The Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day 21
54. Question: What do you believe concerning the holy catholic Christian church?
Answer: I believe that the Son of God, out of the whole human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, defends, and preserves for Himself,  by His Spirit and Word, in the unity of the true faith, a church chosen to everlasting life. And I believe that I am and forever shall remain a living member of it.
 John 10:11; Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11-13; Col. 1:18.  Gen. 26:4; Rev. 5:9.  Is. 59:21; I Cor. 11:26.  Ps. 129:1-5; Matt. 16:18; John 10:28-30.  Rom. 1:16; 10:14-17; Eph. 5:26.  Acts 2:42-47; Eph. 4:1-6.  Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:3-14.  I John 3:14, 19-21.  Ps. 23:6; John 10:27, 28; I Cor. 1:4-9; I Pet. 1:3-5.
55. Question: What do you understand by the communion of saints?
Answer: First, that believers, all and everyone, as members of Christ have communion with Him and share in all His treasures and gifts. Second, that everyone is duty-bound to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the benefit and well-being of the other members.
 Rom. 8:32; I Cor. 6:17; 12:4-7, 12, 13; I John 1:3.  Rom. 12:4-8; I Cor. 12:20-27; 13:1-7; Phil. 2:4-8.
56. Question: What do you believe concerning the forgiveness of sins?
Answer: I believe that God, because of Christ's satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, nor my sinful nature, against which I have to struggle all my life, but He will graciously grant me the righteousness of Christ, that I may never come into condemnation.
 Ps. 103:3, 4, 10, 12; Mic. 7:18, 19; II Cor. 5:18-21; I John 1:7; 2:2.  Rom. 7:21-25.  John 3:17, 18; 5:24; Rom. 8:1, 2.
Living as Light
In this chapter we will continue looking at what it means to understand how our faith applies to all of life. We saw in the last chapter how Jesus used the image of salt to explain that his disciples are called to impact the culture in which they live. Salt was used in the ancient world as a preserving agent which helped slow down the spoilage of food. So too, Christians are called to hold back the moral and spiritual decay that surround us. Because of who we are in Christ, Jesus does not tell us to “be” salt, but reminds us that we are salt and therefore are expected to live like it.
We’re going to look at the other half of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:13-16. Here he is sounding a similar note to his words on being the salt of the earth. Because we are light, we must live as light in a dark world. Jesus teaches,
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
We each exert influence in the lives of others, whether we recognize it or not. President Woodrow Wilson once told the following story which makes this point.
“I was in a very common place, I was sitting in a barber chair, when I became aware that a powerful personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself – to have his hair cut – and sat in the chair next to me. Every word the man uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him. And before I got through with what was being done to me, I was aware that I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr. D.L. Moody was in that chair. I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular effect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop. They talked in undertones. They didn’t know his name but they knew something had elevated their thoughts, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship.”
Can you imagine exerting that much godly influence, simply while getting your hair cut? That gives us a glimpse of what it means to be a light, but we must look more deeply at Jesus’ words.
Just as Jesus’ purpose in calling his followers salt was to contrast them with the world, so too was he contrasting his followers with the world when he referred to them as light. The use of the word light points to the nature of the world around us. It is shrouded in thick darkness.
In contrast to the darkness of the world, Jesus mentions two sources of physical light: the light from a city set on a hill and the light from a lamp set on a lampstand.
A City on a Hill
Long before Ronald Reagan called America a bright and shining city on a hill, there were the Puritans. Commenting on the early American Puritans, John Winthrop said,
“[For the Puritans] All of life was spiritual, a seamless fabric integrating heart, soul, body, and mind in an effort to live life [in the presence of God]. The kingdom of Christ was not confined to private devotions or church gatherings, but extended into the realms of human knowledge and activity.”
He called this effort and attitude, “a shining city upon a hill.” The Puritans sought to faithfully model before a dark world what it meant to be the light of Christ.
