Influence And Good Deeds

Since last Thursday when I wrote the post “Who Do We Follow?” I’ve been mulling over the question what it means to be “in the world but not of it”–a phrase that comes from Jesus’s prayer for His people just before the events leading to His crucifixion:

I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (John 17:15-16)

This “in but not of” creates a tension that apparently God wants, in large part, it would seem, because He has a job for us to do–that of making disciples.

But how, precisely, are we to be in the world but not of it? How are we to go about letting our light shine?

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:16)

Yesterday I received an email from Publisher’s Weekly that got me to thinking about influence and making a difference in our culture. It seems that a significant number of people in the publishing world have taken it upon themselves to see to it that President Obama is re-elected. Set aside for the moment how appropriate it is for an industry periodical to take this biased stand or for a group of people to presume to speak for the industry at large, the point in question is that these people believe their voices can make a difference. Their voices, their visibility.

I imagine news crews will be out filming authors and publishers marching along the streets of New York waving pro-Obama signs and giving interviews to say how much the US needs this President to stay in office.

My initial reaction is, Wow, they’re right. They’re speaking out and getting the jump on any number of the rest of us who have a different opinion. In politics, the bandwagon effect seems to be so important. Get the “right” people to voice an opinion, and those who believe in, follow, admire, listen to those influential voices will create an echo chamber that spreads the message far and wide.

So why don’t Christians do this, too? Wouldn’t that be the best way to bring people to Christ? Wouldn’t that be the Church engaging the world in the way the world will best listen? Isn’t this, in fact, why so many Christians are on the look-out for celebrity believers? If we can just get the celebrities to speak up for Christ, then surely their followers will do the same.

There definitely is a speaking out component in bring people to Christ. Paul says in Colossians, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” In Peter’s first letter, he says in chapter two, “…so that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

But is proclamation the “light” that Jesus referred to? In fact, He couples letting our light shine with our good deeds.

Later in 1 Peter 2, the apostle says, “For such is the will of God, that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (emphasis mine).

As I see it, this is another line of tension. Yes, we are to be in the world but not of it. And we are also to proclaim Christ and do good.

Do we get to choose one or the other? Can we stand on the street corner and wave Bible verses in front of people as they drive by without doing good? Can we hand out tracts at the beach or leave them at restaurants without doing good?

On the other hand, can we give food for the homeless shelter or volunteer to tutor at the inner city school and not proclaim Christ? Can we make blankets for unwed mothers or work a shift at the thrift shop and not admonish and teach with all wisdom?

Must the two go hand in hand or is there a time to paint buildings for the underprivileged and a separate time to speak of the redemptive work of Christ on the cross? Do the good works allow us to speak because they first silence the ignorance of foolish men?

In the mean time, as we do good deeds, one person at a time, will the publishing industry band together with the political forces to regulate Christianity out of the public forum?

Where is the fight?

If it’s in the heart of man, as Scripture teaches, shouldn’t we focus our efforts there?

Then do we abandon the political arena, the media, and quietly work behind closed doors?

I don’t see easy answers. If we engage the issues in the same way those opposed to a Christian worldview do, then believers are labeled hateful and bigots and hypocrites. If we stay silent, those rejecting Christ speak to the culture anyway and define who we are and what we believe.

If Scripture is true, and I know it to be so, then it seems we are not silencing the ignorance of foolish men with our good deeds. Rather than increasing the rhetoric, perhaps we need to increase doing what is right. Of course, if that’s the answer, then we need to know what the Bible considers “doing right.”

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