Matthew 5:13-16

Good morning. It’s wonderful to see you again on this Lord’s Day as we continue our study of the sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter five. When we were together last Lord’s Day, we completed the study of the beatitudes, the introductory section to the Sermon on the Mount. And now as we turn to resume the Sermon beginning in chapter five, verse 13, we enter a section that is, at least in its symbolism and language, almost surely to be rooted in our memory. Very, very familiar language. “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says. “You are the light of the world.” These two very powerful metaphors have been used and misused throughout Christian history. And now we confront these right in the text as Jesus is delivering the sermon on the Mount. Now, when we ended the beatitudes, we ended a distinct section of the Sermon on the Mount, but it’s all part of one literary unit.

Now we need to remember the historical occasion of the delivery of the sermon on the Mount. When Jesus, we are told in John chapter five, had gathered together the crowds. They had gathered unto him and he went up on the mountain and sat down. His disciples came to him. He opened his mouth and began to teach them. So, Jesus gathers his disciples, but we also know that there was a larger crowd that had come to the end of chapter four. We’re told that large crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan. And so we should expect that there are really two audiences for the Sermon on the Mount. There is the audience of the disciples whom Jesus has called. He has called them together. And there are those who are gathered in the crowd who have also come because they are the overhears of what Jesus is saying primarily to his disciples.

That’s a very important thing for us to recognize. There’s a sense in which there are those who are overhearing what Jesus speaks to his disciples, because Jesus here is speaking of his own. He’s speaking of those who will come to faith in him. He’s speaking of those who will be in his church, his body and his bride. He’s speaking specifically to his own, but there are others who are assuredly overhearing. The “you” is addressed to those who come to him by faith, to those who are in what we shall come to know as the church, those who are his own. We do not expect that the world will live by the Sermon on the Mount. We do not expect that the world will have its conscience shaped by the Sermon on the Mount. We do not expect that the world will have a, an immediate intellectual understanding of the Sermon on the Mount.

But we do expect that God’s people, Christ’s people, are to see this sermon as a sermon directed to us, a sermon directed to us in the present. Yes, very, very clear in the passage we begin today. This is a sermon addressed to us in the present, but it’s also in its entirety an eschatological passage showing us as it were a vision from the future, from God’s future, from the completion, the consummation of how things will be seen in terms of what should have been and for what God’s people should be. But in Matthew chapter five, we pick up in verse 13. Very familiar language. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. B ut 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 underfoot by men.”

Now, one of the dangers of the Sermon on the Mount is that we tend to take these familiar verses out of context. We take them out of the context of the Sermon itself. And we take the Sermon out of the context of the gospel of Matthew. We take the gospel of Matthew out of its context within the New Testament. And we take the New Testament out of its context in terms of the entire canonical shape of Scripture. And that is always dangerous. We need to take the big view and then zero in on the precise understanding of this passage. One of the ways we injure the interpretation of the Sermon is by breaking it into separate components and saying, “Well, now, here’s one section. And here’s another section in particular.” One of the things we are wanting to do is to treat the beatitudes as separate from the rest of the Sermon.

And that’s a problem because what we find in Matthew chapter five beginning at verse 13, builds on the beatitudes. In other words, what begins here is an indictment of Christ’s people if they fail to demonstrate the kind of Christ-likeness that should be the hallmark of his disciples. Jesus is saying, “Your following of me, your coming-to-me-by-faith, and the transformation that comes into your life must be evident.” There must be a demonstration of Christianity in our lives. This is to be a faith that is demonstrated in the evidence of the transformed life. And this is clearly the expectation of the Lord himself. He follows the beatitudes with this very strong statement: “You are the salt of the earth.” Now we know what salt is. And we understand it because it’s necessary to life. We understand the chemical structure of salt is one of the first things you learn in chemistry class.

And you understand that salt is one of the most common compounds found throughout all of creation. That life itself, biosis, seems to require salt. And of course, the human body requires salt. Certainly very interesting is something that just a couple of weeks ago showed up on YouTube and some of the other internet things. It was a 14 year old boy who was trying to run cross country when all of a sudden he realizes something is running behind him. And he looks over his shoulder and here comes a deer. It was caught by a photographer. And the deer is chasing this boy.

He tries to lose the deer. The deer will not be lost. The deer finally comes up behind him and he stops and just tries to cover his head. He’s laughing. He doesn’t know whether he’s supposed to be scared. “What is this deer going to do?” The deer puts her front legs over his shoulders and starts licking his neck. Now, one thing that a 14 year old boy is not ready for is a female deer running him down and putting her legs over his shoulder and starting to lick his neck. He’s laughing. And finally someone comes and shoos the deer way. And the wildlife people determined that the deer was starved for salt.

And that deer actually have the ability to smell salt. And they smelled it on the perspiration of this boy running cross country. And he ended up a love interest that he wasn’t expecting, a deer who was actually after nothing more than salt. We have to have salt. And by the way, those of us who live in this part of the country have to understand this. One of the perplexing things to newcomers to Kentucky is how many little towns, villages and hamlets are named something “lick.” There’s Buffalo lick and deer lick and doe lick. It’s the same thing. It’s because there are salt deposits where these animals come in order to lick the salt. It’s necessary. There is an instinct in them to go after this salt. And we understand the necessity of it. We understand that this chemical compound is incredibly powerful.

Now, one of the things that we could do with this passage is try to enumerate all the different ways that salt has been used and try to apply those metaphorically to say, “Well, this includes the church, the churches to do this.” And we can play with this. We can say that the one thing salt is a preservative. And, and we know that it is. And again, living here in Kentucky, anyone who’s ever had Kentucky country ham knows that salt is a preservative, because that is all that you basically have: ham and brine and time equals a country ham. And sometimes you just need to realize this is not an elegant thing to see. As a matter of fact, every once in a while, someone has given a country ham, especially those who have pastorates in the country.

I was given a country ham from time to time. I preached down in Glasgow a few years ago and was given a country ham. And, you know, that’s a wonderful thing to be given. It’s a wonderful gift. It’s a gift of love, especially when it’s a home-cooked country ham. Someone has done this himself or herself. But I have to tell you, it is an awkward thing to receive in public. It stinks. It is ugly. It is beautiful only to those who have eyes to see. There’s the old story of a seminary student who happened to come from another part of the country, went out to preach and was given one of these country hams. He opened it up when it was in the trunk of his car, because it was stinky.

He opened it up and saw it covered with all kinds of mold and stuff. And he threw it away on the side of the road thinking that it was rotten. He got back to the dormitory and told the other students what had happened. And they got in their car and tried to chase it down to find out exactly where he had discarded it. Because of course it isn’t spoiled. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. You eat only what’s inside. Salt is a preservative. There’s bacon. Other forms of meats have been salted. And by the way, if you lived as most persons lived throughout human history, the only meat you’re likely to have is meat that is immediately fresh or that is desiccated and cured by salt. That’s about all there was. If, for instance, you were headed on a sea voyage or on a trip of anything, you took the equivalent of meat jerky, because it was salted and preserved and dried out.

That was the only way you could take it. It was the only way it could be preserved. Is the church to be a preservative? Well, you could take that metaphor and say, “The church is to preserve those things, which ought to be preserved where the church has found.” There ought to be that preservation of the enduring things, the eternal things of God’s truth. You could also speak of salt as something of an antiseptic. And it seems to work that way as well. And one of the things that sometimes happens is how salt stings in a wound, but it also seems to cleanse a wound. Salt does all kinds of things, but I’m going to suggest to you that that kind of preaching on this passage is not very helpful. Delineating the different purposes of the chemical compounds of salt and suggesting that, metaphorically, those should be extended to the church really doesn’t help much here, because the point is more direct than that. Jesus appears to be using salt as a metaphor for this one point: that salt that has lost its savor or has become tasteless is worthless. In other words, the simplicity of this point seems to be that a disciple who doesn’t look like a disciple, a disciple who isn’t living like a disciple, a disciple who isn’t speaking and talking and behaving like a disciple, is worthless to the kingdom.

