Rethinking Verses: Salt and Light

Sometimes ideas get ingrained in the mind and it takes a long long time to remove them, even when they are wrong. Take for example the idea of being “salt and light”.

For the last 15 years, being “salt and light” has been for me synonymous with standing for fundamental Christian values in the culture. Being informed. Speaking truth. Voting for Jesus. The phrase has been a rally cry to not retreat from the public sector nor to surrender the Christian heritage of America. There’s a “watchman at the gate” ring to it – “Be salt and light”! Nothing wrong with all that, but in reread Matthew 5 it doesn’t fit:

Matthew 5:13–16 (ESV)

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.

The point of being salt and being light is not “corrective” to the culture, but to bring people to glorify the Father (verse 16). That is done as the world sees our “good works” and perhaps says something like this:

“I may not agree with those Christians, but I’m thankful for them.”

or maybe even something like this:

“Father, I surrender my life to you because you are greater than anything in this life.”

In any case, the point of being salt and light is not so much that Christians go around and speak against all the darkness of the society, but that Christians live godly Jesus-like lives. Specifically these verses on being salt and light are tied to the previous 10 verses that talk about the “blessed” attitudes of living. This is the taste of “salt” and the glow of “light” that Jesus spoke of:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3–12, ESV)  

This is not to say we should be silent in our culture. Lets speak truth, but let’s also remind ourselves of what salt and light means and how it is that the Father is glorified – by undeniable lives and not by irrefutable arguments.


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