Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Salt & Light

salt and light

By Dennis Pollock

Over the last fifty years, psychologists and American pop culture have had a lot to say about self-esteem, and its importance to our mental health. A lack of self-esteem has been blamed for everything from serial killings to poor job performance. Whatever your problems, whatever your issues, whatever your hang-ups, a large dose of self-esteem will surely fix it. I have never been quite comfortable with this perspective. It seems to me that in many cases evil men, such as Hitler, Stalin, Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Charles Manson have probably suffered from too much self-esteem rather than too little. And certainly the devil himself, the master of all wicked men, has no lack of self-esteem. Isaiah writes about Satan s attitude when he first rebelled against God, as he said in his heart:

‘I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God…
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.’ (Isaiah 14:13-14)

No lack of self-esteem here! Satan thought so highly of himself that he figured it wouldn t be that hard to replace or at least equal his Creator. He quickly discovered that he wasn t quite as great as he assumed he was.

God of Truth

It is not that God doesn t want us to see ourselves in a positive light where possible. But because God is a God of truth, He wants us to see ourselves accurately – not any higher or lower than we actually are. Paul writes, For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). To think of ourselves soberly means to think of ourselves as we truly are, without any inflated perspective thrown in for psychological benefits.

What this means is that if we are outside of Christ, unsaved and unregenerate, we really don t have much reason to be filled with self-esteem. We may be talented, we may be popular, and we may have achieved a great deal in our career, but without Christ we are in that position of being without God and without hope,” of being dead in trespasses and sins,” of being at enmity with God,” and of being part of that unhappy group Jesus spoke of when He declared, Without Me you can do nothing.” And the sooner one realizes this, the better off he will be.

On the other hand, once we have received Jesus Christ as our Savior, and been turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, everything changes. Rather than being among those living apart from Christ who can do nothing, we become members of that family who can do all things through Christ who strengthens them. Instead of being part of the problems in our world we become part of the solution.

In this little study I want to consider two of the things Jesus says we are. These are taken from Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.” In the early portion of this sermon Jesus talks to His followers and likens them to two positive and well-known commodities.

Salt of the Earth

First, He states:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. (Matthew 5:13)

The first part of this declaration is complementary, the second part a warning. He tells His disciples that they are the salt of the earth.” Today we don t think much about salt. We may salt our food here and there to increase the taste, but that is about it. Much of the food we eat comes pre-seasoned with salt, and we hardly notice it. We just expect our food to be salted: our French Fries, our vegetables, our meat, and most of our baked products. But in Jesus’ day salt was a big deal. There were few processed, pre-salted foods, so if you wanted the pleasant taste of salt you had to apply it yourself, which meant you needed to keep a supply of salt on hand. But salt was also used in drying and preserving meat. There were no refrigerators in those days, and without salt, meat would be rotten in a few days. Yet dried and salted meat could last for weeks if not months. Salt was an important part of Jewish life in those days.

Jesus, looking into the faces of the men who had made the decision to follow Him, declared that they were the salt of the earth.” They were the flavoring agent that made the world pleasant and tasteful from God s perspective. But He was not only speaking to those early disciples. He was speaking to all Christians of all ages, and that includes you and me. We, the born-again followers of Jesus Christ, are the salt that vastly improves our world. As bad, as wicked, as sinful as our world is, it would be far worse and much more evil if it were not for our presence. And we not only make the world more flavorful;” we preserve it, we keep the world and every nation from sliding into chaos and destruction.

Value of a Believer

This is a powerful thought, and since it was uttered by the lips of Jesus, it must therefore be the absolute truth. We truly are the salt of the earth.” We are valuable; we are important; we make the world, not just a better place, but we keep it from collapsing into total degradation. By our witness of Christ, by our vocal declaration of the morality that Jesus proclaimed, by our voting for senators, congressmen, and presidents who uphold godly principles, through our television, radio, and Internet presence, and through our local churches scattered across the world, both large and small, we keep reminding humanity that there is a holy God who made all things, and to whom we must one day give an account. And although they may mock us, despise us, and appear to pay little attention to us, still we serve as a constant testimony to the truth. Their frequent annoyance at us is but an indication that we disturb their consciences, we make them a little uncomfortable in their sexual sins, and we often hold them back from being quite as wicked as they would love to be. We create in the minds of many non-Christians the terrifying thought: What if it really is true?”

