“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. ”
I memorized Matthew 5:13-16 the other day. As part of our church’s new vision statement, we’d been discussing in a small group Bible study just what it means to be light.
One thing I noticed is the context. It comes right after the beatitudes, and right before Christ asserts that He’s not here to abolish, but to fulfill, the Law. He tells us that we must have a righteousness greater than the Pharisees. Then He “tightens” up the Law, so to speak, by extending it from merely outward acts to the attitude of one’s heart. He commands us to go the extra mile, to turn the other cheek, and to love our enemies. He identifies this as being “perfect” (5:48). I could go on, but why outline the whole sermon? You get the point.
Christ, by definition, is the greatest preacher who ever preached. The Sermon on the Mount was not a bunch of disjoint ramblings. It flows logically.
Christ tells us we ARE salt and light (not that we should be, but we are). He tells us what our priorities are as salt and light – keep yourself salty (5:13), let your light shine (5:14-16). He also tells us HOW to retain our saltiness and let our light shine – through our sincere obedience to His commands. Such obedience, in order to be superior to the Pharisees’ righteousness, flows from who we are as children of God. It is not external conformance alone, but first an inner conformance that manifests itself.
I believe this is what it means to be salt and light. It’s not about being nice. It’s not about mowing your neighbor’s yard. It’s not about building community, works of service, being cultural leaders, investing in others’ lives, or having your neighbors over for supper. Those are all very good things which should generally be manifested in our lives, but it’s not the point. The point is obedience to God from a pure heart because of who we are in Him.
I am not one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. I am not just another sinner. I am not (to quote someone I respect) living “a life of trudging through religious duties and earning points through church attendance and the like”. I am not trying to behave myself so God doesn’t smack me down and kick me out.
I am a saint of God, chosen by Him from the foundation of the world, redeemed by Him at the cost of His only begotten Son, filled with His Spirit, washed in His blood, and loved without condition.
As I live as who I am, I will be salty salt and visible light.
As I read the Sermon on the Mount, I do not read Christ telling us what to do. He’s telling us who we are, and giving us a few examples of what that ought to look like. This is the Spirit and that’s what makes it different from the Law! It’s not about behavior modification but about changing your heart. Of course, your changed heart will modify your behavior, but it’s an effect instead of the focus.
Jesus was quite clear over and over that loving Him and obeying Him are inseperable.
So what will I look like as I retain my saltiness and let my light shine before men? What does a follower of Christ look like?
I won’t flirt with sin. I’ll flee from temptation. I’ll spend time in God’s word and in prayer and meditation. I’ll join with God’s people for worship. I’ll be reverent. I’ll take life seriously. I won’t be materialistic. I will control my temper. I’ll avoid licentiousness. I’ll avoid unnecessary strife. I won’t be jealous. I will build up the body of Christ by serving as He gifts me. I will bear the burdens of other Christians. I’ll do good as I have opportunity, especially to those of the household of faith. I’ll always be ready to explain the gospel when my life causes others to inquire. I’ll separate myself from ungodliness and the ungodly (as appropriate). I will assume my God-given role as leader of my family, and lead diligently. I won’t tolerate sin, error, and ungodliness. I will set an example for others in my speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. I’ll be sensible, produce good works, have pure doctrine, and be dignified. I’ll put away ungodliness and worldly desires, and live sensibly, righteously, and godly. I’ll store my treasure in Heaven instead of on earth. I’ll count myself dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, and put aside anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech. I’ll put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. I’ll discipline myself to be godly.
I could go on and on, but you get the point.
A non-trivial piece of Christ’s description of His followers as light was the location of the light. The city is set on a hill. The lamp is set on a lampstand. It’s up and visible. The city is not in the valley, but on the “holy hill of Zion”. The lamp is not hidden under a basket, but hung up where it can give light to all in the house. Christians, individually and corporately, are similarly set apart and set above the world. It’s who we are – a holy nation, a royal priesthood.
That all sounds well and good, but what does it look like? That’s the question that’s been bugging me. For instance, Tozer and MacArthur say the church should be radically different from the world. But, as Bill asked in a comment, what would that look like? I’m not sure I have the answer, and to some extent if we focus too much on what it ought to look like we’re in danger of turning it into an almost legalistic question. But I tend to be a legalistic, box-checking kind of guy, so I think it would be helpful to give some examples of what a salty, well-lit Christian life ought to look like, and what a church ought to look like, as far as I understand all this. (Remember, these are just some examples!)
