Beacon Of Light Or Secret Agent Christian?
Our text for this morning is found in Matthew 5:13-16 where, our Lord directs His attention away from the multitudes to the group of disciples gathered closest to Him. That isn’t to say that the multitudes didn’t hear Him but that He was speaking of things specific to those who would follow Him. We read “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Lately I have been convicted and saddened by the lack of concern on the part of “Christians” toward the lost. We go to Church and hear messages of grace and hope, of sin, righteousness and judgment. And then we go away to our homes and forget what we have heard. It is interesting to me how that after a sermon full of truth, someone inevitably says something that is so completely unrelated to the message they just heard that you realize they had listened to nothing that was said. They are like the man who looks at himself in a mirror and walks away and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. Consider these words from James 1:22 “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” That says a whole lot about what is going on inside the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ when men and women hear the truth and then hide it under a bushel basket or under a bed because they don’t want to offend someone or make them mad. They have the attitude of Jonah: their inaction declares that they would rather see so and so in hell than share with them the message of hope in Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, as He looked out over the fields, “The field is white unto harvest, but the laborers are few.” There is a world of lost men sinners just outside this door and we are the laborers. And we are called by Jesus to be salt and light; sweep through the field of the world and speak to those who you know desperately need to hear Christ’s message.” We are salt and light and we are to go and reach out to the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and this is the vital message contained in our Lord’s words.
Now consider that Jesus in our text is following up the Beatitudes in which He has described what Rick Owsly of North Phoenix Baptist Church called ‘The attitudes to be.’ In the Beatitudes, Jesus is saying, “Here is the character I expect you to have, and if you have this kind of character, then you are a child of My Kingdom. If you have this character, and are a child of my Kingdom, here is your job: sweep through the world as salt and light and make a difference.” Jesus is calling on us to influence the world for His glory, to find the lost before it’s too late. Having come to know the principles and the qualities that render us effective for God, that bring us into His Kingdom, that make us distinct from the world, He now tells us, “Move out into the world with that marvelous distinctiveness, find those that are lost, and point them to Christ.”
Consider a very important truth here; we are the only salt and we are the only light, humanly speaking, that the world will ever know. Notice for instance that the final Beatitude found in verse 10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. The very thing we are afraid of is that which Jesus says will happen. We are to expect it. Jesus said that in this world we will have tribulation. But does that mean we are to hide, to run away? Consider this; you already heard that in California you have to have a permit to have a bible study in your home.
John MacArthur relates this account; “there is a little house next door to our church, where our handicapped people for a few hours on a Sunday morning. But some judge somewhere ruled that a house cannot be used for religious purposes without a permit, even if you own the house. Sam Erickson, on our staff, called the city to find out about that and he said this, “You mean, if I want to have some people over to my house to study the Bible, we have to have a permit?” They said, “Yes.” He said, “What if I want people to come over to my house to drink beer and watch pornographic movies, that’s fine? But if we decided to talk about the Bible, we have to have a permit?” They said, “That’s right.” I don’t know what that means for the future, but I don’t think it’s going to get any easier.”
There is a price to be paid for speaking the truth. That doesn’t mean we should go out to offend people but merely to expect that the truth will offend. Should we hide our light? Just because its going to hurt someone or make someone mad? NO! We are to confront the world with the truth. We are to speak the truth in love, as gently as we can we are to pour the medicine on the wound, expecting it to sting! Just because the world persecutes us, reviles us, and says all manner of evil against us falsely gives us no loophole to disobey God. Yes I said disobey; if we are not shining the light of Jesus Christ by our lives and speaking His truth with our lips, we are in rebellion against His declared will. We are to be like a city set on a hill with lights blazing for all to see. Just because the world makes it tough on us gives us no excuse to crawl in a hole or keep our mouths shut or hide. We are to be salt and light in the world.
The very words of our text presuppose the fact that there is decay and darkness in the world. Where you have decay, you need salt, and where there is darkness you need light. That is where we come in; we’ve got to be different. We can’t affect the world unless we are different. And I’m not talking televangelist strange different. Our lives and relationships and homes have to be different. Just as it was in the days of Noah, the wickedness of man is one again great in the earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is still only evil continually. The stench of sin is rising up to the heavens. We live in a dark and debauched world!
