Salt and Light
13 “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.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 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.
So the images of salt and light form a twofold declaration on the Christian life. Followers of Jesus are to engage with the culture by being a useful, productive, positive presence in their communities. They are also to be distinct from the culture by seeking to dispel darkness, illumine truth, remove evil from wherever they find it, and represent the holiness of God.
Christians, therefore, cannot retreat from culture entirely and isolate from it. Historically isolation from the culture has been seen in monastic movements and, more recently, holiness movements of the last century. Christians also shouldn’t just wage war against it since they are called to be useful to it, not destroy it. Waging war against the culture can be see in some fundamentalist movements in the US today. Christians also cannot completely assimilate to the culture and accept everything from the culture as good and true. In this case the church loses it’s distinctiveness and ceases to be light. This fallacy is seen in movements such as the prosperity gospel which attempts to blend Western consumerism with Christianity. Jesus calls his followers to be both salt and light. This is not an “either, or” equation but a “both, and”. This is a delicate balance the church must strike, requiring wisdom and guidance from the Spirit.
This difference is seen quite vividly in the long standing conversation in missions work. The discussion centers around which task is paramount in missions: doing justice and charity work vs. seeking personal salvations. This debate has always seemed silly to me. It’s only a discussion when missions is conceived of with the the efficient, production oriented minds of western Christians who nobly sought to go into new territories and quickly make disciples of as many as possible, think short term missions trips. If you only have 2 weeks with these people this argument applies. If you live your life with them in community, as Jesus seems to envision his church doing, this argument seems silly. We must be both salt and light, and it is not efficient.
Jesus is our ultimate example of how to do this. He entered into a cultural moment in history. He spoke the common language of his region. He dressed appropriately for a first century Jewish rabbi. He didn’t create an oasis retreat in the country for people to come and experience his teaching and be graced by his presence. Instead, he went to people, where they were, in their places of work and communities. He used illustrations that they would understand (sometimes… sometimes he told parables so people wouldn’t understand them, but that’s a topic for another day). He entered into their cultural debates and gave them the kingdom perspective in the midst of those debates.
Yet, Jesus was perfectly holy. He didn’t sin. In all of his encounters with pushy people: lepers overstepping their bounds, Peter not knowing what he’s talking about, the Pharisees trying to trap him, the crowds trying to make him king, Jesus never once gave into temptation. He called the people to true inner holiness, not just outward, behavioral holiness for show. He not only taught the people who God is but he showed them by his life and rhythms as well (obviously in a unique way as the second person of the Trinity).
ff to 4:38 for additional content
I’ve included another episode from this cultural moment with John Mark Comer and Mark Sayers. Again, this devotional is a lot longer than usual but this podcast is so good. I couldn’t bring myself to cut any of it out. Enjoy
Listen to the This Cultural Moment Podcast