And we probably need no extended points beyond that, because following the beatitudes, that seems to be the essential point that Jesus is making here. He doesn’t extend this out with different points about salt. He simply says, “If salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It’s no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” Now, the salt that was found and used in the ancient near east came from two basic sources. One was the dead sea, or the ocean itself, where by allowing the evaporation of the water, one would end up with the salt. But you did not use the salt from the dead sea, because it was so contaminated by other chemical compounds and heavy metals and all the rest that it was absolutely worthless. And it was also tasteless. Now was Jesus making a direct reference to this? We do not know, although that would have been very common to the understanding of the day. There is salt. That is absolutely worthless. Salt, once it has been used in the curing of meat or that is excess and not absorbed by the flesh, is salt that is useless. It’s taste and usefulness has been destroyed and it is simply thrown out.

So the idea that salt could become useless is probably not an impossibility to the understanding. We understand that it can become contaminated. What it means exactly for the salt to lose its savor is a little difficult perhaps to understand. It will always remain somewhat salty, but Jesus appears to be using something that by its very, well, awkwardness points to the issue: salt that is no longer salty is useless. So what do you do with it? It can’t be made salty again. It’s not good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. We read this passage with great danger if we do not recognize the warning that is in it. It’s a warning against easy-believism. It’s a warning against just some kind of tacit statement of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ without a genuine reception of Christ by faith. Without a genuine discipleship that follows. It is a severe word of indictment against nominal Christianity. It is against those who simply say, “Yes, I’m a Christian! But it’s a matter of some kind of tag of some kind of membership.” It’s not of a life transforming experience in coming under the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

And there are those of course who are nominal Christians. And of course you understand that that is only possible if one allows yourself to be the oxymoron of nominal and Christian, because in the New Testament, those two do not go together. That’s not to say they are not found. They are found. For instance, they’re found in the parable of the sower and the soils. Whereas, you know, Jesus says there are four different kinds of soil reflecting four different kinds of hearts. There is the one that is the asphalted heart. The gospel does not even penetrate. And then there is the heart of the shallow soil, the superficial who gives the appearance of life. But when the full noonday sun comes out, this Christian withers and just disappears. Dies. And then there is the thorny soil. And in that soil, the seed is struggling because this is a heart that is contaminated with mixed motivations and allegiances.

And then there is the good soil that yields a crop, some 30, some 60, some a hundred fold. “He who has ears,” Jesus said, “let him hear.” We should not be surprised that there are those who are superficial in their response to the faith. In their response to the gospel. In their response to Christ. But their superficiality shows. That’s the point. Eventually those who have eyes to see and ears to hear understand that that kind of superficiality shows in the parable. It shows when the full noon sun comes out as a metaphor of persecution. And when that sun bears its heat down upon that young seedling that is in that shallow soil, it withers and dies.

This is a warning in Matthew chapter five in the Sermon on the Mount against nominal Christianity. “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 underfoot by men.” Now, as we have said, this is building upon the beatitudes. This is an indictment. It is a challenge. It’s a test. We should read this passage the way the disciples would have heard it: “Are we really the followers of Christ?” But there is also a different and an additional meaning to this verse. And it has to do with the impact of Christ’s people in the society. Now, we would not know that merely from Matthew 5:13. We know that from what follows in this passage. In verses 14 and following, after Jesus spoke to his people and said, “You are the salt of the earth,” in verse 14, he says, “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.”

Now again, one of the dangers of any Bible study is that we’ll take a verse out of context, and this is perhaps particularly dangerous and seductive when the verses are very familiar to us. And this verse is familiar to us. “You are the light of the world” is familiar to us by its use. And it’s familiar to us by its misuse. Just to be very clear: this is not talking about the United States of America. This is talking about the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the earliest of the Pilgrim fathers, John Winthrop, speaking of their ambition to establish a Christian community in which the pilgrims came, after all, to establish. He said, “This shall be as a city upon a hill.” C-I-T-E is the way he spelled it. In other words, this city, which is to be established on gospel principles, shall be a light unto the nations.

That metaphor was left with the pilgrims, by and large, until president Ronald Reagan picked that up and applied it to the United States. He spoke of the United States as a city upon a hill. We understand what he meant by that, that the United States was to be an example to other nations. But in fairness to the Sermon on the Mount, this is not talking about any nation. Not even the United States of America. It’s speaking of Christ people. It’s speaking of the church. The church is the light of the world. And the church is to be, as it were, the city that is set upon a hill. In order to understand this passage, we need to understand something that comes along before this. This has to do with the fact that one of the primary points of identity for Israel as God’s covenant people is that Israel was to be the light to the nations.

