One of the most most important topics that I have pursued and thought about in the last few years is the topic of christian influence. How is it that I can be a positive and effective influence on the people in my life? What must I do in order to strengthen and equip the people in my life to mature in Christ?

This question became very important to me about three years ago when I was put in the position of leading one of the youth groups in our church. Since then I have turned to numerous sources: books, sermons, friends, etc. to gain a better understanding of the issue. But I never did receive such a penetrating, and mind changing answer to my question, as I did in my study of the book of Ephesians this past year.

In order to make his point when talking about the christian life, Paul brings the analogy of a body. The church is the body of Christ, with each member being a significant product of His work and contributing in a unique way to the life of the church. Looking at especially Ephesians chapter 4, we can see that influence is a process that has a few important steps. (I don’t have the space and time to present the whole chapter here now, but I’ll outline the basic ideas. You’re free to go read it for yourself.)

Christ influences the life of the person through his Gospel, and they are then made a tool in the hands of God to influence the people around with the same gospel. Thus the grace of God works in and through a person. Returning to the body analogy, influence is the life of Christ working in us, and sustaining the lives of the people around. In short, christian influence is the exchange of life between the body parts.

Many Christians might claim to understand this truth in theory, but when it comes to practice, it quickly becomes clear that far from understanding the nature of true christian influence. Looking at Paul’s analogy, right away we see two important characteristics of the nature of christian influence.

1. Every christian is in need of influence
2. Christian influence is holistic (I will explain what this means)

The first point I will give today, and the second point I will post tomorrow.

Every christian is in need of influence

The specific area or aspect of your life that Christ influences at a certain point in your life then becomes a new tool in his hands to shape other people. When I learn to have a biblical approach to my finances, I am then able to be useful in that area to the people around. Each person is unique, and Christ works in each person in a unique way. Christ shapes each person into a unique tool to work in the lives of all the people around.

The other important reality that we need to take into account here is the fact that we are all still sinners. No matter how mature we are in our christian walk, we are all always in need of more and more grace. There are always areas in our thinking in living that have yet to be exposed to the transforming power of the gospel.

Putting these two facts together we can really start to see the dynamics of the body starting to play out. God seeks to use each unique person to specifically work in different ways on the needs of the people around. Just like the connection of every organ to the organs around it is vital to the life of that organ, so is the relationship of every christian to those around them.

I am in need of the Christians around me because they all have something that I don’t have: they see my life from the side view, each from their own unique experience of the gospel, each from their own growth and struggles in their lives. Because we are all unique to Christ, we can all help each other understand and apply the gospel a little more deeply.

I guess this is the first big thing that I learned about influence: in order to BE an biblical  influence, I must constantly be receiving biblical influence. It should be one of the primary goals of every christian to seek out deep, biblical influence and to attach their lives to those kind of people. This, by the way is a HUGE theme in the book of Proverbs as well.    

I have learned to cherish the relationships that I have with the mature Christians in my life. Over and over I have seen the value of their simple honest and biblical advice and instruction in how a certain area of my life should be dealt with. My life has become deeply connected to certain people who help me think through every significant decision or issue that I face. This is the way that Christ designed it – people in need of change helping people in need of change.*

The problem with this our constant common desire for independence. We, in our sinful condition, are always seeking to establish our own authority and ability. We want to skip the step of being influenced and jump to being an influence. We would rather think of ourselves as those who others are in need of, rather than those who are in need of others. But the truth is that the former will never happen without the latter.

Christ uses the transformed lives of his people to help transform the lives of his people. Through each other we are exhorted, encouraged, instructed and rebuked. It’s so crucial that we learn to see the value that we have in the lives of the Christians around us. Not only that, it is crucial that we learn to see our constant need of God’s work through them in us in every issue of life as we progress on our way to maturity in Christ.

* Phrase borrowed from Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands