Let it shine

Salt and light. Two very different substances, and yet both are used to make a singular point: The life of Christ within his followers is meant to have its intended effect on the world to produce praise to God.

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Photo: Aaron Kitzo Lightstock

“Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine!” These lyrics are from one of the first songs I learned in church, “This Little Light of Mine”. And whether through sheer repetition, the work of the Holy Spirit or both, the meaning of these lyrics and the motivation to live them out stuck. I would never hide the light of Christ in my life or let Satan blow it out. Ever. I was going to shine the light till Jesus comes. Maybe you’ve sung this song with the same determination.

Jesus tells his followers: “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matt. 5:13-16, NLT).

Salt cannot lose its properties. Neither can light become something other than light. Salt will be salt. Light is light.

Salt and light. Two very different substances, and yet both are used to make a singular point: The life of Christ within his followers is meant to have its intended effect on the world to produce praise to God.

Salt of the earth

As president of Tabor College in the early ‘80s, Vernon Janzen was also my professor. On his class reading list was Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World by Rebecca Manley-Pippert. The little Sunday school song had become a college assignment! I was being prompted once again to share my faith in Jesus wherever I went, particularly outside the “saltshaker” of the community of faith. As worthless as salt is that has lost its saltiness, according to Jesus, salt left in the saltshaker will never fulfill its God-given properties or functions. It will not be good for anything.

It may seem far-fetched to us today, but salt was once used as a form of currency and had a significant and pivotal role in the formation of human civilization and the founding of cities. Wars were fought over and funded by salt. Agreements and alliances were forged with salt. And some of the earliest roads were built to transport salt.

Salt is essential to life. Humans and animals simply cannot survive without salt. How could such an essential substance ever be considered worthless? Only when it ceases to be salt, and that’s not possible.

Salt cannot lose its properties. Neither can light become something other than light. Salt will be salt. Light is light. If salt is kept in the saltshaker and not applied to food to preserve or flavor it, then what is it for? Salt has many other uses, but if it isn’t used for any of those purposes either, then what good is it? Similarly, if someone lights a candle only to place it under a basket where it will be extinguished, they have demonstrated they never intended to use the light in the first place

These two substances cannot be anything but what they are. Jesus chose them to reveal the power and effectiveness of the transformation he makes in the lives of those who receive him. Why would we receive and follow Jesus if we only intend to live for ourselves? Such “faith” in Jesus is worthless, or as James writes, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

Ready to be transformed

The salt and light to which Jesus refers is his presence within his disciples and his word lived out through their actions. It is the life they live “because of me,” Jesus says in Matthew 5:11. It is reflected by everyone who “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matt. 7:24). “By their fruit you will recognize them,” Jesus says, whether bad or good (Matt. 7:20).

Once we are made the salt of the earth, we will become salty. And once we are made the light of the world, we will dispel darkness wherever we go. We will not be able to be or do otherwise.

Jesus’ use of such elemental substances, paired with such absurd actions, is arresting. Like the disciples who first heard him, we too must seriously consider his instruction. Are we ready to be transformed in substance by faith from what we are to what he has made us to be?

There is no going back from such a decision. Once we are made the salt of the earth, we will become salty. And once we are made the light of the world, we will dispel darkness wherever we go. We will not be able to be or do otherwise.

During my younger years I hid the light and kept the salt to myself or within the boundaries of my life in church. I was afraid of what people “out there” would think of me if I shined too brightly for Jesus or rubbed non-believers the wrong way through my witnessing. I overcame those fears as I awoke to the reality that God was already “out there” in the world drawing people to himself.

He was not contained within the walls of the church, sending me and others out alone to do our best for him. No. God is alive and working in every place I might ever go and is inviting me to join him there, shining the light for all to see.

I learned that from Jesus, who in John 5:19 says, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does”(NLT).

Jesus lived his life with his eyes wide open to God’s presence and work in the world. As we step out of the church and into the world, we are not entering a “godless” place. God is already there, as Psalm 139:7-12 assures:

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

In calling us to be salt and light to the world, Jesus is not asking us to do something God isn’t already doing and is doing still. We can step into the world expecting God’s presence and power to be operating there. We can look into the eyes of people we meet outside the church and see how the God who made them, loves them and is drawing them to himself. Then we can ask God how he would like us to join him in his work in their lives and let our little light shine!

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