If you are a child of God, you are the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. Not that you will gradually become salt or light, but that you already are. Now, I didn’t say that, Jesus did. In His famous sermon on the mount, Jesus spoke these words, as we see it in Matthew 5:13-16 – “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.“ You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. 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. Over the years, I’ve heard preachers, one after another, take this text and draw out so many implications, some helpful and some not. It is a passage that most of us have heard or read more than a couple of times. But what does it really mean? What does it mean to say that we are the salt of the earth? I recently preached this text at my church, and I could hardly contain my excitement throughout the sermon. Actually, I don’t think I contained it at all. There really are no words to express the joy and hope we have because of the grace the Lord has extended to us. And that is precisely where we must begin in order to understand the preciousness of this passage.
The New Life
The Gospel is good news, that Jesus, the Son of God, took our sins upon Himself and gave us His righteousness instead. He suffered the wrath of God’s righteous judgment that should have fallen on us. He died on a cross for our sins and rose up on the third day, thus breaking the curse of sin and death. The Bible tells us that the grave could not keep Him. And now, because of this redemptive work of God, those who believe in this Son, will not perish but have eternal life. This Gospel is grace. Unmerited favour. We don’t deserve it, and we can’t demand it. It must be extended to us, and it has, in the message of this good news. Now, when a person believes in this message, repents of their sins, and confesses with their mouths that Jesus is Lord over their lives, we say that this person is born-again, or saved. But is that enough evidence of a person’s salvation? If you say – yes, that’s good enough, then you’re in for a surprise if you read the Bible more thoroughly. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find in Scripture:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ – Matthew 7:21-23
..If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. – John 14:23
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. – John 15:8
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognise them by their fruits. – Matthew 7:15-16
It is not enough that one confesses Christ as Lord. His life needs to bear the fruit of such a confession. I’m a calvinist and for those of you who are not familiar with that word, it is just to say that I believe very strongly in the absolute sovereignty of God – that all things in heaven and on earth, anywhere and everywhere in the created order, are in His sovereign control. As they say, there isn’t a single maverick molecule in the universe. And the question that arises from such a worldview is, why then do we have to work out our salvation if God is so sovereign. If the Bible assures me that He who started a good work in me will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6), then why must I put my hands to the plough. Why am I held responsible? It’s not just the calvinist who has this struggle. The charismatic puts a premium on the gifts as evidence of God’s approval of you. The fundamentalist puts a premium on works as though we must earn our way to heaven. Everyone has to deal with the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. John MacArthur speaks of this tension as one which we will never really solve. Charles Spurgeon spoke of man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty as the two parallel rails of a train track. You can’t see them join but if you look far ahead into the horizon, they appear to come together. And I agree with these men. This is a mystery we will not solve while on the earth. But I will say this much, that the only way we can detect the sovereign work of God in our lives, is if we become more responsible Christians. Jesus compared the born-again life to the wind, in John 3:8to Nicodemus. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” That’s exactly it! The life transforming work of the Holy Spirit in saving and sanctifying the people of God is like the wind. We do not know from where He comes or where He goes, but we know that He has come when we hear His sound. And His sound is not the hustle of the wind or the gift of tongues as some say. It is the transformed life of a believer who strives to fulfil his responsibilities. In short, beloved, the new life is evidenced in a believer’s life because he lives a new way, the Christlike way.
Salt of the earth
To have the new life is to be salt. An important thing to keep in mind regarding biblical interpretations when it comes to parables or analogies, is to read the perspective of the author and nothing more. Analogies aren’t meant to be dissected from different angles. You might stumble over a lot of heresies if you go too far like that. So, here we have an analogy. We, the children of God, are compared to salt. What does that mean? From the text, we know that if salt looses it’s taste (saltiness), it is no longer any good except to be thrown and trampled under foot. Then, does that mean Jesus is saying that we are the taste of the world? If so, what does that mean? Well, without getting any more technical, let me say this. The greek word for taste here primarily means ‘dull’ or ‘sluggish’. With the reference to ’saltiness’, I take what Jesus is saying here, to mean that the essence of the salt that makes it salt, is lost. And how do we know if salt is spoilt? By tasting it. So, all that to say, I don’t think Jesus is only talking about the flavour aspect of salt but rather its essence. What does it mean then, to be the salt of the earth? Salt, even in Jesus’ time, was used for some very useful purposes. Let me give you four of them.
- Taste – Salt is used as flavouring agent in food. Imagine that. Jesus is saying here that we are what brings flavour to the world. We live in a world where people, both inside and outside the church, are enticed by the colours of this world. The devil tempts them with the lie that to be a believer is to lack flavour. That the world is all the more tastier. But this is not true. To be a child of God is what brings flavour. Without us the world is bland. A tasteless void only good to spit out.
- Preservative – They didn’t have refrigerators back then, and the way they preserved food was using salt. The world is a gigantic ball that is spoiling and we are the salt God has scattered over it. The thing that keeps God from wiping out the human race is us. Unlike Sodom and Gomorra, we preserve the world from the wrath of God. In His second coming, His angels will gather us to Him, and then will He destroy the world.
- Healing – Salt is a healing agent. It helps dry wounds faster. We are the instruments God uses to heal the world of its wounds. To be peacemakers, comforters, voices of hope, feet of the Gospel, and hands that care. To be a child of God is to be an instrument of His healing purposes.
- Purifier – Salt is used also as a purifying agent. Through our preaching and our personal holiness, God purifies this world. How wonderful is that?
Brothers and sisters, like I said at the beginning of this article, we are not called to become the salt of the earth. Jesus declares that we are. How? Because what makes us salt is not our efforts, but God’s sovereign will. We are made salt by His imputed righteousness. Therefore the result of becoming salt, then, is that we begin to bring taste into the world, preserve it, heal it and purify it by the Gospel of Christ, through our works. In other words, we are not salt because we do what salt does. We do what salt does because we are the salt of the earth.
Light of the world
People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket. Of course not. That would be absurd. One would even call such a man mad. Therefore beloved, do you think that God would be so absurd as to light you as a lamp and then put you under a basket? You do not light up on your own. That’s the point. When the Holy Spirit saved you, you were lit. You are the light of the world. And in the darkness of this world, those who love darkness will flee from your light, but those who seek after God, those whom He draws, will come to the light that shines in you. When the lights go out in our homes on a pitch black night, we grasp for the slightest twinkle to guide our steps. That’s you. Therefore, Jesus instructs us saying, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” The light in you is not some magical light that only a few with the magical glasses can see. The light in you is good works. If you are a believer, God has lit in you the desire to do good works. So do them. Let your light shine. And may people give glory to God when they see it.
Beloved, you are the salt of the earth and the light of this world. It must show.