In the fog of war, whether at peace or in outright war, the special forces of the United States Armed Forces are called to engage in highly specialized, dangerous, and covert missions designed to protect the people of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. Many of these missions are done in the cover of night. Utilizing their special skill sets, Special Forces operators use their expertise, training, and abilities to accomplish missions. Through their training, they are given the ability to assess situations and given the tools to engage missions responsibly. With that said, these men are still men under authority. Their skill set and training have armed them to fulfill the orders of their superiors who in turn must answer to the Commander in Chief,the President of the United States.
Every Christian Is to Make Disciples
As Christians, we are people under authority; in fact, we are doubly owned. God owns us by virtue of being our Creator. We are doubly owned by virtue of Him being our Lord and Savior. Christians are no longer slaves to sin and enemies of God but friends of God who live before the face of God. As Christians, we affirm the Soli Deo Gloria which means we are made for the glory of God and to glorify God in all of life.
Everyone, no matter Christian or non-Christian wants to feel as if they are the master of their own fate and the captain of their soul. In a biblical worldview, Christians are no longer in bondage to the world but are friends and servants of Christ. They are in the world, but not of the world, even as they seek to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16; John 17). Christians have been called to be a set apart people (1 Peter 1:13-17). As a set-apart people, Christians are to be distinct from the world. We are to use whatever influence our sovereign God gives to us to spread the gospel and make disciples who make disciples. To the extent we influence anyone, we need to understand that we are to use it to spread the aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15) as ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). To that end, influence understood under a biblical worldview extends to the degree, we are biblical both in our approach to ministry, our motivation for ministry, and in our actual ministry towards others.
In a digital age, we need to understand the way we influence others is to be shaped and formed by Scripture. People can in a digital era such as ours “follow us” even as we point them not to ourselves, but to Christ. Paul told the Corinthians to, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Paul’s point here isn’t to make much of himself but the opposite. Paul wants people to follow him to the extent he follows Christ. He wants them to imitate him to the extent he follows Christ. Our influence is not absolute.
We are not the Lord Jesus. We are not without sin. But we serve Jesus who is without sin. He is like us and unlike us. Jesus lived a perfectly sinless life. He experienced the same sorrow, grief, pain, and the whole human range of emotions that we all do. Yet, He never sinned. Jesus also is unlike us in that He died the most brutal death in the place of sinners and for their sin, was buried, and rose again, and is soon returning. The writer of Hebrews highlights this for his readers, so they understand Jesus understands everything we go through and how we can come before Him who now summons us to come and pray before the throne of grace (Hebrews 2:17-18; Hebrews 4:14-16). To the extent that we have any influence at all, we should call people to follow Jesus in all of life.
In a digital age, we can be tempted to think we can follow and unfollow to our heart’s content. But those of us who follow Jesus know that the ultimate sign of success is that those who follow us are ultimately following Christ. The point of our lives is to aim people to Jesus and to make disciples of Jesus. Whether that means we have a few people who read our words or a massive following isn’t the point. The aim and goal of our lives is to aim our hearts first to Jesus so that others may be pointed to Him as our lives are rightly ordered, shaped, and molded by the gospel of Jesus contained in the Word of God. Faithfulness to Jesus over time demonstrating godly character builds trust in the people of God.
All Responsibility for the Christian Comes with Great Responsibility
All influence whether small or great comes with great responsibility. With that said, we also need to understand, we will be held accountable for whatever influence we have, how we use that influence, and to the degree, we point people to biblical truth and help people see, savor, and delight more in the finished and sufficient work of Jesus for all of life under Him.
In my experience, God can both increase and remove influence. When I was a young man, I was in a position of influence and was on a fast track towards pastoral ministry. In my early 20’s I was on a fast track to pastoral ministry. I was asked by a local pastor in northern Washington if I would come on as staff an intern at his church. At the time, though, I was not ready for this. Having being raised in a military family, I was taught that integrity matters so as a Christian I was to be a person of my word not just in words but also in action. In other words, integrity, I was taught from a young age, was a way of life.
When this pastor asked me to come on as an intern, I was enslaved to pornography. I politely asked the pastor if he and I could go for a walk away from the cafeteria where we were meeting at in the community college I was attending. As we walked out of the cafeteria, I thanked him for the opportunity to intern at his church. I then told him that I was enslaved to pornography. What he said next took me many years to appreciate. He told me that not only would I not be an intern, but I would be removed from my role serving college students as the leader of the campus ministry.
I can see now over a decade and a half later that this pastor’s actions were a mercy from God to me. God was removing me from a position of influence for a season to help me address my enslavement to pornography. It wasn’t until four years later that the Lord convicted me and granted me true repentance and freedom from my enslavement to pornography. Sitting in a local church in the Greater Seattle area on the Lord’s Day, the Lord graciously lead me to repentance, and I cried out, “Lord help me be the man you want me to be.” Six months later, I met my wife. A month after that I got engaged to my wife. Seven months after that I was married to my wife, and we’ve been married now twelve years. Losing my position of influence set me on a course towards repentance and restoration, all of which has been a blessing to me.
