In the world but not of the world
Ye are the salt of the earth . . . . Ye are the light of the world. Matthew 5:13-14
There are some principles that emerge from these verses. The first is that the Christian is radically different from this world. Salt is different from that which it flavors or preserves. Light is the opposite of darkness. We cannot affect any change in this world in which we live if we are like it. If we are like the world, if we share its tastes and preferences and values, then we do not belong to Christ. “Such were some of you” is the eternal description of the believer (1 Cor. 6:11). Peter wrote to the Christians of his day, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet. 2:9-10).
The second principle is that the Christian is part of this world. This may seem strange to say, given what I’ve just been saying, but it’s true. It’s the paradox of the Christian life. We are in this world but we are not of it. After all, you cannot be an influence in the world if you aren’t in it. Christ does not call us to separate from this world completely; he does not call us to withdraw into our Christian ghettos. We are to be separate in the way we live, but not where we live. To withdraw from the world is to do exactly what Jesus says we must not do. It would be to put our light under a bushel. It would be to become tasteless salt, affecting no change, stopping no decay. It would be therefore to completely deny the Christian position with regard to the world and our witness to it.
The third principle is that the Christian is to be intentional in living out a life of witness to the world. This surely is the force of verse 16: “Let you lights so shine among men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” We are not just to shine our light but we are to so shine it that others see it. That doesn’t mean that we become ostentatious in our presentation. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you stand on a street corner and preach the gospel – although God certainly does call some to this work. But it does mean that we have an eye out for the lost who are around us. It means that we care about the people we live and work with. It means that life is more than just ourselves and our problems. It means that we stop living life selfishly. It means that we care about God’s global mission to advance his kingdom and exalt his name among the nations.