The Salt of the Earth

34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 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 ESV

Jesus had a lot of followers, but they weren’t all committed, stick-with-you-to-the-bitter end disciples. He knew that many of those within the crowds that followed Him from village to village were simply curious bystanders who found His messages intriguing and His miracles amazing. They were attracted to the carnival-like atmosphere that seemed to surround Jesus wherever He went. Yet, Jesus knew that their interest in Him would soon begin to wain, especially when they saw what lie in store for Him in Jerusalem.

That’s why Jesus told His followers, “Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple” (Luke 14:27 MSG). He was letting them know that the days ahead were going to be filled with difficulty and the cost of following Him was about to increase exponentially. Being His disciple was going to become a dangerous and potentially deadly occupation.

To a certain degree, Jesus was letting His 12 disciples know that their world was about to be rocked. While He had repeatedly told them what was going to happen when they arrived in Jerusalem, they had not understood the significance of His words. To them, discipleship came with a rather low-cost commitment but it featured a tremendous upside. If Jesus truly was the long-awaited Messiah, then they stood to gain a great deal from their decision to follow Him. He was going to be the next king of Israel and, as His disciples, they believed they were poised to reap some serious rewards for their more than 3-year commitment to follow Him.

So, when Jesus began to talk about taking up your cross, the disciples must have been more than a bit confused and concerned. Suddenly, their decision to follow Jesus was beginning to sound like a huge mistake. What was all this talk about hating your father, mother, children, and siblings? Why would Jesus require that His disciples hate their own lives? None of this was what the disciples had signed up for.

Yet, Jesus was actually redefining the term “disciple.” He was giving it a much more robust meaning that conveyed a sense of high cost and commitment. Up until this point, following Jesus had been a relatively easy activity that required little in the way of real sacrifice. But all that was about to change.

This redefinition of discipleship was not what the disciples expected and it caught them off guard. And, even today, the term carried a lot of baggage with it. When we hear the word, “discipleship,” we tend to think of scripture memory, Bible studies, and classrooms filled with Christians who are really serious about their faith. Many of us consider discipleship as being reserved for those who want to be students of the Word. They are wired differently than the rest of us. They have a special capacity for learning deep doctrinal truth and a desire to spend countless hours alone – studying, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture. They are the spiritually elite and are not like the rest of us. They’re a super-spiritual breed who are a cut above the rest of us. They are the few, the proud, the Marines. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Yet, when you read the words of Jesus you can’t help but notice that He really did expect His disciples to be a breed apart. They were to be special. But it is NOT a classification of people within the Christian community who just happen to take spiritual matters a little more seriously. If you are a follower of Christ, you are a disciple. In fact, Jesus made it quite clear that you had to be willing to shoulder your own cross before you could follow Him. You couldn’t be His disciple without it.

There is a cost to discipleship. There is a cost to following Christ. It was never intended to be easy. John MacArthur has this to say about the cost of discipleship: “Discipleship…more than just being a learner, being an intimate follower, having an intimate relationship, following to the point where you would go as far as death out of love. There’s no question about the fact that the only message Jesus ever proclaimed was a message of discipleship. The call that Jesus gave was a call to follow Him, a call to submission, a call to obedience. It was never a plea to make some kind of momentary decision to acquire forgiveness and peace and heaven and then go on living anyway you wanted. The invitations of Jesus to the lost were always direct calls to a costly commitment.”

There is a cost to following Jesus. But that is not a popular message. It never has been. It wasn’t popular when Jesus communicated it more than 2,000 years ago. His followers didn’t want to hear Him say, “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple” (Luke 14:33 MSG). This sounds harsh and demanding. But it is really the message of discipleship. Dallas Willard describes it as the life of an apprentice to Jesus.

“Being his apprentice is, therefore, not a matter of special ‘religious’ activities, but an orientation and quality of my entire existence. This is what is meant by Jesus when he says that those who do not forsake all cannot be his disciple. (Luke 14:26, 33) The emphasis is upon the all. There must be nothing held of greater value than Jesus and his kingdom. He must be clearly seen as the most important thing in human life, and being his apprentice as the greatest opportunity any human being ever has.” – Dallas Willard, How Does The Disciple Live

But to be a true disciple, my life needs to make a difference. It needs to have an impact on those around me. That’s why Jesus compared true discipleship to salt. And this was not the first time Jesus had used this analogy. He had said virtually the same thing in His sermon on the mount.

“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.” – Matthew 5:13 ESV

This was spoken at the beginning of His ministry to yet another crowd of so-called “followers.” Was Jesus insinuating that everyone in His audience was already salt? Was this His expectation of the Jews in His audience? To further complicate the issue, Jesus switched metaphors, using light as a illustration of the kind of impact citizens of the kingdom of God should have.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. 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.” – Matthew 5:14-16 ESV

Was He really inferring that everyone in His hearing was, at that moment, the light of the world? Did they already have the light of Christ within them? It would appear that Jesus was speaking prophetically, referring to those whom God would give Him as His followers. The apostle John would later recall the words Jesus prayed in the garden on the night He was be betrayed.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.” – John 17:6-11 NLT

There would be some who followed Jesus who truly believed Him to be who He claimed to be. But their number would be small. The vast majority of those who heard His sermon on the mount would later leave Him. They would refuse to accept Him as their Messiah. They would deny their need for Him as their Savior. But there would be those who believed Him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). Those would be the ones who had the unique thrill of seeing Him appear in their midst in His resurrected form. They would be the ones He told to return to the upper room and wait for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. This small group of men and women would be transformed into salt and light, agents of change, who would powerfully and radically influence the world around them. The kingdom life, the life of spiritual poverty, meekness, mourning, mercy, purity and peacemaking, will set them apart from the world around them.

Two kingdoms:

The salt (the Church)                  The earth (the world)
Preserves                                           Prone to decay
Seasons                                                Spiritually bland
Disinfects                                            Diseased
Influential                                           Infectious

The light (the Church)                The world (sinful man)
Exposes sin                                        Loves darkness
Reflects the light of Christ       Marked by darkness
Lights the way to Christ            Blinded by darkness

Jesus was describing the church age, the era that would follow His death, burial, and resurrection, and result in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This is the period in which we find ourselves living. When the Holy Spirit came, the church was born. The disciples were empowered from on high, just as Jesus had told them. They were transformed into salt and light, agents of change in a world filled with decay and darkness. They spoke with power. They began to preach the message of salvation made possible through faith in Christ alone. And later on, the apostle Paul would take that same message to the Gentiles, revealing the truth that Jesus came to redeem men from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

Salt was a staple in that day. It was essential for life. It preserved meat. It prevented decay. If added flavor to what would have otherwise been bland and tasteless. Jesus was saying that the blessed will have influence in the world. But He warns against losing your saltiness. But can salt really become un-salty? No. But it can become diluted and contaminated. It can lose its effectiveness. And the apostle John tells us how.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. – 1 John 2:15 NLT

Our distinctiveness as followers of Christ can be diluted and diminished by this world. We can allow our love for the things of this world to overwhelm our effectiveness. We can lose our influence and find ourselves trampled down or overcome by the ways of this world.

What about light? It is intended to illuminate the darkness that surrounds it. Light exposes what is invisible to the eye in the dark. That is why Paul later wrote:

Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible.Ephesians 5:11-14 NLT

The lives of those approved by God will impact others. And the result will be conviction. That conviction will lead some to salvation, while others will respond in anger and resentment, resulting in persecution, reviling and slander, just as Jesus warned.

We are not to hide our light, in an effort to escape suffering. We are not to prefer darkness to the light, by hiding our light under a basket. We are to set it out for all to see. The apostle Paul tells us:

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.  – 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NLT

The unique thing about light is that it cannot be overcome by darkness. Darkness is nothing more than an absence of light. Jesus came to bring light into a dark world, and we are to be His agents, His representatives, allowing His light to flow from us into the darkness that surrounds us. Once again, the apostle Paul gives us some powerful words of exhortation:

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. – Philippians 2:15-16 NLT

We are to be salt and light. We are to be agents of change, forces for good in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Our beliefs should change our behavior. The presence of the Spirit of God within us should make a lasting impact on the world around us. But has our saltiness become diluted? Have we allowed our light to become hidden and ineffective? The Kingdom life is meant to be a radically different life. It is meant to make an impact and leave a mark on the world around it. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. If you have been approved by God because you have placed your faith in His Son, you are a citizen of His kingdom, and a child in His family. You are to live like a child of that kingdom while you find yourself temporarily having to exist in this one.

Discipleship has a cost. So did our salvation. It cost Jesus His life. When I follow Him, He asks me to count the cost and determine whether I am willing to make His kingdom the most important thing in my life. Will I allow it to replace anything and anyone else? Will I, like Paul, count everything else as loss compared to knowing and following Jesus Christ as His disciple? (Philippians3:8).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson