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Salt and Light

Christian, tell me why do you call yourself "salt" or "light"? What is meant by that?

Because…Jesus instructed His followers to help preserve, enhance, and enlighten our world with the good news about Him.

Sometimes, Christians have a peaceful, joyful, attractive quality to their lives that makes others want whatever secret they’ve found. Other times, they can seem harsh, insisting on high standards that make others uncomfortable. Maybe this post can provide some explanation for both aspects.

It can be difficult for Christians to determine the best way to act out their Christian life in a culture that often does not want to hear about God or Jesus. This is true in America today; it was also true in the Roman Empire of the first Christians. No matter what they do or how gently they do it, they will not always be welcomed with open arms. After all, Jesus did it perfectly…and they crucified Him!

Still, Jesus gave some instructions in the Sermon on the Mount, when He told His followers that they are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 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. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

What characteristics of salt and light did Jesus mean for Christians to demonstrate?


Salt Enhances

In cooking, salt has a unique quality: It doesn’t just add the flavor of the salt itself; it enhances the good flavors that are already there in the other ingredients while blocking the bitter flavors 1, thus making everything taste better. In the same way, Jesus uses His followers to enhance the good aspects of humanity and inhibit the broken aspects.

For example, a Christian who demonstrates the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control — will lift up those around them. Their example can encourage others to also be a little more patient and kind than they might be otherwise (or to refrain from some selfish behavior in which they may be tempted to engage!).


Salt Preserves

Salt has long been used to prevent food from spoiling 2. Prior to modern refrigeration, it was one of the main techniques available (along with drying, canning, and smoking). Similarly, Jesus wants His followers to help prevent decay in the culture around them.

A Christian who points out the risks of harmful behavior hopes to protect others from the pain that would result. One who works for a healthy society tries to keep hardship from spreading. And one who shares the hope available in Jesus helps keep their world from falling into despair.


Salt Heals

Salt or saline solutions are simple home remedies for itchy skin or a stuffy nose. Salt’s dehydrating and anti-bacterial properties help relieve the symptoms so the body can begin the healing process 3.

Christians are to notice when their neighbors are hurting, and to help them heal. They can do this by coming alongside them in practical ways, such as providing food, shelter and medical care as so many Christian ministries do. Seemingly small things like a hug, a smile, or a card are healing, also. All of these ways of reaching out to others can point hurting people to Jesus, the true Healer.


Light Exposes

Anyone who has ever found the coffee table in the dark … by using their shin … appreciates the value of turning on the lights. 🙂 In Jesus’ parable of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-9), the first thing the woman did when looking for her coin was light the lamp. She wanted to be able to see everything that was in the house while she searched. To best navigate our way through life, we also find it helpful to be able to see everything that is out there. Where are the dangers? What are all of the choices, and which is the most promising?

Christians have access to the One who said “Let there be light“, and it was so. Daniel’s phrasing was “It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him.” (Daniel 2:22). God’s light, when it shines through a Christian’s life, will expose His character and goodness. It will also, by its contrast, expose the shortcomings of a world that is alienated from God.


Light Guides

Have you ever been camping in the woods? Or gone hiking too late in the day and been caught out after dark? Hopefully you had a good flashlight with you. If you’re like me, you found yourself shining that light just ahead of your feet, making sure you kept on the trail. Seeing ahead by just a step or two, having even a little advance notice of drop-offs, rocks, or snakes, is much more reassuring than having no light at all.

Or, in the same situation, have you seen a light in the distance? It may have been someone’s campfire, or maybe the street light at the trailhead parking area. Did you fix your eyes on that one point of light, and move as directly toward it as you could?

The Psalmist tells God “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105). Christians can learn from Him about the right direction for people to go in order to be at their best, living as joyously as He designed for them to live. They can then set an example for others, helping them to stay on the best path.


Light Brightens

Most people dislike gloomy, overcast days. There’s even a medical condition, SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, that most often worsens during the gray winter months 4. The depression that can accompany a dreary day can clear instantly when the sun comes out from behind the clouds, though.

Without God, an entire life can be affected by gloom: a lack of purpose or hope, a wandering around looking for something that truly satisfies, a fear of the unknown after death. Christians can brighten the lives around them by sharing the Son-light of God: Jesus. That doesn’t mean all of the problems go away. But it does mean that there is help through those problems, and that the future is bright.


Will Salt and Light Be Welcome? Not Always….

Salt’s antiseptic qualities may help on some surface skin issues. But it is not a good idea on open wounds, where it stings and hurts and can cause more harm than good. A Christian’s “saltiness” can seem like too much when someone’s emotional or spiritual wounds are especially raw and hurting.

Sin, like a cockroach, prefers darkness. We all have sin in our lives that makes us automatically resist being exposed by God’s light, no matter how good that might be for us (John 3:19-20). To someone who isn’t yet ready to turn to God, a Christian’s light will seem too bright and they will squeeze their eyes shut against it.

So, even with the most care and love a Christian can present, their salt and light will not always be welcome. Remember again, not everyone accepted Jesus’ light, either (John 15:20).


Do Christians Get It Right? Not Always…

The right amount of salt makes food tasty, helps it keep longer, and helps our body work its best 5. Too little and the food is bland or spoiled, and our body suffers 6. Too much, and the food tastes like…salt, and our body suffers 7.

A good level of light for the activity in progress makes everything about that activity easier and more enjoyable. Too little light makes activity more difficult, if not impossible. Too much blinding light has the recipient flinching away and not attempting any activity.

A Christian whose life is no different from anyone else’s, who lives as if God is not really relevant to them, is of little use in letting others know how much God loves them. However, a Christian who “beats them over the head with a ten-pound Bible” is unlikely to make Jesus seem attractive to their acquaintances, either.


…But Sometimes

A Christian sharing Jesus by living their own lives in close connection with Him will enhance, preserve and heal those with whom they come into contact. They will show what people need to see, guide them to where they need to go 8, and make the world around them brighter for their presence. That gives them opportunity to participate in God’s work, and to invite others to share His life. Someday, they may meet someone in Heaven who was pointed there by their salt and light. That would be a wonderful legacy to have!

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

(Note: A friend proofreading this article for me noted that it is more about “showing” than “telling”. That is true, but does not mean that telling is not important! The Apostle Peter reminds us to “always [be] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). I do so better in writing than in person 9, which is the reason for this entire website.)

Footnotes and Scripture References

  1. https://www.finecooking.com/article/salt-makes-everything-taste-better
  2. https://recipes.howstuffworks.com/tools-and-techniques/salt-prevent-food-from-spoiling.htm
  3. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/ss/slideshow-salt-uses
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651
  5. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/salt-and-sodium/
  6. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-dangers-of-sodium-restriction#TOC_TITLE_HDR_8
  7. https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-too-much-salt
  8. Which would be to God!
  9. I consider my hesitance to speak up in person more often to be a weakness that I need to correct.

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org

Scripture reference links go to biblestudytools.com, which defaults to another good translation, the New International Version (NIV).  The site has 20 or more translations available for reference.