The metaphor of believers being “salt and light” comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:13-16. In this passage, Jesus tells his followers “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world.” He then goes on to explain what he means by these metaphors.
Being salt and light is a calling and responsibility that Jesus gives to all his disciples. Here is an explanation of what it means for believers to be salt and light in the world:
Jesus first calls his disciples “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). Salt has several important qualities and functions that help us understand what Jesus meant.
1. Salt adds flavor – Just as a small amount of salt enhances the flavors of food, believers should have a positive and flavorful influence on the world around them.
2. Salt preserves – In the ancient world, salt was used as a preservative to prevent decay. Similarly, the positive presence of faithful believers helps to preserve what is good in society.
3. Salt creates thirst – Salt makes people thirsty for water. When believers live out their faith attractively, it causes spiritual thirst in others to know God.
4. Salt heals – Salt has healing and antiseptic properties. Likewise, believers can have a healing impact through compassionate words and self-sacrificial service.
5. Salt seasons – Salt seasons and fertilizes the ground. The good deeds of Christ’s followers can encourage growth and new life in the lives of others.
So in summary, as “salt,” believers are called to have a positive influence on the world by bringing out the best in people and situations, fighting corruption and moral decay, provoking spiritual thirst for God, promoting healing through acts of compassion, and fertilizing growth through good deeds.
In the very next verse, Jesus calls his disciples “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). This builds on the salt metaphor. Light is associated with several important qualities:
1. Light illuminates – In the darkness, light shines and helps people see. Spiritually, believers are to shine the light of God’s truth into the darkness and ignorance of sin.
2. Light exposes – Light reveals what is hidden in the darkness. Christians are to lovingly expose and confront evil, sin, and false teaching by shining the light of Christ.
3. Light guides – Especially at night, light from lamps and lighthouses guides people safely to their destination. Believers are to help guide others to find salvation in Jesus.
4. Light brings safety – Light drives away fear. Walking in the light of Christ gives believers security, purpose, and hope.
5. Light reflects – The moon reflects the light of the sun. As believers, we are to reflect the light of Jesus Christ in our lives.
6. Light spreads – Put a lamp on a stand, and its light spreads far and wide. When Christians openly display their light, it multiplies the light through good works and the gospel spreading.
So as “light,” believers are responsible to shine the light of Christ into every corner of darkness, expose evil and deception, guide people toward salvation, bring hope and security through the gospel, personally reflect Jesus’ light through righteous living, and spread the light through evangelism and missions.
Why Salt and Light?
But why did Jesus choose the metaphors of salt and light to describe his followers? There are a few likely reasons:
1. They are ordinary – Salt and light are common, everyday items. This reminds us that believers do not have to be spectacular heroes. In ordinary life, doing small acts of good, we fulfill Christ’s calling.
2. They are accessible – Salt and light are readily available to all people, rich and poor. Similarly, all believers have access to Jesus’ light and can let it shine.
3. They are unselfish – Salt and light are given freely to season food and illuminate rooms. We share Christ’s light not to draw attention to ourselves but for the benefit of others.
4. They bring glory to their source – When food is tasty and a room is bright, this points to the excellence of the salt and light’s source. So too believers should cause others to praise God.
5. They depend on purity – Impure salt loses flavor. A hidden or smothered light does not shine. Believers must walk in holiness and openly display their faith to fully be Christ’s witnesses.
Jesus makes it clear that being salt and light is not optional. He declares “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). There is no scenario in which a Christian is not responsible to exert a godly, righteous influence and spread the light of the gospel.
What it Looks Like to Be Salt and Light
While the call to be salt and light applies to all believers, what it looks like can vary greatly from person to person. Here are some examples:
– A grandmother modeling sacrificial love and grace to her family
– A father working with integrity and speaking blessings to build up his children
– A young woman standing up for morality and righteousness among her peers
– A college student sharing his faith and living in holiness as a witness on campus
– A widow devoting her life to praying for others and giving to those in need
– A single man pouring himself into service at his church and mentoring youth
– A wife engaging in apologetics and spiritual conversations with co-workers
– A teenager being friendly and kind to the outcasts and lonely at school
– Believers participating in community service and volunteering to fill practical needs
– Christians giving financially to support missionary work around the world
– A family taking in foster children and showing them Christ’s love
– Believers running Christian businesses with integrity and excellence
– Christians exposing and confronting corruption, exploitation, deceit, and racism
In whatever life situation we find ourselves, as salt and light there are always opportunities to bring glory to God by promoting truth, compassion, righteousness, and the spread of the gospel. God often uses the small, unsung, simple acts of obedient believers to change the world.
Being Salt and Light Requires Engaging the World
An important implication of the metaphors of salt and light is that Christians must engage the world around them. Salt is no good if it stays in the shaker. A light is useless if it is hidden (Matthew 5:15). God calls every believer to get out of our “holy huddle” and permeate society, flavoring it with His love and truth. This includes:
– Building relationships with non-believers over shared interests and activities
– Participating in community organizations and volunteer work
– Seeking professions and jobs that will provide opportunities to minister to others
– Having conversations about spiritual matters when appropriate in social settings
– Finding ways to contribute help and hope in crisis situations
– Letting our “good deeds… cause men to glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12)
Our light shines brightest when people see it in the middle of their everyday lives. This requires intentionally avoiding staying in an exclusively Christian bubble. Jesus ministered among tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. So must we, without compromising biblical values.
Warnings About Losing Our Saltiness and Hiding Our Light
After calling his disciples to be salt and light, Jesus warns them of two dangers:
1. Losing saltiness – “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). Here Jesus warns that if believers compromise their righteousness and mix with sin, they will lose their purifying and preserving influence on the society around them.
