Salt and Light: Matthew 5:13-16

This is the second in a series of posts examining Jesus’ words in His Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7.  Last week, we walked through the Beatitudes and talked about what it means to be truly blessed.  This week, we’ll discuss being salt and light as followers of Christ.

Every person throughout history has sought to find some kind of purpose in life.  One of the “big” questions we ask about our existence is why are we here, what are we to do with the time we’ve been given.  As Christians, we aren’t immune to these probing, and often troubling, questions.  But by God’s grace, He’s given us the answers to these questions in His Word.

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 our 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.”

Take careful note of what Jesus says.  He doesn’t command Christians to be salt.  He says that we are already salt by virtue of our union with Him.  So often we focus on what we are to do rather than what we already are.  Identity must precede behavior.  We act like salt and light because it’s who we are in Christ.

One of salt’s many uses is to add flavor to food, making it better, and, at times, completely transforming the taste of the food.  In the same way, believers in Christ ought to be making the world a better place, seeking to transform the world by following Christ.  There are three ways we can do this:

1) Work–Get a job that makes the world a better place.  While this is good advice for anyone, regardless of his or her religious beliefs, this is especially true for the Christian, for we work not just for the world that is, but for the world that is to come.  In this regard, laziness is inexcusable for the Christian.

I currently serve as a sales associate at a local retail store in the footwear department, and it’s been one of the most humbling, sanctifying jobs I’ve ever held.  God’s taught me to be more patient, understanding and much less bitter through the experience.  I’ve had opportunities to befriend people I would’ve otherwise never met, and opportunities to share my faith.  It’s easy to be bitter, because it’s not my “career job.”  It’s not the job I envisioned having when I graduated at the end of 2013. But I have a job where I get to meet people’s needs, just like Jesus did.  I get to (hopefully) influence people’s days and lives for the better.  I get to be out in public, representing Christ, even if that’s by stocking shelves and making sure you get the right size shoe with a smile on my face and a genuine desire to serve.

Faithfulness and Christlikeness, not job title or location, is the marker of our success as believers.  Remember that, and seek to make the world a better place wherever God has called you.

2) Sharing the gospel–This goes without saying, hopefully, as we are commanded multiple times throughout the New Testament to make our faith known to others.  As we work, we seek to share the joy of knowing Jesus Christ with others.  People only experience true life when they come into relationship with Jesus Christ.  Our world is transformed as Christ transforms hearts.

3) Live holy–A holy life is a marker of God’s grace, not our effort.  We don’t change ourselves, but we have given our lives to Christ and trusted Him to save us and change us, and He has.  Living holy comes from our identity as a child of God, one who, in Christ, is already holy before the Father.  Be who you are in Christ.  The world doesn’t need to see “Christians” that look just like them–they need to see Christians transformed by the power of the gospel and the working of the Holy Spirit into holy, godly people.

Jesus also tells us that we are the light of the world.  Why are we the light of the world?  Because Christ is the light of the world, and we are in Him.  All He commands us to do is not hide Him.  We’re not going to “hide it under a bushel, no! (We’re) gonna let it shine!”  Understand that it’s not just our belief system or our doctrine that we’re called to show, but Christ Himself, in all of His glory, grace and holiness.

Just as you cannot hide a city set on a hill, so you cannot hide the light of Jesus Christ that indwells every true believer.  While all Christians will at times be more or less like Christ due to an ongoing struggle with sin, all Christians will at times also show the beauty, love and holiness of their Lord.

In a typical Jewish home, a lamp was placed on a stand so as to give light to every corner of the house.  In the same way, the light of Christ and His presence should extend to every area of our lives.  There is no room for compartmentalized faith that says, “Jesus is only important on Sunday mornings.”  Our relationship with Jesus affects how we act Monday morning when we show up for work, Monday evening when we get home, and what we do Friday night when no one’s watching.

The Lord has already declared us salt and light.  We are imperfect salt and imperfect light, but we are salt and light.  Let’s strive to make the world a better place, to share the gospel, to be holy, and to show Christ in every area of our lives.

Lord, may we take comfort that you have already declared us salt and light.  May we remember that this is who we are, and may our identity in you lead us to live as you’ve called us to live.  May you give us grace for every good work you have called us to, and may we always seek to make much of you, wherever we find ourselves.

