Salt, Light and Everything in Between

You are the salt of the earth, 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.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

Over the last few weeks I’ve read a number of books that have, in various ways, touched on the issue of being salt & light in our communities and the world, whether it’s overseas missions, supporting NGOs that are assisting the poor, or serving your community in practical ways. This is great stuff to be thinking about.

We, in all honesty, need to be thinking about how we can be a faithful witness for Christ every day—and then finding ways to do it.

Without losing our saltiness in the process.

One of the things that’s been particularly interesting as I’ve been reading books like Outlive Your Life, The Hole in Our Gospel, stuff by Francis Chan and even Radical by David Platt is the real challenge that exists in not turning caring for the poor or overseas missions or having more greater explosive spiritual experiences into a means of justification.

In other words, it’s really, really hard for us to keep straight the gospel and it’s ramifications.

This is, to some degree, what we see when we’re warned about losing our saltiness.

In social justice circles, there’s a lot of work that’s motivated by faith in Christ—but that’s the only place Christ has. Motivation.

His name is not spoken. His greatness is not proclaimed.

Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words” is the rallying cry.

And we are, ultimately, only left having done good deeds.

I know how hard this is.

I write for a Christian charity that partners with the local church in the developing world to meet the practical and spiritual needs of children. And it’s always difficult to keep the message on track—to keep the gospel the focus, rather than making supporters superheroes or turning children into statistics because that might “sell” better than saying, “we do what we do because we want kids to meet Jesus.”

And I don’t want to sound like I’m slagging other folks who are doing tremendous work, but we have to remember: doing good things is not the gospel. And it’s not being a witness to the gospel, either.

We witness to the gospel when we share the good news of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection—and let our good works serve as a response to that.

Then, people may “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

But that’s the goal. If we are to be salt and light, then we have to know the gospel.

We have to embrace the gospel.

We need to be transformed by the gospel.

And we need to proclaim the gospel.

Good works aren’t bad, but they’re not the gospel.

When we get the gospel wrong, everything else goes wrong with it. But if we get the gospel right, it’s a glorious thing indeed.

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  • http://www.hillsbiblechurch.org/ Don

    Aaron, here’s the thing for me. Since the mid seventies, my wife and I supported an NGO Christian international mission with a reputation for doing wonderful work with the needy children of third world countries. We were moved to do so during the mid 70′s after viewing an hour of TV film footage of sick and starving children; meeting the physical and spiritual needs of children and families – an ideal we couldn’t resist. Our youngest daughter had just come home from hospital after recovering from malnutrition caused by celiac disease. We were thankful to God and vulnerable – so ‘signing-up’ seemed the right thing to do.

    Fifteen years later, we moved to Australia and sought to maintain our support through the Australian arm of the same organisation. Well, our first disappointment was that we were ‘assigned’ new children to sponsor. Apparently, the organisation’s technology couldn’t track the same children we had sponsored in Canada. But it wasn’t this that caused the penny to drop. At that time it didn’t dawn on me that connecting supporters to ‘real children’ was more a ploy than a reality.

    As we became involved in a new church and Australian Christian circles, we met some of the Australian executive from this organisation, impressive godly men. However, my wife and I became concerned when we learned that one of them, assigned to a project in San Fransico, flew business-class back to Australia every second weekend. This didn’t sit well with me as my trans-pacific business flights for my ‘for-profit’ company were always on an economy ticket.

    A few years later, one of these men disassociated from this NGO mission claiming financial waste as the primary reason. After twenty years of support, so did we.

    Thinking about this, I’ve concluded that it is me that was guilty of mismanagement. You see, my compassion for the needy, was ‘outsourced’. It was easier that way. I no longer needed to face the heart-wrenching reality of sick and starving children. I had the pictures of my six sponsored children in my wallet. Whenever anyone spoke of ‘charity’, I proudly pulled these out and showed their smiling fat little faces as proof that I was doing my Christian duty. But in reality, I had moved on – the plight of the needy no longer moved me. In fact, I was as disconnected as I could be, aided and abetted by the system this mission had set up. And in reality, I could have ‘supported’ twenty children due to my own financial success, but you see, this was no longer a heart matter for me.

    And the gospel? Not sure. Certainly, in Australia there was no trace of the Christian base that founded this organisation. It had become a cause-celebre, featuring Aussie pop-stars and TV personalities. But where was Jesus? Where was the gospel?

    I’ve concluded that this regression from a legitimate gospel-based mission to a socially manipulative organisation where the gospel is forgotten is almost inevitable. Whenever the ’cause’ becomes paramount, the gospel motivation takes the back seat and eventually disappears. And perhaps equally serious, this regression provides a smoke-screen, behind which once rightly motivated people hide and become indifferent.

    Sorry for rambling on.

    • http://hardwords.wordpress.com Aaron Armstrong

      Don, I’m grateful for your “rambling.” This is an incredibly powerful word of caution for all of us, and I feel for me especially since I work at one of these organizations by day.

      This statement in specific:

      I’ve concluded that this regression from a legitimate gospel-based mission to a socially manipulative organisation where the gospel is forgotten is almost inevitable. Whenever the ’cause’ becomes paramount, the gospel motivation takes the back seat and eventually disappears.

      This is a powerful corrective that’s been the purpose behind everything I’ve been trying to do with our organization for the last two years. The gospel is too important to be buried under a cause. And when we fail to maintain Christ’s supremacy, it’s to our detriment.