A Christian’s Response to the Culture
A Christian’s Response to the Culture from Matthew 5:13-16, is the third sermon in the series on Counter Culture Christianity in which it addresses six different ways to influence the culture.
A June 2014 article published by missiologist Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research states that fewer people may be calling themselves Christians in the future—and the trend may be a good thing. Greg Jao, national field director of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, agrees with the prediction. He says this is not bad because more people will be more honest about their faith. The meaning of “Christian” will be more defined, which would create new opportunities to share the gospel. Both Stetzer and Jao say the number of people with a real faith in Jesus will not diminish. Rather, there will be fewer people who identify themselves as Christian due to the culture. Jao says, “Twenty years ago you might talk to somebody about Jesus, and they would say ‘Oh, sure, sure. I’m already Christian; I go to church occasionally.’ Well, now you have people who say, ‘I don’t go to church at all.’ And because they don’t go to church at all, they’re a little bit more open to hear about Jesus and to consider who He is.”
Jao says the trend will also be good for churches because they will tend to become more united and better focused. He says the overall effect will be to actually make people think about spiritual things. When they actively think through faith, they will have a better chance of encountering the truth of the gospel.1 So as we respond to various themes and hot topics, let’s examine how a Christian can respond to the culture in today’s world. There are three different responses that a Christian can give to the culture, and then we will look at ways a Christian and we as a church can influence the culture.
THREE RESPONSES TO THE CULTURE2
Some people find the challenge to take a stand against what secular society is doing more than they can handle. They look for a convenient hole and crawl inside hoping that whatever is troubling them will go away. Others find that the attractions of secular lifestyles are more compelling than the sacrifices often required of those who confront their society. They find the thought of being different from their peers more than they can face.
Perhaps one of the most common feelings is one of inadequacy. The needs and the challenges are so great and the people facing them seem so few and so feeble that the spiritual person can be paralyzed by an overwhelming sense of insignificance and impotence. Perhaps you have also seen young people who once were deeply committed to Christ and His cause buckle under the stresses and strains of standing tall for Him on the university campus or failing to be courageous enough in a “dog eat dog” business environment.
The second response is isolation. There is always a temptation for spiritually minded persons to be so spiritually minded that they are of no earthly use. Some of them like to keep it that way because they have developed an intense dislike for what they see going on around them and they feel that their major obligation is to protect themselves and those near and dear to them from the dangers of association. Instead of being moved with compassion toward a needy, ugly world they are repelled by it and take flight from it.
However, it must be added that not all those who seek to handle the struggle of being “in the world but not of it” by isolation are doing so out of less than deep and sincere convictions. For instance, there are many parents who feel deeply about the type of education their children are receiving in the public school system and are convinced that the only way their young people will be adequately trained is if they are placed in a school where the curriculum is “Bible based,” or if they are taught at home.
The third response is infiltration. This is the third option for us. As Christians, we are not intimidated, we are not isolated, but we learn to infiltrate the culture.
How do you infiltrate the culture? How does a Christian specifically engage with the culture? Jesus shared with us two different object lessons with three lessons for each object. The common thread throughout both illustrations that Jesus shares are that salt and light together influence the culture. That is why He used both of these illustrations together. There is a community connection to a Christian’s influence in the world. The passage does not speak to just individual Christians. The word “you” is like our word “ya’ll.” It is plural. It means that all of us need to work together to influence the culture. This is why we are salt and light. We are salt in the earth and we are light to the world. This means that we engage in every culture to influence people for Jesus Christ. Jesus shared with us six different ways that as a Christian community, we can respond to the culture around us. Let’s look at six different ways to influence the culture. The first three will come from the use of salt, and the last three we will see from the use of light.3
SIX DIFFERENT WAYS TO INFLUENCE THE CULTURE
1. Preserving Influence
““You are the salt of the earth…” (Matthew 5:13, CSB)
The first way is to be a preserving influence. Homes didn’t have refrigerators or freezers, so families would store their meat and perishables in salt, which resisted normal, natural decay. The world around us is in decay.
“that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” (Romans 8:21, CSB)
Jesus was saying in effect, “Humanity without me is a dead body that is rotting and falling apart. And you, my followers, are the salt that must be rubbed into the flesh to halt the decomposition.” The church must be rubbed into the world—into its rotting flesh and wounds so that it might be preserved.4
A Christian use their faith to be a positive, sanctifying influence on the home. You can have a preserving influence even in your own marriage and children.
2. Positive Influence
““…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.” (Matthew 5:13, CSB)
The second way is to be a positive influence. Believers should be known not only for arresting decay but for contributing in positive and flavorful ways to life around us.
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6, CSB)
We use “taste” to speak of a flavor rather than an intellectual quality, but the word “tasteless” can mean both to be tasteless and to be foolish.5 The idea here is that if we lose that positive influence, then we can become not just tasteless in the sense that we can’t sense the flavor. We also lose the wisdom that We bring as Christians to the world. We become foolish and what we say can be nonsense. The world easily picks up on the flavor of our words. They easily pick up on Christians who stop acting like Christians should.
In Biblical times, as today, salt was not only a preservative but also a spice, a condiment. Christianity should bring spice and zest to life. Salt makes food taste enjoyable. Christians should make life enjoyable in the way we live.
Jesus gives us a distinctive capacity to elicit goodness on the earth. When we stop trying to be positive in our faith in this world, we can easily lose the ability to be good for anything.6 This response comes with a warning from Jesus. If we lose our positive flavoring, then we will be good for nothing and trampled under people’s feet. The point that Jesus makes is that my influence needs to have a positive impact. For that to happen, sometimes, I need to make a sacrifice.
