You are the salt of the earth…
Jesus of Nazareth said some things during his lifetime that are nothing less than astonishing. Like this for example, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” His claim is that his words will outlive the current universe.
In his Sermon on the Mount—the best sermon ever preached, bar none—Jesus made statements about his followers that are astonishing in their own rite. He said of them, for example, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14) One might be forgiven for saying that he’s claiming that his followers are the cream of the human crop. Or, to put it in language that’s a bit more religious, Jesus is saying that his followers will have a redemptive, saving influence upon the world. It might sound overconfident at best, and even offensive at worst—to those who are not his followers.
What could possibly have prompted Jesus to make such claims? We can get a clue by reading what immediately preceded them. He listed eight spiritual character traits that would be the marks that identified people as his followers:
Blessed are the poor in spirit…
Blessed are those who mourn…
Blessed are the meek…
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…
Blessed are the merciful…
Blessed are the pure in heart…
Blessed are the peacemakers…
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…
The apostle, Paul, gave a similar list of spiritual character traits that he labeled the fruit of the Spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control…
According to Jesus and Paul, people who put these character traits on display in their lives, will have a redemptive, saving influence upon the world in which they live. They will, in fact, be the salt of the earth.
If we want to understand why Jesus would say something like this, we must understand the beating heart of his message. We find it succinctly summarized in Mark’s gospel:
…The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
Jesus was claiming that the loving, peacemaking, joy-giving, holy, righteous, and just power of the infinite omnipotent God of Israel—the power of the God of the universe—was now in play on earth through his words and actions. Or, to put it another way, heaven had come down to earth, and it was present to people through him.
Through his preaching and through the miracle-working power that operated through him, Jesus was extending and invitation to anyone who would receive it, to enter God’s kingdom in the here and now. Those who would receive his invitation and actually enter God’s kingdom, would be transformed—metamorphosized into the kind of person he had just described.
Jesus had a message to preach about the kingdom of God. It was a message which carried a definite content. But the content was less about information and more about supernatural transformation. In other words, the purpose of the content of Jesus’ message was to change a person supernaturally, from the inside out into someone they were not before—into a person displays the spiritual character traits that Jesus himself displayed.
It might be a good idea to reflect, for a moment, upon the profound impact that Jesus of Nazareth has had upon our world. As we do this, we’re in a better position to understand the possibility that a person who has been supernaturally changed to resemble Jesus, might indeed, have a saving, redemptive influence upon the world as well.
Imagine the influence that a person who possesses the spiritual character traits of Jesus himself might have upon the world. Anyone who follows Jesus can become that kind of person. But let’s be clear about something at this point: I’m suggesting that we should all jack up our willpower and try really hard to be like Jesus. I’m talking about about the entrance of the supernatural power of God into a person’s life that changes him or her so profoundly, that the person actually begins to display the character traits of Jesus.
We could say that this supernatural change is an act of creation on God’s part through the power of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul would later talk about this kind of change using exactly this language—the language of creation. Here are two examples:
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he [or she] is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
(2 Corinthians 5:17)
OK, so supernaturally changed people become the salt of the earth. They can have a saving, redemptive influence upon the world around them. How exactly does this take place? Well, think for a minute about what salt does: salt can act as a preservative; salt can add flavor to our food; salt makes people thirsty.
This is what God intends for followers of Jesus. But we’ll leave those thoughts for another time. For now, let me ask: Are you a follower of Jesus? If so, ask him every day to change you supernaturally to be the salt of the earth? If you’re not a follower of Jesus, I urge you to become one.
Hughes, R. Kent, and Douglas Sean ODonnell. Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth. Crossway Books, 2013.