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Salt and Light: Finding the legitimate balance in the Christian life

(Photo: Unsplash/Nick West) | (Photo: Unsplash/Nick West)

Life is often about finding the right balance. Too much of anything is bad for a person, even water. Consuming too much water will cause one to lose electrolytes and minerals which could lead to death—a condition called hyponatremia. The point is, balance is important with nearly everything. This same is true of the Christian life and Christian theology.

Consider the issue with divine sovereignty and human freedom. If a person accepts the sovereignty of God without human freedom, then a person accepts a determinist philosophy in which human beings become nothing more than preprogramed robots. If a person accepts human freedom and neglects divine sovereignty, the person’s perception of God becomes flawed to the point that the person contends that God does not know anything about the future. Both concepts are beyond the teachings of Scripture in my estimation. Balance is important in one’s interpretation of Scripture.

Jesus presents two concepts concerning the Christian life in his classic message: the Sermon on the Mount. On the one hand, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Mt. 5:13, CSB). On the other hand, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are 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 in heaven” (Mt. 5:14-16, CSB). One trait without the other leads to an illegitimate Christian lifestyle and an erroneous biblical interpretation.

  • Salt – Light = Legalism.

First, Jesus instructs the Christian to be the salt of the earth. Salt was used in biblical days as a purifying agent as well as a substance to add flavor to food. If the salt lost its flavor, then the salt was not good for anything except to be thrown out. The worthless salt would be thrown out to do nothing but kill the grass on which it fell. Salt represents the righteousness of a person as well as the person’s stand for truth.

If a person has salt in one’s life with no light (representing God’s love and grace), then the person will become a legalist. Legalistic Christianity has led more individuals to atheism than Karl Marx and Charles Darwin combined. Legalism can also lead to the creation of cults and cultic churches which is extremely troubling! Legalism is an inauthentic Christian worldview which Jesus and Paul often combated. Don’t let yourself become Pharisaical or a Judaizer in your stance for truth. As Paul says, “And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Co. 13:3).

  • Light – Salt = Liberalism.

Jesus also tells his disciples to be the light of the world (Mt. 5:14). This is intriguing as Jesus also says that he is the light of the world (Jn. 8:12). Light is a symbol of God’s presence (Ps. 27:1; Is. 9:2; 2 Co. 4:6) as God is light (1 Jn. 1:5). Light represents God’s love, grace, and goodness. Jesus said that if we follow him, we “believe in the light so that you may become children of the light” (Jn. 12:36). Thus, people can only be the light of the world if they have received the Light of the World into their lives. Furthermore, shining forth the light of God means that we share God’s love and grace to a dark world.

However, if a person lives his or her life with light that is not tempered with salt, then the person accepts a liberal mindset which is as destructive as legalism. Liberalism, in this sense, shares God’s word and extends God’s love but does not hold a standard of truth and moral righteousness. The result is a life that is not undergirded with God’s truth and eventually becomes watered down. This person is ironically one who becomes more susceptible to cults and cult-like movements due to his or her naivety.

  • Salt + Light = Legitimate.

The only legitimate construct is one that combines both salt and light. Salt with no light leads to legalism, light with no salt leads to liberalism, but salt and light leads to a legitimate Christian walk. Paul notes that a life of love is one that “finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth” (1 Co. 13:6). You might say, “Yeah, but I don’t like telling anyone that they may be wrong.” Consider this: If you witnessed someone who was unaware that he or she was standing dangerously close to a cliff’s edge, would you advise them to be careful or just let them fall to their death? The loving thing to do would be to caution the person of the danger. Likewise, Christians should lovingly stand for truth and lovingly extend God’s grace to all they encounter by acts of kindness. As Jesus said, we need to both be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As a friend of mine once said, “Only Jesus had the appropriate balance. We need to attempt to find that balance ourselves.”

© 2019.

Brian G. Chilton is the founder of and is the host of The Bellator Christi Podcast. He received his Master of Divinity in Theology from Liberty University (with high distinction); his Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Gardner-Webb University (with honors); and received certification in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Brian is currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University and is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Evangelical Philosophical Society. Brian has been in the ministry for over 15 years and serves as the Senior Pastor of Westfield Baptist Church in northwestern North Carolina.

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