“Salt and Light”

“Salt and Light”

Matthew 5:13-16

Would you agree with me that we are living in a day and age filled with great tension between what we hope is possible versus what we think is impossible?  It seems to me that every age that has preceded us: like Modernity that included the Renaissance (14th Century), the Enlightenment (17th Century), and now Postmodernity, has offered an answer for how society and our world could experience human flourishing and happiness. 

Out of Modernity came communism and capitalism, both are political and economic systems that were formed with a vision to better human civilization.  Communism has been responsible for totalitarianism, political and religious repression, human rights violations, and all forms of censorship. Capitalism has been accused of social-economic inequality, market failure, materialism, and economic cycles of prosperity and failure.  The conflict between the two systems gave birth to devastating wars responsible for unfathomable destruction and millions of deaths.

I believe that the failure of Modernity to produce the kind of human flourishing its philosophers believed it could provide, the quest for happiness and meaning in life, has taken to another way of viewing and understanding reality, known as Postmodernity.  Postmodernity was a cataclysmic shift in the world that many scholars believe began in the 60s and 70s with the questioning of any form of establishment (both secular and religious) and continued all the way through the early 2000s.  In his book, A Primer on Postmodernism, Stanly Grenz wrote the following helpful assessment of one of the most significant shifts in the way truth is embraced and its impact on the West: “the postmodern mind refuses to limit truth to its rational dimension and thus dethrones the human intellect as the arbiter of truth.  There are other valid paths to knowledge besides reason, say the postmodernists, including the emotions and the intuition.” [1]  In other words, truth is not something only discovered intellectually, but also experientially.  Many still believe that the path to human flourishing and happiness can be discovered by what people identify as “your truth.” 

The catalyst that I believe allowed Modernity and Postmodernity to have the impact both systems had, and continue to have, are two profound inventions that revolutionized how we receive information.  For Modernity, it was the printing press (AD 1440); for Postmodernity, it was the World Wide Web (AD 1989).   Out of Modernity came the notion that truth could be discovered through reason and science, while the Postmodern mind believes that truth is discovered through experience, emotion, and intuition.

Today, according to a study from the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, 58% of Americans surveyed believe that morality and truth is determined by the individual and not absolute moral truth.  And yet, the rate of deaths by suicide in America has risen by 30% in 2020, and a staggering 62% Americans are currently dissatisfied with life.[2]  In part, I believe that these statistics show us that people have not been given what all of our achievements promised.  The advancements in modern medicine, science, technology, the printing press, the World Wide Web, and everything else the best and brightest have come up with, although some of it is good, our world still craves something more. 

A survey was conducted recently by the Survey Center of American Life regarding how Americans felt about the future of the United States.  Of those surveyed, 53% Americans indicated that they were very to somewhat pessimistic about the future while 47% remained optimistic.[3]  The pessimist looks at the future and believes it will not get better because with all of our advances, it seems to have gotten worse.  The optimist looks at all the advances we as a species have made and believes that it still could get better.  However, biblical Christianity doesn’t look at the world the way the optimists look at the ideal, nor does biblical Christianity look at the world the way the pessimists look at their current reality.  Tim Keller suggests that biblical Christianity looks to Jesus Christ as both the ideal and the real:

Biblical Christianity is neither shallow optimism nor dark pessimism, and here’s the reason why…. Jesus Christ isn’t an ideal or a real. He is the ideal who has become real. He has blasted a hole between the ideal and the real. He has blasted a hole through the wall that’s kept the ideal and the real apart.[4]

What human history teaches us is that our world is not getting better; in fact, it is decaying.  Not only is our world decaying, but with all the effort to bring light into our world, it seems that all of our learning, and all of our technological advances, and all of the advances in medicine, have yielded more problems.  The only thing that the optimism and pessimism of the world will give you is emotional and spiritual whiplash as it jerks you back and forth from the ideal to the real with no stable solution that will lead to the kind of human flourishing we humans have always longed for.

The beatitudes show us that Jesus entered into our world and rescued the Christian from spiritual death by making him/her alive spiritually.  What he tells us in Matthew 5:13-16 is that after he saved you out of the world, he has now sent you back into world as the antidote for the problem of the decay and the darkness that plagues the world.     