Some marks of a Christian life, in no particular order:
* Spends lots of time with God in prayer, meditation, solitude, and in God’s word.
* Is marked by love and kindness in all interactions.
* Is serious instead of foolish.
* Does not flirt with sin and temptation.
* Maintains a Biblical family model and fulfills his responsibilities to love and lead his wife and to teach and discipline his children. (For a wife, this is different of course.)
* Generosity and financial responsibility.
* Participates fully in his local church, exercising his gifts to build up the body.
* Focuses on what is profitable rather than what is permissible.
* Is disciplined.
* Does not use foul language, spread rumors, or talk badly about others – instead builds others up (except where they need to be corrected).
* Takes care with regards to what he watches, reads, and listens to, and what he permits his family to watch, read, and listen to.
* Is intentional in all his relationships, particularly those with unbelievers. Never values the relationship above God, his walk with God, or the other person’s spiritual well being. Will sacrifice a relationship when needed. Keeps distance in relationships where needed. It is logically impossible for a believer and an unbeliever to maintain a long-term, close relationship unless the believer is compromising. Light and darkness CANNOT have any fellowship, because the light drives out the darkness. Either the believer will compromise, the unbeliever will get saved, or they will have to go their separate ways.
* Able to share gospels with others, particularly as a result of those intentional relationships he builds.
And some examples of a church that is salty and a bright light:
* Emphasizes personal spiritual development over programs.
* Trains believers for the work of the ministry (Eph 4)
* Convicts believers of sins, challenges and encourages them.
* Convicts unbelievers of sinfulness, brings them to repentance. Unbelievers cannot be comfortable, long term, in a church that is faithful to God. Either the church will compromise, the unbelievers will get saved, or the unbelievers will leave.
* Identifies and develops the spiritual gifts of all the members and finds places for all of them to serve in order to build up the body (Eph 4:16)
* Conducts orderly, reverent worship services (1 Cor 14:26-39)
* Relies on preaching the word of God, and the ministry of God through properly trained and serving members being light in their own spheres of influence, to produce fruit instead of “faking it” through worldly means.
* Exercises Biblical control over the qualifications of members to serve in certain functions (Acts 6:3, 1 Cor 14:34-38, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9, and so on)
To get even more specific with some controversial examples:
Will I be friends with my unsaved neighbors? I’ll maintain a cordial relationship, but in all my interactions I’ll be intentional in my efforts to model and share Christ with them. I will terminate our relationship if it appears they are pulling down me or my family. Will I watch R-rated (or even PG-13) movies? If I do, it will be the exception rather than the rule. Will I watch sitcoms, soaps, dramas, etc? Not a chance. There are a few that are not offensive, and maybe even contain some good, but I don’t feel like sifting through it. I have much better things to do with my time anyway. Will I picket abortion clinics? If I thought it would do any good, I might. I think giving to our local crisis pregnancy center is more effective.
Will homosexuals be welcome in our churches? A professing Christian who is an unrepentant homosexual cannot be. Unregenerate homosexuals will either be convicted of their sins and repent, or get tired of being convicted and stop coming. What about kids with all kinds of piercings? If they are lost, they will be convicted by the preaching and either get saved or stop coming. If they are saved, then their new spirit plus the teaching ministry of the church will show them the need to get rid of their rebellious appearances. Will our churches minister to recovering homosexuals, women who’ve had abortions, divorcees, and so on? Of course, but always in the context of sin and repentance and sanctification. Will we minister to the poor? Naturally, but not without primarily addressing their spiritual poverty. Will we attempt to change society through laws and the like? Probably, but we have to remember that our commission is to change hearts, not laws, and spend our energy accordingly. Will a church sing hymns, or praise choruses? Whatever a church does, it should be reverent and theocentric.
Salt and light is not something you try to do. It’s who we are. We maintain our saltiness, and let our light shine from the high places we’re set in, as we obey God’s commands found in His word from a pure heart. If we’re not salty, or if our light is too dim to be seen, or if the darkness oddly isn’t driven out by what we think is our light, then we must look to our identity and our nature, not our methods. Methods and disciplines and programs are great as tools to help us, but they are not the goal.