Introduction: Obedience to God is Rebellion
There is a notable quality among the major characters of the Bible: they were different.
Abraham defied his culture and its standards by following God wherever He called him to go. He didn’t question God about the things we consider important, but simply followed God out of faith and reliance on Him (Gen. 12:1-9). Joseph remained faithful to God in extremely difficult circumstances, when no one would have blamed him for turning against those who had made his life difficult (Gen. 37-50). Moses, while he made plenty of mistakes, still followed the Lord when the whole nation of Israel wandered away from God (see Exodus-Deuteronomy). Joshua obeyed the Lord even when it didn’t make since; and he conquered through God’s strength. And there are many other characters in the Bible who obeyed the Lord when it seemed unreasonable and when it didn’t seem relevant. Even though they made mistakes, these characters are remembered for their faithfulness to the Lord. Among these in the Old Testament are Job, Samson, Ruth, Hannah, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Hosea, and many others.
In the New Testament, we have a treasury of courageous accounts of obedience to God that defied the culture and standards of the time. Jesus first of all didn’t conform to the legalist religion of the Pharisees, but remained truly obedient to God even to the point of death (Phil. 2:8). Peter preached some of the boldest, fiery sermons recorded in all of Scripture. They flew right in the face of the culture and standards held by the religious rulers, and even those who weren’t religious (Acts 2:14-41; 3:12-26; 4:5-12; 10:28-47; 11:4-18; 15:7-11). Stephen remained faithful to God and even prayed for the forgiveness of those who were killing him, while they were killing him (Acts 7:54-60). Paul was the most influential person to Christianity, apart from Jesus Christ. He was one who counted “everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8a). Of course, there are many others that could be mentioned, but I believe without question, that our Bibles are replete with bold figures who remained obedient to God when no one else would, and who preached and proclaimed the truth in changing cultures.
Seeing this trend among the characters of Scripture, should not surprise us that the Scriptures themselves describe believers as outsiders:
“You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you shall be mine” (Leviticus 20:26).
“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6)
“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (Jesus in John 17:16).
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” (Romans 12:2a)
“Sanctified in Christ Jesus . . .” (1 Cor. 1:2b)
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
We just don’t belong in this world. Think about it: obedience to God is rebellion in our culture—because hardly anyone is obedient to God. Taking obedience to God seriously will define you in different ways—both good and bad. Divergent. Weird. Peculiar. Abnormal. Strange. Outsider. Or better known as anomaly.
No one defines what it means to be anomaly better than Jesus. In Jesus’ longest recorded sermon, we’re going to look and see what He says about being an outsider. This sermon is known as the Sermon on the Mount, spanning Matthew chapters 5 through 7. You will see it very evident in this sermon, that what He describes are not found in the people of the world. The actions and characteristics in the way that Jesus pictures in the Sermon are absent in those of the world. In fact, after Jesus finished His sermon, Matthew says that “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28-29). Jesus never continued the status quo; and the people were surprised and blown away by this fact.
The Sermon on the Mount—it’s all about doing things that nobody else is doing. It’s all about true Christian character. It’s all about making a difference in the world for the glory of God. If you live in the way that Jesus talks about here, it will be clearly noticeable that you don’t fit in. Everyday you are confronted with a decision to make. Do you dare live in the way(s) that Jesus describes here? Will you dare to live recklessly in obedience to God, through the ways Jesus describes? Are you ready to accept that challenge? Are you ready to accept the challenge of being anomaly?
With that being said, what do you think Jesus would say about being an outsider? Surprisingly, Jesus begins talking about being an outsider by saying that we as believers are salt and light.
The Text: 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.”
I. Being Salt (v. 13)
A. Jesus Compares the Disciples to Salt (v. 13a)
First of all, notice that Jesus compares the disciples to salt. He says to the disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” After the discourse on the Beatitudes (5:1-12), Jesus compares the disciples to an earthly element: salt. Immediately, we recognize that this is such a strange comparison. To find out what Jesus means here, it’s helpful to define how salt would have been used in Jesus’ day.