If you have ever gone camping a far distance from a city or town, you may have a good idea of what total darkness can be like. I remember a camping trip in high school that took my friends and me a long way from the lights of civilization. The first night I was amazed I couldn’t see my fingers just inches in front of my face.
Jesus’ audience lived in rural communities. They were familiar with pitch black darkness. They would have immediately understood what Jesus meant by being able to see the light of a city on a hill, even a faraway city. Those same people, being Jewish, may have instantly thought of Jerusalem as the great city set on a hill, giving its light to the world. But Jesus had a different light in mind.
The Real Light
In his teaching and preaching, Jesus pointed out that he was the Light of the world, and his followers were to share in that mission. He taught, for example, in John 8:12,
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
It’s in light of those words that Jesus says,
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
William Hendrickson writes that Jesus’ followers - the light possessors – are now to be light transmitters.
Reflectors of Light
It’s important to note that Christians are not the light, in and of themselves. Only Jesus is the true light of the world. However, just as the moon has no light of its own but reflects the light of the sun, so must followers of Christ reflect his light in a dark world.
When people see the Light of the world reflected in our lives, they aren’t witnessing our own light but the light of Christ dwelling in and shining through us. Like a city on a hill, Christians who let their light shine before others cannot be hidden. The good light from Christians helps to counter the overwhelming darkness of the world.
A Lamp’s Small Flicker
It’s not a coincidence that haunted houses are dark. Our minds run rampant when we find ourselves in a totally dark setting. Surely that is why evil is associated with darkness. Even the smallest amount of light makes darkness a little more bearable than it was before.
Even the smallest flickering flame of an olive-oil lamp make us grateful in a totally dark setting. Such light would be a blessing in a home on a dark night. If you ever had a “night light” growing up, you know even the weakest bulb is more than enough to light your path. That’s why Jesus said in verse 15,
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
Don’t Hide Your Light
What would be the purpose of Jesus sending his followers into the world as light if they were only going to live as “undercover” Christians? Jesus is teaching it would be silly for people to light a candle or lamp, only to hide it under a bowl or cover of some kind.
This is an important lesson about discipleship. Jesus says the very purpose of following him is to give his light to the world. Therefore, we read in verse 16,
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
How do Jesus’ disciples lighten the dark world around them? The light is the “good deeds” performed by his followers. According to Jesus, these good deeds are done in such a way that at least some people recognize Jesus’ followers as God’s sons and daughters and praise God because of them.
Shine Where God Places You
Sometimes our minds race to spectacular demonstrations of those who have been the “light of the world,” such as William Wilberforce, John Wesley, or Hannah More. While we thank God for faithful Christians like these, we should be encouraged to serve as the light of Christ right where God has placed us.
When we practice godliness in our homes, showing love and putting our family members before ourselves, we show Christ’s light. Our light is also revealed in the workplace, where Jesus’ disciples are honest and work with integrity and excellence. When Christians stand for justice for the least or demonstrate mercy to those in need in our church family or community, our light shines brightly.
Jesus, the light of the world, has saved and forgiven us, changed our hearts, given us hope, put his love in us, given us joy, and set our feet upon the rock which cannot be shaken. Surely our lives should reflect those truths in the way we love God and our neighbor. When we do, the dark world is less able to ignore or deny the light of our Lord, which shines in and through us.
People Are Watching
A Peanuts cartoon showed Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown. She said, “Guess what, Chuck. The first day of school, and I got sent to the principal’s office already. And it was your fault, Chuck.” He said, “My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?” She said, “You’re my friend, aren’t you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me.”
While we may laugh or roll our eyes at Peppermint Patty trying to pass the buck, she was, in a very real sense, right. We should be a good influence on our friends. We exercise influence daily, for better or worse. People are watching us. What do they see in your life?
