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.”


  1. Regarding Politics, Chuck Colson used to say “Politics is nothing but a reflection of Culture.” If that is true, that means that as Christians, if we proclaim the Gospel and do good works then, we would naturally expect the politics to reflect that. How much of the current political environment is due to the lack of influence the Church has had over our culture?


  2. Good thoughts. And I agree with Sam, too. We need to one on one people with love and evangelism. Help the injured man in the path. Help him spiritually and physically.


  3. Becky,
    I think to be in the world, but not of it, we have to first make sure we don’t love the world. Since that has been ingrained in us since the first sin, we have to first make sure we love God, Who can purify our hearts. Since we can’t make sure we love God until we know Him, we must first come to know Him.

    When we know God, we will love Him. When we love Him, we will joyfully obey Him. When we are joyfully obeying Him, we are doing the Will of God, Who takes into account all the precious people He has created, and they will be loved into the Kingdom, won by One great Heart of Love!


  4. Sam, I tend to think that a great deal of what we see politically in the US has to do with Christians withdrawing our influence from culture. There are so many factors to explain this: the climate in America after WWII, a reaction to “the social gospel,” the influence of higher criticism that undermined faith in the Bible, a lack of personal spiritual disciplines, a lack of leadership. I’m sure we could go on and on.

    The problem today, as I see it, is that too many Christians have the idea that we need to restore America to a place where Christianity is pre-eminent and more people adhere to Christian moral values. That’s not practical, first of all, and more importantly, not what God called us to do. We are to make disciples, not better citizens. There’s a significant difference. But generally speaking, disciples make better citizens. 😉 It’s a residual effect but shouldn’t be the goal, I think.



  5. Yep, Sally, it’s in the one person at a time loving our neighbor as ourselves that people see Jesus, I think. And yet, there is still the need to proclaim the truth, isn’t there? Certainly Scripture gives place to preaching, but also to Paul dialoguing with the philosophers in the Areopagus and Peter singing in prison and all the gospel writers proclaiming truth through the written word.

    It seems to me that today we have almost stopped talking to non-Christians. Some of this is because non-Christians have stopped listening and in fact have made it increasingly hard for Christians to speak into our culture. I think we need to find a way.



  6. Peggy, I think you’re right–loving the world would seem to put us smack in the place of being “of” the world. It reminds me of what James says (writing to Christians, no less) “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”



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