Salt and light

“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).

Salt and light are both good. The chief value of salt two thousand years ago was that salt preserved food. Jesus suggests that his people have value by preserving this world and enlightening it.

Jesus also warns that we are capable of failure. Salt in his day was not bought pure from stores. Salt came with impurities. As Jesus remarks, if the true salt leaches out of the mixture that is labeled salt, what remains is only gravel. When a lamp is lit and then hidden, that lamp also is useless. God wants us to be useful, not useless. He wants us to benefit the world.

These verses about flavorless salt and hidden light are reminders that Christians can lose their faith. The teaching “once saved; always saved” is not Biblical. (See Ezekiel 33:12-13 and Hebrews 10:26-31.) The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to call us to faith and also to keep us in the one true faith; but when people spurn the Word of God, they starve and destroy the gift of faith. God does not want Christians to live in fear that we might someday lose our faith. The Bible frequently speaks of election—that our salvation depends upon God’s infinite power, not on our weak human powers. But Jesus calls one sin unforgiveable: the sin against the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit calls a person to faith and that person refuses the Spirit’s call, that person has rejected the gift of salvation by grace through faith.

Dead people cannot make themselves alive. Resurrection depends upon a miracle of God. Living people can damage and destroy their lives. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. Through the Word, the Spirit calls us to life. Now we retain our saltiness and keep our light unhidden as we continue to draw strength and power from the Word of God.

We are already blessed. The rewards earned by Jesus belong to us as a gift. We do not have to try to earn them by being good. Why, then, should we bother to do good things? We want to be good so we can be useful to God and can benefit the people around us. As Paul wrote, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Now that we have been rescued from our sins, we are able to accomplish God’s plan for our lives. We also want people to praise the God who has saved us. When we harm others, we bring shame to the name of our Father. If we, as Christians, have a reputation for doing what is wrong, we bring shame to the name of Christ.

Instead, we want to glorify God. We want to be the people we were meant to be. Therefore, we study God’s commandments. We see the things we are told not to do—for example, we are not to murder, we are not to commit adultery, we are not to break our oaths. We see the things we should do—we should give to the needy, we should pray, we should fast. All these things we do, not for ourselves, but to bring glory to God.

Other religions teach the same positive and negative commandments. People all over the world value the same virtues Christians value, because the Law of God is written in their hearts. Mohandas Gandhi agreed with the ethical teachings of Jesus, but Gandhi remained Hindu. He chose not to be a Christian; he did not see Jesus as the unique Son of God or as a Savior. Since the ethical teachings are consistent throughout the religions of the world, we see that we cannot remain salt and light simply by doing the good things Jesus commands and not committing the sins he condemns.

We are not saved by our good works; we are saved by the grace of God. That is not permission to sin. Even though our good deeds do not earn us a place in the kingdom of heaven—even though nonChristians may equal or surpass us in doing good things—we still have a blessing. We belong to Jesus. Therefore, to bring honor to his name, we try to imitate him. To help other people in this world, we try to obey God’s commandments. To try to be the people we were created to be, we try to live up to the high standards of Jesus our Lord. J.

Know your enemy–the world

Although some people blame the devil for all the problems of the world, he is not capable of causing that much evil. He is not almighty like God, nor is he present everywhere like God. However, the devil has help in his rebellion against God and against all that is good. Traditionally, Christians speak of three enemies that work together to oppose the will of God. They are the devil, the world, and our flesh.

In the Bible, the word “world” can be used in different ways, just as the word “heaven” has several different meanings. The world that works with the devil and opposes God’s will is not the same world that God loves so much that he sent his Son to redeem the world. The world that needs redemption consists of sinners, and so does the world that opposes God’s will, but the sinners who oppose God’s will are using what they have to tempt other people to sin.

This sinful world includes politicians, entertainers, and many other kinds of people. The world confuses selfishness with love and composes poems and songs that talk about love as a feeling people can catch or lose. The world also includes schoolchildren who encourage one another to steal from the store or to try illegal drugs. The world includes parents who set bad examples for their children. The world even includes children who shock their parents by repeating profanities that they heard at school or on television or from the mouths of their parents.

Any material thing that might tempt you to sin is part of this sinful world. We cannot avoid temptations, so we must resist them. Even Jesus was tempted in every way, as we are, but he did not sin. A saying about temptation has existed for hundreds of years: “You cannot keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” Whenever a Christian enjoys temptation and keeps returning to situations where he or she might be tempted again, that Christian has already crossed the line into sin.

We resist temptation from the world in the same way that we resist temptation from the devil: we stand on the Word of God. God’s Word tells us what is right and what is wrong; God’s Word teaches us what we should do and what we should not do. God’s Word also promises forgiveness to sinners. Tempters from the world might say, “Why don’t you do this thing that you used to do?” The power of God’s forgiveness sets us free from sinful ways; we do not have to remain slaves of sin after God has set us free.

In some places the world’s powers persecute Christians. In many more places, the world’s powers tolerate Christians while trying to seduce us away from faith. Jesus wants us to stand firmly on his Word, and he gives us the power to remain firm. The world may be stronger than we are, but the world is not stronger than God. Through him we are always safe, even while living in the world. J.

Christ is risen!

The moon, two days past full, was hanging in the western sky as the women from Galilee left the place where they were staying. They had come to Jerusalem with Jesus, but on Friday he had been crucified. Joseph and Nicodemus claimed his body, burying it in a family tomb recently acquired by Joseph. They wrapped the body of Jesus with strips of linen, along with seventy-five pounds of myrrh mixed with aloe. The women watched the burial from a distance. They were not satisfied; they knew they could do a better job.

On the Sabbath the women rested. They arose before dawn, though, gathered their spices for burial, and began walking to the tomb. The sun rose while they traveled, and as it rose the earth shook, perhaps an aftershock from Friday’s earthquake. The women did not worry about the earthquake; their only concern was who would help them move the heavy stone away from the entrance to the tomb.

When they came close to the tomb, they saw that the stone had been moved—not merely rolled to one side, but thrown out of its place. One of the women abandoned the others and rushed into Jerusalem to tell Jesus’ disciples that something had happened. The other women went into the tomb. The strips of linen were there, but the body of Jesus was missing. The women saw a mystery. Tomb robbers would not have stripped the corpse bare in the tomb. Yet the evidence of a miracle did not, at first, convince them of anything.

Two angels appeared in the tomb and spoke to the women. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” one asked them. “He is not here; he has risen.” The other angel added, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that he Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” The women then remembered his words. They believed, not because of what their eyes saw or because of what their brains perceived, but because of the power of the words of Jesus as they were spoken to them.

Miracles do not create faith. They strengthen the faith of believers, but nonbelievers can always find another explanation for a miracle. Jesus said in one of his parables, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Paul wrote to the Romans, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Thomas did not believe the news that Jesus was risen; he demanded physical evidence. When Jesus provided that evidence, Jesus added, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Faith is a blessing, a gift from God, which is granted to his people by the power of his Word.

“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). We cannot travel back to Jerusalem this Easter Day to visit the empty tomb, to see the strips of linen, or to talk with angels. We do not need to make that trip. By his Word Jesus grants faith and strengthens faith. We celebrate his resurrection today, joyful and confident that all his promises are true. Our sins are forgiven. Our enemies are defeated. Eternal life is guaranteed. Jesus lives, and because he lives we will live also. J.