Notice again in verse 13 that we are the salt, in verse 14, we are the light. In verse 16, Jesus tells us to “Let your light so shine.” What is God’s plan to deal with this darkened, decaying world? It’s us! The job is ours! “You are the salt. You are the light. Now I’m speaking of our responsibility as Christians. But we are not alone. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and Jesus Christ lives through us. And in His strength we are to be salt and light. Consider that salt speaks of influence. Salt is the living testimony of our holy lives which stand in stark contrast to the darkness of sin. Salt has five basic functions: purity, flavor, sting (in a wound), thirst, and preservation. We are to be pure, glistening white against the darkness of the world. We are to flavor life with the wonder of God’s presence in us. We are to sting and convict the sinful wound of the world. We are to create a thirst for Christ by the very way we live, as Israel is to be provoked to jealousy by the church. We are to be a preservative; we are an antiseptic in the world to retard the spread of its corruption. If it weren’t for Christians in the world, it would be far more corrupt that it is now; we preserve it. The earth is like a carcass, slowly but relentlessly deteriorating, rotting and in great need of some power to restrain that corruption, to create a thirst for God, to sting sin’s wound, to flavor life, and to bring purity to some dark and decaying soul.” We are that salt. This is the impact of the witness of a godly life.
The way to change the world is to infiltrate it with godliness, righteousness, and holiness, and affect it from the inside out. Martin Lloyd-Jones says this, “Most competent historians are agreed in saying that what undoubtedly saved England from a revolution such as was experienced in France at the end of the 18th Century was nothing but the evangelical revival. This was not done because anything was done directly, but because masses of individuals had become Christians and they were living this better life. They had this higher outlook. The whole political situation was affected, and the great acts of Parliament which were passed in the last century were mostly due to the fact that there were such large numbers of individual Christians found in the land.” What he’s saying is that they dominated the land by the power of their testimony. It’s wonderful to think of the fact that God can turn around a whole nation, a whole world, by using us. God uses simple, mundane, everyday, routine, common things for the most amazing purposes. When He made man in the Garden, He didn’t use gold, silver, or even iron; He used dirt. That ought to give you an idea of how He works right from the start. When God delivered Israel from Goliath and the Philistines, He didn’t use Saul, the great king, decked out in armor; he used a shepherd and a couple of stones. When He came into the world, He didn’t enter the family of the wealthy and noble, He wasn’t born in a castle; He chose a peasant girl and a stable. When He chose the Twelve, He didn’t choose the elite, educated, and affluent. He just chose a group of regular guys. The Bible says, “Not many mighty, and not many noble.” That’s the way it always has been, because God gets the greater glory in the humbleness of the one that He uses.
So He uses us, grains of sand, to influence a corrupting world. But it doesn’t stop with influence.
We now come to the second thing, light. In verse 14 Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” IT is interesting how salt and light balance each other in this sense. Salt is hidden; you don’t see it at all. It just melts away into whatever it flavors or preserves. It works secretly to preserve from the inside, but light shines on the outside, and light is open and working visibly. In other words, salt is the influence of Christian character; it is quiet but powerful. Light is the communication of the content of the Gospel. So there are two sides; on one hand, we live the gospel, on the other hand, we preach the gospel. We affect society from the inside, by the power of our lives and we turn on the light so that everyone can see the message we are preaching.
It isn’t just in our words, but in our very clear, open godly conduct. We are not to be just a subtle influence like salt, but we are to be a very open and blatant influence like light. Remember the illustration about the believing wife influencing here ungodly husband by her godly life? That is an illustration of salt. But then you must have the light too! You can’t shirk your responsibility for God has left us no loopholes. You see, salt doesn’t change corruption into incorruption, it only retards the corruption. That’s only a negative function. Salt holds back the corruption; but then we must turn on the light of the Gospel to transform that corruption into incorruption.
We are to be light bearers, shining the light of Jesus to the world. And we are to do so with purpose. This purpose is summed up in verse 16 “Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Note the statement, that they see our good works. Secondly, they glorify our Father in Heaven; and so it implies both a life lived and a message spoken; it means they’ve heard something about our Father in Heaven FROM US!
In Acts 1:1-2 , Luke writes, “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. Ever and always, those two things go together – the living and the speaking. Our light is a matter of living a godly, Christ reflecting life and the speaking forth of the truth. Throughout the Bible light is related to the true knowledge of God. For example, Psalm 36:9 says, “For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light.” John in his epistle declares that God is light. In Him is the fountain of life, and in His light will we see light; God is light. So if we are to be light, then we must be walking with God so that the light of the glory of God is revealed to those around us.
Then in Psalm 119:105 we read, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” God is light; the Word is light. In Joh 8:12 “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” God is light. The Bible, the Word of God, is light. Christ is light, and that is the light that we are to shine on the world. We are to tell them about God, God’s Word, and God’s Christ. That’s letting the light shine. It has to be spoken and then supported by a life that is consistent! Psalm 27:1, declares that “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”
So the fact is, light is in the Bible refers to God’s revelation of Himself, His Word, and His Son. That is light. So we are to proclaim the message of light in a dark world, as well as to be salt in a decaying one.
