“You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). In this statement, Jesus is not only speaking to His disciples, but to all of us who acknowledge the authority of His teaching. Jesus compares our function on the earth to that of salt. His meaning becomes clear when we consider two familiar uses of salt in relation to food: salt gives flavor and salt restrains decay or corruption.
Salt gives Flavour
As Christians, our function as salt is to give flavor to the earth. God enjoys this flavor. Unappetizing food becomes tasty and acceptable when seasoned with salt. Job asks this rhetorical question: “Can flavorless food be eaten without salt?” (Job 6:6). The presence of salt makes the difference, causing us to enjoy food we would otherwise refuse to eat. Our presence makes the earth acceptable to God and commends the earth to His mercy. Because we are here, God continues to deal with the earth in grace and mercy rather than in wrath and judgment. Our presence makes the difference. This principle is vividly illustrated in the account of Abraham’s intercession on behalf of Sodom, as recorded in Genesis 18:16–33. Abraham first established a principle that was the basis for what followed: It is never the will of God that the judgment due to the wicked should come upon the righteous. “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” Abraham asked (verse 23). “Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (verse25).
The Lord makes it clear in the ensuing conversation that He accepts the principle stated by Abraham. How important it is that all believers understand this! If we have been made righteous by faith in Christ and are leading lives that truly express our faith, then it is never God’s will that we be included in the judgments He brings upon the wicked.
Salt restrains Decay
Before discovery of refrigeration, sailors who took meat on long voyages used salt as a preservative.The process of decay /corruption was already at work before the meat was salted. Salting did not abolish the corruption, but it held it in check for the duration of the voyage so that the sailors could continue to eat the meat long after it would have become inedible.
Our presence on the earth as Christ’s disciples operates like the salt in the meat. The process of sin’s corruption is already at work. This is manifested in every area of human life—moral, religious, social, political. We cannot abolish the corruption that is already present. But we can hold it in check long enough for God’s purposes of grace and mercy to be fully worked out. Then, when our influence is no longer felt, corruption will come to its climax, and the result will be total degradation. This illustration from the power of salt to restrain corruption explains Paul’s teaching in 2 Thessalonians 2:3–12. Paul warns that human wickedness will come to its climax in the person of a world ruler supernaturally empowered and directed by Satan himself. Paul calls this ruler “the man of sin [or lawlessness]” and “the son of perdition” (verse 3). In 1 John 2:18 he is called “Antichrist,” and in Revelation 13:4 he is called “the beast.” This ruler will actually claim to be God and demand universal worship. Emergence of this satanic ruler is inevitable. Paul says with certainty, “Then the lawless one will be revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:8). Paul also declares in the same verse that the true Christ Himself will be the one to administer final judgment upon this false Christ—“whom the Lord will consume with the breath [or spirit] of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.”
As the salt of the earth, we who are Christ’s disciples therefore have two primary responsibilities. First, by our presence we commend the earth to God’s continuing grace and mercy. Second, by the power of the Holy Spirit within us we hold in check the forces of corruption and lawlessness until God’s appointed time.
In fulfi lling these responsibilities, the Church stands as the barrier to the accomplishment of Satan’s supreme ambition, which is to gain dominion over the whole earth.