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Christian Identities
October 27, 2017
Relevance: Chapter 7, Restored by Grace

Salt and Light

In a sermon to his disciples, Jesus taught that they are the salt of the earth and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). It was about their identity in the world, rather than virtues to develop, goals to achieve, or commands to obey. He ignored the look of the crystal grains or the make of the lamp. What really matters are the saltiness and the light. Without these attributes, said Jesus, the lamp or the crystal grains are useless.

Salt was used mainly for preservation to slow down decay and to bring out the good flavor of food. So it's the nature of the disciples to curb moral decay, as well as to bring out what's good in our society and people's lives. Being salt is, on the one hand, to oppose or slow down evil or something negative in our society, such as structured injustice or systemic oppression. Poverty in an affluent society is an example of structured injustice, and systemic oppression includes all forms of slavery. Our role as salt, on the other hand, is to make whole what's good in our society and facilitate the good works of good people.

There is no darkness in light. Jesus taught the disciples, "Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). The good deeds are to be seen, not to bring glory to the doer, but to God who supernaturally regenerated the disciples to do such works. The extensive and persistent acts of Christian love build faith in the goodness of sanctified humanity and give hope to those who are oppressed or in pain. This is part of our role as the light of the world.

Jesus said on another occasion, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). Paul says in a letter, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8). So another part of our being light is to illuminate the world with truths and ultimately the good news of salvation. It’s necessary for Christians to let our society know, with due respect, the biblical perspective on fundamental issues. Most important of all, we must bring the truth of redemption to the world in darkness.

Many people have their definition of "good," and what's said could be used to justify very different decisions and lines of actions. But the prophet Micah says that God "has shown you, O mortal, what is good" (Micah 6:8). He then gives it a meaning and suggests three practical actions. Good is what the Lord requires of you. To live it out, Micah says that we are to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. That is, regarding systems and rules, we need to uphold justice; regarding people, grace and kindness are the guiding principles. The last one means reliance on God and submission to him.

What gives the disciples their social identity? The answer lies in the immediately preceding part of the sermon, where Jesus taught about the identity of the people belonging to the kingdom of heaven. He underscored eight attributes (Matthew 5:3-12). The promises for the first and eighth blessed qualities are the same, bracketing them as a group. They are characteristics of the people of the kingdom of heaven, meaning true disciples. The first four are in one subgroup, the rest in another. This is indicated by the choice of words in the Greek text. The words identifying the first four attributes all begin with the same letter, and all suggest something lacking (RG, 137-138).

The first four attributes describe how the true disciples overcome sin in their lives. They realize that they are in a dire spiritual condition, which they are powerless to change. They are deeply sorry for not living as God created them to and so sinning against him. There is God's solution of grace they can trust in and submit to. And they crave intensely to be right with God, to be forgiven and restored.

The other four attributes describe the outward expressions of their lives in Christ. True disciples are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted because of righteousness.

The merciful see the miserable consequences of sin, feel pity, and desire to relieve the suffering they themselves were rescued from. They see what God sees, which is people needing the mercy of God because they are still in sin.

The hearts of true disciples are made pure or undivided by being emptied and then refilled (Galatians 2:20). These are hearts that desire God, seek to know him, love him, and serve him.

True disciples are inevitably very concerned about the state of estrangement between people in sin and their Creator. They selflessly endeavor to restore peace wherever they are, and ultimately desire all people to be right with God.

True disciples walk with God and so become more like Jesus and more different from the godless world. They will be hated without doing anything that calls for persecution, but because, as light, they naturally expose darkness. Whenever we receive unfriendly or even hostile treatment, however, we need to ask first if we’ve done our duties well, borne the visible fruit of the Spirit, adequately respected others’ rights and freedom, especially in their choices and opinions, and whether there are misunderstandings. The persecution Jesus talked about is purely due to our faith in God.

The two identities are fundamentally related. The disciples are first the people of the heavenly kingdom, then the salt and light of the world.


From Darkness to Light
170504, Ch.1, What is Heaven?
170512, Ch.5, Good and Evil
170519, Ch.5, Image of God
170526, Ch.6, All Have Sinned
170602, Ch.6, Isaiah Prophecies
170609, Ch.6, Lamb of God
170616, Ch.6, Decision Prayer

New Life in Christ
170623, Ch.7, Fruit of the Spirit
170630, Ch.7, Time with God
170707, Ch.7, Life Together
170714, Ch.7, Messiah's Return
170728, Ch.7, Audacious Faith
171006, Ch.7, Mark of the Christian
171027, Ch.7, Christian Identities

Growing in Christ
171110, Know the Bible
171210, Christ is Central
180302, Satan Exposed

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