Last week we finished looking at the Beatitudes in our study of the Sermon on the Mount. The 8 Beatitudes are characteristics of a Christian – of a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus delineated the characteristics of someone who has been born again as a child of God. The Beatitudes describe what we are by nature; the new nature that comes from a new heart as a gift from God in response to our faith and repentance.
But even in the last of the Beatitudes we start to see a transition, from what we are to what we will be in the world. You will notice for instance in vs. 11, that this new Christian character causes the world to respond with hatred, with persecution against them. So there is a reaction by the world to the Christian, to the citizen of the kingdom of heaven, and it is a spiteful reaction resulting in persecution, slandering the Christian man or woman. Being a Christian has an effect on the world.
In one way or another, you might say that our Christianity wounds the world. The world is offended by your righteousness. They find offense in the truth of God’s word. They are insulted by your good works. In the same way they were offended by Christ, and they reacted by killing Him; so Jesus said they will hate us, because their hearts are evil and they love darkness rather than light.
Jesus goes on to say that living as a citizen of heaven in a hostile world will result in a similar effect as rubbing salt into their wound. I don’t know if you have ever had a cut on your hand or foot and then maybe got in the ocean, which of course is made up of salt water. It stings. Sometimes it can seem almost unbearable to have the sting of salt in your wound. And yet, it has a curative effect, doesn’t it? Because the salt cleanses the wound.
Many years ago I worked in the pool industry for a little bit. And I discovered in that process that chlorine is made from sodium chloride. Chlorine is made from salt. In fact, the new thing in pools nowadays is a salt water pool. But all that really means is that salt tablets are used to produce chlorine gas which is then infused in the water. When I worked in pools I found that if you put the right amount of chlorine in a pool it would instantly disinfect practically every hazardous bacteria that was in the water, even including AIDs. And in a similar way, salt is a powerful disinfectant.
I think this idea is one aspect of the next statement which Jesus makes which we are looking at today. In these next few verses, Jesus is no longer just describing what we are, but what effect the Christian has on the world around him. And the first one likens the effect of the Christian to that of salt. Let’s read vs 13 again. ““You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”
Notice first of all, that Jesus doesn’t command us to be salt. He says rather that you are salt. And then He warns us not to lose our saltiness. We learn then that we are like salt by nature, that is, by virtue of the new nature which we have received in salvation.
The first thing we should point out which is inferred in Jesus’s statement, is that the Christian is different than the world. Jesus said you are the salt of the earth. That is, we are in the world, but we are not of the world. We are in the world as a causative effect on the world. Thus we can learn that God doesn’t intend for us as Christians to live in a monastery somewhere, secluded from the world, but to be in the world, acting as a minister of heaven’s kingdom, representing Christ to the world around us. We are not to be conformed to the world, but the world is to be informed by us. This principle is teaching us as Christians living in the world, how we are to live in the world.
And as I indicated, this statement infers some things about the nature of the world that bear further consideration. The first thing that must be understood in light of the teaching of the Bible is that the world we live in is a fallen world. Now this goes against scientific teaching, philosophical teaching, and the general opinion of modern society. I suppose that the root of their rejection of this idea comes from the theory of evolution. In the theory of evolution things are getting better and better. In fact, this perspective is not limited to the scientific world but it has crept into to liberal churches as well, especially since many of them have accepted the theory of evolution and consider the Genesis account of creation as a fable. Such purveyors of the positive thinking gospel like Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale were fond of quoting the French psychologist Émile Coué who patented the motto, “every day and in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
That’s really the mantra of the world. That we are evolving, becoming better and better, not only as individuals but as society. We are making such improvements in medicine and science and psychology that it shows mankind has the potential to create nirvana here on earth. And yet from a Biblical perspective, nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible teaches that the world is getting worse and worse. Every advancement in technology or science brings with it even more problems. One day, according to the scriptures, this world will end, it will destroyed, and God will remake it as new heavens and a new earth. But in the meantime it is a fallen world, and ever since the Garden of Eden it has been deteriorating, getting worse and worse. And all the evidence that you need that the world is corrupt and getting worse all the time should be evident if you simply read the news.
Mankind cannot fix it’s problems through the advancements in medicine, nor technology, nor through science or government. Because it’s problems are rooted in a corrupt nature. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” The Bible teaches that the world is corrupt because their hearts are evil. Genesis 6:5 says, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” According to the Bible, the natural man is corrupt. He’s like meat which when left alone will grow foul and putrid. It can only be kept from purification through a preservative or a disinfectant.
We see this continually illustrated in the Bible. Though the Garden of Eden was good and perfect, yet sin entered the world because of man’s rebellious nature. The sin of Adam and Eve spread to their first offspring who murdered his brother. And things spiraled downward from there. Within a few generations, the world had deteriorated to the point that God said all of it had become corrupt, and He sent the flood to destroy all living things. Within a few generations of the flood, we see the destruction that God brought upon the rampant debauchery and perversion of Sodom and Gomorra. And in the Bible and from history we see story after story which illustrates the evil and corruptness of the world all the way down through the ages. So contrary to the philosophy of the world, it’s not getting better and better, but worse and worse and will culminate in it’s destruction.