This is familiar language. The Jewish people hearing Jesus speak of this would have understood that this was what was assigned to Israel. We can find this, for instance, in the prophet, Isaiah. In Isaiah chapter 42 and verse six, the Lord speaks to Isaiah to say, “I am the Lord and I have called you in righteousness. I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you. And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to being prisoners from the dungeon. And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.” That’s verses six and seven of Isaiah via chapter 42. Here, Israel is told, “You are to be as my people, a light to the nations.” This is in fulfillment of what was given as a witness unto Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant when we were told, “Through you and your seed, all the peoples of the earth shall be blessed.”

They are blessed by the fact that Israel was to be a light to the nations. Not just to bear testimony to Israel’s faith in the one true and living God, but to be a light unto others, that they too would come to know Yahweh, Jehovah, the one true and living God. We find that in Isaiah 42:6 and also in Isaiah 49, verse six, just a few pages over. The Lord speaking through Isaiah chapter 49 verse six, he says, “It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel. I will also make you a light to the nations so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” In other words, here, Israel is told, “It’s not just about you. It’s about the fact that I will raise you up. I will preserve the tribes of Jacob and I will restore the preserved ones, the remnant of Israel, in order that my covenant people will be a light of the nations. Why? So that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” And how would this be accomplished?

Well, Isaiah also speaks of that in a messianic prophecy that is very familiar to us in Isaiah chapter nine verse two. Very, very familiar language to us. “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” So how does Israel become a light to the nations? Well, even in Isaiah, we are told that this is a messianic vision. This is a messianic promise. Through the Messiah the people who have dwelled in darkness will see a great light. In covenantal history, God’s faithfulness to his promises to Israel are a demonstration of this light. The fact that God preserved his covenant people from their exile and brought them back and restored them is a testimony to this light. But in reality, it was only in the coming of the Messiah that the light was truly seen. The light was truly evident. The light was truly so present and undeniable that it became as a light unto the nations. Israel never fulfilled its universal purpose in itself. Its universal call and universal mission is fulfilled only in Christ.

When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world,” therefore, he is picking up one of the most powerful metaphors. One of those powerful messages is identifying Israel. And he says, “It’s fulfilled in you, in those who are my own.” But we also know it is fulfilled in Christ. Just think of the prologue to John’s gospel. John chapter one. What do we read here? “In him was life. And the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it.” This is another very clear statement of the fact that it is in the Messiah that the light has come.

Just for instance, in the prologue to John’s gospel, when he shifts from speaking of Jesus to speaking of John the Baptist, he said, “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. There was the true light, which coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world and the world was made through him and the world did not know him. He came into his own and those who were his own did not receive him. But as many as received him to them gave he the right to become the children of God. Even to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.”

Light becomes a powerful metaphor for our own salvation. We are enlightened by the gospel, and we are enlightened in order to see the gospel. Peter, writing to the church, in I Peter chapter two verse nine says this: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” Now, again, that is picking up the language very much like on the Sermon on the Mount. That is picking up the language of the Old Testament address to Israel. And now Peter says to the church, “You are the fulfillment of this. You are the recipient of these promises, and you in this present age are the demonstration of what God had promised to do through Israel so that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

So our salvation here is pictured as being taken from darkness to light. A little footnote: Does that mean that God is finished with Israel? By no means. Paul addresses this in the center of the book of Romans, where he makes very clear that there will be an outpouring of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in the latter days, so that Israel will respond to Christ by faith. And thus the light will shine through them to the nations. But Jesus in Matthew chapter five is speaking to his own disciples and to those who are overhearing him and he says, “You are the light of the world.” This takes on a great deal of meaning. We need to understand that Jesus does not say that these are the marks of the church’s aspiration. He doesn’t say “You should try to be the salt of the earth.”

