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Salt and Light – Part 2


You are like salt for the whole human race. But if salt loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it is thrown out and people trample on it. You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house.  In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16 Good News Translation)



In our previous post we touched on what it means to be ‘salt’ in our world. Now, we will scratch the surface of being a light in our world. What does it mean to be light? We start with the gospel of Jesus, the evangelion, the message.


In the first century the Roman Emperor would send out communiqués and these announcements were called Evangelions. The Caesars considered themselves as saviors, as Lord. Through their wise and just political administration there would be the Roman peace. But this Roman peace would only be an earthly peace at best. The Roman Emperor, through force of arms and sheer power could basically control the social conditions in the world that they ruled. With the stamp of a hobnail boot rebellion could be crushed. With a force of power and law cultures could be changed, but for all of his considerable power as an Emperor, he could not touch the hearts of his subjects. He could not reach into their soul and change a heart that longed for total freedom and autonomy. Such reach is beyond any man.


This ability to reach beyond the grasp of any man is precisely the strength and power of the Christian evangelion: Christ changes the heart. This power, to seep totally into the hearts and souls of men, effects change on a deeper far more reaching level than simple politics can ever do.


We can legislate the basic morality in our laws that uphold the respect of persons and their property as we see in the Ten Commandments.  We can vote on the basis of our basic moral convictions on marriage and abortion. We as Christians, however, should be very careful in any attempt for political alliance or power. Christians don’t need political power; we need lives submitted in all areas to the lordship of Christ.


This is a key concept to remember as our culture moves more and more post-Christian and more and more progressive. Recently the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a new study that shows that the United States no longer has a Protestant majority and that the number of Americans with no religious affiliation is on the rise. Based on this survey and others, if you were to take the numbers of traditional Protestants along with those who now align themselves as nondenominational, the percentage would be 52%. If you take the nondenominational out of the equation Protestants now number less than the majority at 48%. The study goes on to say that up from 15% five years ago the percentage that now considers themselves as having no religious affiliation is 20%. Those unaffiliated are not seeking new religious organizations; they are simply staying away.


According to the report there are potential political implications as well. Voters who described themselves as having no religion vote overwhelmingly Democratic and support abortion rights and gay marriage at a much higher rate than the US public at large, so the study makes the conclusion that the religiously unaffiliated are becoming as important to the Democratic Party as the evangelicals are to the Republicans. The staggering statistic is that fully one third of adults under the age of 30 show themselves as having no religious affiliation and that they have no particular interest in returning to the spiritual fold.


It is the increasing impact of this group under 30 that may have dynamic ramifications on the laws that govern our culture and the next generation. The trend of our culture is increasingly individualistic. Although we have had an individualistic identity since the inception of our nation there was always a sense of community and community responsibility. The basic unit was the extended family and the local community. Over time this has metamorphized from a unit mindset to a self needs mindset. This shift in thinking is happening in a manner that is more exclusive of others even the family unit to which the person may ‘belong’. The locus is increasingly selfish and this will continue to impact private and public behavior to the disregard of others. In short there will be increasingly self-centered selfishness. There will be more of the enthronement of the quotation mark ‘I’ the middle letter of the word sin.


How does this matter in the political realm you ask? The centeredness to self is the very foundation of the philosophy behind the book Atlas Shrugged. Atlas Shrugged was authored by the founder of the modern egoist philosophy, Ayn Rand. Egoism is anti-Christian. No other conclusion can be drawn when the philosophy is carefully examined. In its simplest form egoism is the enthronement of self. In the human heart there is a throne for one.


Only one.


Either Christ is enthroned on our hearts or ourselves is enthroned. The throne will not seat two. What does this mean practically? Certainly to the extent that self is enthroned potentially the needs and the good of others suffer. Ideas have power and we must be careful as to which ideas we entrust our hearts and souls to.


Rand’s Egoism has made inroads into modern conservative political thought as a counterpunch to socialism. Ayn Rand rejected the collective philosophy of Communism but she did not reject the atheism of Communism, not by a long shot. She correctly understood that her philosophy would only allow a kingdom of self, not a kingdom of God. In other words, Rand would neither render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s nor would she render to God the things that are God’s. Under Rand’s philosophy, the intrinsic value of human life will be removed. Increasingly, in Western culture human life is devalued. The two possible extremes of political systems, Communism and Egoism (rugged individualism on steroids) leave the intrinsic value of human life in the trash can in the pursuit of autonomy.


A generation ago most of us would’ve never thought we would see a day where the definition of marriage, for example, would be up for cultural grabs. Billy Graham said as much recently. Yet today in the marketplace of ideas there is disagreement on marriage and its definition. All things being equal, apart from another Great Awakening this progressive trend will most likely continue. Our culture is moving to a more secular position.