The next aspect of Jesus statement which we should consider is what does He say regarding the Christian who must live in this fallen world? Jesus said that we are salt in the world. As I said earlier, the Christian is not to be like the world. Salt is different from the world, and yet as we know in our cuisine, that a little salt goes a long way. It only takes a small amount of salt by comparison to make a great effect on whatever it’s being used on. Jesus speaks of the salt losing it’s savor, according to the KJV. Savor indicates taste. Salt makes food taste better.
I will never forget an experience I had as a young boy. We all had BB guns and loved to go around the neighborhood shooting things. Eventually that progressed to shooting birds. And one day an old lady saw us doing it and she came out of her house to scold us. She said you never should shoot anything you aren’t going to eat. So the next day, we decided to eat what we shot. And my brother and I and a friend each shot a bird and we started a fire so that we could eat them. I happened to shoot a woodpecker. I’ll never forget the taste of that woodpecker. Anyway, we managed to pluck them and make little skewers and roasted them over the flame. We didn’t have any salt, but we were going to man up and eat them anyhow. Well, I never tasted anything so bad in my life. All of us couldn’t get the taste of those birds out of our mouths for days. Everything I ate for 3 days later tasted like woodpecker. I’m sure salt would have helped, but I still imagine woodpecker is not going to be very high on the menu.
So a function of salt is provide taste, to provide savor, to prevent food from being bland or otherwise unpalatable. In effect, Jesus is saying that life without Christianity is bland, unappetizing. And I think that is illustrated in our society today, with people running around looking for a drug, looking for a high, something that will make life more enjoyable. The desire for entertainment is a part of that. Seeking pleasure. Trying to find satisfaction in pleasure to make life more enjoyable. Sadly, many times that leads to more and more perversion, because they find that such things never really satisfy so they need to constantly find more stimulation.
In fact, it seems that the more access you have to such things, the more extreme become your need to find pleasure. I read the story the other day about Jon Bonham, the drummer for Led Zeppelin, who was considered the greatest rock and roll drummer of all time. At the height of his career, a career that the world considered was the pinnacle of success and fame and money and all that comes with that, he drank four quadruple screw drivers for breakfast, went to band rehearsals and continued drinking heavily all day, and later that night when he finally passed out he died of aphyziation from vomiting in his sleep. He was 32 years old. And perhaps his tragic life illustrates that the life of the world leads to seek more and more, but it never satisfies.
So a Christian is to be different from the world in the way that salt is different than the food which it is put on, and yet a little salt has a great effect. Much the same way as the comparatively few Christians have a great effect on the world. I’m not speaking of being the silent majority. I’m not speaking of political or social action on the part of the church as a whole. But I believe that the individual Christian man or woman can be a sanitizing influence in their world by the nature of their actions, by their behavior. I’ve seen many instances that when a Christian enters the conversation of the unsaved, the conversation is altered because the people there know that he is a Christian. I’ve seen family get togethers that are different when the Christian members of the family are there, as opposed to times when they are not. And it shouldn’t be because we act like prudes, or because we have our nose in the air, but because our actions exemplify our Christianity. And as such our life serves as a constraint to the world around us.
But what is the primary function of salt, and metaphorically, the primary function of a Christian? The principle function of salt in the context of Jesus’s day was to use it as a preservative. It was used to prevent decay, corruption, especially in fish or meats. The fish that the little boy brought to Jesus in the feeding of the 5000 was salted fish, which was the staple of the time. Refrigeration was not possible. And so salt was used to preserve and keep the meat from going bad. The purpose of salt was to kill the germs on the meat in order to prevent decay.
And in that respect I believe Jesus is speaking of the effect of a Christian in the world. He prevents decay, he wards of corruption. By his very presence, if he is living a godly life, he acts to retard corruption in the world around him. Christians in the midst of an evil and decaying society have a preserving and purifying effect. God told Abraham that He would have kept Sodom and Gomorra from judgment if there had been just ten righteous people to be found in the city.
And I think that illustrates that what is indicated by salt is righteousness . It’s not social justice, it’s not political action, it’s righteousness. In justification we are declared righteous. In sanctification, we live righteous lives. And in living righteously in a fallen world, we convict the world of sin. Not necessarily by mouth, but by our actions. Peter called Noah a preacher of righteousness. Not necessarily because he preached from a pulpit, but because he lived in such a way that his life preached righteousness. The way we live convicts the world of sin and of righteousness. And our sanctification effects the world around us, bringing them to righteousness by showing them what it means to be a Christian.