Do they see hypocrisy? Do they see someone trying desperately to please God, not always succeeding, but always trying? It’s tough to be sure. Yet it doesn’t remove the fact that we influence the people in our lives, one way or another. It’s essential to understand that just as our faith ought to impact every sphere of our lives, so too, we as Christ’s disciples, are called to affect our spheres of influence for Christ’s Kingdom.
It Begins with Christlike Character
In the last chapter we began looking at Kingdom Discipleship. Our Christian faith ought to permeate every sphere of our life, not just bits and pieces of it.
We saw in the Beatitudes, that Jesus lays out what the character-norms of his Kingdom are. It was not until he first taught us that we’re to be poor in spirit, mournful over sin, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers, that he then called us salt and light. Jesus shifted our attention from what every disciple’s character must be, to our outward witness and influence in the world. He tells us who we are and who we must be as a watching world looks on. Our faith may be personal, but it’s by no means private.
Be Who You Are
Jesus called us salt and light and commanded us to go out and live accordingly. In this chapter we’re going to look at the first part, what Jesus meant by salt of the earth.
Matthew 5:13 says,
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
What does it mean to be the salt of the earth? To understand what Jesus meant by salt, we must know a little about salt in the first century. But first, notice something: Jesus said we already are salt. He wasn’t telling us to go out and become something we aren’t. We’re to go into the world and be who we already are.
This is familiar language in the Bible. God says we are holy and then calls us to be holy. It is in that spirit Jesus commands us to go out and be who we are. Let those of the world see who we truly are as Christ’s disciples, those who are increasingly growing into the likeness of their Lord.
In the ancient world, salt was used primarily as a preservative. Since people in that time obviously didn’t have deep-freeze refrigerators, they used salt to preserve much of their food. That’s not a totally foreign concept for us today. There’s a traditional delicacy in South Africa known as “biltong” which are small thin strips of meat that have been salted and dried, perhaps like our Beef Jerky. Long-distance travelers in past generations carried biltong with them. In fact, it was so well preserved it didn’t even need a “best-eaten-by” date.
Followers of Christ are to have that same “preserving” influence in the world. Apart from his disciples’ preserving influence, the world turns ever rottener. Our influence on the world as the salt of the earth is that of delaying, of slowing down the moral and spiritual disintegration. If our lives as his disciples conform to the Beatitudes in verses 3-12, then we will be an influence for good in our culture. Without the influence of the gospel, society will suffer moral decay and become putrid, unfit for the consumption of godly men and women.
There’s another interesting use for salt Scripture alludes to. Ezekiel 16:4 hints at the Jewish practice of rubbing newborn babies with salt. It’s likely this practice wasn’t for ritual cleanness, but for hygiene. It was already understood that if you didn’t pay attention to hygiene at the beginning of life, then sickness and even death could result. If Jesus had that in mind, his application would be this: we need to commit ourselves to being salt in our culture at the earliest possible opportunity.
It’s important, if our lives are to make a moral impact on others, that we live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ as we live among them. We must take our stand from the very start. Of course, there will likely be a steep price for such faithfulness.
It is no coincidence that the linking verses between the Beatitudes and the reference to Salt and Light are verses 11-12, which say,
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We find another use of salt illustrated in Judges 9:45. When Abimelech defeated the city of Shechem, “he destroyed the city and scattered salt over it.” The use of salt was a symbolic and effective action, to render the ground infertile for the future. This is what we do as Christians when we take our stand for God in our culture. We make the soil of our culture - the relationships in our lives, our friends at school, coworkers, teammates, next-door neighbors, whomever it may be – less fertile for ungodly influences. In and of itself this will not transform our culture, but it will make it more difficult for sinful attitudes, habits, words, and ideas to take root and become the norm.
Does Your Coworker Know You’re a Christian?
