The concept of alienation was important to Karl Marx. As he defined it, workers were alienated from the product of their labors. Today alienation has a broader meaning, usually referring to powerlessness. Whenever you feel politically or economically powerless, you feel alienated.
The late John Stott opens his classic article, Four Ways Christians Can Influence the World, with this definition of alienation. He quotes Jimmy Reid, a Scottish, Marxist, and trade union activist:
Alienation is the cry of men who feel themselves to be the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. Alienation is the frustration of ordinary people who are excluded from the processes of decision-making.
Have we any influence? Have we any power? That’s the question.
I have talked with many Christians over the years who say they are living in a world spinning out of control. They feel helpless, without the power to do anything about it.
If we are honest with ourselves, we all feel this way sometimes.
Stott suggests that for Christians, the antidote to feeling helpless is found in the metaphors of salt and the light, where Jesus teaches about the responsibility of Christians in a post-Christian society.
In this passage in Matthew, Jesus first shows that being salt and light differentiates us from non-Christians in the world. Stott explains:
The world, he says, is like rotting meat. But you are to be the world’s salt. The world is like a dark night, but you are to be the world’s light. This is the fundamental difference between the Christian and the non-Christian, the church and the world.
Jesus shows how being salt and light gives us influence in the world. Again, from Stott:
Like salt in putrefying meat, Christians are to hinder social decay. Like light in the prevailing darkness, Christians are to illumine society and show it a better way.
Salt and light have a powerful influence on their environment, but for salt to stop rot it has to be rubbed into the meat. For light to shine in the darkness it has to be set upon a lamp stand and not allowed to go out.
Stott suggests four powerful ways Christians can be salt and light in their communities and can differentiate themselves from those around them while, at the same time, influencing them through the power of the gospel.
The Power in Prayer
“I beg you not to dismiss this as a pious platitude,” Stott writes. The Christian’s first duty toward society and its leaders is to pray for them.
The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy in I Timothy 2:1, exhorting,
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
The Power of Truth
We should not be ashamed of the gospel because it is true.
Because it is true it has the power to make a difference in people’s lives, our communities, and our nation. All God’s truth is powerful.
As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 13:8,
For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.
And as John writes in his prologue to the book of John,
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The darkness cannot overcome it – that light is the truth of God.
The Power of Example
While “the truth is powerful when it’s argued, it’s more powerful when it’s exhibited.” People need more than to just understand the argument. They need to see the benefits of the argument with their own eyes.
Christians are marked people. The world is watching. God’s major way of changing the old society is to implant within it his new society, with its different values, different standards, different joys, and different goals. Our hope is that the watching world will see these differences and find them attractive, that they may see our good deeds and glorify our father in heaven.
The Power of Solidarity
There is formidable power in a dedicated minority. Stott quotes American sociologist Robert Belair:
We should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a vision of a just and gentle world. The quality of a whole culture may be changed when two percent of its people have a new vision.
Is this not what Jesus did? He took a small group of only twelve dedicated disciples and within a few years their influence was felt across the entire Roman world.
Do you want to see your national life made more pleasing to God? Do you have a vision of a new godliness, a new justice, a new freedom, a new righteousness, a new compassion? Do you wish to repent of sub-Christian pessimism? Will you reaffirm your confidence in the power of God, in the power of prayer, of truth, of example, of group commitment – and of the gospel?
If Stott were here today, these are the questions he would ask us. How would you answer him?
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