Just as I’ve experienced influence being removed, over recent years I’ve experienced first hand how influence can also be expanded. The Lord has used me through radio preaching, podcast recordings, in the local church and outside of it. I’ve had opportunities to write for very popular publications and less-well-known publications and to speak at men’s conferences and to minister one-on-one.
Ministry Is Not a Right It’s a Privilege
Now that I’m older, I appreciate every opportunity to minister to someone whether online or in person. I’ll never forget one of my pastoral mentors teaching me that ministry is not a right; it’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to sit in the hospital with someone going through an illness. It’s a privilege to sit with someone and talk about their pornography enslavement. It’s a privilege to write a devotional or an article with the hope that someone will be helped or to speak at a men’s retreat, or to interview one of my theological heroes. Real ministry isn’t a right; it’s a privilege. Influence is not a right; it’s a privilege and we need to steward this privilege well.
If you chase influence, you are in mortal danger. Do not seek influence, seek Christ. Do not seek platform, seek to minister to people. The dangers of influence are real. You will crash and burn into an ash of burnout if you seek a platform and brand name recognition. If you seek to grow in Christ, be faithful to Him, grow in godly character, the Lord in His time may give you influence but understand it may not look like what you want and it may not come in the timing you want.
Every single one of us as Christians should want to be influential in the lives of others. After all, the Lord has sovereignly removed our heart of stone and replaced it with a new heart, with new desires, and new affections for Christ Himself. Christ Himself, tells us repeatedly that we are to make disciples. That desire to make disciples that make disciples is a God-given desire that honors the Lord. So that means so long as we desire to make disciples, the desire to influence people is a good and a holy motivation from the Lord. But even so, we as Christians have indwelling sin. We are to wage war against the world, flesh, and the devil, but are to love and serve people by serving Him from the well of growth in Him.
All of Life Is Before the Face of God
Influence is not bad, but it can be bad if we are seeking it first above Christ alone. As Christians, our whole lives are before the face of God. Theologians use the theological term “Coram Deo” to describe how Christians live their whole lives before the sovereign gaze of God who sees what they do both in private and in public. Nothing is hidden from the gaze of the Lord. Christians should be less concerned with influence and more concerned with godly character and being good stewards. Yes, we should influence people with the gospel. But we do this primarily by being gospel-shaped and gospel-formed people. After giving the best explanation of the gospel in the New Testament, Paul says something amazing in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” Notice what Paul does here. He has just said this is the gospel and then he states who he is in light of the gospel.
What Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15:10 is not insignificant. It is a reflection of a life that has massive influence and continues to have influence because of Christ. Paul later wrote 13 epistles in the New Testament and is considered one of if not the greatest theologians in the history of the Church (next to Jesus Christ of course!). Paul’s mindset reflects a life set up living before the face of God. Paul’s words reflect a heart that understands what he wrote in Romans 12:1-2 namely that worship is not what we do on Sunday but also what we do Monday-Saturday. True worship is a matter of stewardship. True worship is a matter of stewarding life and all opportunities before the face of God.
What I didn’t know at the age of twenty was the impact of my life and words. Looking back, I have regrets to be sure, but to be fair, I am also thankful now almost twenty years later for the lessons I learned during that time of my life. My failures, sins, and times of weakness have taught me that I am not sufficient for anything in life. I am not able to sustain myself in Christ nor am I able to secure myself. What I need more than anything is not more influence, not more people reading my words nor more people downloading Theology for Life or tuning into my podcast. What I need is Christ alone. I have a great need for Christ and a great Christ for my need. The same is true for you.
What you and I need is more of Christ and Him being formed and shaped in us. So, as we seek to use whatever level of influence we have, let us remember that it isn’t about you and me. Our whole lives are before the face of God. Let us pray for Christ to be made known through our words and our work, whether that’s an article or podcast online, or our Bible study, or ministry at our local church, we might be engaged in, or at our jobs. May we aim to steward well whatever opportunities and whatever ministry we have, because all ministry is not a right, it’s a privilege.
As Christians, we believe that in the economy of the Kingdom of God under the Lordship of Christ, submission to Christ is critical. We submit to the Sovereign of the Universe, the Creator, and rightful ruler of all who both orders and sustains the world. Christ alone saves, secures, sanctifies, and will one day glorify the people of God. Our aim in both life and in everything we do should be to glorify God. So whatever influence we have, whether great or small, may we focus on the depth of our character and growth in grace, and commit whatever influence given to us by the Lord into the hands of the sovereign God who promises to do all things for the good of those who love Him and who are called by His name (Romans 8:28).