Have you ever wondered why, when you become a Christian, God just doesn’t take you to heaven? It doesn’t work that way. When you become a Christian, you still go to work. You still have the same family issues you had before. You still exist in the same world you did before you started following Jesus, but everything is different on the inside.
The Bible tells us that when we follow Jesus we become citizens in a new kingdom, members of a new family. But even though everything changes on the inside for us, God leaves us here on the earth to represent Him and His kingdom within the kingdom of the world.
Christians, through the church, are God’s plan to exert influence for what really matters. This influence happens in a lot of ways. As we live and work in the midst of the world, we are mixed into a culture that’s around us. The temptation for us is to try and isolate ourselves from the influences of the world. We tiptoe around our lives scared that we might get a little sin on our shoes. But this isn’t the way God intended for His people to live. He intended that they stride through their lives with confidence, retaining their uniqueness as His people all the while influencing those around them.
God intends us to be above influence and exerting it instead.
To illustrate this, Jesus compared His followers to salt in Matthew 5:13. The illustration has many levels, because salt does many things when it’s mixed into food:
1. Salt seasons.
Nothing spoils a dish quite as quickly as being bland. It’s amazing what a pinch of salt can do to bring out the true flavor inside food. Similarly, when Christians exert their influence in the world, we season the world with the gospel. Throughout history, we see how this has happened as followers of Jesus have contributed to the overall good of the world. Amazingly, God has used His people to extend His love to the world, and not just through sharing the gospel. In fact, most of the major social innovations the modern world has known have come as a result of the work those who love and follow Jesus. Health care, education, and most other social programs are the result of Christians seasoning the environment they live in with their influence. God is even today loving the world through the work of Christians as they season it.
2. Salt preserves.
This doesn’t mean as much to us in the day of refrigerators and processed food, but Twinkies that can withstand a nuclear blast haven’t always existed. When Jesus preached this sermon the first time, people used salt to help preserve their food. Salt kept the food from going bad and enabling it to last longer. When Christians exert their influence in everyday situations they keep the world from going further bad than it already is. Make no mistake – judgment is coming. The fact that the sun rose this morning isn’t evidence of God’s apathy; it’s evidence of His patience. Sin and evil continue not because God doesn’t care but because He, in His love and mercy, desires men and women from every part of the world to come to know Him. In the meantime, though, Christians help preserve the world and culture they live inside of. They display integrity, goodness, and honesty, and as they do, they hold up a society whose trajectory is headed lower and lower.
3. Salt makes you thirsty.
Think about the last time you ate something that was well seasoned but was still very thirsty. Along with enjoying the dish, you probably needed your glass refilled several times. That’s because salt makes you crave water to quench your thirst. Whether the world knows it or not, it is thirsty for something more. Something lasting. Something eternal. When Christians exert their influence and display what they have found to be uniquely satisfying, it salts the palette of everyone else. Suddenly, their thirst is more acute; they are more aware of something missing in their lives. When people see the way Christ-followers react to trouble, hardship and difficulty as well as prosperity, the difference in what they have in Christ rises to the surface. And it makes people thirsty. Christians in turn are ready to show them the way to Jesus, the fountain of life that never runs dry.