There’s a song I love by a band called Gungor, and it starts off like this:
‘What does it mean to be saved? Isn’t it more than just a prayer we pray? More than just a way to heaven?’
This immediately highlights two things that true Christianity isn’t: it’s not saying a little prayer that you’ll give your life to God without backing it up with the life you actually lead, and it’s not a safety net either, a way to guarantee eternal life if God ends up being real after all. In reality it’s so much more than this, and the song goes on to describe how amazing it is that we belong to God, that He’s formed us in His likeness, and that He’s given us a purpose, reminding us that this should translate into our actions. Its main message is that we should be ‘salt and light in the world’, something that, if you’re not familiar with the metaphor, sounds really obscure. What can salt and light possibly have to do with each other?
Well, let’s look at what the Bible has to say. The key passage here is Matthew 5:13-16, where Jesus tells us we are ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’. I’ll come to ‘light’ a bit later, but thinking about the properties of salt makes this illustration a lot easier to understand: it flavours, preserves, and purifies.
As a Christian I should have a distinctive quality: there should be something a bit different about me that makes me stand out (in a good way!) from everyone else. This ‘flavour’ shows that what I believe truly affects the way I conduct myself, the way I think and act, and that my belief in God has transformed my life. In other words, I need to show God’s love through the person I am. If we bring this distinctive quality into the situations we’re in, they can be radically changed. The Holy Spirit that God’s placed within us gives us the power to speak life into situations, to ‘preserve’, preventing lives, environments or situations from decaying or being harmed. It also means we can purify the environments we’re in: in a similar way to the way light exposes darkness, as I’ll come on to later, people will often slightly alter the way they act, or have slightly different attitudes, after seeing the way you do things. Even simple changes, like not swearing as much around you, apologising for inappropriate remarks, or moaning a bit less show they’re following the example you’ve set, and if this happens you’ve raised the standard of your environment just by being the person you are.
We need to make sure we’re pure ourselves, though. Jesus warns us against losing our saltiness in verse 13, basically saying that God can’t use us if we don’t keep ourselves pure, or if we stop letting our actions reflect what we believe in. If I’m no purer than my environment, how am I meant to purify it? And if I don’t have a distinctive quality, I’ll be no different to the next guy: no-one will know I’m a Christian, and even if they do, they’ll wonder why they should become a Christian if it’ll make no visible difference to their life. We need to keep ourselves pure, then, so God can flow through us, and stand up and stand out for Him if He’s going to use us.
Being a ‘light’ complements everything encompassed by being ‘salt’. In verse 16, Jesus says:
‘Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’
We should let everyone see the distinctive quality we have, then, not keeping it hidden like a ‘lamp […] under a bowl’, but shining brightly for God. We should show God’s love through the way we live our lives, doing the everyday stuff with a positive attitude and in a worshipful way, in a way which glorifies God. If we do this, Philippians 2:14-15 says we’ll be ‘blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” [shining] like stars in the sky.’ This, to me, is true evangelism: showing people how amazing God’s love is, not just telling them.
Also, in a similar way to salt’s purifying properties, light exposes what’s not right: it shines into the darkness, illuminating and revealing what’s hidden. This doesn’t mean we should go around uncovering everyone’s deepest, darkest secrets – far from it! – but it implies that the light radiating from our lives will not only make others aware of certain aspects of their lives that they’re falling short in, but also be an example to them of how to put them right.
Rather than being obscure and irrelevant, then, Jesus’s ‘salt and light’ metaphor is a great illustration of the way we should live our lives. Letting our beliefs overflow into our most intimate thoughts, and ultimately our actions, is crucial if God is going to use us; just by being ourselves, we’ll be able to show our friends, our family members and any randomers we meet how believing in God, and being open to Him gradually changing us for the better, really has transformed our lives.