In Jesus’ day, there were many uses for salt (nearly all of them still in use today). It was used as a preservative to prevent corruption, fertilizer, it was used to add flavor, and it was used to symbolize wisdom (Lev. 2:13; Ezek. 43:24). There were other uses still: “It was, among other things, an element in sacrifices, a purifier, a condiment, a preservative—and its several symbolic associations—a sign of purity, of necessity, of loyalty, of peace, of good speech, [and] of wisdom.”¹ It’s not likely that Jesus is limiting His comparison of the disciples to salt to any one of those uses. Because of the wide range of uses, it’s impossible to single out any one.
But essentially, when it comes to the uses of salt—it affects what it comes in contact with right? It affects meats by preserving them, it affects food by adding flavor, it affects ice by melting it, and so on.
That’s what Jesus was saying here. He is talking about making an impact on the world—affecting the world around you. We know this is true from what Jesus says we are the salt of. We, as His disciples are the salt “of the earth.” Jesus wants us to act like salt here, and make an impact. The way we will make a true impact is by being effective, as we will see, for the glory of God. But for now, we will leave it at this: Jesus wants us to make an impact just as salt affects everything that it comes into contact with.
B. The Emphasis: Salt Maintaining its Taste (v. 13b)
Jesus compares His disciples to salt, saying that they are to make an impact on their world. But look what He says next: “But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” (v. 13b). Jesus asks a question and gives a warning in the same sentence, emphasizing the importance of salt keeping its taste; this is what He talks about throughout the rest of v. 13.
How can salt lose its flavor? It can be diluted. Have you ever tried to separate salt from water once it is mixed together? That’s what Jesus is talking about here—He’s saying that it is impossible to restore saltiness or flavor to salt once it has been diluted. Jesus’ point is that we will become useless in our effectiveness in making an impact if we allow ourselves to be diluted by the world. The world needs our impact, and we will be useless to the world and being used by God if we allow ourselves to be diluted by the world. A prevalent theme in Scripture is that is impossible to associate or flirt with sin without harming yourself. Do you recall the proverb that says, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?” (Prov. 6:27).²
Think about it: if we become diluted by sin, what makes us different from anybody else? If we’re just doing what everyone else is doing how are we influencing others? By God’s grace, we are to resist from being influenced, and instead—influencing others. Influencing but not being influenced.
C. The Consequence of Salt Losing its Taste (v. 13c)
Notice last, in Jesus’ words about salt, that he talks about the consequence of salt losing its taste: “It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (v. 13c). Salt that lost its salt-like character would have no value. What Jesus is saying is that His disciples dare not allow the world to dilute their effectiveness, or they belong on the garbage heap. Such Christians will indeed be “trampled” because they are ineffective and useless. Luke has an interesting reading of Jesus’ words here:
“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:34-35).
Jesus says here that if you’ve lost your influence, you’re not even worthy to be among the manure! Christ isn’t saying that if you become diluted by sin that you will lose your salvation, but He is saying that you will lose your effectiveness, and that if you lose your effectiveness, what good are you really accomplishing?
John MacArthur reminds us of this, and he is worth quoting at length:
“With great responsibility there is often great danger. We cannot be an influence for purity in the world if we have compromised our own purity. We cannot sting the world’s conscience if we continually go against our own. We cannot stimulate thirst for righteousness if we have lost our own. We cannot be used of God to retard the corruption of sin in the world if our own lives become corrupted by sin. To lose our saltiness is not to lose our salvation, but it is to lose our effectiveness and to become disqualified for service.”³
Jesus says that we are to make an impact on our world, because if we don’t—we’re pretty useless. Are we making an impact? Or are we allowing ourselves to be diluted by the sins of the world? The world needs our impact, an ancient church treatise says, “What the soul is in a body, this the Christians are in the world.”4
II. Being Light (vv. 14-15)
A. Jesus Compares the Disciples to Light (v. 14a)
Just as Jesus compared His disciples to salt, notice here that he compares them to light: “You are the light of the world” (v. 14a). Light is one of Scripture’s most common symbols. God is light (Ps. 18:12; 104:2; 1 Tim. 6:16; 1 John 1:5), Christ is light (Matt 4:16; John 1:7, 9; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46), and God’s people are light (Eph 5:8; 1 Thess 5:5). Now think, what are some uses for light? While there are various uses for it, its chief function is to make one able to see. Again, like with what Jesus says we are the salt of, what does He say we are the light of? We are the “Light of the world.” This is because we are the window through which God’s light enters the world. He chose us to do this very thing. Paul says concerning our conversion, that God “has shone [His light] in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6, emphasis mine). God didn’t give us the gospel to be a hidden secret, but so that the whole world can see His light and transformation in us.