In Luke 1:77, we read of the purpose for which Christ came: “To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins…” That’s why Jesus came, to give light to those in darkness. So what our Lord is saying to us in our text this morning is that, collectively, we are to manifest His light. He’s the sun, we’re to be like the moon. He is the real light, the essence of light; we are to be reflectors of that true light. John 1:9 says that Christ is the light that lights every man that comes into the world. He’s the only true light, but we are to be reflectors of that light.
The primary duty of the church is to be light in the world. We are called to spread the message of salvation, not just to sit around talking to each other. Yes we are to assemble with each other as the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in order to gain strength from one another as we fellowship together in the Spirit but that is not all there is. As Del Tackett said, we are not here to just fill up our notebooks and get a bunch of clinical knowledge for ourselves. I am here, all pastors stand forth in their pulpits to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. And then the congregation is to go out and do the work of the ministry! It is wonderful to have fellowship with one another. It is wonderful to sit and hear a pastor unfold to us the riches of the Word of God. But sooner or later, we have to be light in the world and salt in the earth. We’ve got to get out from being wrapped up in ourselves.
In IICor 4:6 we read “For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Let me paraphrase that: God, who first ordered the light to shine in the darkness has flooded our hearts with His light. We now can enlighten men only because we can give them knowledge of the glory of God as we have seen it in the face of Jesus Christ.
The Jews claimed to be light but the Apostle Paul denies that. He declared that their light had gone out. They weren’t lights anymore. The Jews used to say that Jerusalem was a light to the Gentiles. In fact, a famous rabbi once called the city of Jerusalem ‘the lamp of Israel.’ But it wasn’t true anymore when Jesus spoke these words that day on the hillside; Jerusalem wasn’t any light. God’s light wasn’t there anymore, it was no lamp. The world was in darkness, so Jesus says, “It isn’t Jerusalem that is the light anymore, it isn’t Israel anymore. It isn’t the Jewish people anymore that are light, but you only are the light.” The church would be the light, the ones who followed Jesus Christ are to be the light!
Phil 2:14 puts it this way. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,.” Did you hear that! You have to live a life that glorifies God, that reflects Jesus Christ. The life has to be there. If the world is going to criticize us, let them have to make up something because there is nothing they can use. If we have to be hated, let us be like Christ: hated without a cause. Why? Because we are to be blameless, harmless children of God without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom we shine as lights in the world. We are to be lights, holding forth or reflecting the Word of Life.
We’ve got to be visible. We can’t be secret agent Christians. We can’t just be secret influences, we have to be visible. The light has to shine openly. Jesus declares in verse 14 that “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” It’s amazing to ponder the sad fact that there are those people who call themselves Christians who can say, “I know God’s light has shined in my heart, but I don’t see that I have any need to shine anywhere else.” Such a statement is in direct rebellion to the word of God! If you are a Christian, if Jesus Christ has truly saved you then you are light. And light isn’t supposed to be hidden. You’re a city on a hill. The point is conspicuousness. We’re not to be just subtle salt; we’re to be very conspicuous light. In ancient times cities were built on hills for protection.
From that vantage point you could see the enemy as he approached. Every traveler knew where the city was and even at night they could find the place of refuge because the lights of the city sparkled like diamonds in the sky. Now we’re not Masons in a secret society. We’re not pagans, with mysteries only for the initiated. We don’t have a cult known only to the few; we’re a city set on a hill. The whole world ought to see us. We’re a city set on a hill. We’ve got to be salt before we can be light; we have to have the character and the influence before we have a message that is believable.
But there is a problem. We are salt and light, but we need to be very wary because if we turn aside to sin and cease walking in the Spirit, then we will stop being effective as salt and we will be useless as light. Look again at verses 13-15. “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?“ Non-salty salt has absolutely no use. “It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 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 point is this: salt is only good when it has saltiness. Light is only good when it is seen. There is no place for a secret disciple; there is no place for a secret Christian.
Now consider what Jesus said about salt losing its saltiness. Moraino in the Greek means ‘flat and tasteless,’ if you become flat and tasteless. Now salt in the time of Jesus wasn’t as refined as the salt we know today and the kind of salt that they had at that time had the capacity to lose its saltiness, and that is what our Lord is alluding to. In Luke 14:34, it says, “Salt is good. But if the salt has lost its savor, with what shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land, nor for the dung hill, but men throw it out.” Some people teach that Jesus is referring to a loss of salvation, saltiness being salvation. But in keeping with the context of salt being a preservative influence, what is being stated here is that you’ll lose your ability to influence.
