Scripture Reference: Matthew 5:13-16
Commitment: Seeing The WorldDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 31, 1993
Selected highlights from this sermon
Our society continues to descend into darkness. We are falling apart—morally, socially, politically, and religiously. But Christians have a responsibility during these times.
In the midst of decay, Christ commands us to be salt and light. We are instructed to preserve the world and grant perspective on its darkness. Now is not the time to forsake our identity as Christians or compromise our witness.
A democracy must always be glued together by high moral values. That’s why the third president, John Adams, said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” You know, the reason he said that was...if you ever thought of what would happen if suddenly all of us decided to break the law at the same time? There wouldn’t be enough policemen. There wouldn’t be enough jails.
Democracy is based on the assumption that most people are going to be law-abiding citizens, that crime is going to be the exception rather than the rule. In the Humanist Magazine, Will Durant, who was himself a humanist, said regarding America, that there is no other example in history whereby a democracy has been able to survive without religious cohesion. He says that this is going to be a great challenge for America to survive without religious cohesion. I think it is going to be impossible without some kind of religious cohesion.
Yes, our country is falling apart morally. I preached about that a few weeks ago, so I only mention it here, in our schools and in the crime that you read about in the papers every single day. We are falling apart racially. If you know anything about what the politically correct multi-cultural movement is saying, it is that people need to be hardened in their own special groups. And therefore there is a fear on the part of many that we are entering an age of tribalism. It used to be that America was united around the Constitution, the one nation under God, and people forgot about their differences, largely. There was unity in the midst of diversity. And now the great emphasis is on diversity. The question is can we have that much diversity and still have the cohesion to function as a nation?
We are falling apart also socially. Families are being torn. Our children who attend school tell us about the parents that are breaking up, and the divorces that some of the kids with whom they go to school have to endure. It is a difficult, painful, painful world out there.
We’re falling apart politically. We have a president who has espoused high ethics for his staff, but unfortunately in some areas, seems to have view that would indicate a low kind of morality in terms of what he hopes to implement. And so we are wondering where our rudder is and where the compass is when it comes to what is happening politically.
We are falling apart religiously. When you go out through the check-out counters you see all of those tabloids. I saw a headline that said, “Contact your own spirit guide. Become your own faith healer.” What a world in which we live, a world of occultism, a world of unclarity! And yet that’s the kind of age in which we live.
Now, I’m going to ask you to take your Bibles today and to turn to the fifth chapter of Matthew, where Jesus is speaking, and He gives His disciples some very familiar words. Matthew, chapter 5, and we will look at this from the context of what God expects us to be doing in today’s world.
Jesus said in verse 13, “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing any more except to be thrown down and trampled under the foot of men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor do men light a lamp and put it under a peck measure but on a 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.”
This is the last in a series of messages on commitment that counts, and today I’m going to be speaking about commitment to the world.
First of all, for openers, you look at this passage of Scripture and you want to ask the question, “Who took common clay (which is really what we are), and who took that clay and created from it salt? And who took the darkness that is in our hearts and took that darkness and made it into light? God. God.
Clay can’t decide to become salt on its own. It can’t decide that it is going to make this tremendous creative change, and all the darkness in the world can never create so much as a single ray of light. Not a single ray.
Light has to come from outside the darkness. Light has to penetrate the darkness, and just as God, who spoke the worlds into existence and said, “Let there be light,” the Bible says He has shone in our hearts to bring us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
You see, if God did not do a miracle, we would not be saved. We would still be clay, and we would still be darkness. But because He spoke, we have today salt and light within our hearts. If you are a believer, you are both salt and light.
What I’d like to do is to use this text now as kind of a window. In fact, we’re going to open up three windows because it gives us a lot of understanding regarding our relationship to the world, what the world is like, and that’s the way in which we are going to handle these two metaphors that Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount.