He doesn’t say, “You should try to be the light of the world.” He doesn’t say, “If you’re really faithful, if you’re really true, you will be salty and you will be illuminating.” He says, “My people are these things, essentially. If you are my people, then you are salty and you are enlightening. If you are my people, you are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world.” This is not something Jesus holds out as an aspiration. It’s an established reality. It’s an objective reality. “If you are my people, this is who you are: salt of the earth and the light of the world.” Jesus presses this metaphor. He says, “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

I don’t know if you’ve seen one of these maps, but the maps are absolutely fascinating. They are maps of the world at night taken by satellite. National Geographic published several of these. You can find them at the National Geographic website. If you haven’t seen them, you need to see them because it tells you so much about the world. Because what you see is, is where light is found at night, and where the light is found, two other things are found. Human beings and modernity. Human beings and electricity. You find concentrations of human beings in a display of electricity at night in these incredible satellite maps. And where do you see illumination? Let’s just say you take the east coast and the west coast of America, and you go about a hundred or 200 miles in. And there are bands of light all around. It’s like the borders where the ocean hits are just illuminated with light. And as you come further into the country, there are now more sporadic groupings of light. You can identify cities. You don’t even have to have place names. You can see Pittsburgh and Louisville and Cincinnati, and you can see Dallas and Houston and Chicago, and you can just travel. You can see these cities, but then the further west you go, the more darkness there appears. Why? Because the population density is going way down.

Now, there are people there. And there is electricity there, but they’re spread out in such a way that they’re not concentrated. So they’re not caught on the satellite image in the same way. You can certainly see why Canada is so affected by the United States. All you have to do is see one of these maps of North America at night, because what you see is that virtually the entire Canadian population in terms of its density is right along the American border. The further north you go, it’s dark. The rest of the world is very interesting because the rest of the world is relatively dark. Now, of course, in Europe, you have a great deal of light. And then also now in the Pacific rim, you have a great deal of light, in places like Australia. Where there are concentrations of population, you see the light, but you see that a great deal of the world is in darkness.

What’s very interesting about that kind of map is that it tells you where electricity is found, and it tells you where human beings are found in density. But where there is darkness, even though there is no electricity, it actually doesn’t mean there are no human beings, because some of the largest cities in the world – and remember that the largest cities in the world are now in what we would call the third world or the two-thirds world or the developing world, or the global south, depending on what terminology you want to use – do not show up like the major cities of the north. But they are teaming with millions and millions and millions of persons. What do they lack? Well, according to this map, what they lack is access to electricity. But of course from a gospel perspective, it will be fascinating to see where light would show up in terms of the presence of gospel congregations.

That would be interesting, wouldn’t it? If we had some kind of satellite image where all of a sudden, we could see the population of the world, and we could see not light bulbs being reflected in terms of the satellite perception, but what if we could see the gospel? What if we get to see gospel preaching? What if we could see evangelism as illuminated in that way? I think we would be embarrassed to see the disparity between, for instance, North America, where we would have a lot of light, thankfully of gospel churches, and where the rest of the world would be so hungry for the same. That’s not to say that our task in this country is complete. It’s not to say this country is a Christian country. If anything, the passage we’re reading right now should be an indictment of American Christianity because of its nominalism and because of its superficiality. There is not enough light there nor enough demonstration of the transforming power of the gospel. But a city set upon a hill cannot be hidden any more than on one of these satellite maps. A city that has electricity, that has the lights on, cannot be hidden. It cannot happen. The satellite will find that light and will display it on the image. And again, I would just suggest you go and look at it, because it’s just a matter of sheer fascination. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Christ’s people will become evident. Christ’s people will be evident in the world by the saltiness that is the proof of the gospel. And by the light, the illuminating power of the gospel, that is our assignment. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden,” Christ says, “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. Now, one of the other things we have to keep in mind about this is that we have this ability to walk into a room and flip on a switch, and there is light. And I really like that. But you realize how much that becomes ingrained within us, and you know, to your own embarrassment, as I share that embarrassment with you, how that training and patterning comes out. Because what happens when the electricity goes out? You still turn on the switches. When you go in the room, it’s just human nature. We’re so well-trained in that way. There’s no electricity, but you enter a room. What do you do? You turn on the light. And when you turn on the light, you’re shocked when nothing happens, because it’s supposed to come on. That light is supposed to illuminate the room. But we have light bulbs all over. I can’t imagine how many light bulbs are in the house in which we live. I don’t want to ever have to count them.

