by Mike Ratliff
“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. (Matthew 5:13-16 ESV)
I finished translating Matthew 5 last night. I must say that going verse-by-verse, word-by-word through this part of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount this way has got to be one of the most humbling and heart-rending exercises I have ever gone through. Why? Our Lord was proclaiming that his kingdom had come and that those in it would have certain characteristics and those who did not were not part of his kingdom. In other words, these verses he proclaims about us being salt and light are not parts of a sermon on how to become salt and light, but indicative statements of fact about those already part of his kingdom. Of course, there are later statements of rebuke in which he preaches about our behavior of what we are to do and not do as those in his kingdom. However, as I translated chapter 5 I did a huge self-checkup and realized how my flesh rather than my Lord rules far too much of my character.
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt becomes tasteless, in what way will it again become salty? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out to be trampled upon by men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city lying on a mountain is not able to be hidden. 15 They do not light a lamp and place it under the grain bucket, but upon the lamp stand, and it lights all the ones in the house. 16 Thus let your light shine before men so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
Like many of you, I have often desired that God would shorten my time of sanctification, to take me home to be with my Lord very soon. However, besides our sanctification during this time after he has shown mercy to us by justifying us by grace through faith according to his sovereign will and plan, we are to remain here in this temporal fallen world to influence it for good. That is our role of being the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Salt works in two ways that are beneficial. It is both a seasoning and a preservative. Christians are seasoning in this lost and dying world only as we are obeying our Lord as his disciples. That is, taking up our crosses and following him. That includes obeying the Great Commission, that is, making disciples from all nations, teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded knowing that Christ is with us always. Some have hijacked this by claiming we must also redeem the world making the entire world Christian so that when Christ returns it is ready for him to set up his kingdom. That is found nowhere in Scripture.
The other aspect of being salt of the earth is that of being a preservative. This would be the Church’s influence in the world for good, not taking over countries or cultures, but being so obedient to the call of the Gospel that God blesses that culture with leaders who preach and teach the truth and the Holy Spirit uses those means to build and strengthen the Church. This influences whatever culture there to the point that laws and leaders all come under it to some extent.
However, notice that our Lord talks about salt becoming tasteless. Pure salt doesn’t lose it’s saltiness, but the impure salt around the Dead Sea is contaminated with gypsum and other minerals and may have a flat taste or be ineffective as a preservative. Those mineral salts were useful for little more than keeping footpaths free of vegetation. How do Christians lose their saltiness or become tasteless as the salt of the earth? As they become more and more like the world instead of separate from it they lose their ability to be salt. Salt to the “world” is not pleasant. The flesh dominates the world because the ruler of the world is the devil. Those who are truly salt of the earth are in direct opposition and direct conflict to everything the world system values because those who are truly being this “salt” are not controlled by their flesh, but are spirit-led.
As the light of the world, believers, those with the kingdom life within them, function as a living testimony to those in the world who do not yet have the light. Those in the “seeker” movement have hijacked this by attempting to create churches for the unchurched. While this pragmatic approach “makes sense” to the men like Peter Drucker and those who have followed him, it is not biblical and while many “mega-churches” have been built at the expense of large numbers of smaller local churches, the end result has not been as advertised it would be. The number of professing Christians where this has taken place has not increased, but the number of churches has certainly changed. Those who have remained in those “seeker” churches must be part of small groups or they become marginalized. The preaching is shallow and the Bible teaching is non-existent. They attract their numbers by appealing to the flesh and keep them that way while keeping their people very busy doing “works” instead of teaching them God’s good doctrines. This is nothing but works-righteousness and those behind it are primarily Pelagian in their theology.
In contrast, those who are the light of the world, true believers, those with the kingdom life within them, function as a living testimony to those in the world who do not yet have the light. These who are the light are fed and nourished and are shepherded by pastors who preach the Word of God to them. They are taught God’s good doctrines. They worship God in spirit and truth and when they are not doing these things, they are out in the world being salt and light in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our Lord said that those who are the light of world should do their good works openly, not in a corner or only privately. Why? It is so people will see them and give God the glory, not them. I mentioned to some friends I work with that I was doing this project of creating the Possessing the Treasure New Testament. Someone overheard us talking about it. This person accosted me later and accused me of doing this for my own gain and glory. Hardly… I am doing it so I will have a consistent source of scripture online to use for these posts so I won’t have to translate whole passages on the fly like have to do most of the time now. However, all I do here is for the glory of God and the edification of the saints. That is why I end each article the same way.
Soli Deo Gloria!