2. Hiding light – “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” (Matthew 5:15-16). Here Jesus cautions against hiding our faith and good deeds out of fear of men. This prevents the gospel from spreading.
All Christians would do well to examine if we have compromised with the world so much that we have lost our spiritual saltiness and if fear is causing us to hide our light from others. Our testimony depends on persevering in holiness and courageously keeping our light of good works and witness bright.
Being Salt and Light Requires the Power of the Holy Spirit
It is easy to hear Jesus’ call to be salt and light and feel overwhelmed. Our sinful nature tends toward cowardice and conformity to the world’s ways. How can we find the courage and ability to so positively impact the people and places around us? The answer is that we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.
Jesus did not just call his disciples to be salt and light, he empowered them to fulfill this high calling by sending the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18, 26). It is only through the strengthening work of the Spirit that Christians receive wisdom, spiritual gifts, character, and boldness to act as salt and light (Ephesians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, Galatians 5:22-25, Acts 4:29-31).
The life-changing power of the indwelling Holy Spirit enables us to live out Jesus’ countercultural teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. As we yield ourselves to Him, He transforms us and makes us into salt that is flavorful and light that shines brightly into the darkness.
Being Salt and Light Exalts Christ and Leads People to God
In giving his disciples the metaphors of salt and light, Jesus’ ultimate desire was for people to “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). He calls believers to be salt and light not to draw attention to themselves, but to exalt God and point people toward salvation in Christ.
When Christians graciously stand for truth and biblical morality in the public square, when believers sacrificially serve the poor and needy, when the people of God create works of beauty and usefulness with their gifts and talents, God is made known. People are drawn by the beautiful flavor and light of Jesus displayed through His Church.
The more we can make our lives, families, churches, and communities look noticeably different through the flavoring and illuminating influence of following Christ in the power of His Spirit, the more God will use us to attract others to know Jesus and find eternal life (John 12:32, 1 Peter 3:1-2).
Jesus Also Calls Us the “City on a Hill” and the “Light of the World”
In the Sermon on the Mount, in addition to calling his followers the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world,” Jesus uses some other metaphors that reinforce what it means for Christians to impact society:
1. The City on a Hill – “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). Here believers are likened to a city on top of a hill, visible from miles around. Likewise, the Church is meant to be a conspicuous community and counter-culture that grabs the world’s attention.
2. The World’s Light – “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). This emphasizes that without Christians, the world would be plunged into complete spiritual darkness. Only through believers shining the light of Christ can a lost world see truth and find salvation.
These metaphors emphasize what an enormous privilege it is to help illumine the world for Christ. They give a vision of the Church as a magnet drawing humanity to God and standing in stark contrast to the evil age as a preview of the kingdom of God.
Of course, we should not read too much into these word pictures. The emphasis is not on Christians taking over society and imposing their laws on others. Rather, it is on believers humbly sacrificing out of love to serve, bless, heal, and rescue a broken world through exemplary living, good deeds, and gospel proclamation.
We Must Not Hide Our Light Out of Fear of Persecution
Jesus knew that calling his followers to be salt and light would involve courage. In the midst of opposition, it is tempting to shrink back from open displays of our faith. But Christ says persecution is inevitable and must not be feared (Matthew 5:10-12). Two key reasons believers must keep shining bright:
1. More important than human approval – We value God’s praise over people’s opinions. Some may reject us, but many more will be drawn to the light.
2. Christ will reward and vindicate us – This world is not our final home. Faithfulness to be salt and light stores up eternal rewards in heaven (Matthew 5:12, Hebrews 11:26).
To build our courage, we look to Jesus, who endured hatred and violence yet rose victorious. When we suffer for righteous living, we share in His sufferings and will share in His glory (Romans 8:17-18, Philippians 1:29).
We Must Not Compromise or Hide the Hard Teachings of Scripture
One temptation Christians face in striving to be salt and light is compromising or downplaying hard teachings of Scripture related to sin, hell, repentance, Jesus as the only way, etc. in order to avoid offending people. But this ends up hindering our light from shining brightly.
Jesus himself did not shy away from confronting sin or making exclusive salvation claims, despite opposition. The world does not need us to sugarcoat, water down, or conceal what God says about human fallenness, judgment, and salvation in Jesus. Faithful witness requires gently but boldly proclaiming the full biblical gospel, even in the face of hostility. If we compromise or obscure parts of God’s Word, we hide our light under a basket and lose our saltiness.
Shining Our Light Requires Speaking, Not Just Nonverbal Witness
Some Christians argue that demonstrating our faith through good deeds is light enough – adding words is unnecessary. But Scripture makes clear that verbal witness is an essential part of shining our light:
– “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). We must be ready to articulate why we believe.
– “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). Believers must speak the gospel so others can believe.
– “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:11-14). Verbal proclamation of the gospel is necessary for people to hear, believe, and call on Christ for salvation. Nonverbal light alone is not enough.
So while our actions must back up our words, we cannot fully be salt and light without gospel conversations. As the Holy Spirit leads, we must open our mouths to speak the truth in Christ’s love to those living in darkness (Ephesians 4:15).
When Jesus calls believers the salt of the earth and the light of the world, He is not just describing who we are, but issuing a missional calling for Christians to impact our families, workplaces, communities, and societies for God’s kingdom. Through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, God wants to use ordinary Christians to bring His flavor, illumination, hope, and salvation to the world through good works and gospel witness.
May we passionately pursue repentance and spiritual renewal so that we do not lose our saltiness and hide our light. And may we find creative ways to scatter our salt and shine our light wherever we go, inviting people to glorify our Father in heaven.