How Does The Christian
Influence This World?

On a bright sunny day, when you first walk into a dark movie theater, you usually remark about how dark it is. If there was no usher to show you to a seat, you probably had to stand in the back for a few minutes until the darkness seemed to clear and you began to see again. Before long, you could see without difficulty. Indeed, you seemed to be able to see normally. "Normally," that is, until you walked out into the sunlight again and the bright glare forced you to cover your eyes.

We Christians are often in the same predicament. We live in a dimly lighted world, where sin is the rule and not the exception. And yet we are really children of the light. We must always be on our guard that we do not become so accustomed to the darkness of our world that we think it is normal and conform to its guidelines. It is not normal. The dim moral and spiritual insight of the world is not the standard that the Christian is to walk by.

Key Verse: Matthew 5:13-16

The world can be divided into two kinds of people:

First, there are the believers who are indwelled by God because of Christ. The other group consists of the unbelievers of this world. They are proud, self–sufficient, and do not understand their own unrighteousness before a Holy God. Before we can discuss how a believer can influence the world, we have to examine what type of people are believers. Jesus describes these people in the verses immediately preceding verses 13-16. We have come to know these verses as the Beatitudes. Let’s read them.

Matt 5:3-12

3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 "Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me.

12 "Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Believers are called blessed. Makarios (blessed) means happy, fortunate, blissful. The fullest meaning of the term has to do with an inward contentment that is not affected by circumstances. That is the kind of happiness God desires for His children, a state of joy and well-being that does not depend on physical, temporary circumstances. This attitude is reflected when Paul says in

Phil 4:11-13

11 Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.

12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

The word blessed is often used of God Himself, as when David ended one of his psalms with the declaration "Blessed be God!" (Ps. 68:35). Blessedness is a characteristic of God, and men can only be characterized this way when they share in the nature of God. There is no blessedness, or contentment and joy of the kind which Jesus is talking about here, except that which comes from a personal relationship to Him. Being blessed means having God’s nature within. 2 Pet 1:4 tells us that it is through Jesus and his magnificent promises that we become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

So, to be blessed is not a superficial feeling of well-being based on circumstance, but a deep supernatural experience of contentment based on the fact that our life is right with God. Blessed people are the people who realize their spiritual helplessness, show sorrow over sin, and who are meek (or balanced between extremes), hungry for God’s righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, ridiculed, persecuted, or slandered because of Christ. Blessed people are the ones who make up the kingdom of heaven. The great blessings emphasized in verses 3-12 lead to the great responsibilities of verses 13-16 to be salt and light in the world.

The world needs salt because it is corrupt and it needs light because it is dark. G. Campbell Morgan said, "Jesus, looking out over the multitudes of His day, saw the corruption, the disintegration of life at every point, its breakup, its spoilation; and, because of His love of the multitudes, He knew the thing that they needed most was salt in order that the corruption should be arrested. He saw them also wrapped in gloom, sitting in darkness, groping amid mists and fogs. He knew that they needed, above everything else,… light" (The Gospel According to Matthew [New York: Revell, 1929], p. 46)

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The biblical world view is that the world is corrupted and decayed, that it is dark and darkening. Paul stated in 2 Tim 3:13 that "Evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." Man is infected with sin, which has no cure apart from God. The world loves its own way and hates God’s way. However, because of Christ, believers are no longer "fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers" (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Rather, believers "are washed . . . sanctified . . . justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11). Indeed, believers are "a people for His own possession" (Titus 2:14) who are observed by unbelievers.

Therefore, it is the difference in our character that distinguishes us from unbelievers. The believer influences the unbeliever by what he is, not by what he has. Turning our attention to verse 13 we see that Christ did not say, "You have salt and light to dispense," but rather "You are the salt. . . . You are the light of the world" (Matt. 5:13, 14). The believer’s very presence in the world acts as salt and light, preventing corruption and exposing error. The only question, as Jesus goes on to say, is whether or not we are tasteful salt and effective light

2 Cor 2:14-16

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.