The Salt of the Earth  

Jesus says of the Christian: “You are the salt of the earth…” (v. 13).  This statement that Jesus made about you is in the indicative; what this means is that it is a statement of fact.  It is not a command to be obeyed, it is not a suggestion, or the ideal; Jesus describes in verse 13 what you now are if you are a Christian.  As a Christian, Jesus says that you are the salt of the earth, and the earth is a reference to all that are under the curse of sin. 

In first Century Palestine, salt was very important and valuable.  Sometimes Roman Soldiers were paid with salt instead of money.  Salt was used to slow down decay and in slowing down decay, it also acted as a preservative.  Salt served to aid flavor to food as it does today.  Salt also was used for medicinal purposes for it served as an anti-inflammatory, it had antibacterial properties, it was used to help with respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, cold, and flue.  Salt also makes the person using it, thirsty; this is one of the reasons why some restaurants will give you chips and salsa or salted peanuts.  In other words, the five functions of salt in the ancient world were purity, preservation, flavor, healing, and to create thirst.    

Saint Origen (AD 185-253), an early church father, said of verse 13, “Salt preserves meats from decaying into stench and worms.  It makes them edible for a longer period.  They would not last through time and be found useful without salt.  So also, Christ’s disciples, standing in the way of the stench that comes from the sins of idolatry and fornication, support and hold together this whole earthly realm.”

Our presence in the world can slow the fertile ground of sin in our world just as salt can keep soil from being useful to grow plants.  Our presence in the world is not just to affect the growth of sin, but to preserve what is good in our world.  By being in the world, we should be adding flavor that creates a hunger in people for what we have. Our world is hurting and filled with death, our presence in the world should bring healing to the hurting around us.  Throughout the years that God gives us in this life in a world that is decaying, our presence ought to be creating a thirst for Jesus in some of the people in our communities. 

Jesus tells us to, “Have salt in yourselves…” (Mark 9:50), which means that we must also retain our flavor.  How do we do that?  The apostle Peter clues us in to how we can remain salty in our world: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:14–16).

Unlike the refined salt we use today, the salt in the ancient east was found in the ground in the form of rocks which meant that it contained many impurities.  Water among other things could potentially dissolve the sodium chloride to the point where the salt rocks could lose their saltiness, which would rid it of all the properties that made it useful.  This is why Jesus said, “…but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?”  What becomes of a saltless salt rock?  Nothing.  The only thing saltless salt rocks are good for is to go back into the earth from where they came. 

There is a warning here that we must pay attention too.  The Christian of the beatitudes will remain salty; however, if the only visible difference between the “Christian” and the world is in name only, with no distinction, you may look like salt, but in the end, you are no different than the rest of the earth.  The Message paraphrases Jesus’ words this way: “If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?”  In fact, the Greek word for “lost” in this verse is “mōrainō”; we get the word “moron” from it.  It is most commonly translated “fool” or “foolish.”  The point is that it makes no sense that the one who arrived at the cross of Christ in the way the beatitudes describe, could ever be saltless.  However, the way one could become saltless is through compromise in the world to the point that the values of the world wash over you more than the ethics of Jesus’ kingdom,  to the point that all the hint of the salt in your life is undetectable. 

The Light of the World

Again, Jesus makes a statement about who the Christian is: “You are the light of the world” (v. 14).  Light is meant to be seen and not hidden.  The use of light in the Bible was used to dispel evil, to illuminate the truth, to add knowledge, for revelation, and to fill one with hope.  By calling us “light” Jesus says of the Christian that our presence in the world is to light up the darkness (purity), to bear the truth, to bring the knowledge of who God is, to help people discover the hope of the gospel (revelation), and to bring hope to a world suffering from being jerked around by a world without hope. 

Jesus said of himself, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  Jesus is the great light sent into the world to redeem people living in the darkness of the world.  Of the Christian, the bible states: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).  Again, the apostle Peter describes the Christian in this way: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).  You were saved by Jesus to shine for Jesus! 

