We are told by Matthew that after beginning His public ministry, Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” (Matthew 4:23). His fame spread. Crowds followed. Jesus went up on a mountain, sat down, and taught them. Here we find our orientation to the kingdom of God.
He began His teaching with what we call the Beatitudes, the Blessings (Matthew 5:1-12). The Beatitudes can be seen as a founding document of the kingdom of God. In them Jesus lays out the gospel of the kingdom He has been proclaiming. Those who are spiritually bankrupt, grieving over their sin, powerless to save themselves, but craving righteousness are met with the grace of God that bestows on them the blessings of salvation and kingdom citizenship.
Those who have been so blessed are expected to conduct their lives in keeping with the gospel. They are to show mercy as they have been shown mercy. Their purity of life is not to be restricted to outward show but is to flow from the heart in lives gripped by grace. They are to be heralds of peace: peace with God and the peace of God bound up in the gospel.
That kingdom charter in place, Jesus moves on in His teaching to the first order of business for those who belong to His kingdom (Matthew 5:13-16). We as citizens of heaven are to be distinct from the world in which we find ourselves. That distinctiveness is for the reason of gospel influence.
Our Lord communicates our distinctiveness through two metaphors. He call us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As we live out the gospel, under the lordship of Jesus Christ in this world, we will slow down decay and enhance the flavor of life in our Father’s world. Our lives are to serve our Lord and manifest His kingdom. We who are light are to be light, walking in that which is good and right and true.
Jesus warns us that our influence will not be easy. We are in the world but not of the world. The sin that remains within us and the fallen world around us work to compromise our saltiness and dim or even hide our light. In the founding document of the Beatitudes, our Lord has alerted us to persecution. As citizens of heaven we are conscripted to battle with a contrary kingdom and spiritual foe. We fight not with the sword of steel but spiritual weapons (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-6; Col. 2:6-8).
Our salt can be compromised through hypocrisy, rendering us ineffective and a non-factor in slowing decay and promoting the savor of the gospel. Just look at prominent evangelical leaders who have fallen. Their witness lies shattered. We can do the same, but with less notoriety extending only to our reach of influence—family, friends, coworkers, community. Such contaminated witness is trod underfoot as unimportant and irrelevant. When we as Christ’s disciples look like the world, losing our gospel distinctiveness, we cease to have an influence.
In this day we encounter the challenge of two schools of thought that lay siege to our witness: modernism and postmodernism. Modernism says, “It isn’t true.” Postmodernism says, “It doesn’t matter if it’s true.”
In His call to gospel influence, Jesus says we are not only not to hide our light, we are to put it on a stand for prominence. The approach of Modernism is to knock our lamp off the stand and replace it with its own “truth,” whether that relates to inerrancy of the Bible or exclusivity of Christ as the way of salvation. Postmodernism takes the tact of allowing our lamp to remain on the stand, but also permits other lights of “truth” to stand beside us, even if those truths contradict one another. Modernism tries to push out our witness. Postmodernism tries to drown it out.
If we regard the Beatitudes as the founding document of the kingdom of God, akin to the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States for our nation, then His call for us to be the salt and light we are can be seen in terms of a pledge of allegiance of citizenship.
Those who would become naturalized citizens of the United States of America take an oath. It begins this way:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…
That, in essence, is what our Lord Jesus is asking of us. He is calling us to renounce all allegiance to the kingdom from which He has delivered us. He is calling us to bear true faith and allegiance to Him and to seek His kingdom and righteousness as we live as citizens of heaven in this world under His lordship.