It takes a lot of light, and we use light in so many different kinds of ways. Just think of all the light bulbs in this building. They’re there for a purpose. It would be ridiculous to go to the trouble to light a lamp only to cover it up. That’s insane. It is likewise insane for a Christian to claim to follow Christ and to give no demonstration of it. And furthermore, it defies the very purpose of God in bringing enlightenment to us if we are not a light unto others. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel or under a basket, but puts it on a lampstand. Now, another one of the ways that we can be fooled and, perhaps, made more complacent in understanding this passage is that light for us is such an easy thing.

It is a matter of flipping a switch or plugging in a lamp and putting in a light bulb. We have very powerful little lights that can now be carried on a key chain. There’s no excuse for us not to have light. We have energy. We have power, and we have access to light. We live in multi-room houses in which every room has its own illumination, but the vast majority, if not all of them, of those hearing Jesus speak would almost assuredly be living in homes that would have been one room in terms of a living area. And they did the most amazing thing back during this time: when it was dark, they slept. Because it was relatively difficult to do much of anything else. Because even when we think about lamps and candles, we need to realize that in the first century, those are still very, very dim in terms of the light that they put out.

I have in my library a lamp from the time of Jesus. It’s a beautiful little thing. You would have poured a little oil into it. You would have put a little cotton wick into it and you would have lit it. And it would have put off a very, very dim glow, perhaps enough just to take care of some of the necessities of life. But it would not light so that you could read very well. It would not light so that you could do the cooking. It would light just enough so that you would be able to do the necessary things at night: get ready to go to bed and to sleep. Jesus said it would be foolish for someone to go to all that trouble, to light a lamp, and then put a basket over it.

You wouldn’t do that. Instead, you’d put it on a lampstand, because the whole purpose of having it is to maximize the light. And so in a house, you would put it on a lampstand so that there would be some glow in the entire room. So also God’s people are not to hide their witness. Christ’s people are not to be an invisible people, but are to be evident by the illumination that comes through us, through Christ’s disciples to the world. Lest we would miss the point, verse 16 makes it emphatically clear: “Let your light shine before men.” So Jesus here is very clear in increasing the specificity. He increases the sharpness of his point by making this now an imperative, because the verses of 13 and 14 and then 14, continuing into 15, were descriptive. Now, of course, since they’re in the Sermon, we know they’re also in the context as words of encouragement and, indeed, admonition, but they are descriptive. “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” But in verse 16, it becomes a command and an imperative. “Let your light shine before men.” Why? How? “In such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your father who isn’t heaven.”

So Jesus here says to his own people, “It’s not just that you are the salt of the earth. And it’s not just that you are the light of the world. It is that my purpose in you is that you would let your light shine before the world, before humanity, before men, in such a way that they would see your good works.” There is no message more clear in the New Testament than salvation by grace through faith. There is no message more repugnant to the New Testament than works-righteousness, but there is no point more easily missed than the fact that the salvation which comes to us by grace through faith is to become evident in good works, which are done to the glory of God. There is no tension between Paul and James. There is no confusion between grace and works. The New Testament is clear. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.


There is no question that in the new Testament works-righteousness is described as an anti-gospel. It is a fatal misconstrual of the gospel. It is the opposite of the logic of the gospel. It is a denial of grace, and it is a repudiation of faith. It leads not to life but to death. But is a fatal misunderstanding of the gospel of grace if we think that grace never becomes evident. Because the New Testament is clear here. Jesus is clear. Grace does become evident. Grace becomes evident in the life of the one who has been saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. There’s the evidence of good works. There’s the evidence of the transforming power of Christ in the life. There’s the evidence that old things are now gone. Behold, all things have become new. There is the evidence of the fact that the things we once hated, we now love, and the things we once loved, we now hated. The things which we once could not do and would not do, we now find ourselves doing, and we find Christ’s pleasure in doing them. But our good works are not to draw attention to the works nor to the worker. Our good works are not to draw attention to ourselves in terms of our goodness. That’s the temptation, isn’t it? We all want to have the merit badge of good works. But what we are told here is that these works are to be done. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they would see your good works” and then do what? “and glorify your father, who is in heaven.”

