When responding to culture, so often the Church finds itself choosing between retreat, outspoken protests or compromise.
Those who take seriously the metaphors Jesus used for His followers must ask two important questions.
- How can we maintain permeating contact (as salt to the earth and light to the world) without conforming to ungodly values, morality, attitudes and speech?
- How can we shine in dark places without covering the light?
Christians have not always handled these tensions well.
On one level, the answers seem to be deeply connected to matters of “being” before becoming troubled over issues of behavior. I say this because Jesus connected character and influence in Matthew 5:1-12 and 5:13-16.
When shifting to second person address: “YOU are the salt… YOU are the light….” He did not speak in a vacuum. It was those described in the beatitudes who qualified for the kind of influence he intended in the salt and light metaphors.
Yet in presenting the metaphors, Jesus acknowledged potential pitfalls or temptations. This is where the Church has not always done well with the tensions.
Two extremes have characterized large segments of response to the world within the body of Christ:
- Efforts to gain distinction through isolation (monasteries, cloisters, completely “Christianized” lives)
- Efforts to gain influence through accommodation and compromise (taking our cue from the culture, not the cross)
If we take seriously the metaphors of salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), both contact and distinction are necessary to Christian witness. Light must shine in dark places and salt must make permeating contact with corruption to function as a preservative.
It is vital therefore to our witness — to our ability to permeate the community of unbelievers as salt and light — that we know where God expects us to be different and where He doesn’t require it. We’ve often seen what over-renouncing does to Christian witness.
Some Christians, by turning everything into a matter of divine imperative, think they’re standing for Christ when in fact they are often being unnecessarily different or just weird. We obviously don’t want to become issue-driven on non-essential matters in ways that make us look unnecessarily strange to the world.
We must not allow ourselves to be detoured from the main road of the gospel and misrepresent what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. We certainly know that we are not the sinless proclaiming a Savior to the sinners. But how do we avoid conveying this notion when calling for righteousness?
What we need is the strategic deployment of well-placed believers who are situated among unbelievers like well-lit cities that cannot be missed. These believers must offer a counter-narrative for life based in the mind of Christ (See: Philippians 2:3-11).
This certainly requires wisdom, maturity and security in our walk with God.
Large doses of truth-based grace are needed for being salt and light in our world.