3. Sacrificial Influence
“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt should lose its flavor, how can you season it? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”” (Mark 9:49–50, CSB)The third way that I can influence the culture is to be a sacrificial influence. This lesson is in Matthew, Luke, and Mark. Yet, Mark adds this detail. Salt is an important ingredient in sacrifices. It was used when making a sacrifice.
“You are to season each of your grain offerings with salt; you must not omit from your grain offering the salt of the covenant with your God. You are to present salt with each of your offerings.” (Leviticus 2:13, CSB)
As Old Testament saints brought their offerings to the tabernacle and temple, God required one ingredient to be added—salt. Why? According to Jewish tradition, on the second day of creation, God separated the lower waters from the higher waters. Jewish tradition claims that the lower waters were upset with God because they wanted to be closer to Him like the higher waters, so God made an agreement with them. Salt was to be added to every offering. Hence, as they boiled the ocean water for salt for the offerings, the water would convert to steam and ascend to heaven, closer to God. We should be the means for bringing people closer to God.
But Jesus added a warning: “But if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” In ancient times, when salt was mixed with other substances it diluted or neutralized its nature. We must never become diluted by the stuff of this world. We must guard against letting sin compromise our power, arrest our influence, or weaken our testimony. Salt must be pure, otherwise, it is trampled underfoot. But we must remain pure and pungent, uncorrupted and uncompromised. Are you worth your salt?
4. Open Influence
““You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14, CSB)
The fourth way that I can influence the culture is being an open influence. A light is meant to be seen. Israeli villages were built on ridges to be seen at night, set aglow by small oil lamps. Jesus was not talking about massive lights, but about little lamps to light the world. My influence is small, but it is open.
Some years ago, on returning from a business trip, a man brought his wife some souvenirs. Among them was a matchbox that would glow in the dark. After giving it to her, he turned out the light, but the object was not visible. “This must be a joke!” she said. Disappointed, the husband commented, “I’ve been cheated!” Then his wife noticed some French words on the box. Taking it to a friend who knew the language, she was told that the directions read: “If you want me to shine at night, keep me in the sunlight all day.” So she put her gift in a south window. That evening when she turned out the light, the matchbox had a brilliant glow. The surprised husband asked, “What did you do?” “Oh, I found the secret,” she said. “Before it can shine in the dark, it must be exposed to the light.”
Just as the matchbox, having been exposed to the sun, took on the nature of the sun and began to shine, so Christians should constantly expose themselves to the Son, that they may take on his nature and shine as lights in a dark world.7
5. Guiding Influence
“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.” (Matthew 5:15, CSB)
The fifth way that I can be an influence is by being a guiding influence. When Jesus said that we are light, he was speaking of the influence of our Christian witness—what we say to lead others to him. Light is a guide. We need it to find our way in dark places. All of us know people who will not find their way to Christ unless we tell them how.8 A light is for guiding others. It should give light to everyone in the house. You take the light and hide it under a basket. Hiding the light serves no purpose. It won’t do any good for anyone. Jesus said that we are the light. Jesus lives in us. We are the container for the light of Jesus Christ.
6. Glorifying Influence
“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.” (Matthew 5:16, CSB)
Finally, the sixth way that I can be an influence in this culture is when it glorifies God. My influence causes other people to glorify God. Here, Jesus says that when I let my light shine in front of others, they look at what I do and they give glory to God.
We are lamps, not the light. In this world, we may get the mistaken impression that our faith is about us. We forget that our destiny is not tied up in what I can do. My destiny is determined by what God does through me. I am a lamp, a container. Jesus is the light. I am only someone who holds His light up for others to see. I am a witness to what Jesus has done in my life. When I share that influence, I am glorifying God. Jesus shines through us as we let others see our good works and glorify our Father.
Donald Barnhouse used to say that when Christ was in the world, he was a bit like the sun, which is here by day and gone by night. The sun gives light, but when the sun goes down, the moon comes up. The moon is a bit like the church. The moon shines too, but it only shines because it reflects the sun’s light. Jesus said:
“I am the light of the world…” (John 8:12, CSB)
But when he was thinking that he would soon be taken out of the world, he told his disciples:
““You are the light of the world…” (Matthew 5:14, CSB)
In this age the world is illuminated by the church, sometimes brightly, as in the full moon of revival, sometimes only dimly, as today when there is only a thin sliver of genuine Christianity and we do not even know if it is a waxing or a waning quarter. But full moon or waning quarter, we are always to reflect the light of Jesus Christ as brightly as we can.9
1 Jim L. Wilson and Jim Sandell, “Fewer Cultural Christians in the Future, and That’s a Good Thing,” in 300 Illustrations for Preachers, ed. Elliot Ritzema (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015).
2 D. Stuart Briscoe and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Genesis, vol. 1, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1987), 324–326.
3 Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook, 2002 Edition. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001), 98-99, 103.
4 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 78–79.
5 R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007), 175.
6 Marcia Y. Riggs, “Theological Perspective on Matthew 5:13‒20,” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 332.
7 Michael P. Green, 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 397.
8 C. Barry McCarty, Parables & Miracles: Blueprints for 30 Messages Built upon God’s Word, ed. Theresa C. Hayes and Bob Buller, Solid Foundation Sermon Starters (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, 1999), 38.