This is the final message in our series, INFLUENCE: A New Way to Think About Leadership.
I have a constellation app on my phone. All I have to do is hold it up to the sky and it reveals the position of constellations and even locates planets.
Now, the stars and planets are always out there. Why can we only see them at night? Because the light of the sun is blocked and the sky is dark. We see planets because of light that is reflected from the planet’s surface. We can see stars shine because they are now set against a backdrop of darkness.
The Bible speaks a lot about the darkness—a darkness is not primarily a physical darkness but a spiritual and moral darkness.
I often hear Christians lamenting the spiritual and moral darkness of our world.
Some of us respond by condemning the darkness.
Others of us are more inclined to retreat from the darkness.
But when Jesus entered the spiritual and moral darkness of this world, he did not come to condemn the world or retreat from the world but to be a redeeming influence in it.
The same will be true for us.
This means that rather than lament the darkness, we need to see the darkness as an opportunity to shine like stars, reflecting the light of Jesus into the darkness for the good of the darkness.
Our job is not to condemn or retreat but to be a redeeming influence in spiritual and moral darkness.
And the greater the darkness, the brighter believers may shine as we testify to the mercy and grace of God in Jesus, who himself is THE light of the world.
This is the message Peter used to encourage the early believers in the first century when he wrote 1 Peter from Rome around 63 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Nero, who was known for persecuting Christians.
We know that even in the midst of severe persecution the early Christians were used of God to change the world. How did they do it?
And how can we be used to change the world today?
We find out in 1 Peter 2:11-12.
11Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
What Peter is teaching us is that Christians will have the greatest influence the world not by what we say we believe, but by how we live what we believe.
The World is Watching
In verse 12 says, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
What do Spergon Wynn, Mark Bulger, Tee Martin, Chris Redman, Giovanni Carmazzi, and Chad Pennington have in common? They were all picked before Tom Brady in the 2000 NFL draft. Tom Brady was drafted as the 199th pick by the New England Patriots in the 6th out of 7 rounds. Love him or hate him, there is one thing that is incontrovertible. He is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game. He doesn’t need to talk or defend himself. His record speaks for itself.
It should be the same way for disciples of Jesus. Not our record on the football field, but the record of our lives. Just like the world has watched Tom Brady play quarterback, the world is watching how believers live. They are not listening with eager ears to what we have to say. They are watching with a critical eye to see if following Jesus makes a noticeable difference in how we live.
Our neighbors are watching. The folks at work are watching. Our children are watching.
- They are watching to see how we respond when we are insulted or sinned against.
- They are watching to see what we will do after we have blown it another one to have sinned against someone else.
- They are watching to see how we react when someone else wins and we lose.
- They are watching to see how we handle our children when they throw tantrums in the grocery.
- They are watching to see how we treat the waitress.
- They are watching to see how we treat the new kid at school.
- They are watching when we are diagnosed with cancer, how we face unemployment, and how we talk about people when they are not around.
They are watching to see if what we profess to believe is just empty religion, or if it is real. What we have to say will not be heard until they see something in our lives that looks like Jesus and is scented with grace.
We will primarily influence the world not by what we say but by by how we live.
The problem is that…
There is a War Within
Kristy and I have been re-watching 24, the counter terrorism show starring Kieffer Sutherland as CTU agent Jack Bauer that ran from 2001 through 2010, with a bonus mini-season in 2014. It seems like in each season of 24, CTU, the Counter Terrorism Unit based in Los Angeles, has a mole—an embedded spy—working for the terrorists within the government agency–a spy who seeks to undermine the progress of the agency.
The same thing is true in each one of us. There is a mole—an enemy lurking within to undermine the progress of grace in our lives. This is what we are warned against in verse 11, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”
The apostle Paul calls this mole “the flesh,” which translates the Greek word sarx. This is not the epidermis kind of flesh, but the sinful element of the human condition that wages war within us against the wisdom and ways of God–even after we become followers of Jesus.
The flesh is the source of our sinful desires. Now, let’s be clear. Desire itself is not sinful. The issue is the type of desire, sinful desire (sarkikos from sarx), which is desire that operates within to undermine the Spirit’s leading us to follow God’s wisdom.
It is the flesh that rises up against the Spirit’s influence in our lives, causing pride to break through the surface like the lava spewing through fissures from the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.