If sin enters a Christian’s life, he will lose his influence. If sin is in your life, you have no influence; you can’t retard the corruption of the world because you’re walking in step with it. You can’t be purity against an impure background because you’re impure too. You can’t be stinging in the wounds of other people’s sin because you have your own. You’re not going to create in someone a thirst for God, because there is nothing there to make them thirsty for what you have. When you turn aside from the truth, when you look away from Christ you become conformed to the world and you are just like them in your behavior. You’ll lose your saltiness, and make no contribution to retard their corruption. You’ll make no pure statement against an impure background. You’ll create no thirst in anyone for God.
The point is, you are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works that God has ordained beforehand for you to walk in them. This is the divine plan for the Christian. We are to be salt and light but to be salt and light you have to stay away from that which corrupts you. Jesus is saying, “How foolish it would be to get your lamp trimmed, the wick clipped, fill it up with oil, and stick a basket on top of it so no one could see it.” It would render the lamp worthless. Someone one said that most Christians are like an Arctic river – frozen at the mouth. Listen, if you’re going to light, you have to get your light where people can see it.
Notice verse 16 and the command: “Let your light so shine before me that they will see your good works.” He’s saying, “Let it shine.” If Christ lives in you, He is the light and you can’t change that. Nobody can blow it out. That’s right! There isn’t anybody who will blow it out, because the light is there. But you can put a bushel basket on top of it so nobody will ever know. It may be the basket of fear, or wanting to be acceptable, not wanting to offend or make waves, or whatever. But whatever it is, it needs to come off. You don’t have to light it and you can’t put it out, you but you are called to let it shine by the way you live and the things you say. Let it shine before men, in the presence of those who hate you and would kill you, reject you, and deny you. Let it shine and let them see the beauty of your works. You know, when you hide your testimony, you’re not doing anything but preventing someone from seeing the beauty of God Himself.
When you don’t testify to the truth, you’re just withholding from someone that which they desperately need to see if they’re ever going to come to God.
What do we see, then? What is the one single reason that over arches the whole universe? There is one single reason why you should be salt that is salty and light that is manifest, and it is this: that you might glorify your Father who is in Heaven. If you don’t do it, then you are more concerned with your reputation than His glory. That’s always the issue. “I don’t know if I should stick my neck out. I might lose my job or reputation.” Then you have just ascended the scale and what you have and what you want to get is more important than the glory of God.
But the scriptures are clear: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us but unto Thy name give glory,” said the psalmist. And so I ask you, can you lose yourself? Can you be salt that is salty? Can you be light that is lit and manifest? You can if you only care about the glory of God. Brainerd, McCheyne, Edwards, Luther, Calvin, Whitefield, Wilberforce; these are just some of the luminaries who cared nothing of themselves but poured out their lives for the glory of God. They were no secret agent Christians but were beacons of light to a dark world. The other side of the scale is comprised of those who let their own personality and popularity, and prestige, and reputation get in the way. When this is done, then the glory of God is dragged down, your flag goes up, and you say, “I reign. I’ll do what appeals to me.”
Note how this last mindset is in direct opposition and rebellion to the very words of Christ who calls us to let our lights shine before men so that they will “Glorify your Father who is in Heaven.” That is the reason we are to live; to glorify God! It is said of Robert Murray McCheyne that his face was sometimes lit up with a hallowed expression, so that people who came to see him fell on their knees to accept Jesus Christ when they saw his face. Others were so attracted to the indescribable beauty of holiness manifested on his countenance that Jesus became, to them, irresistible. This is the influence of a godly life. Here is salt and light in action.
It is said of Fenelon, another great Christian of ages past, that his, “Communion with God was such that his face shown. Lord Peterborough, a skeptic, was once compelled to spend a night with him in an inn. In the morning, he hurried away saying, ‘If I spend another night with that man, I’ll be a Christian in spite of myself.’ Fenelon’s manner, his voice, and his face reflected so perfectly the glory of Christ that he was irresistibly attractive to even the worldliest and vilest of humanity.”
What about you? Are you the kind of salt that retards corruption? Are you the kind of light that attracts in the beauty of holiness, as the shining of your goodness and beauty, the power of God shining through you, touches the people around you? I call upon you to look to Jesus, to humble yourselves before the throne of Grace and repent of you faithlessness and for your suppression of the truth in unrighteousness. I ask you to pray that God would blaze forth from you in Holy light and that He would unlock the doors of your lips: that utterance would be given to you in the opening of your mouths to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel for which we are ambassadors…that in proclaiming it we may speak boldly, as we ought to speak.
1Pe 3:15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;