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Sunday, 6 May 2012

Salt & Light of the World - Us???

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and be trampled by men.
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they might see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:13-16.

For many years I believed that Jesus here was telling us to work hard at our good deeds so not only would evil in the earth be checked, but men will glorify God in heaven. I no longer believe this.

Read carefully what Jesus is saying here:

You are the salt of the earth...You are the light of the world.

This indicates who we are in Christ, not something to be achieved by works. When one turns to Jesus for salvation, we become both salt of the earth and a light of the world just as naturally as that I am a man. I did not work to become a man. At conception, a sperm with an Y-chromosome fertilized the ovum in my mother's fallopian tube, as it made its way to the womb.  After that, developing  from a microscopic-sized ball of cells to a fully grown man took no effort on my part, except to eat when necessary. On the same level, a believer is a light to the world and at the same time salt to act as a preservative. It is as natural as being a man or woman.

Salt applied to meat preserved it, as in those days refrigeration did not exist, and meat would go off very quickly under the hot sun in the Middle East. Salt has a disinfectant property which allowed meat to be stored until ready for use (usually within a day). Even today, salt applied to a wound may give a burning sensation, but has healing powers due to the disinfectant properties.

And a flame does not work to radiate light, except to consume the fuel in the wick. It gives light as naturally as it gets. Light allows the occupants in the room to get about their business without the need to grope or to risk knocking furniture over or to feel for the wall.

So what does the Christian need to do to be the salt and light of the world? Nothing, except to be there.  It is presence of a Christian that has an effect on the unbelievers around him.  And this is not restricted to New Testament Christians. It was equally effective during Old Testament times. Consider the conversation that took place between God and Abraham:

The men turned away and went towards Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham approached him and said:
"Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there is fifty righteous people in the city? Would you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing - to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous with the wicked alike. Far from it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?
The Lord said, If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake."
Genesis 18:22-26.

Abraham then very cautiously reduced the number of the righteous to 45, then to forty, down to just ten. But even with ten, God promised that he would spare the whole city for their sakes. Indeed, ten righteous souls were enough to be salt and light to the whole city. But even when the corruption of the city reach heights which were beyond the point of no return, God was specific in rescuing Lot and his two daughters from the catastrophe.

So what was it which makes a person righteous? In Hebrews 11:6 the author wrote that without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. So faith is necessary to please God. But faith in itself does not do anything. There must be an object of faith, something to believe in. This object is Christ crucified. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was, and had always been, the object of faith. Right from the time of Adam and Eve, faith in the coming Messiah was that which justified a person, and the righteousness of God was imputed to him.

Abraham provides a classic example. In Genesis 15:6 the narrator states that Abraham believed the Lord and he was credited to him as righteous. Paul used this incident in his letters to Rome and to Galatia to press the point home that faith in Christ crucified justified a person without works. But in the 15th chapter of Genesis, nothing was said about a future Messiah slain on his behalf. Instead, God was revealing to him that despite his age, he will father a son. And righteousness was imputed for believing in that specific revelation.

But in John 8:56, Jesus himself, while in a hot debate with the Jews, declared that their father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing his day, he saw it and was glad. When did Abraham see Jesus during his lifetime, I can't be dogmatic. But in chapter 12 of Genesis, we read that God revealed himself to Abraham for the first time with the command to leave his homeland for Canaan, to which God will give to his descendants. When he arrived at Canaan, God revealed that through his offspring, or seed, he will give this land - verse 7.

After rescuing his nephew Lot from enemy kings, Abraham was met by Melchizedek, King of Salem, who offered a meal of bread and wine, which today we see as symbols of the body and the blood of Jesus Christ, which he himself consumed with his disciples on the night of his betrayal. It was soon after this that God appeared yet again to announce that from his loins that a son shall come.

Then it at this point was the likelihood of the coming Messiah was realised, when he matched the revelation given to him by God with the one from Genesis 3:15, when God spoke to the snake in the presence of Adam and Eve that the snake will bruise his heel, but he will bruise the snake's head. It is interesting that the narration was most likely recorded by Shem, Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, for the benefit of their descendants, as hinted in Genesis 10:1, and Shem recorded his own line of descent from 11:10 onwards, down to Abraham. If true, then this may add proof to the Jewish tradition that this mysterious Melchizedec, who served bread and wine to Abraham, was actually Shem himself. Putting all these things together gave Abraham the faith in the future Messiah who would bruise the snake's head, coming from his own loins. Thus God imputed righteousness to his account, as he does to all believers today. If these things are true, then the object of faith - that of the future Messiah promised from the dawn of history, was well known among early mankind, even before Moses permanently consolidated the account while writing the Pentateuch.

In Luke 1:6 the writer describes the elderly couple Zechariah and Elizabeth as upright in the sight of God, observing all the commandments and regulations blamelessly. Does that mean that one can be accepted by God by one's own works? Now if Hebrews 11:6 says that its is impossible to please God without faith, and Paul in his letters to the Romans and to the Galatians were insistent that no one is saved by keeping the Law, or else Christ died for no purpose, then why was Zechariah and Elizabeth righteous? A clue may be found in Luke 2:25-32 that Simon,who was also described as righteous and devout, was waiting for the consolation of Israel, that is, the future Messiah. Then the elderly widow, Anna spoke about the child to "all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem," that is again, faith in the coming Messiah.

So we can see here, that everyone who looked to the coming Messiah before the crucifixion were counted as righteous by God. Everyone who looks back to the crucifixion are also counted righteous by God. We see then, that it is Jesus Christ crucified which takes centre stage in all of history, and not our good works.

Just as we have the righteousness of God imputed into our accounts through faith in Jesus, we are both salt and light to the unbelieving world. But didn't Jesus say that our good deeds will bring men to praise God? Yes he did. But let us put this in perspective. What is it that glorifies God? Sinners turning to Christ for salvation. Our good works are for the benefit of men, not God. Unbelievers are not able to see our faith in God without good works flowing from our faith. These good works, first of all, keeps evil under restraint. Thus they could be likened to salt preserving the meat while in storage until used. Our works are also likened to light from a lamp or candle to direct unbelievers to Christ. But none of our works can add a single layer to our salvation. We are the salt and we are the lights. There is absolutely nothing we can do to make ourselves into salt and light.

To be called salt and light by Jesus Christ himself is a wonderful act of grace, and a demonstration of God's love to us and to the unbelieving world.


  1. Excellent post! Without Him, we can do nothing, but with the indwelling Holy Spirit, all things are possible. His light shines through us because of who we are in Him. It's not a matter of what we try to do for Him, but of what He chooses to do through us.
    God bless,

  2. Great post, Frank.

    Just as the effects of the salt automatically result or are the fruit of it's presence, so the light is the natural result of the candle burning. Fruit is just the natural result of being what we are. Unless it is deprived of what is needed to do so, the fruit tree will produce fruit.

  3. I think we always need to remember God when we set out to do something; I think there's a difference between someone who is religious, and someone who is just a Christian and merely tries to serve the Lord on a daily basis as best as he or she can.

    If we lose interest in our calling, we can pray about this, as I think we can pray about anything that crops up in our lives; I find myself at this time struggling against depression but it will pass as it always does; with God's help.