The flesh loves when we erupt with fleshly, sinful desires. It also loves when we conform to the ways of the world, blending into to the darkness, no longer standing out as stars.
Let me ask you a question. Do people who are not disciples of Jesus where you live, work, and play—do they think you are weird? Strange? Different? Not because of what you say, but because of how you live?
There should be such a dramatic difference in my life from those who are not Christians or are nominal Christians (in name only, cultural Christians). In verse 11 Peter calls us “aliens and strangers in the world.”
We really should stand out as different. Not by what we say, but by how we live.
Here is a challenge. Stop telling people you are a Christian or that you go to church or are a member at Creekstone. Rather, let the light shine through you. Let your actions speak for you. Let you kindness speak for you… your compassion… your generosity… your integrity.
Or as Peter puts it, “Live such good lives among the pagans” that they can’t help but say, “I hate Christians, but I gotta admit, this guy is legit. He is so free, kind, forgiving, and generous. He has something I want.”
Then what will happen is 1 Peter 3:15. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
The assumption is that how we live will provide the opportunity for us to testify to the grace of God in Jesus as the source and motive for lives.
God’s Glory is Revealed in Our Actions
In verse 12, Peter exhorts us to “live such good lives… that they may see your good deeds and glorify God.”
The words “good deeds” can be translated literally “good works,” because the word for deed is the Greek word ergos, which means “to work, to do, or to produce”– like an apple tree that produces its fruit.
Whenever we exhibit good spiritual fruit, we need to recognize that it is God doing the work within us and through us, which is why our good fruit is unto God’s glory and not our own glory.
I want to emphasize here that how we live does not save us. But… how we live testifies to the reality of God, which is revealed not only in his power to save us, but in his power to change us.
The most fundamental change that takes place is our ability to love–which is the fulfillment of the law. According to Jesus, love is what most distinguishes Christians from the world.
Jesus says this in John 13:34-35, 34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Here, Jesus makes it clear that we are not to be known for being Christians primarily not because of what we say what we believe but by how we live what we believe. And love is the ultimate apologetic.
But there is a qualification. We are to love “as I have loved you…” So, how has he loved us? Where was his love most perfectly displayed?
His love was displayed in the ultimate good deed–the most noteworthy good work–where he was nailed upon a cross to endure the judgment our sin deserved so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to the Father.
Through the cross, Jesus shows us that the essence of love is not the emotion of love but the action of love–to love is to bless someone at great personal cost who is unworthy of the blessing.
It is being loved like THIS that is the power of God that changes us and changes the world… changes our families.
This is the love that motivates and empowers us to love as we have been loved.
When I begin to be willing to bless others–even enemies–with sacrificial, costly love, I am on the brink of having a profound influence in the darkness.
Who is God is calling you to love? To bless? To show the unexpected, counter-intuitive kindness and mercy of God?
Know this. It is not what you will say to them that will make the greatest difference; it is what you do for them. How you reflect the mercy, grace, and kindness of God to them.
Albedo (al’-bi-do, not al-bee-do) is a Latin word meaning “whiteness.” It is also the scientific term of measurement for how much sunlight an object reflects. An object’s albedo score is measured in degrees on a scale from 0-1. For example, snow has an albedo rating of .8, meaning it reflects 80% of sunlight, absorbing 20%. Ice reflects about 35% of light with water having an albedo measurement of around .08, or just 8%. The moon comes in with an even lower with an albedo of .07, yet it still provides enough light on cloudless nights to help us navigate through the darkness.
Upon a Roman cross, Jesus demonstrated a 1.0 albedo score. Not by reflecting the light of the sun, but by reflecting 100% of the Father’s redeeming and reconciling love toward us.
The more we are exposed to that light—to the light of God’s affections for us in Christ—the greater our capacity will be to reflect the Father’s love into the darkness for the good of the darkness and to the glory of the Father.
So let’s be exposed now! Let’s bask in the glory of God’s redeeming and reconciling grace. Let’s absorb the warmth of total forgiveness and complete reconciliation by believing the gospel personally… in this moment.
If you have never received this forgiveness and reconciliation, you may receive it now, by confessing your need and accepting by faith the mercy of God as offered to you in Jesus.