You’ve likely heard Jesus’ statements known as The Beatitudes:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:4-5, 10)
Having heard these affirmations, you might make an assumption like this: if Christians look like the people in the beatitudes—the humble and lowly, the patient and merciful, the good doers, the persecuted—then surely they can’t expect to have much, if any, effect on this world!
The people who affect this world, those who move up in this world are the proud, those who fight for their rights, those who care more about getting ahead then doing right, those who believe the end justifies the means and so will do whatever to get ahead.
Surely Christians, at least those who actually live as Christ calls them to, can’t expect to have any major influence on this earth!
This would be a logical conclusion having just read the beatitudes. And then, in the very next passage in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “You (Christian) are the salt of the earth…You (Christian) are the light of the world…a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden.”
Jesus is saying that Christians are distinct and their distinctness benefits the world. A dark room benefits from light; decaying meat benefits from salt. Despite their often lowly positions, despite often being seen as weird and weak and deluded, Christians being Christians have a positive effect on the world.
They arrest corruption, they are agents of redemption, they display the wisdom and goodness of God and his commands.
But to do this, we Christians must remain visibly distinct. That’s what it means to be salt and light in the world.
Sometimes we want to be visible but not distinct. This is the push for relevance. We want to fit in, to be liked, to be thought of as half-way normal human beings. We want our message to have wider appeal. And this is an understandable desire.
But when Christians become like the world in order to win the world, at some point they no longer have anything different to win them to.
At other times, we want to be distinct but not visible. We understand that we should be different, but because we don’t like feeling out of place and don’t want to face opposition or questions, we withdraw into our little Christian bubbles. We stay home. We go to church. We hang out with people who think and act like us and affirm us.
But the whole force of Jesus’ words about being salt and light is lost if Christians aren’t actually visible in the world. Salt has to be rubbed onto meat to preserve it; light has to be seen to be effective. As Jesus says here, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 5:16)
So be visible; but be distinct. It is Christians living as Christians before the watching eyes of the world whom Jesus says will have a positive effect on the world. It is Christians seeking God with their whole hearts, devoting themselves to God’s Word, fellowship with other believers, prayer, and evangelism; it is these people, these weird, peculiar people, and sometimes uncomfortable people who will light up the world.