Savorless Salt: Considering the Consequences
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Matt 5:13 KJV
Why do you think there is such an obsession today with apocalyptic themes in the media and entertainment industry? Why are shows centered around zombies and the walking dead so popular? Why are we reading so many references to WWIII in mainstream and alternative news sources? Additionally, most evangelical Christians tend to answer in the affirmative when quarried whether they believe we are indeed living in the last days. In considering these questions one cannot help but recognize the cognitive dissonance exhibited in what people say they believe and the lifestyles they are living. In other words, there is a significant disconnect between proffered beliefs and the manner in which persons are ordering their day to day living. If one truly believed this is the end of the age the Bible speaks of, wouldn’t that naturally incite behavior consistent with an expectation of the second coming of Christ?
Unfortunately this is not what we are seeing throughout Christendom. In fact, a better description of the modality of the church today might be “doing business as usual.” The attitudes in the churches don’t appear to differ appreciably from that of the world. That is, there is the tendency to behave as if things—although acknowledging some major bumps in the road—will simply continue as they always have. This manner of thinking and acting stands in stark juxtaposition to early believers who lived each day anticipating the imminent return of Christ. I believe there is a major flaw in the church’s conduct that has led to the surreal situation just described. There is a fundamental breakdown in how the lifestyles of believers reflect their proclamation of the tenets of the faith. This is particularly true regarding how the lives of Christians illustrate the teachings of Jesus. The Apostle Paul held no illusions regarding this point:
If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message…(2 Cor 12:6 NLT).
For Paul, his life and his message were one and the same thing. No distinction there. If you wanted to know what he believed you could simply look at his life. If you looked at his life you would know what he believed.
The church has become too lenient today in expecting and even demanding believers’ behavior stand in agreement with the tenets of the faith. This has nothing to do with religious legalism but rather demonstrates a desire to please one’s heavenly Father and convey his life and love to a dying world. When the attitudes and behavior of Christians remains undifferentiated from that of the world, the church has surrendered its prophetic voice and has nothing to say to the world. In this case the church no longer has a viable mission in this world. Christians are not called to walk around condemning others for their un-Christ like behavior; they are to live their lives in a manner that reflects righteousness thereby releasing the conviction of the Holy Spirit upon sinners. Without a standard of righteousness there are no grounds for conviction. The whole purpose of conviction is to call persons into repentance and surrender to Christ. The church, the community of saints, the company of the committed is God’s instrument in the world for exposing sinners to the truth thereby providing them opportunity to choose life.
Jesus had sobering words for those who claimed a righteous status with God while failing to comport themselves accordingly.
“Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt 7:21 NLT).
Jesus was here speaking very specifically to persons presuming to be his followers. Their final argument and qualification for right standing before God was that they performed various ministries in his name. However, the decisive standard applied by Jesus was the doing of the will of his heavenly Father. Doing the Father’s will is tantamount to following the heart of God. It is not about just learning some rules or set of principles and obeying them. It is about coming into such a relationship with God that one discerns his very heart regarding everything and then strives to obey out of an intense desire to please him. Jesus called persons who failed to do the will of God “workers of iniquity.” He went on to illustrate the lesson through the parable of a foundation built of rock.
Unfortunately, we are all too often guilty of selective obedience. We seek to cover our lapses by pointing out to God what it was that we did manage to do right. A lot of selective obedience is practiced under the guise of retaining ultimate authority over our own lives. In essence we are offering God a certain amount of obedience in return for autonomous living. Amazingly, even the Old Testament standard established that the violation of any facet of the law meant violation of the entire law. As Christians we are called to deport ourselves in a Christ-like manner in all circumstances. There is a vast difference between simply obeying a law and discovering and serving the very heart of God. The distinction is found in our relationship with the Lord for himself.
This is precisely what Jesus was conveying with his parables on salt and light following the Sermon on the Mount. An abbreviated version would sound something like this: “There are serious consequences for those who talk the talk but fail to walk the walk.” Jesus’ parables regarding salt and light could be the most sobering caveats of the Christian life. The carelessness with which most believers seem to treat this warning speaks volumes about the spiritual vitality of the church today. In allowing the exercise of selective obedience the church has become overly permissive in failing to hold believers accountable for their less than righteous attitudes and behaviors. This failed discipline in the church tends to create a false sense of love and acceptance and does nothing to serve the eternal interests of the Body. If you were guilty of thoughts, attitudes and actions that would redound to eternal loss in some measure, wouldn’t you want someone to call you to account that you might repent and amend your ways?
If you have been tripping along in your Christian walk thinking that God is all cushy and lovingly tolerant of your aberrations in the faith, Jesus’ parables on salt and light should come as a real wakeup call to spiritual reality. We now live in a rather permissive society and its ugly tentacles have found their way into the church as well. I believe the roots of this permissiveness can be plausibly traced to our cultural shift from principally an agrarian society to an industrial society. Prior to the industrial revolution families performed myriad tasks for themselves which have since become automated or shifted outside the typical home. Previously, children and young people shared in the daily responsibilities and chores necessary to the welfare of the family. Children learned many life-skills which contributed to the normal conduct of family life. As the agrarian-industrial shift occurred, there was less and less need to train new generations of youngsters in the old ways.
