Jesus gives two metaphors to explain what it is like in the Kingdom of God—salt and light.
The first is salt. Salt is a potent substance—a little of it goes a long way. Notice that He didn’t say, “You ought to be salt,” but said, “You are salt.” It isn’t what you do, but about who you are. If you have surrendered your sovereignty to Jesus, then you flavor everything around you.
Christians wonder, “What am I called to do?” You weren’t called to do anything, but to be something. You are a flavoring—the flavor of Christ. When we yield to Jesus and live in imitation of Him, then we take on His personal characteristics—His “smell.” Aided by the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of us we manifest publicly the life of Jesus.
The salt of Jesus’ day was mined from the shores of the Dead Sea and had a lot of other stuff in its chemical makeup. If it got wet, the “salty” salt leeched out of it, and it lost its flavor. Then it was no good as a flavor but was used to resurface roads.
Just because we attend church doesn’t mean we have joined the Kingdom of God. You can’t be in Christ’s kingdom without giving Him allegiance and yielding Him control. If you don’t surrender, you can’t flavor the world with Jesus.
In the movie Private Benjamin Goldie Hawn played a valley girl who joined the army on a whim. Her recruiter told her all the wonderful things the army would do. She didn’t realize that joining the army meant surrendering personal freedom. She told her drill sergeant “I did join the army, but I joined a different army. I joined the one with the condos and the private rooms.”
Many Christians say, “I gave myself to Jesus, but a different Jesus. I surrender to the Jesus that guarantees me health, wealth, and prosperity, and who doesn’t demand so much from me.” If you think that, then you’ve got the wrong Jesus. Without surrender, you’ll never be salt.
This is not just a call to commitment though—it’s a revelation of how God is going to change the world. The kingdom won’t be advanced by conquest or promotion, but by the influence of those who have been transformed in their everyday lives. The more we are like Christ, the more we will change the world. Governments are not made or toppled by our action, but are changed from the inside by people being like Christ. When Jesus enters our lives, we must live like Him.
Imagine the church as a kind of saltshaker and from which we pour out to influence society. If salt doesn’t flow it usually means that the salt inside has mixed with something else, usually water, that prevents it from naturally flowing. If a church isn’t touching others, it usually means the nature of Christ has become mixed with some idol that prevents us from giving Christ full allegiance. That idol is most often our own connections to the Christian community. We have started to love our own community and tradition more than Jesus. Our allegiance needs to be to Jesus first and our Christian family or community second. The idol of community is subtle and disastrous. When we think of ourselves an Americans first, or a family member first and a Christians second, then we are not living under the kingship of God. But God will allow us no other ultimate allegiance but Himself. He wants to be our comfort and joy, and will allow no others. If we cannot leave the company of our family and traditions then we have confused our attachments. We have decided that we do not want to live for Christ alone, and that we cannot live without the favor and comfort of others. We stay in the saltshaker because we are stuck on one another.
Fear also keeps us in the saltshaker. We are afraid that unbelievers will influence us more than we will influence them. But this only happens when we take our eyes off Jesus. Fear of God erases all others fears. When we seek to please Him, we only fear not being like Him. When we look aside from Jesus, we fear everything else.
This leads us naturally to the second metaphor Jesus uses—light. In a dark room, even the smallest light will enable us to see. One small LED light can be enough to navigate our bedrooms at night. Light, doesn’t have to work at shining. It just exists. A person in the Kingdom of God doesn’t have to work at being a witness. Just show up.
Nevertheless, if light is not in a prominent place, it cannot be seen. In Israel, all the cities are on hills. It’s easier to see enemies coming when you can look down on them. It was also for location purposes. If you are lost, you can see the lights of town. Cities in the mountains are located in valleys for defensive reasons as well. If you are hidden in a valley, you are less likely to be a target. In a valley people become suspicious of people from the next valley. When we are afraid of what others will think of us we hide our problems away.
Christians are supposed to be weird! If we aren’t peculiar, then we are probably not reflecting Christ! When we surrender to Jesus, He becomes our only Judge. We no longer consider what the rest of the world thinks. All that really matters is what Christ thinks. We become a light to the world, not a place that needs the light of others.
Jesus uses a second image to explain this idea of light, which is hiding it under a bushel basket. This means putting walls around our light. When we fear what others think of us more than we fear God, then we must protect ourselves from others. We hide ourselves away behind wicker walls like a light under a basket. Our allegiance to Jesus doesn’t have to be hidden. We do not need walls to protect us. We just need to be ourselves.
Witnessing for many people doesn’t feel natural. That is because it often isn’t. People are sometimes guilt-driven witnesses. They hear some preacher talking about the necessity of sharing Jesus, and how everyone else is going to Hell, and we guiltily go and share. But if we are surrendered to Christ, none of this has to be unnatural. If we are living with our eyes on Jesus, seeking to imitate Him, then what we do is a natural witness.
Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
When we are surrendered to the Kingdom of God, our good works are not our good works—they are God’s good works. We are only doing them because we are seeking to walk, talk, act, and think like Jesus. When people see that someone who is an unashamed Christian does good works in Jesus’ Name, it naturally follows that they will give glory to God, not to Jesus.
In our society, the reason people don’t glorify Jesus is because there are so many other people who seem to be doing bad things in Jesus’ name. The overall impression of churched Christians is not high in this country. But the people who do bad works in Jesus’ name are not following Jesus. They seek to glorify themselves or the institutional church, but they don’t glorify Christ.
Once I approached a man on the street who was reeling drunk and invited him to church. He said, “No, I’m a Baptist.” Great! I said. “What church do you attend?
“Baptist,” he answered. So, what local church?
“Baptist.” So, are you a Christian?
No,” he insisted. “I’m a Baptist!”
We aren’t Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, or independent. We are part of the kingdom of God, followers of Christ who seek to imitate Him in everything we think, feel, say, and do. The flavor of Christian we are is of relatively little importance. The flavor of Christ is how we seek to be known.
Live in surrender to Him on your job, in your home, in your neighborhood and on the street. Be who you are, and be Christ’s and everything we say and do will be salt and light to the world.