Welcome to the year 2014. What are your hopes and dreams and fears for this year? What new year resolutions have you made?
Has anyone made the resolution suggested by Jesus himself to be salt and light?
In John 8:12 Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”
In Matthew 5:14 Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.”
You are like Jesus, then. It is not too hard for us to accept the first statement, because after all he is Messiah. He is the son of God made flesh. He is the perfect human being.
But who are we? We are sinners. And yet Jesus puts those who follow him in the same category with him as being the light of the world. How can we compare to Jesus?
We tend, because of this, to translate this simple statement in our minds so that it is changed into, “You ought to try your best to become the light in the world.”
With this in mind we read the closing statement in verse 16 – “Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” – and we conclude that Jesus is calling us to make a determined effort to set a good example for others.
He isn’t! He is telling you what your identity is as his follower. He is telling you that as one of his disciples you are salt and light. When we become followers of Jesus we by faith accept that he is salt and light come into this world. And we are now joined with him, so we also have become salt and light as long as we live in him and he lives in us.
When we put our faith in him, we were changed. We became like him.
What do salt and light do?
Salt has a very important role as an antiseptic. Ezekiel 16:4 describes the ancient practice of rubbing salt on a newborn baby. It was normal to rub salt into a wound to prevent infection.
Salt is also a common preservative. Two thousand years ago, before fridges, the only way to keep meat edible was to salt it. We still use this method.
And of course the third use is in cooking. Added in suitable quantities it enhances the flavour in food. Roman soldiers were even paid sometimes with British salt.
So when Jesus says his disciples are salt, he doesn’t mean we are like the salt we have in our kitchens. We are to function in this world as purifying agents, and moral disinfectants. We are to bring out the full flavour of men and women who are made in God’s image.
There are two ways we might fail to do this. First, salt is of no benefit if it stays together in one lump. Have you ever had food with too much salt? Yuck! Salt needs to be spread out and rubbed in to heal a wound. Or to steal a phrase, it has to get out of the salt shaker. The purpose of the church and of disciples is not to withdraw and hide from society in a salt shaker of isolated purity.
Hebrews 10:25 says, “let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another.” This is really important, and we must keep meeting. But it is not an order to spend every moment in church meetings and at church functions. You may be pure if you do nothing but church work, but you won’t be effective as salt. You have to get out of the salt shaker and be rubbed in to society.
The second way in which might fail is if we lose our saltiness. Maybe you cannot see how salt can lose its saltiness, but that is because you are not familiar with first century Palestinian salt. A brick of salt from the region of the Dead Sea contained many impurities. Salt as you know dissolves very easily in water, and so you think it would all disappear if it became wet. But these blocks in Jewish homes acted differently. Because of all the impurities it was possible for the damp to dissolve all the salt and leave behind a white brick that looked like salt but was useless, because it had lost all its saltiness. All that remained was an ineffectual block of white impurities that only looked like salt.
Every Jew who had ever experienced an invasion of damp would have known at once what Jesus meant.
Disciples lose their saltiness when it is washed away by the world. It happens when we blend into the world, by accident or design. When you have a quiet life of social conformity, you have lost your saltiness. You may still look like a disciple, but you aren’t.
Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”
As disciples we are called to live out the gospel. We are called to show it by the way we live, not merely to say we agree with it.
When salt is rubbed into a wound it disinfects it, but it is also painful. We may come with love and healing, but the world might reject our healing message as too painful. Let your conversation be gracious and seasoned with salt, says Paul.
Not too much, not too little. In the right places at the right times. We are called to live lives of radical discipleship because we are the salt of the world.
And light. Light is able to bring safety by illuminating hazards. Light also exposes. Ask any housewife what happens when the sun bursts through the clouds. She suddenly sees all the dust on the surfaces where it had hidden in the dark. This of course explains the tradition in European nations of spring cleaning after the dark winter.
And sometimes light can dazzle us, such as at night when it is suddenly shone in our eyes. Light unmasks evil, exposing wickedness. Light reveals the truth. Light is pure.
Why would you hide your light? Maybe because you fear persecution and you don’t want to experience martyrdom, like Peter when he denied Jesus. Perhaps you simply feel embarrassed and don’t want to be associated with people who are being mocked.
Maybe you hide the light so that you can fit into the world and get along easily, because you value promotion or popularity too highly. We sometimes hide the light by changing or diluting the teachings of our lord and master Jesus when they seem offensive.
All the time we hide the light without knowing it – when we compromise, when we exhibit prejudice, when we contradict the gospel with our lives.
Disciples need a lifestyle that allows the light to shine. We need to live lives of purity and love and grace that testify to the living God who abides in us. In the new year will you pledge to stand up and allow the light of Christ to shine in your life, even when it dazzles people. Will you pledge to be salt spread around and rubbed in even when it makes the wounds of the world sting, because it will bring them healing.
Will you repent of your failures to live as salt and light in 2013 even as you now promise to be salt and light in 2014?
The world needs us to be true and faithful disciples. The world needs the salt and light that Jesus has placed in us. Our neighbours need Jesus so that they may also become salt and light in a tasteless and dark world.
Look within yourself. Jesus’ life is within you. The salt and light are within you. Look within at the union with Jesus, at the Holy Spirit living in you. Look inside and realise that you are a child of God filled with his salt and light for a dying world.
This year is going to be an adventure if you are willing to allow your amazing potential to emerge. You are a disciple of Jesus, and you are an amazing new creation.
Your challenge in 2014 is to discover how to live as this new creation. Don’t hold back, but give yourself over to a radical new life. You are a remarkable person. You are salt and light.