We find Jesus’ words about being salt and light, right on the heels of the Beatitudes. You’re familiar with the Beatitudes. They’re found at the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s there that Jesus shows us a picture of what every single Christian should look like. He says in Matthew 5:3-10:
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
These Beatitudes describe what every Christian should look like. These aren’t to mark the Special Forces Recon Disciples of Christ. These characteristics are to mark all of us – the everyday, ordinary, rank-and-file Christians. And as you can easily see, these characteristics are quite counter-cultural. It’s why I say that Christianity is the only true “counter-culture.”
We can’t easily imagine these words printed as a vision statement on Wall Street or in the hallowed halls of Washington D.C. or in some Hollywood executive’s office – can we? But sadly, we don’t find these words represented in the lives of many Christians either. It’s hard to be salt and light to a dark and decaying culture when there are no marked differences between the two.
According to George Barna – statistician-guru and pollster for all things religious in the United States – that’s our biggest problem today. Instead of the church influencing our culture, the culture is influencing the church. We don’t look much different from the world. Listen to what Barna says:
“Two out of every three American adults claim that the United States is a Christian nation. Don’t believe it. Never have so many been deceived.
Based on an analysis of 131 measures of distinctive attitudes, values, beliefs and behaviors, we have developed a means of assessing the influence of the Christian community in America. This evaluation is based on a comparison of the similarities and differences between Christians and non-Christians. The data demonstrate that although Christians are distinct in some areas of thought and deed, they generally represent an invisible and ineffective presence in the U.S. Surprisingly few Christians have developed a holistic, integrated and balanced form of Christianity that provides non-believers with a viable lifestyle alternative to consider.”
And then, after he reveals that unbelievers and Christians are almost identical in most spheres of life, Barna then summarizes his conclusions. He writes:
“The bottom line is that in the dimensions of life where Christians can truly influence their world – i.e. in the non-religious domain – we have failed to demonstrate the power of our faith. Christianity is not losing influence in America because it is overmatched by the challenges of the day; it is losing its impact because believers have been unsuccessful at merging faith and lifestyle outside the walls of the church. Non-believers expect us to have different religious beliefs and practices; those differences fail to impress them. Only when those beliefs and practices shape every other walk of life do they sit up and take notice.”
This is an important insight for us to sit up and take notice of. You see, in the Beatitudes, Christ tells us about the inward and personal character of his followers – the real counter-culture. Then he makes an important shift that I want you to notice. He tells us that it’s impossible to follow the norms of the Kingdom – to be his followers in the world – in a purely private way. Donald Carson writes:
“The righteousness of the life you live will attract attention, even if that attention regularly takes the form of opposition. In other words, the Christian is not poor in spirit, mournful over sin, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker – all in splendid isolation.
No – these counter-cultural norms, faithfully practiced in a sinful world, make up a major aspect of our witness as Christians. That’s why Jesus follows up the Beatitudes with the words about being salt and light – what we might call our Cultural Commission – our outward witness to the world.
We'll look more closely at that next time.
Grace and Truth,