First of all, what does this teach us about our relationship to the world? We open this window and this metaphor can teach us something about what the world is like. Obviously the world is decaying. The world is decaying. That was the primary use of salt. Salt was used to slow down the process of decay. Now you and I know that the world is rotting. What happens is that decay actually sets in when there is death because death means that the body can no longer sustain the cells, you see. And when the body can no longer sustain those cells, they begin to disintegrate. They begin to decompose. They begin to fall apart, and they begin to be putrid.
Now that’s what’s happening to society, isn’t it? And Jesus is saying that we are the salt, as we shall notice in just a moment, but the world is basically in a state of decay, and the further the world gets from God, the greater the decay that begins to set in in society. But I want you to notice that Jesus also said that we were light. And that means not nearly now that the world is in decay, but the world is also in darkness.
It says in the book of Romans that when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Get this, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man.” Notice: Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. Their hearts were darkened.
Now, I want you to understand today that that is a picture of the human heart. And when you are in darkness, it says in the book of Proverbs, chapter 4, verse 19, “The wicked stumble and they do not know what it is that they are stumbling over,” because when you’re walking in darkness, you don’t even know what your problem is. And you think of all the people whom you and I know. You think about all the people that we read about in the newspapers who fundamentally don’t even know where to turn for answers because they are in a state spiritually of decay, and spiritually in darkness that has engulfed them.
Now if the world were in a state of death and decay and darkness and knew it, why there would be more hope. But as Martin Luther pointed out, “Not only are people blind, but the problem is compounded because they think they can see. Not only are they dead, but the problem is compounded because they think they are alive.”
All of us as parents like to talk about the cute things that our children said when they were growing up. Well, I want you to know that ours said a whole lot of cute things when they were growing up. I remember little Lisa, when she was about four years old, said to Rebecca one night, “Mommy, my teddy bear knows that he isn’t real.” Now, you think about that for just a moment. I would think that a teddy bear would have to be real to know that he’s not real. I would think that. And I would think that a dead person would have to be alive to know that he is dead. And the problem is how do you get dead people to know that they are dead? That’s a difficulty. If they were alive, they might know that they are dead. Are you still with me? (laughter)
You know, there’s something about dead people. I don’t know if you saw it in the newspaper, but I’m not making it up. There was a woman who cynically had chiseled into the tombstone of her husband these words, and I’ll read them directly, “I now know where he sleeps at night, finally.” She’s got this guy nailed down.
And the world is dead, and unless Christ speaks a word of life, the world remains dead and dark. Do you know why I emphasize this? Sometimes I think we expect too much from the world. We are surprised at the amount of evil, and certainly that is something that we never really get over, but what else can you expect with people who think that they can see, and yet they are blind, who think that they are alive, and yet they are dead?
So first of all, these metaphors help us to get a window on our world.
Secondly, these metaphors help us to also get a window on our ministry. What is it that we are supposed to be doing as believers? First of all, salt preserves. As I mentioned, it slows down the putrefaction process. If not entirely reversing it, at least it keeps it from going all the way.
Now, do you know that we as believers are the salt of the earth and the light of the world? And we preserve this world from the judgment of God, and from decay. It is better to even have carnal believers than none at all. Do you remember in the Old Testament the story of Lot? Lot was not walking closely with God at all. And yet even though he was not walking with the Lord, the fact is that before God sent judgment to Sodom and Gomorrah, God took Lot and his family and got them out of Sodom and Gomorrah because God says, “I will not judge the righteous with the wicked when it comes to the outpouring of my wrath.”
Now when you have earthquakes today, the judgment comes to both the righteous and the wicked indiscriminately. All natural disasters are like that. But when it comes to the outpouring of God’s wrath, as is going to take place during the days of the Great Tribulation, that is why some of believe that the church is going to be removed first because God does not pour out His wrath upon His own people, you see. And the Lord says that we are here to restrain evil. The Holy Spirit restrains evil, and were it not for those restraints, the wrath of God would be poured out from heaven, and the whole world would be engulfed in His anger and in His judgment. We preserve the world in its rush to decay.
But also we should be seasoning the world, which is what salt does. Salt gives food flavor. You’ve heard me say before that one of our responsibilities is to make sure that Jesus Christ is attractive to the world. Now, you and I know that Jesus Christ is attractive, but they don’t believe that He is because they have so many misconceptions about Him, they have so many misconceptions about Christians. They are skeptical about the believability of anyone, much less the believability of Jesus Christ, and we need to convince them otherwise by the way in which we live.
There’s a man by the name of Dr. Weigle who was a hymn writer who was speaking in Pasadena, California to a Bible conference. And one afternoon he decided to visit all of the rose gardens in Pasadena. And he came back, and someone asked him, “Did you enjoy going to the rose gardens?” And he was surprised that the person knew where he had spent the afternoon. And the man said, “You have brought the fragrance of the flowers with you.” And that’s what we should be doing as Christians. Yes, we preserve the world in its rush to judgment, but also we should be in a position where people are attracted to Christ because of the way in which we live. Salt preserves, and salt seasons.
What does light do? Well, light gives perspective. You know, in the darkness you can see shapes, but you have no idea as to what it is that is really there. As children we used to do a lot of running in the darkness out in the fields, and we always liked to have a flash light because we imagined all kinds of things that weren’t there. And in the very same way, when you are in darkness you may see the shapes but you don’t know what the shapes are. You can’t distinguish a stone from a piece of gold. It all seems to be alike in the night. And isn’t that exactly where the world is today. It is a world without value. It is a world without understanding, a world where everything has gone amuck. And we as Christians have the responsibility of proclaiming to the world that this is reality. There are values out there and we are to be light.
And another thing that light does is not only give that perspective but give direction because people are confused. And of course, no matter what we do, always back of every single social program that we as a church might have, back of every attempt that we might have to restrain wickedness, we must always be pointing men and women to Christ, which is the ultimate answer to the dilemma that this country finds itself in. We must point people to Jesus—not to ourselves.
Remember the story of the man who said to someone, “I have pointed to the moon and all that you saw was my finger.” In other words, there are people who may look at us, and they may not be able to get beyond us, and we must constantly be encouraging men and women to look to Christ, who is the answer, the way, the truth and the light [life], and the light of the world because that’s the message that men and women so desperately need.
So this metaphor that Jesus Christ uses give us some perspective first of all on our world, a perspective on our responsibility within our world, but also some interesting perspectives on the pitfalls that we face.
Now, I want you to hear this very clearly. If you are here today as a born again Christian, you are salt and you are light. Period. You may not be a very good witness for Jesus Christ, but you are salt and you are light because that is what Christ made you. Now, the problem is that sometimes the salt loses it ability and sometimes the light is hidden, and what a tragedy that becomes. For that we look at the text now.
Jesus said, in verse 13, “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing any more except to be thrown out and trampled under the foot of men.” Here’s what Jesus is saying: “I have made you salt, but beware lest you lose your ability to be salty.” Beware, lest you lose it.
Now how might salt lose it? Sodium chloride, we are told, does not easily break down. It does not easily lose its properties. And if it is still sodium chloride, perhaps it doesn’t lose any properties at all. I think that Jesus is talking about the custom that people would have of sometimes taking salt, which was very important in those days, and simply putting it on the ground. And in the process of putting it on the ground, it was mixed with impurities, and the more impure the salt became, the less it had the power to sustain and to retain and to preserve and to season. And Jesus is saying, “Beware, lest you become mixed with impurities.”
Do you know why it is that we find it so difficult at times to witness? I’ve had people say to me, and I’m sure we have all felt this way at times, “How can I tell others about the glories of Jesus Christ when He isn’t working for me? When there are things in my life that are wrong, it is very difficult for me tell men and women how they should live and where they should go for eternal life.” And do you know what God is asking the church to do at this very critical time of history in America? God is now saying, “In light of the fact that I kicked out some props out from under you, it is now your responsibility to seek Me as you have never sought Me. It is your responsibility to be before you do, and I am calling you to holiness, and to wholeness, and to find Me satisfying. And when that happens, you will find it easy to witness to the world. As long as that doesn’t happen, you can have all the books and all the courses on evangelism, and you will not say a word.
Jesus said, “Beware of a life that is mixed.” I think it was James who said, “Keep your life unspotted from the world.” And it is that mixture that causes us to lose our ability. And then Jesus said, “Nobody lights a lamp and puts it under a peck measure (verse 15), but on a lampstand and it gives light to all that are in the house.” You see, Jesus is saying, “I’ve created you as light and now it’s your responsibility to live within that calling, and would you please remember? Do not hide your light.” Once again we can hide our light because of our lifestyle and because of our lips. We can hide our light because of the way in which we live, which undercuts any credibility that we have in the world, and we can also hide it because we remain silent, even when we know the truth.
Christ is urging us today to recognize the crucial role that we play in the world. And what I’d like to do as I conclude is to just summarize all this for us, and help us to understand what we should be doing in this time when America seems to be falling apart.
Number one, would you remember that the world owes Christians a great debt? Now I have to say this only to you folks. I would not stand on a street corner and say this. I would not go on television and say this, but I have to say it to you. Do you know that the text actually says this because of the emphasis that Jesus puts on it? “Ye, and ye alone, are the light of the world. Ye alone are the salt of the earth.” You do realize what the text is saying, don’t you? Jesus is saying that the only reason why God is restraining His wrath, and the only reason why this world hasn’t totally disintegrated is because your presence in the world sheds light and preserves what is still left of the decaying process. That’s what Jesus is saying.
Now, can you imagine the world’s response to something like that? They would regard us with scorn. Not all of them, but some of them. You know that when it comes to social agendas here in the United States, that we are regarded as those...that we need to get these folks out of the way because we are hindering the advancement of a good reasonable social agenda. We are considered to be those who are standing in the way of progress. And yet Jesus said, “Ye, and ye alone are the light of the world.”
You know, the New Agers say that there is going to come a time before the New Age dawns when there were be cleansing. And by that they mean that those who believe in biblical values and absolutes are going to be gotten out of the way. They are going to have to be purged from this Earth.
I have a quote in something that I wrote that says that all the plagues of the book of Revelation are reserved for those who believe in absolutes, and will not let the battle for America progress along the humanistic New Age lines. That’s who the judgment is going to come for. And so, of course, Jesus is saying something so opposite it is unbelievable. He’s saying, “If it were not for my followers, all the judgment of God would begin to spill out of heaven.” The world owes us an unrecognized debt.
There’s a second observation I’d like to make, and that is that we have a high responsibility, a very high calling from God, an incredible calling from God. When you stop to think of it, where is the world supposed to get light? Where is the world supposed to get salt except through believers?
Now, here’s something encouraging. We may think that our numbers are small, but our influence can be much bigger than our numbers. You could have a hundred pounds of meat and perhaps it needs only a few pounds of salt to preserve the meat. You don’t have to have as much salt as you have meat for preservation. You can be in a very dark cave and you can have only one or two candles, and it would be a surprise to us if we knew how bright those candles were in light of the thick pitch darkness within that cave.
So we don’t have to wring our hands and say, “Well, we are few in number and there isn’t much we can do, and look what is happening to our country.” My dear friend, God has a job for us to do, and He says, “I have commanded you to be salt and light, and give people direction in this world that is so desperately without hope.”
Do you remember that story that comes to us from China about the doctor who was able to take a man who had not seen in years because he had cataracts in his eyes? And the doctor was able to take those away, and the man was able to see. And he was so excited that he came back days later with a rope. And he was leading a number of other blind men, all of them hanging on to the rope as he led them to the mission station so that they could all meet that (quote) miracle doctor.
Yes, people are blind. Yes, it is dark. Yes, there is death, spiritually speaking, but you and I have the privilege of pointing men and women to the only one who can say, “I create light within you. You are light and you are salt. Christ, King, Lord, God.” And we have that awesome privilege. And do you realize that Christ has put that responsibility upon us? We all know that there are the angels who are glad to spread the message, and if they were to spread the message they would do it very, very quickly. But Jesus said, “Since I have gone into heaven you are now my representatives.”
Some of us who were in Berlin this past fall remember that statue of Christ in Kaiser Wilhelm’s church in Berlin with his arm broken off. And there was a sculptor who said, “I will fix the arm of Christ.” But they said in this damaged church that has been so severely bombed during the second World War, “We will keep his arm off as a reminder of the fact that we are His arms.” We are His arms. “Ye, and ye alone are the light of the world. Ye, and ye alone are the salt of the earth.”
There’s a final observation I’d like to make and that is that every single person is either clay or salt, either darkness or light. Obviously Jesus here is making a very clear distinction between His people and the people of the world.
Now, let’s be very clear about this. As you look at us this morning, there is not a whole lot of difference between us. We may have different faces, and we may look differently, but you can’t simply tell by looking at us what is in our hearts, can you? And you and I have sometimes misjudged people. We have thought some people were very, very fine Christians, and it turned out that they were not Christians at all. Or the opposite may be true. We’ve met some people and we never believed in the world that they were believers, and after we got to know them, we discover that despite their faults and failures, they are believers after all because we, with our eyes, can see only the outer representation, and we really can’t see the heart. So you have today mixed multitudes all over the place—mixed multitudes in the church, mixed multitudes listening by radio. But I want you to know today that from God’s standpoint, from the way in which He views the world, there is a great unbridgeable gulf between those who are His and those who are not His. And that gulf cannot be bridged except by faith in Him. The difference is immediately apparent to angels, to demons, to God. All the differences become clear and remarkable.
I need to ask you a question today. You may be here physically alive but spiritually as dead and in the darkness that we spoke about, thinking, of course, that you are alive and filled with light. But you have never believed on Christ. You have never trusted Him. You are going your own way. I wouldn’t want to conclude this message without pointing out that unless you come to saving faith in Christ, unless God works in your life and you sense that prompting of the Spirit to say, “Lord Jesus, I receive you as my Savior,” when God works in your heart, and you say that, you become one of His, and you become salt and light. And the darkness becomes light, and the clay becomes salt. And if you desire to believe on Christ, do that today. Christ has given us a great responsibility to this world. It is our responsibility to be salt and light wherever He has planted us.
If America is to be won back, if the battle of ideas and the battle for its heart and soul is to be won for the cause of Christ, it will not be won politically. It will not be won because of some great crusade put on by one man or ten men. It will be won block by block, office by office, community by community, God’s people being what Christ says they are to the fullest extent possible.
Our Father, we do thank You today for the awesome privilege of representing You in the world. We thank You, Father, that You have called us to be salt and light. We wish that we were better. We wish that we were more bold. We wish that we were sweeter. We wish that we had more faith to believe in Your ability to save people. But nevertheless, Father, we’re here because we do love You and we want to be all that we can be. And we want to use this opportunity today to dedicate ourselves to You and say, “Father, we commit ourselves to a lost world.”
And now before I close this prayer, what is it that you have to say to God? What commitment is He asking you to make today? And also, if you do not know Christ as Savior, and you desire to believe, why don’t you just tell Him, “Lord Jesus, thank You for dying on the cross. I receive You as my very own.”
Would you do that even where you are seated because He knows your heart and is waiting for a response?
Father, take our commitment. Take all that we are and use this. In our weaknesses, make us strong. In our faithlessness, grant us hope and strength. And may we see changes in our homes and in our neighborhoods, in our communities, and in our offices because we see ourselves called of You as Your representatives. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.