G. Campbell Morgan, former minister of Westminster Chapel in London, in his book How to Live, told a story about a conversation he had after he finished preaching one evening. A man approached Morgan to tell him he had invited a fellow employee, one with whom he had worked for 5 years, to attend the church service. He then said, “My suggestion came as quite a surprise to my friend. He responded to my invitation by saying, ‘Are you a Christian?’ And when I answered, ‘Yes, I am,’ he replied, ‘Well, I am too!’ Here we had worked beside each other for years, and we never knew that we were both believers in Christ. Wasn’t that funny?” To the man’s surprise, Morgan retorted, “Funny? No, it isn’t funny at all! You both need to be born again.”
It was inconceivable to Morgan that two men could be truly saved and work side-by-side for 5 years and not be aware of their relationship as brothers in Christ.
The Loss of Saltiness
In the last chapter we read George Barna’s summary of the “state of the church,” that he gleaned from his many years of poll-taking and statistical analysis. He concluded that, sadly, the church today is almost indistinguishable from the rest of society. He was not talking about being different in a superficial and outward way that you might notice in some legalistic churches. Rather, he was addressing fundamental moral and ethical differences that Christ ought to make in how Christians live. From all appearances, the church today, in far too many quarters, isn’t serving as the preserving agent Christ said she is. It seems the salt is losing its saltiness.
What happens if salt loses its saltiness? According to Jesus it might as well be thrown out onto the street, which was the garbage dump of the ancient near east, to be trampled by people. Some scholars have wrestled with this part of the verse, suggesting that salt can’t stop being salt. It can’t be anything other than salt. Therefore, it can’t really lose its saltiness. So, what did Jesus mean?
Although salt can’t lose its saltiness per se, it can become adulterated, impure, and contaminated. If it becomes sufficiently mixed with sand, for example, the salt will no longer be useful as a preservative. It loses its effectiveness. What do you do once something outlives its usefulness? In the case of “saltless salt,” you throw it away. It’s no longer any good. The world is described in the Bible as fallen, sinful, rotting and in need of help. It’s with that backdrop that Jesus tells us we are salt and we are to be salt.
The Power of Small Beginnings
Think about that for a minute. Just like salt, Christians may seem small and insignificant, even powerless in a culture like ours. Yet we have the ability to influence every segment of it and permeate the whole. It’s easy, almost seductive, for us to become consumed with polling data and despair we aren’t as numerous and as powerful as others. But we must never give in to Satan’s lie that we are effective only when we have large numbers, a show of strength, or our person in the White House.
Who turned the Roman world upside-down? I love how the King James Version renders Acts 17:6. It reads,
These [that is, the first Christian disciples] that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;
The verse describes the first Christians, that little band of no-names, who were making their rounds in the Roman Empire, affecting everything they touched with the power of the Gospel.
One Bible commentary summed up that verse this way,
What a reputation these Christian had! The power of the gospel revolutionized lives, broke down all social barriers, threw open prison doors, caused people to care deeply for one another, and stirred them to worship God. Our world needs to be turned upside down, to be transformed. The gospel is not in the business of merely improving programs and encouraging good conduct, but of dynamically transforming lives.
That’s Kingdom Discipleship! That’s the vision our Lord holds before us when he calls us salt. Though we may be small in number and seemingly powerless by human standards, we, like that little band of disciples, can still turn a culture upside down, one person at a time, one family at a time, one church at a time.
We may be powerless on our own, but with God all things are possible. If Jesus told us we are salt in this world, then we better behave like it. In their book, Turning Point, Marvin Olasky and Herbert Schlossberg recount the following story,
“The original Cassius Clay (not the boxer who changed his name to Muhammed Ali) was an affluent slaveholder in Lexington, Kentucky. He could have lived a comfortable life, at least until the Civil War. But Clay believed that chattel slavery was ungodly, and he also believed that society should be ordered on Biblical principles.
And so Clay freed his own slaves and then tried to reach fellow Kentuckians by publishing an antislavery newspaper.
“Clay’s writings show both personal faith and a belief in the uses of reason within revelation. “He emphasized God’s faithfulness not only to individuals but also to societies, and he argued that Christians should use their God-given intellects to structure society along Biblical lines. “Clay wrote, “Let true Christianity prevail, and earth will become the foreshadowing of Heaven.”