The world is either repelled or attracted to righteousness. Some to salvation, some to condemnation because they reject the light. But our righteousness has an effect on the world and on society. And that is evidenced by the fact that spiritual revival has always benefitted society. Not by the church rising up against government and enacting legislation, but through individuals coming to repentance and faith in Christ, and having their hearts and minds changed. That was true in the Protestant Reformation. It was true in the Great Awakening. It was true in great revivals at the turn of the century. When men’s hearts get right, then the nation gets right. Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation.”
So salt is a preservative. The Christian acts as a sanitizing influence on society. Salt is an antiseptic. It’s used to purify or cleanse wounds. Though it may sting, it’s good medicine. The presence of believers in the world stings the consciences of the ungodly because it is a painful reminder that God requires holiness and how He views sin.
And salt also gives flavor to food as well as it causes thirst — and I believe that ties into what Jesus had just said about those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” in vs 6. That suggests that the presence of godly people in society will have the natural effect of arousing a hunger and a thirst for righteousness.
So those are some of the functions of salt that Jesus correlates to the life of a Christian. But there is another aspect of salt as well that should be mentioned. And that is that salt was of great value in the days of Jesus’s ministry. Salt was used very often as a form of money. In one ancient society I read it was traded pound for pound with gold. Roman soldiers were routinely paid with salt. That’s supposedly where the saying comes from “worth your salt.”
The idea there is that Christians are considered of great value in the kingdom of heaven. God values us. The world may despise us. The world may consider the meek, the merciful, the poor in spirit as being unworthy of consideration. Those aren’t the characteristics that the world admires. But in God’s eyes the Christian is of great value. I love the statement Jesus said in Matt. 10:29-31 “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And [yet] not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” So Christians, as the salt of the earth, are very valuable to God, who considered us so valuable that He was willing to pay the ultimate price for our redemption, sending His only Son Jesus to die that He might have us for His own. That’s amazing, that God should value us in that way.
Then finally, notice Jesus says, that if the salt loses it flavor, then it is good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. Well, we have already concluded that salt is righteousness. So what is meant by the phrase, “has lost it’s flavor, or has become tasteless?” I don’t believe Jesus is speaking of a Christian losing their salvation. The Bible teaches that our righteousness is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. So if we didn’t earn righteousness by our works, then we cannot lose righteousness by lack of works. Romans 11:29 says that the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. So God will not take away what He has given us through His grace.
Then what does it mean for salt to lose it’s flavor? I believe Jesus is speaking of the church losing it’s saltiness. If the church is not practicing righteousness, if it’s not preaching righteousness, then it has lost it’s flavor. It is not effective as a preservative, it is not effective for flavor, it’s not effective as a disinfectant.
It’s possible that though a Christian can not lose his salvation, he loses his effectiveness in the world by not practicing righteousness, or by not living righteously. I think there is a real temptation to Christians to not want to be unpopular, to not want to be isolated from the culture by our Christianity. And so we try to blend in. We try not to be offensive. We try to keep our Christianity under our hat so to speak. Jesus said such Christianity has lost it’s purpose. Like the parable of the steward that hid his money in the ground, it is a waste of what God has entrusted to us. And God is not pleased with such people.
But I also think this principle applies to the church at large. I believe there are many churches today in which they have lost their flavor. The pastor no longer preaches about sin. They don’t want to be offensive, they are more interested in attracting the world, trying to get the world to like them. So they don’t talk about sin or righteousness. Listen, you can’t know righteousness without knowing about sin. You have to understand God’s standard for righteousness and that anything less than that is a sin. And when the church fails to articulate that, then they fail in their purpose. They have lost their effectiveness.
And Jesus said in that case they are worthless, useful for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. And that is a picture of an unsalty church. It useless for the kingdom of heaven. And as such Jesus spoke in Revelation about such churches. He said to the church of Laodecia for example, in Revelation 3, ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”
And to the church of Ephesus, Jesus said, ‘But I have [this] against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent.”
I believe that is similar to what Jesus is saying here in our text. He will remove the light of His presence from the church which has lost it’s righteousness. Next week we are looking at the next statement which is ““You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.”
The purpose of the church is to be salt and light in the world. And Jesus said in Revelation that if they did not do that, then He would remove their lamp stand. I believe that there are a lot of churches today that the light has gone out of. They have lost their saltiness, and now they are being trampled underfoot by unspiritual, unsaved people who make a pretense of religion to try to placate their conscience but are ineffective at changing people’s hearts. The Spirit of the Lord left a long time ago.
I hope that this message today helps you to realize that if you are a child of God, if you are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, then you have a purpose in this world to have an effect for the kingdom of heaven. You are to live a life characterized by righteousness which convicts the world, purifies the world, disinfects the world, gives flavor to life, and stops corruption in the world. May God give us the grace to live righteously, to make us like Christ in the world and influence all who come into contact with us.