15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing;

16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?

Returning back to Matt 5:13, the "you" in both verses is plural. It is His whole body, the church, which is called to be the world’s salt and light. Each person has ones own limited influence, but the church collectively is to have an influence throughout the world.

Christ is the source of our savor and of our light.

John 1:9

9 There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.

John 9:5

5 "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

But now that He has physically left this world for a time, His light now shines through us.

Eph 5:8

8 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light

Col 1:13

13 For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,

We are God’s salt to retard corruption and His light to reveal truth. God has changed us from being part of the corrupted and corrupting world to being salt that can help preserve it. He has changed us from our own darkness to be His agents of giving light to others. By definition, an influence must be different from that which it influences, and Christians therefore must be different from the world they are called to influence. We cannot influence the world for God when we are worldly ourselves. We cannot give light to the world if we revert to places and ways of darkness ourselves.

Now salt is often used as a preservative. Rubbed into meat, a little salt will slow decay. Strictly speaking salt cannot lose its saltiness; sodium chloride is a stable compound. So what was Jesus talking about when he talked about the salt losing its saltiness? Most salt in the ancient world derived from salt marshes or the like, rather than by evaporation of salt water, and therefore contained many impurities. Much salt in Palestine, such as that found on the shores of the Dead Sea, is contaminated with gypsum and other minerals that make it taste flat and even repulsive. The actual salt, being more soluble than the impurities, could be leached out, leaving a residue so dilute it was of little worth. When a batch of such contaminated salt would find its way into a household and be discovered, it was thrown out. People would be careful not to throw it on a garden or field, because it would kill whatever was planted. Instead it would be thrown onto a path or road, where it would gradually be ground into the dirt and disappear.

Jesus is not speaking here of losing salvation.

John 10:27-28

27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;

28 and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.

Christians cannot lose their salvation, just as salt cannot lose its inherent saltiness. But Christians can lose their value and effectiveness in the kingdom when sin and worldliness contaminate their lives, just as salt can become tasteless when contaminated by other minerals. So Jesus is implying that His disciples have a particular function to perform on earth, and if they fail to perform it, they might as well not exist for all the good they will do. Since the disciples are spoken of as the salt of the earth in the same context of the Sermon on the Mount in which they are also spoken of as the light of the world and a city set on a hill, it is evidently their public life that is in view. They must be seen by others as living examples of the power and grace of God, examples which others are encouraged to follow.

Light, too, is in danger of becoming useless. Like salt, it cannot lose its essential nature. A hidden light is still light, but it’s useless. That is why people do not light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on a lamp stand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. A light that is hidden under a peck-sized basket is of no use at all to the person hiding it or to anyone else. Rather, the light should be placed on a lamp stand where it can give light to all who are in the house.

And so Jesus concludes by telling His disciples to let their light shine before men in such a way that they may see their good works, and glorify their Father who is in heaven (vs.14). The word for "good" that Jesus uses here emphasizes attractiveness and beautiful appearance. The purpose of letting our light shine and reveal our good works is not to bring attention or praise to ourselves but to God. Our intent should be that, in what we are and in what we do, others may see God in order that they may glorify [our] Father who is in heaven. Everything we do should be done to cause others to give praise to God who is the source of all that is good. That is the kind of salt and light God wants His kingdom people to be.

Now, for us as believers to be effective in this world, we have some things to consider. First, remember that salt comes from the earth. What is one characteristic of the earth? It is made up of dirt and dirt is dirty. Another thing to remember is that every believer is earthly. We still inhabit "dirty" or fleshly bodies. 2 Cor 5:1 describes our earthly bodies as an earthly tent that we live in. Now we have learned that salt must be removed and separated from the earth in order to reach its purest form of saltiness. Does this mean that as believers, we must be physically removed and separated from the world, or our bodies, that we live in? Well, Jesus didn’t say that directly. On the contrary he said in John 17:15-18:

John 17:15-18

15 "I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.

16 "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

17 "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.

18 "As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.