His motivation was to allow the gospel to transform first individuals and then the society.”
That’s Kingdom Discipleship. That’s what it means to live as salt in a society, to prevent or delay society’s moral and spiritual decay. Jesus said,
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
Jesus declared we are salt. Therefore, let us live as salt and be a Kingdom influence for the glory of our King and the good of our neighbors.
A Fitting Title
A few years ago, our church's men’s groups studied 1 Timothy and Titus, using a great study-guide by John Stott. Stott’s commentary on the same two epistles is entitled, Guard the Truth. It’s no mystery why the commentary is named that. Here are a few texts from Paul's two letters that support the choice of that title.
1 Timothy 1:3-4 - As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer  nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work–which is by faith.
1 Timothy 3:14-15 - Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that,  if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
1 Timothy 4:1-2 - The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.  Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
1 Timothy 6:3-5 - If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching,  he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions  and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
1 Timothy 6:20-21 - Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge,  which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. Grace be with you.
Titus 1:9 - He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
These are just a few of the more obvious texts on the need (indeed, the command) for Christians to guard the truth.
Of Majors and Minors
Throughout the study the discussion kept coming around to the oft-cited observation that, like the culture, there doesn’t seem to be a high premium on truth in the Church today. While this may be a given outside the Church, it should not be so within her walls.
This isn’t to say we ought to appoint “thought police” within to start arresting folks who don’t “think like us.” Nor does it mean every issue is worth fighting and dividing over. There are some things, secondary things, that godly people can disagree over and still not reject the authority of God’s Word, the central doctrines of the faith, and the unity God desires for his Church.
I’ve often shared with folks that when I graduated from seminary, I wanted to debate every last detail of every last doctrine. As I have gotten older, and hopefully matured some, I have found the list of things I care to debate has become shorter. However, the things I do hold dear are not only worth debating, but worth dying for.
United Methodist Ordination
The ordination service in my denomination declares and asks,
“Remember that you are called to serve rather than to be served, to proclaim the faith of the church and no other, to look after the concerns of God above all.
“Do you believe in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
“Are you persuaded that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and are the unique and authoritative standard for the church’s faith and life?
“Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word, and committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry.”
I’m proud to say that, at least on paper, my denomination cares about the truth of God’s Word, so much so, that ordained clergy are tasked with preaching, teaching, defending, and living it.
One of the best parts about attending the ordination service each year at my denomination’s Annual Conference is that God reminds me of my own calling. He reminds me that we in our day, as Jude pointed out in his day, are still heralds and guardians of the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).
What’s true of me as an ordained pastor is true of every Christian. May we all faithfully guard and share the truth our Lord has entrusted to our care, not as arrogant fools, but as humble stewards of the God who so loved the world that he sent the Truth himself.
Matthew 6:10 – Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
God, Grant Us Reformation
In his book, Hot Tub Religion, J.I. Packer makes this observation,
“…we look at the church of our day and say, ‘We need another reformation.’ But do we know what we are saying? …We are in danger of settling for too narrow a perspective of what reformation is – too narrow a notion of what it was in the past and too narrow a notion of what it will be in the future if God visits us once more.”
Packer asks a good question. Do we indeed know what we are saying when we cry out for reformation? I was awakened to how little I comprehended the word when I began to study what reformation, biblically understood, truly means. I have discovered that this simple word is filled with great meaning. Contained within the word reformation are the ideas of revival, renewal, awakening, restoration, and even overhaul.
As I have considered these words, I have come to realize that the coming of the Kingdom of God was and is a reformation. As our Lord Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God, he brought forth revival and renewal to people’s hearts, minds, and spirits. He awakened them to their great need for the living God. He brought forth restoration where only brokenness existed before. He turned existing ideas about God and humanity upside-down as he revealed God and his good news. He exchanged the temporal perspectives of man for God’s eternal perspective for every sphere of life. Because of this, I have come to see the need for reformation, biblical reformation, in three essential areas of life.