God bless,

Neal E.

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me

Matthew 10: 38 says: “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

If you’ve grown up in the church, I feel it’s safe to assume you’ve heard this verse.  It’s one of the most well-known passages, and one of the most used. And yet, up until recently, I’ve always felt uneasy with it.

Maybe it’s because in the context of Matthew 10, Jesus is giving this command to His disciples as He’s telling them that they will be persecuted for His sake.

Maybe it’s because when Jesus says persecuted, at least in this context, He doesn’t mean having the liberal media “attack” you, or having your TV show cancelled, or even losing your job because of your faith in Him.

Maybe it’s because Jesus tells them they might die. They will suffer. They’ll be beaten.

“Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”–Matt. 10:21

Jesus tells them like it is. And then He tells them, right after telling them to take up their cross, that they must love Him more than they love their family.

And we read this passage and weep. We read this passage and realize we aren’t as committed to Jesus as we should be.  We make plans to share our faith more, to be bolder about what we believe, to spend more time with Jesus, etc.

None of these are bad ideas. We should share our faith boldly, we should spend more time with Jesus, and we should care about glorifying Him in everything we do.

However, as I read this passage and I look at Jesus, I’ve realized something:

I will never take up my cross and follow Jesus until I am resting in the truth that Jesus first took up His cross for me and followed the Father to Calvary to atone for my sin.

When Jesus calls us to take up the cross, He’s not telling us to pick up a lot of self-discipline and be better Christians.  He’s calling us to see what He has done, how He picked up His cross and paid for all of our sin. Then, and only then, will we find the freedom, because we’ve been forgiven by God, because we are righteous before Him in Christ, because we are dearly beloved children, to take up our cross daily, declare Jesus as Lord over all of life, and give our lives to His glory, whatever that may mean.

When Jesus calls us to die to self, we must remember that “He became sin who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Dying to self isn’t a way to get God to approve you. Dying to self is a sign before God and men that you understand what Jesus did for you–that He denied Himself so that we may be saved, that we may trust in His finished work and be forgiven and righteous, completely free from any effort on our part–and that dying to self is the ONLY proper response to this great King.

When we repent of our sin, we declare that Jesus is Lord, and that we are not. And we place all of our hope for salvation in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone. We have trusted Jesus to make us new, laying down our rebellion to begin to walk with Him, trusting Him alone. And as we do that, we see that what we have in Jesus (new life, forgiveness, eternal hope, righteousness, love, honor, purpose) is more than enough. Then, and only then, do we find the freedom, true freedom, to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

You see, what’s happened is that we’ve taken the commands of Christ and we’ve separated them from the work and person of Christ Himself. And when we do that, we run the risk of creating a new law for ourselves, rather than truly love Christ and surrender our lives in joyful, God-given gladness for the sake of the gospel.

Jesus never calls us to do anything He has not already done.  He is not some distant boss that is afraid to get His hands dirty.  He is the divine King, who surrendered His rights for our sake.  He is the Son of God, giving up His eternal home in glory to live amongst sinful men and die for their redemption.  He is the coming Lord, who reigns in our hearts and shows us the best way to live, the only truly God-honoring way.  He is our Friend, who loves us dearly and gives us joy in His presence.

We cannot and must not separate the commands to follow Christ from the gospel.  Jesus commands us to follow Him because “It is finished.” Following Jesus is never about adding to His finished work.  It is responding to it. It’s turning from an old life of sin and rebellion to gladly receive Jesus as Lord, as He reconciles us to God, showing us how to do what we were made to do: enjoy God’s presence and reflect His holiness. It’s turning from self-righteousness to lean wholly on the perfection of Christ alone. It’s turning from guilt and shame to rest in the finished, perfect, once-for-all sacrifice Christ made on our behalf.

And from this salvation, having been made a “new creation” in Christ, reconciled to God, forgiven of our sins, having a new life with our Lord, we go forth and proclaim His name to a lost and dying world.

No matter the cost.

Lord, may our hearts be led by you and you alone.  May we remember what you have done for us in taking up your cross and dying for our sins, and rising to be our eternal Lord.  May we make much of you for all eternity. May our faith be strengthened by the truth of the gospel.

God bless,

Neal