As I've spent time with the Lord and also spent time with Christian friends for the last few months I have realized how very, very important influence is.
Again and again in the Bible we see examples of people who were influenced for the good or for the bad by who they were with. The Lord told His people Israel not to take on the way of the heathen, but to cast them out. He even told them to burn their idols and cast down their altars "lest thou be snared therein"... (Deut. 7:25)
We see where David's son was influenced by a friend who was subtil. That same friend had an influence in his death!
We see Solomon's mother warning him of wrong influence, (Proverbs 31) we hear Solomon warning in the book of Proverbs of whose way we should follow and whose way will lead us into destruction of our life and soul. (almost every chapter!)
Paul repeats again and again who to be with and who to avoid. He even warns that only the spiritual should try to rescue those who have been snared into sin lest they fall along with them. (Gal. 6:1)
Rather we want to admit it or not we are all influenced by who we spend time with, what we read, what we look at, or where we spend our time.
One of the greatest joys of my life is reconnecting with someone from years ago and seeing that they have remained strong in the faith. What joy to find that they haven't dropped any convictions, and that although they have had to stand alone in many areas they are still remaining faithful to Christ.
One of the greatest sorrows in my life has been watching people who you were sure would never lose the wonderful joy they had in Christ and in following Him as a peculiar people decide that they were wrong and reevalutating all those things that at one time they found their sweetest fellowship with Christ in.
It is usually obvious that things are not the same. They've lost that excitment and joy on what Christ is doing in their lives. They either avoid subjects or are argumentive about tenets of the faith that they once taught new Christians as very important to growing in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As you listen to them you almost always find certain common denominators:
1) False doctrine has slipped in somewhere. Paul warned of this repeatedly. He said it would happen. Someone has come in with something that is so close to the truth it is difficult to tell that it's not the truth with just a little poison slipped in. My dad used to say that just a little rat poison in your loaf of bread would still sicken or kill you!
If you're going to disobey the word of God and cease obeying the truth you have to replace it with something else. I know there's nothing new under the sun, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the doctrines that replace the truth almost always make salvation confusing with works added to it.
I have found by experience that God's authority and His prescribed design are safety nets here. If we seek the truth we find it, and the truth will always, always set us free.
2) Someone has influenced them-- not Christ. When you find extremes among God's people you will almost always find them following a person. Rather it's extremes in being just like the world or extremes in being apart from the world when you really listen to people who've moved from the truth they have been influenced by a book, a preacher, a family, an internet site, a Bible college, etc.
I like to ask people how much time they simply spend in the word of God each day seeking His face that they might submit their will, heart and mind to Christ. How much time are they searching for His heart and mind on every issue of their lives. When you come before Him with a humble heart and a true desire to obey Him He makes it very clear what He desires.
Paul told those who wanted to follow him or Applos or Cephas that they weren't to pattern their life after a man, but after Christ. (I Cor. 1:12-25)
I know in my own life when I began to wander into the desert of depression I had listened to a false doctrine and other voices above my Saviour's. It only led to confusion and spiritual darkness.
This goes back to authority. Every human authority in my life is just that--human. I have to have a deeper faith, one that goes back to trusting a very perfect God to lead my life by a human authority. I must believe I can trust God--He will never influence me to sin.
3) The direction of the life usually doesn't go to a purer and holier life, but to a life that is void of spiritual life. In most lives you see great outward change. There is a change in what they wear, where they feel comfortable going, what they call "godly music", etc. This is outward manifestation of a deeper problem.
With others the person becomes more extreme in their outward appearance and personal standards of life and practice. They make more and more demands on what it requires to be right with God. They have a "prescribed" list that grows and grows as they decide what is spiritual and what is not. Many times you find them swallowing camels and straining at gnats. This is because they are putting an emphasis on the flesh and not on the spirit of Christ. Many times you find they have a root sin they've never gotten victory over and so other areas are overemphasised. In both cases the root problem is not allowing Christ Himself be the authority.
