Once Christians recognize that the ooze flowing from towards the world’s reservoir is one of hostility, they tend to build sandbag forts around their communities. In the days of old, men and women retreated into the deserts or set up monasteries behind large brick walls to keep the sins and sorrows of this world at bay. In the modern era, Christians construct walls around exclusive social groups centered upon everything from denominational structures to youth sports in an effort to keep out the displeasure of the world.
Though this impulse arises naturally, it contradicts to the commands of Jesus. After finishing up the beatitudes, Jesus tells his disciples to be salt and light (Matt 5:13-16). In other words, Jesus is declaring that his followers have been redeemed in part for the purpose of preserving the world from decay and for the purpose of saving it from darkness. In short, the followers of Christ should not retreat but engage this dying and dark world.
The Need for Salt
When Jesus employs the analogy of salt, he implies that the world is in a state of decay. Though the modern soul gravitates towards notions of evolutionary progress, Jesus shares no such hope. He located evil not in earthly systems but in the hearts of those who create those cultural systems. From the center of the soul comes the evil that “defiles a person (Matt 5:18).” Technology alone cannot change our disposition towards destruction. The great physicist Albert Einstein famously noted,
The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.
The technology of this century has also failed to change our thinking. The arrival of the internet has opened new worlds of information to millions of souls and has allowed families on opposite sides of the world to converse through live video chats. Though the internet can facilitate great good, it can also be used to bully teenagers, to steal hospital data, and to traffic in sexually explicit images. Even the medical sciences which enable doctors to create new drugs that can destroy cancer cells can also be used to create the poisons stuffed into missile warhead. Technology and education cannot keep the world from social decay. We need a new way of thinking.
Christ alone can change human thinking. He can turn our hearts of hatred into hearts of love. He died to free us from the paralyzing shame of sin and rose from the dead to demonstrate that all who believe on him for salvation can think and act according to the ethic of love through his power. Christians are to share this good news with their decaying world. They are to be salt and light.
The Benefits of Salt
When Christians encounter sin and brokenness in this world, they cannot close their eyes to their neighbor’s suffering. Rather, they are to address it, rubbing salt into this world’s decaying flesh. For example when a Christian sees a city councilwoman misusing the food pantry funds, he should speak up and vote her out of office. When a believer sees her classmate being bullied, she should counter her school’s culture and extend love to the harassed soul. And when a family is wrecked by strife, the saved family member should speak well of all involved and refuse to engage in the gossip. Though such actions may expose the Christian to false accusations, slander, and criticisms of being “too good for the rest of us,” society always benefits from the presence of the Christian. The poor receive better care. The bullied student is pulled back from the edge of suicide. And the entire extended family has Christmas at grandma’s house for the first time in decades. Martin Luther rightfully concluded,
Salting has to bite…If you want to…help people, you must be sharp and rub salt into their wounds…denouncing what is not right.
Christians possess the new way of thinking, the salt the preserves society from decay.
When society goes bad and politics devolve, Christians should not point fingers at the decaying world. It is doing what it has always done: decay. Instead, they should examine their own lives. The famed British pastor John Stott noted,
No one reproaches the meat for going bad! It cannot do anything else. The real question to ask is where is the salt?
The next logical question that comes from Jesus’s discourse is: “Must the salt be recognizable?” Can Christians quietly vote for noble political candidates, donate to good causes, and encourage the hurting apart from the gospel of Christ? In other words, can Christians advocate for good in the public square apart from their faith?
Jesus says no. He says his followers are, “the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden (Matt 5:14).” When Christians interact with the world around them, they do so as little lights. Just as Christ came into the world containing life, “and the life was the light of men (Jn 1:4),” the followers of Jesus bring truth to bear on their world because the light of Christ has shown in their hearts (2 Cor 4:6). They do not hide Christ for he is the foundation of their convictions. They share Jesus with the world for the light of the gospel is the only power that can reorient human thinking to the ethic of love. Just as no one would turn on a flashlight and hide it under their covers, no Christians will experience the love of Christ and then hide Jesus from society. She shares Jesus with her family, coworkers, and neighbors.
Moreover, she should do so confidential for Jesus promises to go with the Christian as she shines the light. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus proclaims,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Though the world will hate us and persecute us, we have nothing to fear for God is with us. The light will not snuffed out. It will push back the darkness.
Equipped with this knowledge, the people of God should set out to bring the truth and grace of God to bear on this world. They shine the light of Christ when sitting down to lunch with the unlovables, when taking the sick to the doctor, and when visiting the elderly. And as they do so, they explain who their God is and how his love has lead them to a new way of thinking. They bring the gospel to bear on all of life so that the world may “give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:16).”
Do We Have To?
If a soul can comfortably hide the light of Christ within the confines of private religion and avoid salting this decaying world, that soul possess a worthless faith. Moreover, it is destined for destruction. In verses 13 and 14 of Matthew 5, Jesus bluntly tells his disciples “You are” the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Salting and lighting are essential qualities of the faith. If our faith does not preserve and enlighten the world around us, we prove ourselves to have no faith at all. In Jesus day, salt was contained in the rocks around the Dead Sea. As rain fell and evaporated back into the sky, the salt would evaporate from the rocks. The rocks would still have the white hew of salt but would no longer contain salt. Such rocks were good for nothing. They could not keep even a small piece of meat from decay. A professional faith which benefits neither one’s soul nor his neighbor’s is in the words of Jesus, “no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet (Matt 5:13-16).” Faith that lacks salt and light proves to be no faith at all. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted,
Either we are the salt of the earth, or else we are annihilated; either we follow the call or we are crushed beneath it.
May God help us all to be salt and light.