The Bible has much to say about our identity; by that I mean who we are, and also, who we are in Christ. For example, it says that all are made in God’s image, and are fearfully and wonderfully made. In Christ, we are born again, and are called new creations. Believers are described by the New Testament writers as being: children of God, saints, friends, citizens of Heaven, co-workers with God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s workmanship. The Bible also says we are: loved, forgiven, restored, chosen, free from condemnation, justified, adopted, bought at a price, and much more!
In Matthew 5:13-16, we read about how Jesus says that we are Salt and Light. In the context, this seems to be more a statement of fact, rather than a command to be something. Rather than Jesus urging us to be something that we are not, He is telling us what we are. In this blog I want us to explore something of the significance of the fact that, if we are in Christ, then we are Salt & Light.
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)
As believers we are Jesus’ witnesses, and we see references to this in the Beatitudes. The Kingdom of God is near, and it is seen through those who follow Jesus: those who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering/thirsting after righteousness, the pure in heart, the persecuted etc. We cannot follow Jesus in isolation, and living for Him will attract the attention of others, and it will lead to some degree of persecution/suffering. As we live as Salt and Light, Jesus says that we will have an influence on the world around us. These verses contain two insightful everyday illustrations of how we will make this impact. Once again, Jesus is showing us how we are to break the mould! Followers of Jesus are Salt & Light.
1. We are the salt of the earth (v13):
Firstly, Jesus says that “we are the Salt of the Earth” (v13). This is quite a surprising comparison given that salt is generally small, cheap and fairly insignificant. However, like many small things (e.g., rudder, bit/bridle) it can still exude great influence over something else. It may be cheap, but it can still exude properties far beyond its value.
“Like salt we may feel small and insignificant, powerless in a power-mad society, yet we have the ability to influence every segment of it. Salt is cheap but it has unusual properties which far exceed its value, but there will be times when our true usefulness will become very clear.”Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, Kingdom Life in a Fallen World, pg. 56-57.
Below are three observations about the usage of salt:
a) Salt as a Preservative:
Salt has long been used as a preservative, and was, in fact, so valuable that it became one of the first commodities to be traded. Apparently, there have even been wars fought over salt! Without salt people had to consume their food quickly before it would spoil. Salt allowed people to store up food, and build up reserves that would last in times of scarcity. Like salt, we are also to have a positive preserving impact on those around us. If, we are living out the kind of qualities that we saw in the Beatitudes, then we will see such an impact. Salt prevents rot and decay, and that is also the impact of the gospel working in, and through, our lives. But, there is a cost of doing so: Jesus’ followers take the stand for the good of our society – e.g.: William Wilberforce with the abolition of slavery; Mother Teresa fighting for the poor and needy; and Corrie Ten Boom protecting the Jews from the Nazis. We must consider aspects of our lives, such as: the language we use; the nature of our conversation; our value/respect for others and the causes we stand up for. Christians help preserve the good that is inherent in our society – like Jesus, we continue to #BreaktheMould. We may well feel small, insignificant, and unsure if our efforts will make a difference, yet the salt in Jesus’ illustration is just like that, which should be a massive motivation to take action to help preserve society!
b) Salt as Seasoning
Secondly, salt is used as a seasoning. We are much more familiar with using salt to bring out the flavour of something, and we know from experience that it makes a big difference. Likewise, we who are the salt of the earth, should increase the flavour of life around us. All aspects of our lives should demonstrate the attractiveness, and distinctiveness of Jesus. We have been given life to the full (John 10:10), so this should be visible in our lives. Paul says that our speech is to be seasoned with salt. In other words, what we say should bring out the flavour of Jesus; there should not be an unpleasant taste.
