Have you ever used the phrase “salt of the earth”? Maybe you’ve been referred to that way yourself. It’s meant to be an honor. But why? Today salt is cheap and readily available. In ancient times, though, it was a valuable commodity. Although salt is the sixth most abundant element on earth, retrieving it in a pure form was difficult. Pure salt was so precious it was sometimes used to pay wages. That’s where the expression about good workers being worth their salt originated.
Knowing the value of salt in biblical times helps us understand Jesus’ words to His followers in Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth.” Both individually and corporately as the church, believers are like salt in this world. We’re not part of the world system any longer; we’ve become distinct from it (John 17:15-16). But just as salt affects whatever it touches, so should we.
That’s why we weren’t taken out of the world at the moment of salvation: We remain here to carry on Christ’s work. Before ascending to His Father, Jesus gave us our assignment; “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). This is what it means to be the salt of the earth. Our lives are meant to make an impact for Christ, because we’re the only ones who can share the gospel that saves souls. Our presence should have the same effect on the world as salt does on its environment. How?
First, salt is a preservative. In New Testament times, it was the primary means of preventing food spoilage. In a similar way, Christians help preserve society from spiritual and moral corruption by offering people the gospel. Only through salvation will they escape the decay in the world and begin to live righteously (2 Pet. 1:4).
This preservative effect can also be seen in societies that appear to affirm Christian values, but have rejected God’s teachings on a large scale (John 14:21). Even if it seems we’re losing the battle for righteousness in the culture, we’re still responsible to be salt to those around us by giving them the gospel and being examples of godliness in our character, conversation, and conduct.
Second, salt penetrates and spreads throughout whatever it touches. This is exactly what happened in the early church. As the disciples proclaimed the gospel, it permeated the entire Roman Empire (Acts 13:49). And this process is still happening today throughout the world as Christianity touches every area of the globe.
We could think of ourselves as individual grains of salt sprinkled by God in our cities and neighborhoods. Although we come together as the church, the impact of our saltiness is only possible when we leave the saltshaker and move out into our world to share Christ’s transforming power.
Third, salt is a flavoring agent. It transforms tasteless food by making it appealing. That’s why we’re to conduct ourselves with wisdom toward outsiders by speaking with grace, “as though seasoned with salt,” so we’ll know how to respond to each person (Col. 4:5-6). Some people may be indifferent or even hostile to us and our message, but there are others who will want to know why we’re different. When we graciously explain what Christ has done for us, and God opens their hearts, they too can discover the joy of knowing Christ as Savior and Lord.
Fourth, salt must remain pure to be useful. In the first century, salt was gathered from evaporated sea water, but sometimes impurities where scraped up as well. If the concentration of contaminants was too high, the salt became worthless. Jesus warned His followers of this possibility in their lives, saying, “If the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men” (Matt. 5:13).
Christians are to be uncontaminated by the world. That’s why Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). When the church compromises and tries to be like the world, it becomes weak and ineffective. And in the same way, if we live just like unbelievers, our witness becomes worthless, since we have nothing to offer them other than what they already have. We’ve lost our saltiness for Christ.
Sin is like dirt in salt. It corrupts our lives, ruins the flavor of Christianity for all who know us, and makes us useless to God. I hope you’ll remain pure, uncontaminated salt by continuing to walk in obedience to Christ. If you do, you’ll keep making a difference in the world. When you live with integrity and keep your behavior excellent, God can use you to create a thirst for Christ in others that could impact them for eternity—what a blessing!
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. I pray you’ll have a blessed Thanksgiving Day this month as you celebrate God’s goodness. Even if you’ve had a difficult year or are presently going through hardship, there’s always reason for gratitude when you have eternal hope through Jesus Christ our Savior. Nothing in this world can compare to the blessing of peace with God.