it is clear that however hard we try to please God, even if we do everything in the name of Jesus, our “salvation” does not give us automatic passage to eternal life and the Kingdom of Heaven. The most important aspect of doing the will of the Father is to build on our relationship with Jesus Christ.
5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.”
Noah, Joseph, Moses, David and Jesus are names known and acknowledged in both Christian and secular society. These are all known because of the influence they had on culture and society, and how they transformed the world around them.
The constant among them all was their relationship with God. Noah was not a famous boat builder, but a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. (Genesis 6:9) The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favour in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household and he entrusted to his care everything he owned (Genesis 39:2-4). Moses spoke face to face with God, as to a friend (Exodus 33:11). David had a heart after God (1 Samuel 13:14) and Jesus was the Son of God. Without the relationship they had with God, they would simply be men of history and not have the influence they continue to have in this day.
We would not have the opportunity to know of Jesus, be able to establish a relationship with him or have influence upon others if it were not for the original disciples of Jesus. If they had not continued in their relationship with God after the death of Jesus, the message and influence of Jesus would not be with us today. These people were with Jesus for 3 years, learning and being influenced by him. Because of Jesus’ influence on them, they were able to influence the entire world.
Whether those mentioned above were at a high or low point in their lives was of no consequence. These men all maintained and continued to develop a close relationship with their creator that gave them a mighty influence upon others. Their influence was established by the authority invested in them by God through relationship with Him.
It is the same with us today. If we truly desire to see God’s Kingdom come on the earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10), and go, disciple and influence the nations, bringing everything under the authority and power of the one true God, then we must continue to pursue and develop a deeper relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
The choice is yours.
23Then he (Jesus) said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father of the holy angels. 27I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:23-27)
It is simply not enough to say, “I am a Christian”, and expect automatic passage to eternal life. It will also not give us any influence over others. We must submit ourselves daily to the will of God and further our relationship with Him through our devotion and actions. We must forfeit our lives, lay down our agendas and opinions and allow God’s authority to rule in our lives.
It is here that we will gain influence with others, because it is no longer our influence but God’s. It is simply not enough to attend church and try and get others there as well. We need to allow God to influence our lives with daily devotion, prayer, worship, study and discipleship so that we will also be able to help others understand what salvation and eternal life truly are.
Authority and power can only be invested in us by the relationship we have with God, and then by the relationship we have with others. In other words, the level of our relationship with God affects the amount of influence we have with others.