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”Colossians 4:6 & Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)
Other verses on this include James 3:3-12, which talks about the tongue needing to be tamed. James describes it as a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” While the same tongue can be used to praise and to curse, he says, that this should not be just as fresh, and salt water cannot flow from the same spring. We are to be a salt spring that produces only fresh water – seasoned speech that helps, builds up, and encourages others.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.James 3:3-12 (NIV)
c) Salt used in Sacrifices
Thirdly, God commanded that Old Testament sacrifices be made with salt as a symbol of faithfulness. Indeed, Leviticus speaks of “the salt of the covenant of your God” (2:13). It was symbolic that their response of obedience had been offered with hearts set on God. This faithfulness to the Lord is a big part of what makes us different! Our saltiness speaks volumes about how our lives have been offered in response to all that God has done for us.
2. Can salt lose its Saltiness?
Jesus says that when salt loses its saltiness, it is worthless! Indeed, He says that it becomes good for nothing, except being thrown out and trampled on. Instead of preserving, or flavouring, such salt it is to be trampled underfoot. The lesson for us is, that we too must be so careful to ensure the distinctiveness of our lives. The lives of those who follow Jesus will be distinctive. Can salt really lose its saltiness? No, not as such, but there will still be an impact. Don Carson explains it well:
“Although salt per se cannot lose its saltiness, it can nevertheless be adulterated. If sufficiently adulterated by, say, sand, then salt can no longer be used as a preservative. It loses is effectiveness in staying corruption, and so must be jettisoned as a useless commodity. The purpose of salt is to fight deterioration, and therefore it must not itself deteriorate.”D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, pg. 32.
Similarly, in John 17, Jesus prays that his followers would be both, in the world but, not of the world. We must retain our saltiness, and that means getting serious about knowing Jesus, understanding what He is like, and putting into practice all that He is teaching us. Memorising the Beatitudes is a really great idea because the person who lives like that will most certainly be salty! Tasting salt makes us thirsty. The question for us is whether are we making those around us thirsty for God and His Word.
3. We are the light of the world (v14-16):
Jesus also says that “we are the light of the world” (14a). He Himself is the light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5), but we have been “called out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus uses two further pictures of light in these verses:
Firstly, a prominent city standing on top of a hill, the light from which cannot be hidden. We struggle to comprehend the idea of total darkness in our modern industrialised world. In Jesus’ day, however there would have been such darkness, and in that context no city could ever remain hidden! Secondly, Jesus describes a lamp that should not be hidden, because it is intended to give light to people in a house. Jesus isn’t saying that we should be like that city or lamp, but more that we are already like both because of our identity in Christ. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, writes:
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.Ephesians 5:8-11
For the world to see Christ in us depends upon us being different. We shouldn’t need to point our differences out! Our light will shine in the moral darkness around us. Our good deeds should be visible to others, and draw them to glorify God as a result.
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.1 Peter 2:12
Have we seen people warming to God as a result of the things, which we say and do? If not, why not? Both, Jesus and Peter clearly teach us that this should be the outcome of our distinctive lives. On the one hand, this presents us with a real challenge: to live godly lives. On the other hand, it also encourages us that our witness is not so much something we do, but something that arises out of who we are. The question we must ask ourselves is, what do the lives we live say to those around us. Elsewhere, Jesus makes clear that if we say one thing, and do another, we are hypocrites, and we can often do more damage to the spread of the gospel, than good.
I want to finish here with a quote which brings us right back to where we started: the idea that, if we are following Jesus, then we are Salt & Light. Yes, we must ensure that we remain salty (not adulterated), and visible to others. However, Jesus doesn’t want us to be something we are not, but rather to witness to all that Jesus has, and is doing in our lives. The truest version of ourselves is the one that Jesus is continually working to create us to be – Jesus living in and through us. His light is in us, and it overflows into the world around us through all that we say and do. The challenge here is about #Breakingthemould, and living out distinctive lives!
Our problem in evangelism is not that we don’t have enough information—it is that we don’t know how to be ourselves. We forget we are called to be witnesses to what we have seen and know, not to what we don’t know. The key on our part is authenticity and obedience, not a doctorate in theology. We haven’t grasped that it really is okay for us to be who we are when we are with seekers, even if we don’t have all the answers to their questions or if our knowledge of Scripture is limited.Rebecca Manley Pippert, Out of the Saltshaker & into the World: Evangelism as a Way of Life
See other posts in this series: Breaking the Mould