“Ye are the salt of the earth. But if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.”
— Matthew 5:13
Our theme text is found in the Beatitudes of our Lord in Matthew 5. The Beatitudes are statements of fact about the character and Godly life of all true Christians and the divine blessing which abides on them. In particular, the immediate context speaks about the crosses borne by Christians, according to the truism of Scripture: “All that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12). Just prior to our theme text the Savior declares: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12). The blessing of God, His gracious and empowering Gospel-benediction, abides on His true disciples as they live out their Godly lives in the midst of evil men and seducers (II Timothy 3:13), “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation” (Philippians 2:15). We are to view such persecution properly: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you. On their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God. And if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (I Peter 4:12-19). The trials which shall come upon Christ’s true followers, His genuine disciples, are simply part of the permissive will of God for our benefit! God uses all of them, according to His wise will, to strengthen our faith through His Word so that Romans 8:28 prevails: “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” The chief thing His disciples must, by the grace and power of God’s Spirit, keep in mind is this: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
So, in this context of the blessing abiding upon His persecuted followers, as they continue to live Godly in Him, in well-doing, for His cause and to His glory, their God-given task is to remain who they are! Who are they, in reference to their present position? The Savior says: “You, my persecuted flock, are the salt of the earth.” At once, the figure strikes! What is more obvious than salt? We all recognize the taste sensation! In ancient times salt was such a valuable commodity that soldiers were paid their compensation as “salary” (Latin: “pertaining to salt”) – the sum given to buy salt, or even wages paid not in silver but in salt!
What does the Lord mean here that His true disciples are “the salt of the earth?” Remember the context! Living in the world, but not of the world, the believers are hated for what they stand for (God’s Word of Truth) as evidenced by their words and deeds. Their very existence in the world, who they are, stands out and sets them apart from those of the world. The world treats Christ’s own as they treated Him! The Lord explained this in John 15: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own. But because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you: The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also” (vv. 18-20). So the point of comparison is simply this: In this world of unbelief and gross outward sin, the children of God, in faith and life, are distinct! They have a taste, a flavor, a “saltiness,” which is only true of them and of no other people. It is the “savor” or taste (saltiness) of salt that is the chief point here. True Christians are a distinct, unique flavor in the earth! It is what they are. It is inherent in their converted state.
How did this come to be? Christ choose them out of the world and made them His own! He graciously made them all they are, in His grace, through the converting and preserving Gospel! Every passage which declares God’s converting grace can here be cited as proof! In particular, we have the following: “You hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins, wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience; among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved); … For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-5, 8-10). “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God; which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conversation honest among the Gentiles, that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works which they shall behold glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Peter 2:9-12).
As long as a person is a true convert, a genuine Gospel believer, he will be “salt” in this present world. God has made him so! What a true Christian has to offer, as a believer, is entirely unique due to the fact that the Christian is the only, true and saving, religion! Only true Christians are “salt,” because what made them Christians is the saving truth of God — the only hope for the fallen inhabitants of planet earth!
How does the “salt” character of a true believer manifest itself to the world? This question may be easily answered by asking it this way: What do true believers say and do in their daily lives that is unique, a savor or flavor which only they have? They confess Christ in word and deed as the only Savior of all mankind! They live lives of consistent Godliness, showing that what they believe in their heart (the Gospel) drives and motivates them to genuine Godliness!
For example, take the abiding principle of rightly dividing Law and Gospel (II Timothy 2:15). A true believer will be “salt” by testifying to the evil, reproving the sin, preaching God’s law to the impenitent, unmoved by the fear or favor of men! “Who is he that will harm you if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye; and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled, but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear, having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ” (I Peter 3:13-16). “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Colossians 4:6). In our day of “political correctness,” when former vices are legalized and protected as “rights” under the civil laws, when so-called Christian churches are full of ungodliness and false doctrine, the true Christian remains “salt.” He speaks the truth in love, Law and Gospel. He desires only one thing and will risk life and limb to see God’s universal will of grace fulfilled! He desires what His Savior desires: the conversion of sinners! True Christians are enabled by the Gospel to heed the exhortation of Jude: “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference; and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (vv. 20-23). We cannot lose our character, our saltiness, as long as we remain in the true faith! And we shall remain in the faith by the gracious, preserving work of God through His ordained means of grace, the Gospel and Sacraments. Hence, just after the exhortation cited above, Jude concludes with this doxology: “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God, our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (vv. 24-25).
And this brings us to the second part of our theme verse: “But if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13b). This is a warning, pure and simple, not to lose your identity, what you are, as His own — not to fall from grace, not to become unbelieving!
Since saltiness is inherent in salt, the only way an individual Christian could end up without it is to fall from faith, as, for example, during a time of persecution. Does this happen? Sadly, yes. The Lord spoke of it and to it in the Parable of the Sower: “These are they likewise which are sown on stony ground, who, when they have heard the Word, immediately receive it with gladness, and have no root in themselves and so endure but for a time. Afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the Word’s sake, immediately they are offended” (Mark 4:16-17). By this warning the Lord is telling us of the danger of literally losing ourselves due to the persecution of the world, the devil and our own sinful flesh — their hatred and what flows from their malice. The Apostle Paul feared for the Galatians in the same regard and asked them if they really wanted to return to their former state — a state described by our Lord as “salt” having “lost his savor” and therefore become “good for nothing,” fit only to be “cast out and to be trodden under foot.” “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” (Galatians 4:9).
Why would we want to do that? Return to the bondage of sin and Satan? Why would we, once enlightened, turn to darkness again? Why would we, who have tasted of the heavenly Gospel-gift of imputed righteousness and forgiveness, who have by faith been made partakers of the Holy Ghost and have tasted the good Word of God, the sweet grace of salvation, and the powers of the world to come, fall away and put our Savior to open shame by crucifying to ourselves God’s Son afresh?! (See Hebrews 6:4-6).
Rather, let us, solely by the grace of the Gospel, remain steadfast, as those “sanctified by God the Father and preserved in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1), holding fast “the common salvation” (Jude 3) and heeding the exhortation that God directs to all His own, “earnestly [to] contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3), remaining what God has made us, namely, “the salt of the earth”! God grant us this for Jesus’ sake.
— E. J. W.