So, lest we become like salt to be thrown out, as long as we indwell these earthly or "dirty" bodies, we need to remember that:

Col 3:1-5

3:1 If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.

3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

1 John 2:15-17

15 Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

17 And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever.

And,

2 Cor 6:14-18

14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?

15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?

16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

17 "Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate," says the Lord. "And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you.

18 "And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me," Says the Lord Almighty.

Lest we need any further motivation to this end, see 2 Cor 5:9-10

2 Cor 5:9-10

9 Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.

10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

Separation from the world is a very important duty. In closing today’s lesson, I want to make points of application from J.C. Ryle’s book, Practical Religion, from his chapter on The World. I think that these points can be related to our topic of being salt and light in our world.

Separation from the world has always been one of the evidences of God’s work of grace in the heart. Those who have really been born of God’s Spirit have always separated from the world, whereas those who are Christians only in name always refuse to come out and be separate. The subject is especially important today, because many are trying to make Christianity as easy as possible and to avoid the need for self-denial.

The world is a source of great danger to the soul. By "the world", I do not mean the physical world in which we live. When I speak of "the world" I mean those people who think only, or mainly, of the things of this world and neglect the world to come – those who think more about the body than the spirit, more about pleasing men than about pleasing God. By "the world" I mean these people, together with their way of life, their opinions, their tastes, their ambitions and their outlook. This is the world that is dangerous to the soul. This is the world from which we must come out and be separate.

What does God’s word say about this matter? (Ryle gives several verses of which we don’t have time to read, but I will give you the references you can look up later. Romans 12:2, 1 Cor 2:12, Gal 1:4, Eph 2:2, 2 Tim 4:10, James 4:4, James 1:27, 1 John 2:15-17, 3:1, 4:5, 5:4, and 5:19, John 17:16, Matt 13:22, John 8:23, 14:17, 15:18-19 and 16:33)

These texts speak for themselves. No rational person can deny that they teach that "the world" is the Christian’s enemy. Moreover, Christian experience confirms this. The greatest damage to Christ’s cause is love of the world. Thousands who think they are Christians get shipwrecked here. They do not deliberately choose evil, or reject any biblical doctrine. But they love the world and must keep in with it. It is their love of the world which leads them down the broad way of destruction.

Let me now show you what separation from the world does not mean. It is important to be clear about this, for sometimes we can do great harm by acting on a false understanding of what separation from the world means.

When God says come out and be separate, this does not mean that we should give up our work in the world. Cornelius the soldier, Luke the doctor and Zenas the lawyer are examples of men in secular work. In fact, it is sinful to be idle, and idleness often leads us into temptation. We must not give up any occupation (unless it is sinful in and of itself) out of fear that it will harm us. That is lazy and cowardly conduct. What we ought to do is to take our Christianity with us into our places of employment in the world.

It does not mean that we should have nothing at all to do with unconverted people. Our Lord and his disciples went to a marriage feast. They had a meal in a Pharisee’s house. In 1 Cor 10:27, Paul tells us how to behave if an unbeliever invites us to a feast. He does not tell us not to go. We must not cut ourselves off in this way from opportunities of doing good. If Christ is with us wherever we go, we may be the means of saving others without harming ourselves.

It does not mean that we should take no interest in anything except religion. Some may think it very spiritual to neglect science, art, literature, and politics, to read no books except spiritual ones, to read no newspapers and to know nothing about the government of their country. I think that is an idle and selfish neglect of duty. Paul valued good government (1 Tim 2:2); he quoted heathen writers in his sermons; he knew the laws and customs of the world, as we see from his illustrations. Christians who pride themselves on ignorance bring religion into contempt.

It does not mean that we should be eccentric in our dress, manners, or voice. We should never attract attention to ourselves by these means. There is no reason to suppose that our Lord and his disciples dressed and behaved differently from others of their own society. The Lord condemned the Pharisees for "making broad their phylacteries and enlarging the borders of their garments" so as to be "seen by men".

