The Call to Change the World
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, ‘The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.’ That is a wonderful summary of what we learn from Jesus here in the opening of the Sermon on the Mount. If we embody the Beatitudes and model the Sermon, the world takes notice and takes action. The world will either hate us for being holy, or, by means of our godliness, it will taste and see that God is good and thus worthy of praise.
So, how are we who belong to the Kingdom of God to live in this world? How can we live in a way that will make an impact for God’s glory among men?
Jesus uses two pictures drawn from the everyday world of his time to illustrate what it means to live as a Christian in our world: Christians are like salt; Christians are like light. What salt and light were to life in first-century Palestine, Christians are to the society in which they live.
What did Jesus mean when he said that Christians are salt? Notice first that he said, ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ The mood of the verb is indicative (a statement of fact), not imperative (a command to be something). Jesus did not say, ‘You should be,’ or ‘You ought to be.’ Jesus said, ‘You are.’ Jesus is not urging his disciples to become something they are not; he is telling them what they are as Kingdom people. The implication is that they are to be what God has thus made them.
Jesus is speaking in the context of the persecution of his disciples. Like salt, Christians may seem small and insignificant, powerless in a power-mad society. Yet they can influence every segment of it and permeate the whole. Salt is cheap; its value is minimal. But salt has unusual properties that far exceed its ‘value.’ So it is with the members of God’s Kingdom. Like salt, there will be times when their true usefulness will become very clear.
More obvious, however, is the fact that in Jesus’ day salt was a vital preservative. The point needs little explanation. But it calls for radical and costly application. Christians whose lives exhibit the qualities of the ‘blessed’ will have a preserving impact upon a society that, if left to itself, will rot and deteriorate. Without the influence of the gospel, society will suffer moral decay and become putrid, unfit for the consumption of good men and women.
Sinclair Ferguson notes two additional biblical uses of salt which carry this same principle a little further. Ezekiel 16:4 hints at the Jewish practice of rubbing newborn babies with salt. In all likelihood, this practice was not for ritual cleanliness, but for hygiene. Already it was understood that if hygiene was ignored at the beginning of life, sickness and even death could result.
If this practice was in our Lord’s mind, the application of his illustration would be this: commit yourself to being salt in your society at the earliest possible opportunity. Be willing to pay whatever price needs to be paid in terms of the world’s response. It is important, if our lives are to make a moral impact on others, that we live as Christians among them and take our stand right from the very start.
This same principle is further illustrated in Judges 9:45. When Abimelech defeated the city of Shechem, ‘he destroyed the city and scattered salt over it.’ The use of salt was a symbolic and perhaps also an effective action, to render the ground infertile for the future.
That is precisely what the Christian does when he takes his stand for God in society; he makes that society, be it his friends in school, his fellow students at college, or his co-workers, less fertile soil for other ungodly influences. Of course, that in itself will not regenerate society, but it will make it more difficult for sinful attitudes and habits and words to become the norm among friends and colleagues.
Jesus then uses a second description of his people in this world. He says that his people are the light of the world. Jesus himself is the light of the world (John 8:12), the great light who has come to the people living in darkness. Those who belong to him are brought out of the kingdom of darkness into his Kingdom of light (Col. 1:12-13). As a result, we, too, have become ‘light in the Lord’ and are to live as children of the light, having nothing to do with the deeds of darkness. Instead, we are to expose such deeds by the light that our own lives shine on the moral darkness around us.
Few things are more important for the Christian in this world than to realize the extent of its darkness. The problem with living in the darkness is the effect it has on one’s ability to see clearly. It becomes difficult to distinguish one object from another. A person loses direction. He has lost his bearings. That is true morally, also. In the words of Jesus, ‘If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness.’
We live in such a world today. Men have lost their sense of moral bearings and are blind to the terrible consequences. We call evil good. We become morally confused. Man is so completely surrounded by his moral darkness that he cannot see his moral and spiritual foolishness. If only he lived within a hundred miles of a city, it might light up his night sky, and he might see his profound spiritual need and repent! You, Jesus says, are the city that man needs.
How is this possible? It is all too easy for us to despair as Christians because of our frailty and insignificance, personally or numerically. However, we must never give in to Satan’s lie that we can be effective only when we have large numbers and a show of strength. Jesus’ illustration of salt and light are encouraging reminders that the apparently insignificant and small can influence its environment out of all proportion to our expectation.
Join us this Lord’s Day as we learn about our call to change this world. As Helmut Thielicke wrote, ‘You must be the little grain of salt for the little bit of earth that God has entrusted to you. You must be the glimmer of light for the little world where you live and have your being.’ Will you be a part of the change? See you this coming Lord’s Day.