Matthew 5-7 is Christ's discourse that makes it plain that God is a holy God with very high standards. He also makes it clear that they are impossible in the power of the flesh. When we attempt to carry out God's holiness in the power of the flesh it creates a very filthy, spiritually superior spirit.
On the other hand, separation is from page 1 of the Bible to the last chapter. God hates sin. Sin destroys us. When we ask Him to save us He starts a work of saving us of each and every thing that He cannot have as a holy God. It's not that we aren't to live separated lives, it's that we are to live them by the power of the Spirit.
I once saw an illustration showing white, gray, black and in that illustration were things listed that most Christians saw as definitely white, some that they saw as gray, and some most Christians saw as black. Then it showed Christ as perfectly white and pure. It showed the world in the lighter black and the church in the white.
Then it showed the world going deeper and deeper into the black, and as it did the church was moving deeper and deeper from the white to the gray and almost to the black. The problem? The church was saying, "We're staying the same distance from the world as we always have!"
But are we to compare ourselves among ourselves, or are we to have Christ as our goal? If you keep your eyes on Christ as your comparison you will live a purer and purer life as you grow.
When I think of my own life I think about what I have in my life that influences me. Then I ask the question, "How does it influence me?"
Am I influenced when I get a new seed catalog, beautiful Southern Lady magazine, or clothing catalog? Yes.
Am I influenced when I watch a movie or read a book? Yes. I can name books that literally changed the course of my life and thinking.
Am I influenced by the people I spend time with? Yes. I have people that leave me feeling like a limp rag from the emotional weight they pull out of you, I have people that convict me, (but in a good way) and motivate me to do more for Christ, love Him more, spend more time with Him, I have people that make me unhappy with who I am and where I am, (if I let them) I have people who energize me. Yes, people influence me.
Am I influenced by my family? My children can influence me to laugh, cry, and pray. They can make me so proud I want to wave a flag and say "Hey everyone, that's my child." and they can shame me to where I would like to not answer when they say "Mom". Yes, my family influences me.
Am I influenced by the word of God? Yes, when I prayerfully get alone with the Lord in the word of God I can't believe what it does to me. It's alive! It permeates, cleanses, renews, and is engrafted into me.
Am I influenced by what I listen to? Obviously, if I'm having an overwhelming day my husband will say, "Why don't you go turn on your Christian radio station?" I can go into a store playing rock and fully understand why teens get a gun and shoot someone after listening to it! Why do you think bars don't play hymns? I could name two men that told me their infidelity in their marriage started with listening to country music on a regular basis.
Am I influenced by what I wear? You better believe it. I have outfits that make me feel fat, frumpy and irritable just by glancing in the mirror. I also have clothes that make me feel good about myself. I have clothes that say I'm going to be painting or in the garden, and I have clothes that make my kids say, "Where are you going today?" Many times in my life my clothes have motivated the question from a complete stranger, "Where do you go to church?" I always reply, "What makes you ask me that?" It's what I wear!
I can dress in a way that is suggestive, and I can dress in a way that is pure. I can unbutton one more button and make an entirely different statement. I can make it slightly tighter and slightly higher up on my leg and I promise you my husband would say it wasn't going out the front door of this house.
I can convince people I'm a businesswoman, a lover of country music, a motorcycle mama, going to lay on a beach or a street walker -by what I wear. I mark every scripture that discusses clothing with a small picture of a garment. There is no argument--clothing matters to God.
Am I influenced by where I go? Yes, I am. I don't shop too much or I become covetous. I don't go spend time in bars, certain stores, or in the wrong section of a book store because I don't want to be influenced in a wrong way. I am careful with social networking because it has a powerful influence in my life. I have been influenced by what I saw on a Facebook page to laugh till I cried, to say A-men out loud, and to weep like a baby at where that person's life has gone.
I know this is long, but I've got a deep, deep burden for today's child of God. I prayerfully ask you to turn to the Lord and yield yourself to His influence in your life (Rom. 12:1,2) and then beg Him to make you an influence in someone else's life to turn them to a life of abiding in Christ. There is no joy like the joy of the Lord Himself being your strength.
Influence.....who is yours and who are you influencing?