All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
The early Church had a profound impact on their culture. It was not due to political power, protests or boycotts, forming committees, or demanding their rights in an oppressive society. It was not even due to being great orators or building powerful ministries. The early Church turned the world upside down because they lived out the Gospel in a very real way – believers yielded to Christ living in and through them.
You could say that the early Church was a group of ‘on fire Christians.’ They were so impacted by Christ’s work of redemption, they not only shared the Gospel vocally, but also by the way they lived, including how they related to others. Though they were certainly not perfect, the early Church displayed the very heart of Christianity – Christ living in them. Their everyday behavior and attitudes bore the fruit of the Spirit, which Galatians 5:22-23 says is “. . . love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
I’m all for evangelistic efforts. There are tremendous ministries that focus on evangelism and reach out through large public events and have impacted thousands of lives. I am reminded by the early Church, however, that if I want to impact my culture, the greatest thing I can do is allow Christ to live through me. Practically speaking, that means when people look at me, they should see more of the Savior’s behavior and character flowing out of me, and less of Rob Schenck!
For example, how could Stephen – in the very midst of martyrdom – have such an angelic glow? He was not angry, fearful, or retaliatory. Instead, he was confident in the Savior he served and displayed a holy confidence even to his persecutors. Stephen didn’t live in the natural, but rather, he let Christ live in him. Because he lived in the Spirit, he didn’t respond to his accusers in a natural way. Rather than defend his life, he gave up his life for Christ. His testimony had a profound effect on those who witnessed his death, in particular, Saul of Tarsus, who would be transformed into the Apostle Paul. John the Baptist also recognized the importance of the pre-eminence of Christ when he said, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).
“As some rare perfume in a vase of clay,
Pervades it with a fragrance not its own,
So, when Thou dwellest in a mortal soul,
All Heaven’s own sweetness seems around it thrown.”
—Harriet B. Stowe, 1856, “Abide in Me O Lord”
May Christ become more in our lives and we become less so that when people look upon us, they see the Savior.