It does not mean that we should retire from society and live in solitude. We cannot keep the devil out of our hearts by retreating into a corner. True Christianity and unworldliness are better seen when we manfully stand our ground and show the power of grace to overcome evil, than when we forsake the post where God has placed us.

It does not mean that we should withdraw from every church that is imperfect. In all Paul’s letters we see the faults and corruption of churches reproved, but Christians are never told to leave those churches because they were not perfect.

We need to consider these six points carefully. Many people make mistakes in relation to each of them, and much misery and unhappiness is caused by those mistakes. Here are two pieces of advice (especially if you are a young Christian). First, remember that the shortest path is not always the path of duty. We may think it right to quarrel with all our unconverted relatives, cut off all our friends, withdraw completely from society, give up every act of normal courtesy and devote our self entirely to the direct work of Christ. It may satisfy our conscience and save us trouble. But often it is a selfish, lazy, self-pleasing way to behave.

Second, if we want to come out from the world, we need to beware of a sour, unattractive, gloomy and unpleasant way of behaving. We need to strive to show others that our principles (whatever they may think about them) make us cheerful, agreeable, good-tempered, unselfish, considerate of others and ready to take an interest in everything that is innocent and good. Let there be no needless separation. In many things we must be separate. But be careful that it is the right kind of separation.

So, what does separation from the world really mean?

  1. We must consistently refuse to be guided by the world’s standard of right and wrong. We shouldn’t do things just because everybody does them. Our standard must be the Word of God alone.
  2. We must be very careful how we spend our leisure time. This is very important, for often our leisure time is a time of temptation. We need to be careful how we spend our evenings, and make sure that we always make time for quiet thought, Bible reading and prayer.
  3. We must consistently resolve not to be swallowed up and absorbed by the business of the world. As Christians we must strive to do our earthly business to the very best of our ability. But we must not allow it to come between us and Christ. If our earthly business begins to encroach upon our Sundays, and to crowd out Bible reading and prayer, then it is taking over our life.
  4. We must abstain from all entertainments that are inseparably connected with sin. This is a difficult subject, but one we need to consider. The fact is that some entertainments may be innocent when considered in and of themselves. But we must also consider whether in practice they are inseparably accompanied by sin. If so, we must abstain from them.
  5. We must be moderate in our use of lawful and innocent recreations. We all need recreation, both for our bodies and for our minds. But even good and right recreations become wrong when they take up too much of our time and attention.
  6. We must be careful about friendships and close relationships with worldly people. I am not saying we should have nothing to do with unconverted people. But intimate friendship is quite a different matter. If we choose for our close friends people who care nothing about salvation, or Christ, or the Bible, we will hinder our progress as a Christian. We should be able to realize that our unsaved friend’s tastes and ways are not the same as ours, and we will have to choose between the two. And it is particularly important to realize this when it comes to choosing a husband or wife. We cannot possibly choose a worldly partner without doing immense harm to our spiritual life or happiness. If you are not yet married, make it your resolve that you will not even consider marrying someone who is not a decided Christian.

What should we do when we are uncertain how to apply these principles in a particular situation? First, we should pray for wisdom. Then remember that God’s eye is always on us. He will help us make the right choice. We need to ask our self which course of action we would want to be found pursuing when Christ comes again. Also, it is helpful to consider how other holy Christians have behaved in similar circumstances. If we cannot clearly see our own way, it is not wrong to follow good examples.

I’ll close with a story. Before the colonialists imposed national boundaries, the kings of Laos and Vietnam reached an agreement on taxation in the border areas. Those who ate short-grain rice, built their houses on stilts, and decorated them with Indian-style serpents were considered Laotians. On the other hand, those who ate long-grain rice, built their houses on the ground, and decorated them with Chinese-style dragons were considered Vietnamese. The exact location of a person’s home was not what determined his or her nationality. Instead, each person belonged to the kingdom whose cultural values he or she exhibited. So it is with us: we live in the world, but as part of God’s kingdom, we are to live according to his kingdom’s standards and values.