In Matthew 5:13-16, in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches how believers are to be influencers. He makes it clear that Christians are meant to be different from the world as kingdom ambassadors. In other words, believers are not to be thermometers, merely reflecting the temperature of culture, but thermostats positively impacting the culture for Christ.
Jesus teaches in His sermon:
“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” (Matt 5:13-16).
Jesus uses two metaphors, salt, and light, to describe the influence of believers for good in the world. Believers are to live, by the power of Christ, in such a way that their lives exemplify Christ; their mouths profess Christ and His teaching, drawing people to the Lord. Simply put, Christians are to point people to Christ.
Jesus also warns believers to not compromise their faith, losing their saltiness. The church needs to remain salty, not contaminated by the world. Further, if salt can lose its saltiness, the light in us can become dark. God calls us to be honest about who we are. We are saved and being sanctified. We are not, yet, perfect, but being perfected. However, God calls believers to be willing for their Christian walk to be visible to others. We are to be our growing honest selves described in the Beatitudes, not ashamed of Christ, and not contaminated by the stuff of earth.
I have heard people say, “That person must be a Christian because they are so nice.” I want to be careful but honest here. I have known many nice Christians. I have known many who are nice and are not Christians. I have even met some who claim to be Christian but aren’t really nice. With that said, I believe the picture we get from these metaphors goes beyond mere kindness. We are supernaturally indwelt by the Spirit of God. As salt and light, in our imperfect yet, perfecting journey with Christ, we are to be a God-sized witness to the world in which we live.
We learn a couple of lessons from this passage. The first lesson is that there is a distinctive difference between what God calls us to as Christians and the lives of those yet to receive Christ, between the church and the world. Due to the Spirit’s work in the life of a believer, this passage assumes that Christians are different. John Stott sadly notes, “Probably the greatest tragedy of the church throughout its long and checkered history has been its constant tendency to conform to the prevailing culture instead of developing a Christian counter-culture.” God’s church is to be in the world, not avoiding it, but not of the world, directing others to Jesus.
The second lesson is that the believer, the church, must accept the call God places upon her to the Christian distinctive. Sanctification, becoming like Christ, is not automatic. We must choose to focus on Christ and, by His power, follow the Spirit’s leading in our lives. We must not lose confidence in the power of the gospel of Christ. We have Christ, His teachings, and His power to be salt and light to the world if we so choose.
As believers, we need the Spirit’s workings in our lives to grow in Christ so that we can be salt and light to the world. This can’t be done in our own strength. Stott ties Christ’s teaching on the Beatitudes and His instruction on being salt and light when he writes, “A Christian’s character as described in the Beatitudes and a Christian’s influence as defined in the salt and light metaphors are organically related to one another. Our influence depends on our character.” Christians are meant to be different from the world as kingdom influencers, and by His power, for the benefit of others, this can be a genuine reality. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!