Are you a salty Christian? I’m not talking about if you like salt on your eggs (I do!) but I’m thinking about the words of Jesus given in his famous Sermon on the Mount directed at his followers. He said: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” (Matthew 5:13)
In order to understand what these words mean, it’s important to remember that salt had a number of important uses in the first century. Let’s consider three of those traits.
1. Salt seasons
You put it in your soup for flavor, in your spaghetti sauce. It’s an ingredient in most recipes. The implication for us with this idea is that Christians are to give to a Christ-like flavor to those around them. That flavor should show up in our words and in our deeds. Interestingly, the apostle Paul picked up this metaphor of seasoning when he said to the Colossian Christians, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6). Our speech should bring encouragement in a world where there’s so much discouragement. It should bring hope in a world that lacks hope. It should be clean in a world where talking dirty is so common. It should uplift others in a world where putdowns are so common.
2. Salt Preserves
Among Christ’s apostles, some were fisherman, who would have typically used salt to slow down the spoilage process. If there is ever a day that we need the preserving influence of Christians and the power of the gospel, it is today.
History shows that wherever the gospel has gone and spread in the world today, it has had a preserving effect. An amazing example of the preserving influence of Christians comes from England in the 18th century. At that time, the slave trade was rampant, bringing wealth to many while degrading others. Drunkenness was a major epidemic, and gambling was also a serious societal problem. Living conditions in the cities were horrific, and the nation as a whole was in a terrible state. Into that society, God raised up many men and women to be salty Christians. Two men in particular, George Whitefield and John Wesley, had a tremendous impact. Both gospel preachers got banned from the mainline churches of the day, which tells you the sorry state of the church at that time. So, they turned to the open-air, in large part due to the example of Jesus in the Sermon on the mount. Thousands were converted. They encouraged new believers to become active in social reform. Wesley spoke out strongly against the slave trade and encouraged William Wilberforce, a politician, in his antislavery crusade, which eventually led to the abolition of slavery in England. What took place in England has been called a revival by many historians. Numerous mission agencies were established during this time. Antislavery societies, prison reform groups, and relief agencies for the poor were also started. The Tract Society was launched and the Bible Society was established. Hospitals and schools were built and multiplied. The revival transcended denominational lines and touched every class of society. England itself was transformed by the revival. (information on the British Revival is taken from Diane Severance, “Evangelical Revival in England”, May 3, 2010 accessed on April 17, 2023 online at https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1701-1800/evangelical-revival-in-england-11630228.html)
3. Salt Permeates
If you take some salt and put it in a glass of water, it will permeate the entire glass of water. It doesn’t take much salt to do a job. Similarly, you may feel like a minority as a Christian at your work or school or in your neighborhood or in your family. Yet, thankfully, it doesn’t take much salt for it to permeate and make a difference. When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth he addressed some believers who were married to unbelievers, and listen to the encouraging words he said. “For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (1 Corinthians 7:14)
What he is saying is that your marriage has a sanctifying effect on the unbeliever. If your children aren’t following the Lord, you have a similar impact on them! This doesn’t mean they will become saved automatically, but that through your consistent godly influence, they may turn to Christ.
In fact, the permeating quality of salt provides a great reminder. Salt doesn’t do as much good when it is just lumped all by itself. It is meant to be mixed into the food it is seasoning. It is meant to be distributed amidst the item it is preserving. Too often we as Christians only spend time with other Christians who share our values and beliefs. Let’s not forget that God calls us to reach out to those who may not share our beliefs and values. It’s true that Jesus calls us to separate from sin, but he doesn’t call us to isolate ourselves from sinners.
So, salt has some useful qualities. It seasons. It preserves. It works because it permeates when it is mixed around the thing it is intended to permeate. But it becomes useless if it isn’t applied properly. Notice how Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” (Matthew 5:13–16)
Jesus isn’t talking about losing your salvation because that’s not possible. He’s talking about losing your effectiveness or impact as a Christian. In Bible times, they got much of their salt from the Dead Sea. When the salt was laid out under the hot sun, the sun would evaporate the water and the salt and minerals would be left sitting there. That salt was then useful for seasoning and preserving. But, any salt that wasn’t used in those good ways, any excess salt, was often thrown onto the roads. The water and moisture would be absorbed and over time it would harden into the road and be trampled on. That’s probably the image that Jesus had in mind when he said these words. The salt that had so much potential could become no different than its surroundings.
So, let’s choose to be Salty Christians. May our words and deeds exemplify Christ to a needy world. May the way we live cause others to thirst to know more about the Savior we follow.