But after Jesus complimentary declaration to us, His followers, He then utters a strict warning: salt that loses its flavor is useless and worthy only of the trash heap. We cannot trust in the fact that we once were salty and flavorful. We must continue in Jesus and retain our salty properties. This is essentially a command to abide in Jesus, to remain close to Him, and keep our attention and focus upon Him. We must never wander and never stray from our intimacy with our Master. If we do, all our saltiness quickly leaves us and we become useless, doing no good for anyone – no flavor, no preserving ability, just a tasteless substance that no one wants or needs.

Light of the World

After comparing us to salt, Jesus gives another vivid illustration about who we are, saying:

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Now He calls us light. Light and darkness have been used as symbolic of good and evil practically from the beginning of time. We are the light; we are the goodness in this world. But it is not enough to be the light; we must so live that our light is not hidden. Men and women must see our light and be positively influenced to turn to God. In Jesus days the Jews lit their houses with small oil lamps made of clay. These lamps were never placed on the floor. They must have some sort of lampstand.” As the lamp was elevated, its light shone more efficiently through the room and made it possible for the inhabitants of the home to see one another and whatever might be in the house. It would be foolish to light a lamp and then place it on the floor under a basket. It would lose all its value. But when a lamp is placed on a stand, it does its job, and its light is a blessing to all who are in the house.

This passage may be puzzling to some who remember Jesus saying in the gospel of John, I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). If Jesus is the light of the world, how can He tell us that we are the light of the world? The answer is obvious. When we trust in Christ and embrace His cross and resurrection as the atonement for our souls, He comes and lives inside us through His indwelling Holy Spirit. And with Christ in us, His light shines through us and brings blessings and truth to those around us. We are the light, because of the indwelling Christ who is the ultimate source of light. In another sense we are lamps that carry the light. Jesus said of John the Baptist: He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light” (John 5:35).

Burning, Shining Lamp

A lamp is made for the distribution of light, but in a technical sense, a lamp is not the light. A lamp is a carrier for the light. John was a burning and shining lamp,” and the masses of Israel rejoiced in his light.” He carried the light of God, and today we who love Jesus do the same. We are the light in the sense that we are filled with Jesus and He makes His presence, His love, His word, and His truth known through us. Jesus tells us: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Good works, compassionate deeds, helpful service to people around us will cause people to glorify God and turn to Him through Christ. It is not enough for us to receive Christ, and sit around in our homes being nice, pleasant men and women. We must get out into the world and do things for people, serve people, encourage people, help people, and demonstrate the love of God to them. We do this, not to make ourselves look good, but that God and Jesus Christ may be honored and glorified.

This will look different for each of us, according to God s gifts and calling in our lives. For some, it may mean teaching, for some, volunteering in times of crisis, for some giving money to charitable organizations, and for all showing kindness and patience in personal interactions. But somehow and in some way we must find some form of ministry that will benefit people and bring honor to God. As lights in the world, we who are channels of the One who is the Light, this is our duty and our privilege. We must be about our Master s business.

We are the salt; we are the light of this world. And the reason we are so is that we are the carriers and revealers of Jesus Christ to our world. Are we valuable? Apart from Christ, no. But because of Christ living in us and making Himself known through us, the answer is yes, yes, yes! The world needs us desperately. They may not know it, they may not acknowledge it, they may not feel it, but they do. And the reason they need us is that they need the Jesus who lives in us and works through us. May we go forth as salt and light in our dark and otherwise flavorless world, and be what Jesus has made us to be, and do what He has called us to do.



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