“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

Now we see Jesus moving from the character of Kingdom-livers to our influence. On the heels of explaining the persecution His followers can expect from a world that finds our pursuit of righteousness engenders their hatred toward us, Jesus says that we must positively influence the very culture that despises us. In other words, we are to respond with “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). To many Christians it seems ridiculous, given our current environment, to think we can positively affect our world. After all, the Beatitudes project a rather docile caricature of His followers (poor in spirit, meek, peacemakers, etc.) Yet, Jesus’ words here presume that the power of His Kingdom within us creates, and even demands, this opportunity and obligation to influence our world for His glory. Let’s look at the two metaphors He uses to describe our influence.

Salt is a preservative and was used extensively in that day for that purpose. It hinders foods from their natural decay. It also gives a distinctive flavor or enhances the flavor of what is eaten. Salt’s domestic uses, however, point to a vital spiritual truth. Our immoral, decadent, condemned, and lost culture is in the process of rapid decay. Although we often hear of mankind’s “evolution” what we really see is a society that has the same moral and ethical challenges that it always has. A case could be made that, in a spiritual sense, mankind is de-evolving or spiraling downward. One example is that with the exponential growth of technology and information we have done little to resolve the deepest issues of humanity – contentment, poverty, hunger, etc. So, with all of our so-called sophistication, people still rage against one another and physical and spiritual starvation is epidemic.

Standing in the face of a world spinning out of control and toward total annihilation are those true servants of Christ. Their moral fiber and stand for the truth of the Kingdom serve as a restraint against absolute chaos and anarchy. In that sense the gospel message, when lived out boldly in the midst of this flood of evil that characterizes our day, serves to offset this tide of deterioration that is so eternally devastating. Standing in opposition to this rebelliousness towards God and demonstrating a life of Christ’s truth we preserve and flavor our culture with a dash of hope. But this only happens when we are truly and radically different than the culture we are intended to influence.

Light, with all of its practical uses, symbolizes that which is right and good as compared to the Bible’s description of the lost as “being in darkness” (Luke 12:46). In this passage we see that our light is our good works that are intended to point people to a Holy God and praise Him. This term light, I believe, is a reference to our stand for God’s truth and our propagation of it in opposition to the darkness found in the falsehood of the world’s philosophies and spiritual ignorance. We do this by courageously proclaiming His word and demonstrating its transforming power in our daily lives as we labor in the trenches of our dark and lost society.

The metaphor of light reflects that we proclaim and live His truth in a way that is not isolated or insulated from the culture that God desires to see and know this light  – which is Jesus, the true light of the world (John 8:12). This is why our light is to be “put on a stand” so that it can be visible and guide the greatest number of people to Jesus and be like a lighted “city on a hill”. Jesus uses the analogy of light for John the Baptist’s prophetic ministry – one who took the light of the truth to a people in darkness and pointed to the greater and divine light of Jesus, His testimony, and His God-ordained work (John 5:35-36). There has never been anything, I believe, more critical than for the servants of our King to share the light of Jesus through lives that are diametrically opposed to the darkened condition of our culture.

So, Christ-followers stand for the Truth (John 14:6) and live lives worthy of our calling (see Ephesians 4:1). This is being salt and light. But this is not always easy. Salt can be an irritant and light exposes. This causes our confused world to be uncomfortable with both of these ministries. But, with a courage bestowed by the Holy Spirit and the supernatural leadership of our King, we can stand for His Kingdom in a world that desperately needs to see the Savior. We can and we must. Why? So that they may “praise [our] Father in Heaven”. And we do this by letting the contrarian character traits of the Beatitudes shine in and through us.