We, who once lived in darkness, are now the light of Jesus for the world to see.  Our light is not only for our fellow Christian, it is for a world of darkness to see!  We function like a lighthouse in that we are the ones Jesus has sent into the world to not only be seen, but to give direction to those near and far.  This is why Jesus lets us know that we are not just any old light, but a light on a hill.

Just as it is foolish to let the world wash your saltiness away, it is foolish to hide the light that you are under a basket so that no one can see it.  Christian, your presence in the world of your home, the world of your work, the world of your neighborhood, and whatever other world you find yourself in serves to light up the dark like a lamp lights up room in the midnight hour.  So, Jesus concludes: “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16).   As one commentator put it: “A righteous life and bold witness is a powerful combination.”  Your life ought to reflect the character of your heavenly Father, and when the world sees your actions and how they line up with testimony, they will see that the miracle in your life is one that only God could do. 


If you are a Christian, what God has done in your life so far is something for the world to marvel at.  You have been redeemed through the work of Jesus and his cross.  You who were once dead, are now alive!  You who once walked in darkness, now walk in the light.  The power that transformed your life is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.  Jesus did not save you so that you can show up to church every once in a while, or so that you can spend a little time in your Bible.  God saved you to use you.  God redeemed you to send you into the same death and darkness he pulled you out of. 

Last week I read Ephesians 2:8-9, which was only part of the apostle Paul’s point.  Ephesians 2:1-4 tells how God saved you, verses 8-9 tell us how he saved us, and verse 10 tells us why he saved us.  Listen to Ephesians 2:8-10 in light of what Jesus said about you and I being salt and light in this world: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8–10).

You are distinct, you are one who is living among the spiritually dead, you are salt, and you are light.  You were saved to be rubbed into your world to keep the rottenness from spreading. You are the preservative your world needs by bringing the gospel with you because it is part of you.  The work that God has done in your life brings flavor into the blandness of your world.  As an ambassador of King Jesus, your presence brings the spiritual medicine your world desperately needs.  Every time you enter into the space of the world God has sent you into, you not only light it up as one who reflects the glory of Christ, but your presence is meant to create a thirst in others for Jesus. 

The danger Jesus warns us of in these verses is the danger of losing your distinctiveness as the kind of Christian described in the beatitudes.  Someone once told me that I was becoming so heavenly minded that I would not be any earthly good.  That person was very wrong.  Listen to something the apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 3:1-4, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1–4).

The only way to retain your saltiness and for your light to burn bright for Jesus is if you are continually setting your mind on him.  You cannot be any earthly good if you are not setting your mind on things above.  Every time Moses spent time in the presence of God, his face glowed (see Exod. 34:29-35); in the same way, you will not be the purifying, preserving, flavorful, medicinal, thirst creating, truth exposing, knowledge revealing, agent of hope if you are not spending time with Jesus and with his people regularly. 

It is also true that you will not have the effect God intends for you to have in your world if you are not present in the world of your work, the world of your neighborhood, the world of your non-Christian friends, or the world of your non-Christian family members.  The more you spend time in the presence of Jesus, the more you will feel free to talk about him as his life is reflected through your life, before others. 

There are four steps I want to encourage you to take in the next 4 weeks:

  1. If Meadowbrooke is your church home, make our regular Sunday morning gatherings a priority.
  • If you do not spend time regularly in your Bible, pick one of the Gospels and read a chapter a day (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John).
  • If you rarely interact with people who do not know Jesus, look for a way to do that.  Invite your neighbor over for dinner, coffee, etc.  You don’t have to tell them about Jesus during your first encounter but begin by finding a way to be present in their lives.
  • Finally, pray for an opportunity to let someone who does not know you are a follower of Jesus, know that you are a follower of Jesus. 

You were saved to share the hope of Jesus with a world jerked around by shallow optimism and dark optimism.  We have a hope that transcends the world’s best efforts at human flourishing.  We were sent into the world to be salt and to shine in a way that makes the world he has called us into, better. 

[1] Stanly Grenz.  A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing; 1996), p. 7.

[2] Harry Enten, CNN: “American happiness hits record lows.” February 2, 2022.

[3] Samuel J. Abrams, “Americans are More Optimistic Than You Think.” March 14, 2022.

[4] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. Redeemer Presbyterian Church.