B. A Clear Example of the Impossibility of Hiding Light (v. 14b)
Notice next, that Jesus gives a memorable, visible example of how impossible it is to hide something that is big: “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” You can imagine that can’t you? The picture Jesus is painting is of houses and buildings that stand out on a landscape, shining brilliantly during the night. The point He is making in this discourse on light is this: if you’re truly saved—it’s hard to hide it. If you’re truly loving God and growing in your passion for Him, people are going to notice. You’re going to be like a city set on a hill. Can you really hide a city setting on a hill? Indeed not. Neither can you hide the gospel’s transformation in you, if you truly have that transformation.
C. The Folly of Hiding Light (v. 15)
Finally, Jesus talks about the foolishness of hiding light (after He has established that it is virtually impossible to hide): “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” (v. 15). People have always understood this concept. Candles are put on holders to increase their range. Decades ago, a man would come around your street and light oil lamps in the streets—but he would get on a ladder because the pole was so tall, that way it would have better range. Ceiling fans are also on the ceiling for a purpose. The lamp here that Jesus is talking about was probably a small oil-burning portable with a wick. It would be extremely foolish to light it and then hide it under a bowl; especially since people need the light to see. Jesus’ point is that it is even more foolish for a disciple to hide the light of the gospel. People need the light we possess in us, they need it so that sin can be exposed and salvation can be recieved. Why would we hide it?
You can hide your light by being quiet when you know you should speak. When you know that someone needs to hear the gospel, or when you know God should be defended, but you say nothing, you’re hiding your light. You can hide your light by going along with the crowd. How are you shining God’s light if you’re doing what everyone else is doing? You can also hide your light by simply denying the light. Some other ways you can hide your light is by letting sin dim your light, not explaining your light to others, or ignoring the needs of others. We must not hide our light, because it is what the world needs.
II. The Purpose: The Glory of God (v. 16)
A. The Command (v. 16a)
In a summary statement, Jesus tells His disciples the reason for comparing them to salt and light. He says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others.” Just as men do not hide light under a basket, the disciples were to let God’s light shine brightly before others. Jesus is saying that the light of God must shine through the disciples’ life. They were not to keep this light to themselves.
B. The Purpose (v. 16b)
Finally, Jesus gives the purpose for shining our light, “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16b). The purpose for shining their light was to glorify God. We don’t engage in good works so that people we look at us, but so that their attention will be drawn to God. In other words, we shine by becoming invisible. Even everything we do is to be for the glory of God: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31) We make an impact by our deeds to draw attention to God. That’s what really matters.
Conclusion: A Buddhist’s Evaluation
According to Jesus, being anomaly means making an impact in our world, but making an impact and change for God’s glory; for His fame and honor, not for our own. Let us live so fervently for the glory of God that we disappear from the scenes, and our good works done so that people’s attention will be drawn to God. I am reminded, as I study this passage, of a story of a young Buddhist student. He had made a very careful study of Christianity, and particularly of Christ. He studied the history of Christianity, the Scriptures, and the person of Jesus. He talked to a Christian about his studies and he said this: “Your Christ is wonderful, oh, so wonderful; but you Christians, are not like Him.” Without knowing it, that Buddhist pointed out the greatest need of present-day Christianity—more of Christlikeness in those who bear His name. Let us be salt and light for God’s glory, that’s the kind of kingdom people that God wants to make an impact.
1. W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Matthew: A Shorter Commentary (New York, NY: T & T Clark, 2004), 70.
2. Clearly, this is a comparison by the caring father to his son concerning the sin of adultery (see Prov. 6:29). But by implication, it is a greater biblical principle that applies to all sin in a general sense (Psalm 1:1; 1 Cor. 5:9-11; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; Eph. 5:7-11; 2 Thess. 3:14; James 1:27)
3. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/John MacArthur (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 246.
4. The Letter to Diognetus, Cited in Davies and Allison, 71.