Reformation and the Individual
God uses individuals to touch and transform the church and the world. A.W. Tozer writes,
“It is mere common place to sing or pray, ‘Lord, send a revival, and let it begin with me.’ Where else can a spiritual quickening take place but in the individual life? There is no abstract ‘church’ which can be revivified apart from the men and women who compose it.”
Tozer points out that which should be obvious; that the church and world will not be reformed until faithful men and women begin chasing after God and his ways. Individuals do not have to wait for the church before they can be renewed to newness of life and the things of God. Our own faith must be real and personal before it can be social and corporate. Tozer adds,
“Every prophet, every reformer, every revivalist had to meet God alone before he could help the multitudes. The great leaders who went on to turn thousands to Christ had to begin with God and their own soul. The plain Christian of today must experience personal revival before he can hope to bring renewed spiritual life to his church.”
It is true, or course, Christianity is about community and relationships. No Christian is called to live alone on an island. However, this community is a community of men and women who have been personally and individually touched by the Holy Spirit and brought forth from death to life.
Reformation and the Church
One aspect that unites great leaders from Christian history, such as the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, and John Wesley, was their prophetic word to the church in their day. Sadly, they were sometimes viewed as John the Baptist – as lone voices crying in the wilderness. However, the Holy Spirit moved through these faithful men to bring about reformation in the church in their day. God is still using people the same way in our day. In my own denomination, the United Methodist Church, I see faithful men and women standing up for the true and living God and his Word. I also see God renewing lives in his church through a variety of renewal groups. And I know it is through the prayer of these men and women that God will bring a mighty reformation to our denomination. This is true for churches in every denomination or no denomination at all. However, we need to be guided by a proper understanding of reformation, so we might know what direction to take, and therefore, what path not to take.
The puritan pastor and writer, Richard Baxter, has helped provide clarity concerning the notion of reformation. In his book, The Reformed Pastor, he showed that the idea of reformation, biblically understood, combines the heart and mind. In other words, we are not experiencing true reformation in the church when only one aspect is emphasized. Baxter points out that there must be inward spiritual renewal as well as outward correction of doctrine in Christ’s church. It does the church little good if she is only emphasizing correct doctrinal adherence and ignoring inward spiritual vitality. So too, a church that cares little for doctrinal faithfulness and only concerns herself with “religious feelings” cannot rightly be called faithful either. Instead, genuine reformation will reflect these two sides of the same coin. J.I. Packer comments,
“The Bible records many striking movements that textbooks usually call reformations. In every case this same two sidedness applies. These movements had an outward aspect; immorality and idolatry were put away. But they also had an inward side; men and women were stirred to seek God and renew their covenant with him.”
This is true reformation experienced in the Bible and in Church history. These two works, the inward and outward works of God, are really one work seen from two points of view. We cannot have one without the other. Prophetic voices must call Christ’s Church back to both emphases if we are going to experience real reformation. Martyn Lloyd-Jones declared that we have no reason to expect God to usher in reformation and revival if we are not being faithful to God in our present situation.
Reformation and the World
The Lord Jesus Christ came to a dark and lost world with the good and transforming news of the Kingdom of God. Individual believers, and the church, are called out of the world to bear witness to the Light of the world. We are called Christ’s ambassadors as we proclaim God’s message of reconciliation. Along with that beautiful, life-transforming message, God calls us to love our neighbors by serving them and standing up for them. We are called to be who we are in Christ – salt and light to a dark and decaying world. We live in the world though we are not of it.
Our faithfulness in our little part of the world will help bring about the reformation God desires. The Kingdom Jesus ushered in and proclaimed was not about slight adjustments here and there. It was about a complete overhaul – in our thinking, speaking, attitudes, values, priorities, beliefs, and behaviors. As God’s will is done in our lives as it is in heaven, God’s Kingdom-influence will be extended to the various spheres of our lives.
