American diplomat, philanthropist, and social activist Elihu Burritt said, “No human being can come into this world without increasing or diminishing the sum total of human happiness, not only of the present but of every subsequent age of humanity.”
We influence. We don’t have a choice in the matter. Whether we are popular or unknown is irrelevant. Our influence can be good or bad. When we live for Christ, we have a good influence. Inconsistency and complacency, on the other hand, lead to a bad influences.
Christians have an awesome responsibility to have a good influence on others. Our actions could determine someone’s response to the Gospel. Although we must influence, we cannot reflect the lifestyle of unbelievers. John wrote, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them” (1 John 2:15).
As believers, we carry the message of life by permeating the world as salt does food and light does darkness. We reflect Christ in our words and actions. But to do so requires some things on our part.
Recognize the Problem of Sin
Jesus’ command to influence presupposes something is wrong with the world system and with others. Our world needs salt and light. It needs salt because it is corrupted with wickedness. It needs light because it is overrun by the darkness of sin, a condition that will get worse. Paul wrote, “Evil persons and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).
Advancements in technology, medicine, and other areas don’t negate our sinful nature. The sin nature often leads to using good things in bad ways. More knowledge can bring more wickedness.
In Noah’s time, the people’s wickedness was so great God couldn’t stand it so he sent a flood. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5).
Not long after, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah became so wicked that God destroyed them with fire and brimstone.
David recognized his sinful nature and wrote, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).
Humanity is not evolving to a higher level of goodness, but sinking to new levels of wickedness. We are affected by sin and contribute to the problem. The world needs salt and light that believers can bring.
The philosophy of Communism is based on the supposed goodness of the individual. Creating the right circumstances will let that goodness rise to the top. Everyone will work for the good of the other, and all will have what they need. Class distinctions will disappear as well as rivalries. While the philosophy sounds good, it won’t work because it is based on an errant premise: humanity is inherently good.
Dominate for Christ
Jesus says we are salt and light. It’s not a matter of whether we are or not. The question concerns our effectiveness. A better translation might be, “You are the only salt of the earth, and you are the only light of the world.”
This puts a tremendous responsibility on us. Salt can kill, enhance, and preserve. Rock salt can kill grass, but table salt is good on food and can be used to preserve meat. Christians are separate from the world, but also a part of it. We are the only hope the world has.
Sadly, we often let others influence us. The ways of the world get into the church when the church needs to get in the world. The good news is that Christ doesn’t ask us to do this alone. We are not individual grains of salt or rays of light. We are a collective influence joining hands. But the influence must be different from what it influences.
Salt was important in the ancient world. Romans were often paid in salt. Salt was used as a mark of friendship and in the binding of a covenant.
But what did Jesus actually mean? We should live pure lives and add an attractiveness to the Gospel. We should sting the lost with the Gospel like in an open wound. More importantly, we are to act as preservatives that retard or hinder the spiritual spoilage around us.
Believers should exhibit a good spiritual influence. The world should be a better place because of us. It was said of Helen Ewing that “She left the fragrance of Christ wherever she went.”
Light is designed to illuminate what it shines on. Jesus was the light of the world, and we are his reflections who spread the message and make our light noticeable.
Jesus said, “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.”
Resist the Danger of Failure
Salt can’t really lose its saltiness, but it can become flat through contamination with other materials.
We cannot not be salt, but we can lose our effectiveness by being influenced rather than influencing. By becoming complacent.
Nor can light not be light, but we can hide our light and become useless. We can become indifferent, loveless, and careless.
Remember Our Purpose
Our purpose is to glorify and praise God by being salt and light for him, and then by leading others to do the same.
The story is told of the French pietist Francois Fenelon whose communion with God was so great that his face shone. One skeptic, who doubted this, spent the night in an inn with him to verify this truth. The next morning, he hurried away saying, “If I spend another night with that man, I’ll be a Christian in spite of myself.”
Martin Wiles is an author, pastor, English teacher, and freelance editor who resides in Greenwood, South Carolina. He is the founder and editor of the internationally recognized website, Love Lines from God (www.lovelinesfromgod.com). Wiles is the Managing Editor for Christian Devotions and an Administrator/Editor for Vinewords.net. He has authored seven books. His most recent is Don’t Just Live…Really Live.He has also been published in numerous publications. He is the husband of one, the father of two, and the grandfather of six.