In addition to the above rationale—with the onset of public education—I believe Christian parents began to rely increasingly on the state for the total training of their children. This reliance included not only the typical academics but also the ethical and moral nurturing of their children. This represented a major abdication of biblical responsibility by parents as mandated by God. The biblical admonition to “train up a child in the way he should go” is a mandate for the entire discipline, training and nurturing of one’s children. This responsibility cannot be remanded to the state or any other persons; it is incumbent upon all parents to personally fulfill this high calling.
With this abominable shift of the nurturing of children to the state came the unholy influence of worldly humanism and a gradual turning away from a purely biblical worldview. It was only a short leap for the results of this shift to find its way into the church as a laxity in holding strictly to the principles and ways of God. It is a rare occurrence in the body of Christ today to find authentic church discipline being applied. The unfortunate bent of most churches seeking to attract new members/attendees at all costs tends to preclude this. The church has basically forgotten that the goal and end of true biblical discipline is always repentance and spiritual restoration.
With the foregoing context let us look more closely into Jesus’ parable on salt. Keep in mind that this parable is a direct addendum to the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes outline some very specific guidelines for Christian conduct and living. This would also include one’s thought or attitudinal life. The first lesson we can extract from this teaching is that Jesus intended that the conduct and attitudes of his followers serve to positively influence those in the world around them. Much has been made of the preservative nature of salt but it is the salt’s savor that Jesus reflects on here. In this regard it is the task of salt to bring out the best in the flavor of whatever it is applied to. Think about how tasteless a lot of food is without the benefit of salt. In some cases it is as if there were no taste at all.
In seeking to understand the spiritual application I can conceive of two immediate possibilities. The first would have to do with drawing out the very best in other persons with regard to the Lord. In this case the Christ-like living of believers would in essence make God attractive to the unbeliever. Hopefully this would result in others deciding to pursue the Lord. The other scenario would involve the unrighteousness of others being indirectly exposed in the face of godly behavior. In this case the hope would be that exposed offenders would be convicted and choose to repent and amend their ways. It is obvious from this parable that God’s methodology has nothing to do with Christians going around telling others what they are doing wrong. It is principally about believers living righteously out of a humble spirit with the affect that their behavior would provide the substance of repentance that could be used by the Holy Spirit. Overly zealous believers who—even with good intentions—attempt to witness to persons who are far from predisposed to hear what they have to say usually produce disastrous results. Right living is meant to excite the questions of the unbelieving.
… you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it (1 Pe 3:15 NLT).
It is interesting to note that the principal definition of “savor” from the Greek New Testament reads as follows: to be foolish, to act foolishly, to make foolish. The same Greek word is also found in Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Claiming to be wise they became utter fools instead (Rom 1:22 NLT).
The context of this particular usage is referencing persons accountable for knowing truth and rejecting it. This is exactly what Jesus is referring to in his parable. It is about persons who literally lay claim to truth while failing to live out its substance in their lives.
The most sobering part of this parable—and for many the most unbelievable—is that which declares the consequences for becoming insipid—for losing one’s “savor.” That “salt” in the parable refers to confessing believers is without dispute given Jesus’ direct assertion “you are the salt of the earth.” That insipid salt in the natural is totally worthless and good only to be thrown out is also undeniable. The only part that is left open to a degree of interpretation and application is determining the spiritual meaning of insipid salt under disposal. In other words, how does one interpret and apply “cast out and trodden under foot”? Consider the following commentary on Matthew 5:13 from Jamieson, Fausset and Brown:
The question is not: can, or do, the saints ever totally lose that grace which makes them a blessing to their fellow men? But, what is to be the issue of that Christianity which is found wanting in those elements which can alone stay the corruption and season the tastelessness of an all-pervading carnality?…The question is not, if a man lose his grace, how shall that grace be restored to him? But, since living Christianity is the only “salt of the earth,” if men lose that, what else can supply its place? What follows is the appalling answer to this question…it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out—a figurative expression of indignant exclusion from the kingdom of God—and to be trodden under foot of men—expressive of contempt and scorn. It is not the mere want of a certain character, but the want of it in those whose profession and appearance were fitted to beget expectation of finding it.
There is something of a false or unbiblical sense of grace and mercy in many of us that rankles under the suggestion that Christians can be guilty of conduct that warrants exclusion from the Kingdom of God. It is as if we could possibly have a higher standard of mercy and love than God himself. In reality that false mercy is simply a ploy to self-protect in the light of our own compromised faith. There are eternal consequences for choices that countermand the ways and principles of God. It is a dangerous thing to play fast and loose with God’s Word, to pretend he doesn’t mean what he says. Reaching a lost world through his church has been God’s plan from eternity past. To attempt embracing all the grace and rewards from a relationship with God while eschewing his covenant standards is the height of foolishness (savorlessness).
You are the salt of the earth! How tasty are you?