So, let us pray that God will bring biblical reformation into our lives for his greater glory and the blessing of our families, churches, workplaces, communities, and world.
Imagine the Difference
What would our culture look like today if the church lived as the salt and light that Christ said we in fact are? How might our society be transformed if every Christian and every local church functioned according to their true identity as salt and light? Can you imagine?
These are not hypothetical questions. These are real questions for real times to real people – to us. Sometimes we may reflect on how bad off our culture is and bemoan the fact there’s nothing we can do about it. Yet the Church in every age has found itself in a similar struggle. We can learn much from Christians in earlier generations.
Lessons from History
Note the following examples of Christians who made an impact in their day, an impact that eventually led to their culture’s significant transformation.
For all of its virtues, the mighty Roman Empire was a decadent place. It was in the midst of that Empire the church was born. When the early Christians weren’t being persecuted for their faith, they were, at best, only being tolerated. Additionally, they were merely one faith on a buffet table of many faiths. Sound familiar?
It’s impressive, therefore, that this small, seemingly insignificant group of marginalized and oppressed people could so powerfully influence such a mighty Empire, so much so it would eventually be declared the official religion of Rome. What happened to bring that about? Many things to be sure, but consider these two examples:
First of all, it was customary for unwanted babies to be discarded in the garbage heaps of Rome. Usually, such a child was not born the desired sex for the family and was seen only as a liability. The family would take the baby down to the garbage heap and leave the child there to die. The early Christians kept a sharp eye out for such things and their response was amazing. When babies were “thrown away,” our brothers and sisters in the early church would go to the garbage heaps, retrieve the children, and take them home to raise them as their own.
Second, throughout Rome’s history there were times when devastating and deadly plagues broke out in densely populated living quarters. The response of most Romans was to leave as quickly as possible in hopes their own lives would be spared. But our brothers and sisters in the early church remained behind. Why? To care for the sick and dying. To show Christ’s love, even in the midst of the devastation.
That sacrificial servant-mentality cost some Christians their lives. But it also accomplished something great. It revealed the life-transforming power of the gospel through an outward witness. It showed Christian discipleship isn’t merely for Sunday mornings. It declared to all of Rome that Christians didn’t just “talk the talk” but they also “walked the walk.”
As a result many people turned to Christ. Christianity grew. Jesus Christ was mightily exalted. A culture began a process of positive transformation. These two examples show us what can happen when Christians function as salt and light in their world. The early Christians took seriously the call of Christ to live as the salt and light that he said they already were. Matthew 5:13-16 is a wake-up call to the church today.
We find these words of Jesus about being salt and light on the heels of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11). These familiar words of Jesus are found at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s there Jesus shows us a picture of what every 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 words describe what every Christian should look like. These aren’t to mark the “super spiritual” among us. These characteristics are to mark all who follow Christ – everyday, ordinary, rank-and-file Christians. These characteristics are countercultural. They describe countercultural men and women whom Christ asserts are salt and light for a dark and decaying world.
We cannot 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? These are not the valued character traits in many places of power and influence.
The State of the Church
Yet, we sometimes find these same characteristics absent in the Church as well.
According to George Barna, the greatest problem in the Church today is, instead of the Church influencing our culture, the culture is influencing the Church. We don’t look much different from the world. Barna writes,
“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 virtually identical in many spheres of life, Barna concludes,
“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. In the Beatitudes, Christ tells us about the inward and personal character of his followers. Then he makes an important shift. He tells us it’s impossible to follow the norms of the Kingdom – to be his disciples in the world – in a purely private way. Donald Carson comments,
“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.
Our Cultural Commission
No, these countercultural 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 his teaching about salt and light, what we might call our Cultural Commission, our outward witness to the world.
Jesus develops two metaphors to give us a picture of how his disciples must, by the lives they lead, leave their stamp on the world. He calls us salt and light. This is what I call Kingdom Discipleship. Consider these questions.
I know many of you do much of this already, but can we agree we have much further to go? Jesus told us plainly that we are salt and light to a world in need. We’ll unpack in more detail what it means to be salt and light in the next two chapters.
As I conclude this chapter, I want to share this: I’m on a recruiting mission. I’m looking for a few good men and women. I’m looking for Kingdom Disciples.
What is a Kingdom Disciple? A Kingdom Disciple isn’t simply someone who has a few right beliefs about God, Jesus, salvation, and the Bible. It’s not someone who’s only concerned about his or her personal salvation. It’s not someone who merely attends an occasional worship service or Bible study, listens to Christian radio stations, says a blessing before lunch at a restaurant, or gives to charity.
Those are all good things to be sure. They’re important things. But if that’s what our view of discipleship is, then we have a truncated understanding of what it means to follow Christ and thus limit our ability to participate in transforming our culture for Christ.
Chuck Colson wrote in his book, How Now Shall We Live?, the following:
“Right after signing the contract for this book, and while still plagued by writer’s remorse (was I really convinced that this book needed to be written?), my wife, Patty, and I visited old friends for a weekend and attended their local evangelical church, which is well known for its biblical preaching. I found the message solidly scriptural and well delivered. That is, until the pastor outlined for the congregation his definition of the church’s mission: to prepare for Jesus’ return through prayer, Bible study, worship, fellowship, and witnessing. In that instant, all lingering doubts about whether I should write this book evaporated.
Don’t get me wrong. We need prayer, Bible study, worship, fellowship, and witnessing. But if we focus exclusively on these disciplines – and if in the process we ignore our responsibility to redeem the surrounding culture – our Christianity will remain privatized and marginalized.
Turning our backs on the culture is a betrayal of our biblical mandate and our own heritage because it denies God’s sovereignty over all of life.”
A Kingdom Disciple is a follower of Christ who understands that because Jesus is Lord over every sphere of life, our faith is therefore, a total, balanced, and integrated world and life view. As a consequence, such a follower of Jesus Christ lives in faithful response to that truth in the various areas of his or her life.
It’s only this kind of radical, biblical discipleship that will transform our culture for Christ. This is nothing more and nothing less than what Christ has called us to be in the Sermon on the Mount.
Our faith ought to pervade every aspect of who we are – as individuals, husbands, wives, employees or employers, church members, neighbors, citizens, and so on. The Dutch theologian, Abraham Kuyper, put it this way. He said,
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!”
A Social Religion
What if we lived our lives as though that were true? John Wesley and George Whitefield did. It’s been said that England was on its way to its own bloody revolution, like France before it, were it not for these men and the gospel they preached and lived.
They preached a gospel that took in the totality of life. John Wesley screamed from the rooftops that Christianity is a social religion. Yes, it absolutely deals with an individual’s personal relationship with Christ. That’s essential. But that personal relationship must bear fruit corporately, socially. The church is a covenant community, not a village of hermits. We must be here for one another, and as we are, we can help transform our culture.
The revivals of the early Methodists produced not only spiritual revival, but brought forth political, educational, and economic reform in England. Lives were so completely and radically changed by the gospel of Christ, that a violent revolution was avoided. This is our heritage.
Jesus declares in Matthew 28:18,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Paul says in Colossians 1:15-17:
He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (emphases mine)
Can there be any doubt that these texts, and others like them, teach that Jesus Christ is the Lord over the entire universe. And if he is, what does that mean to us? What will that truth look like in our lives? How can that truth transform, not only individual lives, but families, churches, workplaces, neighborhoods and communities, a culture, a world?
Below are two presentations that were made at Southside United Methodist Church for the benefit of our church family. The purpose of the first presentation was to communicate the merits to Southside UMC regarding why our church family should consider remaining in connection with the United Methodist Church. The second presentation sought to communicate the reasons why Southside UMC should consider disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church.
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.