I met a parent, a mother actually, of one of our students. A couple of years ago, I happened to be preaching in a church. And I did not know that this was a home church and one of our students. And, and yet I was thrilled. And then his mother came up to me and she said, “I want to tell you why I believe in the gospel.” She said, “Now, I always believed in it. But I want to tell you why I believe in it in a whole new way now.” She said, “Because I know my son and I know who he was, and I know who he is. And I know there can be only one explanation for that. And that is the power of God and Jesus Christ.” She said, “I have never known anyone who was headed in so many wrong directions simultaneously as he was.”

I never knew that a mother could find such shame in a son and such fear in what might happen next. And she said, “But when he came to faith in Christ, everything changed.” And she said, “You know, I doubted it, because he had tried every scheme imaginable. He tried this and that, and he’d come home with plan A and plan B. But none of them worked.” And she said, “So I was somewhat skeptical.” Then she said, “But I have seen the proof positive because of the change that’s coming to his life.” She said, “Nothing explains this except Jesus. Nothing possibly could explain this.” She said, “You know, everything, he once loved, he just left. And now he’s doing this stuff he used to make fun of.” And she said, “You know, the strangest thing is I’m embarrassed, because as a mother, I was praying for him this way, but I was praying but not believing that I would ever see this.” She said, “But the weirdest thing is his former friends find him such a puzzle.” She said, “They still come around to ask about him thinking that he’s going to fall back into their ways. And yet, he doesn’t. But he does see them and he just keeps witnessing to them.” And she said, “The amazing thing is they keep coming back.”

Well, that was one mother’s testimony, a testimony of what she has seen happened in her own son, the son who had gone in every bad direction imaginable and is now called as a minister of the gospel of Christ. Not in some flash and immediate thing that in which he just showed up at the seminary right after having a conversion experience. No, this was after some time when this that is commanded in the Sermon on the Mount had been demonstrated in his life. The demonstration had been there. And on the basis of that, the church celebrated this call in his life. One of the things I said to her is, “Look, you know, there isn’t a student at the seminary who doesn’t have this kind of story. It’s not always as graphic. It’s not always as dramatic as the story you have told, but this is the story of every sinner transformed by grace.”

This is the apostle Paul’s testimony. This is Romans chapter seven that leads into Romans chapter eight. This is a story of what happens in the life of one whose heart despises the things of God and is now transformed to the love of the things of God. A heart that is entirely self-centered in animosity towards God, an egocentrism as the very root of its operation that is transformed. And only the grace of God in Christ can explain this. And God is glorified. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works.” And they better be there. That’s the demonstration. That’s the indictment of easy-believism and nominal Christianity. This is the passage that follows the beatitudes and says, “Look, those are not sweet little sayings that are to be written just like their little pithy maxims be found in a greeting card or printed on a calendar somewhere and hung on a wall. This has to be the defining mark of my people. And my people will show themselves, as my people, the same way that salt is undeniably salty and light is undeniably bright. My people will make themselves evident. Let your light so shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who was in heaven.” When this is true, when this happens, then God is glorified through the power of the display of the gospel of Christ. This passage is not first and foremost about the church in the world but about the church before her Lord. But it is also about the church in the world. And it’s not about political influence. It’s not about cultural influence. It’s about gospel influence: the salt of the earth.

And the light of the world.

We are to let our light shine before men in such a way that they may see our good works and glorify our Father, who is in heaven. And when that happens, we bring a focus on the gospel. We demonstrate the preeminence of Christ and we show the power of the gospel and transformed the lives. And the end result of that is that God is glorified. Again, it comes back to the fact that what we believe is that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.

Let’s pray together.

Father, we are so thankful for this passage. Thank you for setting these words in such an order that we understand how one point leads to another, how one theme leads to another, how one verse blends into another, how your consistent and progressive revelation in Scripture helps us to see all that we need to see in order to be your disciples in this generation. Father, thank you for informing us through Christ that we are, as his people, salt and light, the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Father, may we live by the power of the gospel and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in us. Maybe we live as Christ’s people under the authority of Scripture in such a way that people may see our good works and glorify you. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. God bless you. We’ll see you next Sunday. And we’ll pick up when Jesus says that he came not to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill.