The Most Important People

OBy Dr. Rick Flanders

“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is therefore good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

“Ye are the light of the world.  A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

(Matthew 5:13-16)

The multiplication of discouraging political and cultural events in recent months has discouraged many Christians in regard to our influence in the world.  Can Bible-believers have any effect on the spiraling decline of morals around them?  Are the followers of Jesus Christ destined to be an ever-weakening, ever-diminishing minority in an ever-worsening world?  The truth is that the followers of Christ, although always a minority, have never been incapable of influencing their world, even in darkening times.  We are the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World.

Of course, these are things Jesus said we about us in His first sermon recorded at length in the Bible.  The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5 through 7, was an address to a multitude of His followers given by the Lord from the side of a mountain.  It amounts to the foundational introduction to the teaching He gave His disciples over the years of His earthly ministry, as recorded in the book of Matthew.  Matthew centers on this teaching, and ends with Jesus commanding the apostles to teach the disciples they recruit “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).  In the book of Matthew we find the things He commanded His disciples to observe, and the basis of them all is in the Sermon on the Mount.

Near the beginning of the Sermon, Jesus taught His disciples (see who they were in Matthew 4:12 through 5:1) that they would be the most important people in the world (Matthew 5:13-16).  They would be different from the rest of the world, and would be persecuted by the world, but they would have more influence than any group of people on the earth!  And so the disciples of Jesus are today: we are the Salt and the Light.  Among other things, this concept tells us that our influence can retard the decay of human society (as the Salt) and overcome the deepening chaos of human thinking (as the Light).  We will not convert our culture into the Kingdom of God, except in the lives of individuals we are able to win to Christ, but disciples of Jesus, at their best, can always make a difference.  Remember that in the first century they were accused of having “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).  Our potential influence for good also means that a precipitous dive into evil in the culture of a once-Christian nation would to a large degree be the fault of the Christians who had failed to live up to New Testament discipleship.  Simply stated, the place Christ’s followers should have in the world can be understood in five sentences.

1.       Disciples of Jesus are the most important people in the world.

According to Matthew 5:13, disciples of Christ are the Salt of the Earth, holding back the natural decay of human society. If there is any preservative in society it is in the influence of dedicated Christians. According to Matthew 5:14-16, they are the Light of the World, representing the righteousness of their heavenly Father. If there is any light in the world today, it emanates from the lives of true disciples of Christ.  Because we are the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World, we must not lose our savor, nor hide our light.  We must forsake all and follow Jesus (Matthew 4:19-20; 10:37-38).  We must be willing to confess Him before men, regardless of the cost (Matthew 10:29-32).

2.       Their importance is in their difference from the world.

This is what Jesus was saying to those who would follow Him in the Sermon on the Mount.  Read chapters 5 and 6 again, and see how He emphasized the importance of our difference.  His disciples were to have

  1. Different values (5:2-16).  We regard much different things as “blessed.”  Our concept of the good life is almost opposite of the world’s.
  2. Different standards (5:17-48).  Our view of righteousness is much higher than that of even religious people in the world.  It is heart-righteousness.  It is mercy over justice.  It is God’s view of righteousness.
  3. Different service (6:1-18).  Our service to God will be sincere and real, rather than hypocritical and put-on.  Much of it will be “secret service.”
  4. Different focus (6:19-34).  We are to focus on heaven rather than earth.  We seek heavenly riches and trust our Father to meet our earthly needs.  Our eye is on the Kingdom of God.
  5. Different results (chapter 7).

To shun being different is to give up on being a disciple.  We will march to the beat of a different drummer, and this is what makes us Salt and Light.

The savor of salt is what makes it different from its surroundings.  Light is valuable because of its contrast to the darkness.  Conformity to the world robs Christianity of its earthly value.  Without our “savour,” we Christians are “good for nothing” when it comes to our influence on the world.  Good-for-nothing is a pretty hard criticism to level at worldly Christians, but it is exactly what Jesus called them!

3.       Christians who conform will pay a price.

Let us notice again what Jesus said about professed followers who refuse to be different.

“…if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is henceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”

Christians who conform to the world (remember the warning of Romans 12:1-2) are basically worthless, according to these words, and good only to be cast out and trodden under foot.  The casting out and trampling in this sentence certainly underscores the idea of worthlessness, but it may mean more.  The prophets used the image of being trodden under foot in connection with the earthly judgment of a sinful nation.

“…it shall be trodden down.”  (Isaiah 5:5)

“…a nation meted out and trodden under foot…”  (Isaiah 18:2 and 7)

“The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet.”  (Isaiah 28:3)

[Read these passages in Isaiah in their context, and also look up Jeremiah 12:10, Lamentations 1:15, Ezekiel 34:19, and Daniel 8:13]

Might Jesus have used this image as a warning to His followers that if we lose our savor and hide our light we will suffer ourselves in the judgment that comes on our nation for its sins?  When the disastrous judgment comes, will compromising Christians also “be trodden under foot of men” because they failed to stand for God and hold back the advancement of evil in their nation?  Certainly His language indicates warning as well as rebuke.

In my country, the United States of America, the moral and cultural disintegration that occurred in the twentieth century and continues at an astonishing pace today clearly parallels the trend in the churches to conform to the world.  First, the churches refused to purge themselves of heretics who were bringing anti-Christian teachings to the pulpit.  Then most American churches embraced these teachings and teachers, and forsook the pure gospel of Christ.  Then the evangelicals who refused to embrace the world’s ideas gave up their hard line against error and began accepting what was not Biblical as Christian.  Then even doctrinally orthodox Christians and churches forsook their stand for holiness.  It wasn’t long before many if not most evangelical and even fundamentalist churches had embraced the world’s values, standards, methods of service, focus, and sadly began to reap the consequences of worldly living in the lives of their members.  In this time period, the churches lost their authority and their influence in a once-Christian nation where a century before the most powerful force in any community was the church of Jesus Christ.  Now self-styled conservatives among the professed disciples of Jesus are justifying nearly any compromise with the ways and sins of the world.  Is it not reasonable that those who have extracted the saltiness from the salt and hidden their light under a bushel can expect to suffer the trampling under foot that will destroy their nation for its sins?

It is not time for the followers of Christ to find ways to adjust to the new facts of life in the world by departing farther from the ways of God.   It is time to go back to New Testament Christianity, to following the beat of the Divine Drummer, to surrender to Christ in all-out discipleship and dedication.  The difference in us can still make a big difference in the world around us.

4. Disciples of Jesus need help in fulfilling discipleship.

What we could call “the Gospel history” tells us a very important story and teaches us a vital lesson about Christian discipleship.  For three and a half years, twelve of the disciples of Jesus spent countless hours with Him learning the demands and commands of discipleship.   These specially-trained men became the apostles.  But after all this training in self-denial, faith, mercy, commitment, love, service, true doctrine, humility, and the Kingdom of God, how well did they do at living the discipleship they had learned?  What grade would we assign to them after this course of study?  Of course, they did very poorly.  The night of Christ’s arrest, they all forsook Him and fled.  It could be said that they all failed the final exam, some more grievously than others.  The fact is that training in discipleship, even by the Master Himself, was not adequate to make the disciples succeed.  They needed help, and so do we.

The story tells us that help came in the Person of the Holy Spirit!  The night before Jesus died He told His disciples that He was going away.  Receiving this news troubled them, but He comforted them by explaining that His departure would usher in the New Testament age, which would be that most wonderful era for the people of God in the history of the fallen world (read His words in John 13 through 17).  One of the great blessings of the New Testament age was the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  Jesus had told them in the upper room,

“If ye love me, keep my commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”

(John 14:15-17)

God would replace the Lord Jesus in their daily lives with “another Comforter” Who would never go away.  He is the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit (note verse 26).  The word Comforter means Helper, and He came to help us fulfill the demands and commands of Christian discipleship.  We are to live the life and serve the Lord in conscious dependence on Him.  In the great revivals, the Christians learned this lesson, and lived in the power of the Spirit.  In the book of Acts, we see the disciples of Jesus, filled with the Spirit, witnessing with power and boldness and wisdom and faith, and seeing great results.  The key to true discipleship is the Holy Spirit.  We cannot be true disciples of Christ without relying on the Holy Spirit!

We can be the Salt and the Light the world needs today if we will come back to the high expectations of Jesus Christ Himself, and pray for the power of the Spirit to fulfill them.  The situation is desperate, and nobody can doubt it.  Men around us are lost in darkness and ruining their lives.  What’s worse is that they have little awareness of their plight.  The great need today is in the compromised, worldly, selfish, and powerless lives of those who say they are following Jesus.  But our need can be met if we will seek the Lord until we find Him, and look to Him for the ability to live up to our calling.  Our times call for Christians to be Christians, in every Biblical sense of the term!


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