It is easy for conservative Christians in particular when confronted with the movement away, legally and culturally from traditional Christian perspectives to panic. Certainly, those of a more conservative bent feel that these issues have great impact upon the stability and longevity of our nation. However the answer to angst over the redefinition of marriage and other institutions must be carefully considered. To be sure many states have passed laws that define marriage traditionally although there are states that have moved the opposite direction. The battle for marriage ultimately does not come down to law but to the heart. If the attitude itself that pushes for a more liberal marriage law stays unchanged the law will be changed anyway. So for conservative believers, if a choice is made to focus all of their efforts in the political they run the risk of selling the birth right in the spiritual realm. The answer to our cultural concerns is not to establish Cromwell’s England or Calvin’s Geneva and if we forget that we are forgetting the pervasive power of the gospel to change hearts. It cannot be said enough that changing the heart is the crux of the matter for the gospel.


In all of this cultural uncertainty we must trust the sovereign God who does all things right. There is every evidence to show that my granddaughter will live in a culture somewhat, if not greatly, removed from my own. Honestly this does concern me as a society that focuses more on the ‘I’ instead of the ‘We’ is under increasing fracturing pressure for all vital relationships. It is the opinion of this writer that over time we shall see an increased marginalization of the Christian faith in the American culture. We will see more animus directed against our Lord as we are increasingly considered reactionary and even socially obstructive. This animus will come simply for what we believe: that there are eternal truths and this is God’s universe, that there is truth that is unchanging, not based on the foundation of people’s acceptance or agreement. In other words there is truth that transcends popular appeal or majority vote. Our best answer will be the transformative power of Christ, the one who changes and re-creates, the one who demands fealty to His ways; the God who changes us completely from the inside out.


That a potentially difficult time for the church is coming should not take us off message for what is right and good and godly. On the great social issues of the day where we have an opportunity to make a difference at the ballot box we should do so. We are in a democracy and we should exercise the right of this democratic process that God has so graciously granted us. We can call for laws that promote justice and restrain evil. We must keep in mind however that we may not win ‘our way’.


As we see the changes in our society we need to bear in mind that a candle shines brightest in a dark room. The onus on the church truly is not to fight for increased political power, certainly not on a church institutional level. We must avoid at all cost any notion that salvation for a culture proceeds from the ballot box. The early church did not push for political clout; they evangelized to show Christ and him crucified. The apostles and early Christians shared the good news with the end in mind of bringing people into the kingdom of Christ. The point of all that we do as believers is to reflect the love, the gracious mercy, the righteousness of Christ. It is in being a reflective mirror of our Lord that our true work lays.


Do we understand that concept of being reflective, of being a mirror? When we say we are a light, the light that shines is not our own light. Jesus himself said he is the light of the world; it is his light that we share through a reflective process. And how we reflect is truly the question. Perhaps this is best answered in Matthew’s account of the end of the age found in chapter 25 verses 31 and following.


Make no mistake this is a scene of justice and judgment and a time of terror if you be on the wrong side of the equation. Notice what Jesus does not say here. Jesus does not say Come thou blessed of my kingdom because you had a Masters degree in theology. He does not say, come because you were on the front lines of the social debate of the day, be it abortion, or the definition of marriage, or the authority of the state on health-care or whatever the current hot-button item is.


What Jesus cares about is our treatment of those in need in and outside of the body of Christ. You gave food and water, you clothed people, you visited those imprisoned either on a hospital bed or those behind bars and you greeted the stranger and gave them community…simple, mundane everyday tasks that simply conveyed to another human being that they matter both in your sight and in the sight of God. Our light will shine in this darkening culture. It will shine as Christ is lived out into and through our lives daily.


People do not care about our academic degrees or our political action; they do care if we walk in the Holy Spirit and show the fruit of the Holy Spirit.


What do we mean when we say ‘walk in the fruit of the Spirit’? Do we show love rather than enmity? Do we show joy as opposed to dissensions and strife? Is the daily work of our lives patience, kindness and are we truly good in the best sense of the word? Do people see self-control? Can they see gentleness in our demeanor?


There will always be people who hate the light of good actions because they themselves are frankly evil and wallow in that evil. There is a certain conviction of sin that goodness radiates. The good seed of the gospel will never penetrate the hearts of those who are truly hardened against God. However, the good seed of the gospel in people who live in the Spirit will germinate in the soil of the hearts of others. We are new creatures, being re-created in His image and as we abide in the vine that is Jesus we will show His likeness, His character, His light.



Copyright © 2012 Brian Bailey, Author