In part 1 of Salt & Light we looked at why merely focusing on the amount of sin we have in our lives does not necessarily mean we are emulating the character and nature of Jesus. We covered a few points to further to drive this point home:
- As Christians on this side of the veil we will never stop sinning. Furthermore, the credit of our sanctification goes to the Holy Spirit not us. As much as we would like to stop sinning, and as much as we are called to avoid sin, the reality is we will never completely rid ourselves of sin until we’re called home to God. We are to be reminded that it takes just one sin to be unlike Jesus.
- The sinlessness of Christ was not the means of delivering salvation. If Christ came and lived a perfect life in the sense that he never sinned, and then simply died as a normal man would have died, we would still all be destined for Hell. We know that being sinless is part of Christ’s nature and therefore He was unable to sin. However, His inability to sin or outstanding moral character is not what delivered salvation to men.
- We know that Christianity is not the only faith that calls its adherents to abstain from sinful living. Jews, Mormons and even Muslims call for the follower to live a life of righteousness. Now we could certainly be pedantic and call out the fact that certain religious faiths are accepting of certain practices Christians would consider sin, but the point is that followers of all religions aim to live a life that is morally sound.
While we know that abusing grace and refusing to give up our sins is certainly not Christlike, the above points lead us to conclude that there has to be more to emulating Jesus then reducing our sin count. If what appeared to be a clean cut Mormon stood next to a clean cut Christian, both living morally sound lives, living selfless lives, which one is putting Jesus on display to the outside world? Could anyone tell the difference? Could you tell the difference?
In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus calls His direct followers salt and light.
13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:13–16
I believe there are principles we can extract from these two metaphors Jesus uses to describe His followers. While salt and light are worlds apart in their definition they carry a certain similarity in the way Jesus chooses to use them.
Believers as Salt
Salt in Ancient Israel was a highly valuable substance that had multiple use cases. For one, salt was part of an oil and wine mixture that was rubbed on newborns as an antiseptic. Salt was used as a preservative for meat. Salt was used to flavor food and even as a fertilizer (Luke 14:35). In ancient times salt was a necessary ingredient for life. Jesus draws a comparison between His disciples and this very necessary ingredient. Salt preserves, helps to heal wounds and adds flavor to that which is flavorless. Salt is an ingredient that packs a lot of taste. It is instantly recognizable and seems to have the very power of awakening the sleeping slumber of the most dull foods. A little salt goes along way and much salt elicits an even stronger reaction from the tongue.
While Jesus asks how can lost saltiness be restored, pure salt cannot just lose its saltiness. Not in the sense of it losing taste due to a long period of time. In order for salt to be flavorless it must become contaminated. Pure salt never loses its saltiness due to the stability of sodium chloride, its main compound. However it can be mixed with other minerals and become contaminated, especially salt with a low amount of sodium chloride, therefore causing it to lose its saltiness. This was the case with the Dead Sea which was contaminated due to its water composition. The salt derived from it was impure. Jesus states that salt without its saltiness can’t be restored and is good for nothing. Not even for the manure pile. (Matthew 5:13)
It is the same with the followers of Christ. Albeit we cannot lose our salvation we can certainly become contaminated by the things of this world and ultimately render ourselves useless to God’s kingdom. Salt without its saltiness then has the opposite effect of its intended nature. It then fails to act as a preservative, it fails to act as part of a healing agent, it fails to act as flavor enhancer and it even fails to act as part of a fertilizer to enrich the soil. This type of salt, which bears no saltiness, is then unrecognizable as salt. It has no distinguishing qualities or characteristics that set it apart. This is akin to a Christian, who claims to follow Christ, yet their saltiness is not readily apparent to others. The characteristics and qualities of Christ are not immediately noticeable.
Believers as Light
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14–16
Looking at verses 14–16 we see Jesus compares His followers to light.Not just any light but the light of the world. What can we say about a world with no light? The world – apart from the followers of Christ – sits in utter darkness. It is a world consisting of total, complete and utter blindness. It is a world without direction because no light exists on any path for people to traverse. If we parallel this with the hearts and minds of men, which is precisely what Jesus is doing, we can see just how devastating a dark world would be. All men and women are without direction for their lives. All sense of morality goes up side down as no one would be able to objectively know the difference between right and wrong. People with dark hearts ultimately live for their own fleshly gains regardless of the cost. A dark world is a place where people merely try to survive in the now as there is no future hope. Just as the earth without light breeds a physical death, a world full of darkened hearts breeds a spiritual death.
Jesus emphasizes the point that light is not something that can be hidden nor is it something that when used, like a lamp, do people attempt to place it where the light is not seen. We use light to reveal what we cannot see. To light our paths when we traverse down them. Light, is something that instantly scatters darkness the moment it is revealed. It isn’t subtle. It has an instant effect. These are precisely the qualities a Christian is supposed to have. Darkness should be rattled in the presence of a Christian. Like light, we should be easily discernible. Too many Christians attempt to hide their faith in hopes to warming up a friendship before they reveal their faith. More worried about being liked than sharing light with someone trapped in total darkness. Jesus is making a point when He refers to His followers as light in that they should be distinguishable, set apart from the world of darkness, easily seen and immediately recognized as bearers of light.
So what is the result of our light shining? The result, as noted in verse 16, is so others see our good works which leads to God being glorified. Notice our good works are not to point people to us, but to God. We also see that Jesus uses the adjective good to describe the type of work that brings God glory. There are two types of works the Christian can do, bad works and good works. There are no gray lines. Everything we do as Christians fall into one of these two categories. We are either producing bad works in our daily lives or good works. Jesus is stating that our good works should be on display.
I can’t help but think about how incredible it is for Jesus to claim that His followers are salt in the earth and the light of the world. To have the living God compare His followers in such a way is mind blowing. Like salt and light, followers of Jesus are to be just as unique and necessary for a world that is void of hope. Hope that can only come through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel, which can only be delivered by the followers of Jesus.