Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13-16

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

From these words of Christ, the Christian is told that he is “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” These words say far more than the simple fact that in Jesus Christ we have a jolly good teacher. Yes, Christ was the best teacher that ever lived. If we want to know how we should all be living our lives, we can do no better than go to Him. But many other teachers throughout history have given good advice, telling us we should love one another, be kind to one another, forgive one another, even that we should love our enemies. These things aren’t unique to Christianity.  

We’re told here that Christians “are” the salt of the earth and the light of the world. So it’s not merely to do with having good teaching, it’s to do with a state that we’re in. We “are” these things. The Christian is fundamentally different from the rest of humanity. No other religion can understand this. They’re only concerned with teaching. Teaching us, supposedly, how we are to please God, or how we are to live, or how we can get to heaven, as though with a bit of effort we can do these things for ourselves. But Christianity is altogether different. It tells us that we can’t please God, no matter how hard we try. We’ll always fall short of what God requires. We’ll never be good enough. So we should stop working at trying to be. Christianity is all about God coming to us, and transforming His people from the inside, giving them a fundamental change in the heart and soul, so they can now begin to live the way He wants us to live. That means that those who have become Christians are now different. We’re no longer like everybody else. We were like them, we were born just like them, we used to do the same things as they still do, but God has changed us in the heart, and we don’t have a taste for those things any more. We’ve become new creatures in Christ:

Ephesians 2:1-3

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

This is the most important doctrine of the Christian faith. If we don’t understand this, then, if we call ourselves Christians at all, we’ve gone off at a tangent, and need to come back to this fundamental principle:

John 3:3

Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Galatians 6:15

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

So, the way the world operates, and the way Christians ought to be operating, are fundamentally opposed to one another:

1 John 2:15-17

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

Salt and light, of course, are metaphors. We are to be spiritual salt and light in the midst of this wicked and adulterous generation we see all around us. And to understand how we are to be the salt and light of this world, just think what the world would be like without these elements. 

Being without light is total darkness. And that’s what Scripture tells us about the spiritual  state of the world:

1 John 5:19

And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.

Jesus Christ made a great claim about Himself:

John 8:12

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

And we are also told that God is light, and only light:

1 John 1:5

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

So Jesus Christ must be God. And there can be no spiritual light found anywhere else, in any other religion, but only in Him:

John 1:5

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

John 3:19

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

Ephesians 6:12

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

And the wonderful, good news of Jesus Christ is that this light can abide within each one of us personally. But we must forsake the wicked ways of darkness and call on Jesus Christ Himself to change us:

John 12:46

I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.

Ephesians 5:8

For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light:


Colossians 1:13

Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:

In our text, we are told:

Matthew 5:14

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

Once we’ve received the light of Christ into our lives, it cannot be hid. We’ve been completely changed from within, and even though we might on occasions want to hide the light under a bushel for whatever reason, it can’t be extinguished altogether. Once changed, we can never go back to our old way of life. Or, put it this way, if we do, we’ll be miserable. It won’t be the same as it was before. Anyone who does go back to his old way of life and is truly content there, was never born-again by the Spirit of God in the first place. But if we have been born-again by the Spirit of God, we are forever changed. Once we have the light, we cannot lose our salvation. We cannot be un-born again:

Philippians 1:6

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Romans 8:38-39

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew 5:15

Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

We’re not meant to hide the light that we’ve been given by Christ. We’re meant to put to death the remaining darkness within us, to get rid of anything that will hide the light, so that the light of Christ can fully shine through us:

2 Corinthians 4:6

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:5

Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

1 Peter 2:9

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

And then we’ve got the metaphor of salt:

Matthew 5:13

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Salt has two effects. Being without salt renders food bland and tasteless. And salt is also a preservative, without it food would decay. 

With regards the world, just think what it would be like without the influence of Christianity. What a dead, dark, bland, tasteless, God-forsaken place it would be.

And this world without the preserving influence of Christianity, would be a chaotic, decaying place. Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us the the entropy of the universe is always increasing. That’s interesting isn’t it. In other words, if left to itself, it naturally becomes more and more chaotic, as opposed to ordered. And the reason why this is the case (which science can never tell us) is that this is the result of the curse God brought on the world after the Fall. Without the preserving influence of Christianity, this world would be even more of a mess than it is already.

And then we can apply this to ourselves as individuals. What’s the difference between salt and light? We can never get rid of the light. But salt can lose its saltiness.

The light represents 

Colossians 1:27

Christ in you, the hope of glory.

This can never go out. Salt represents our outward influence, which, sadly, can go missing. We can lose our savour. A Christian can backslide. And when he is in that state, he is “good for nothing.” His Christian witness and influence have gone. 

And it is “cast out” and “trodden underfoot of men.” Notice, it’s not God that casts us out or treads us underfoot. Although we grieve Him whenever we backslide like this, He never casts His own away altogether, and will always order circumstances in His providence to try to bring us back to Himself:

Hebrews 13:5

I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

John 6:37

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

But it’s men who will cast us out. They’ll laugh at us. A Christian trying to behave like the world is one of the most pathetic things we can ever come across. He’ll just appear stupid, and quite understandably be ridiculed. It’s a terrible witness for the cause of Christ, and no good can ever come of it.

But if, instead of hiding our light under a bushel, we set it on a candlestick, it will give “light unto all that are in the house.” That’s the witness we all need to be.

And then we come to one of the most challenging verses in the Bible:

Matthew 5:16

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

We are told to “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works.” This is fairly straightforward. This is the duty of every Christian. We understand this. 

But, at the same time, those good works must be done in such a way as to “glorify your Father which is in heaven.” How on earth do we do that?

Every time somebody does a good work, those who don’t know God will always ascribe that good work to the person doing it. For example, let’s say I help a little old lady across the road. Anyone who sees me do that, will say what a kind person I am. I will get all the praise and all the glory from doing that good work. But here we’re told that’s NOT how we are supposed to be. The last thing we are ever to do is glorify self:

1 Corinthians 1:31

He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

In our every action, we are to crucify self and glorify God. And this is the challenge we face. We are to do good works by all means, but make sure they always point to Christ and never to us:

Galatians 6:14

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.