Salt and Light: The Scalpel and The Remedy
“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. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. 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.” – Matthew 5:13-16
An interesting dichotomy of these two metaphors is that they are opposites in what they are communicating. Salt in the biblical times was used to preserve decay while light was used to expose darkness; one is negative while the other is positive. It is our call to preserve this decaying world with the salt of Jesus Christ and then to expose the darkness and point to the light found in Christ.
God has placed Christians in the midst of these cultures. It is natural tendency to want to criticize the world for their loose morals and often over-promiscuous nature. We often want to seclude ourselves into “Christian camps” so we don’t have to deal with the world. More often than not, this is done so we are not “influenced by the world” but I believe it is our calling to remain in the dirty and grimy culture. For how can we blame meat for decaying when salt is not used? It is simply doing what is natural when it left on its own.
How are to we live then in a world that is decaying? First and foremost, we must be quick to call out sin and be quick to extend grace. We cannot loosen God’s standard of holiness for the sake of reaching more people. This may sting the heart of the hearers a little bit, but for their own joy and good, they need to realize the condition of their heart. Martin Luther says, “Salting has to bite. Although they criticize us as biters, we know that this is how it has to be and that Christ has commanded the salt to be sharp and continually caustic … If you want to preach the Gospel and help people, you must be sharp and rub salt into their wounds, showing the reverse side and denouncing what is not right.… The real salt is the true exposition of Scripture, which denounces the whole world and lets nothing stand but the simple faith in Christ.” As said before, we will never realize how sweet grace is until we have tasted the bitter cup of our own sin.
We should not simply expose sin and take a hardstand about holiness but we should be quick to show Jesus and the grace afforded through Him. I have met Christians who simply preach God’s impending wrath against sin that never mention the fact that God is a compassionate God seeking to reconcile with these sinners. If we are constantly preaching Law and failing to preach Grace, we will burden our hearers with a weight they cannot live up to. We will burden them as the Pharisee’s burdened their people with demanding rules and impossible laws. Remember that the Law was never designed to be obeyed but to show that we could not live up to its demands. In the midst of your recanting of their failure to live up to the Law, make sure to point to the one who fulfilled the Law perfectly on their behalf.
This plays into the second metaphor that Jesus mentioned which is being the light of the world. If salt is the scalpel to the heart, then the light is grace to that wound. If the hearer is cut to the heart because of their sin, they need Jesus’ love to shine into their hearts. The unbeliever needs regeneration – they need a new life through the Gospel of Christ. The offer of the Gospel to the wounded soul is freedom, forgiveness, mercy and eternal glory. In our attempts to be preservatives, we cannot fail to also be lights to this broken world.