13 December 2017

Grace & Truth: Salt and Light

In Matthew 5:13-16 the Lord Jesus Christ refers to the Church, i.e. all Christian believers, as ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’. His teaching makes clear that the world around is fallen, it is decaying because of sin and in spiritual darkness. In ancient times there were no refrigerators or freezers, so salt was used because of its properties as a preservative. It slowed down the decay of meat and fish. In using the metaphor of light, our Saviour is teaching that the world is a dark place; men and women have become blinded because of sin.

These verses also teach that the life of a Christian must be radically different from those around us. While the culture may be dark and decaying, the Christian is to act as light, shining in and exposing the darkness. As salt we are to be a savouring and restraining influence, confronting the decay.

Thirdly this passage teaches that the Christian’s duty to be salt and light is on certain conditions. Salt that loses its flavour is good only to be thrown out. Similarly a Christian who lives and behaves like an unbeliever cannot be an effective influence for Jesus Christ on those around them. But neither can a Christian who is ashamed to be an influence. A Christian who hides their light under a bushel provides no light for this dark world to see.

Those who know Jesus Christ as Saviour are called to be salt and light for Him and to live Godly lives that impact upon the culture around us. Here in Northern Ireland we have much to be thankful for. Christians in a past generation exercised a Godly influence upon the culture. We still enjoy many gospel freedoms and liberties that remain even to this day.

When liberty of conscience and freedom to share the gospel are under attack in our Western societies it is easy to become discouraged. The imposition of Godless laws upon our nation can seem overwhelming. But let’s remember that not every unGodly piece of legislation or public policy makes it onto the statute book.

In recent years some truly awful proposals have been lobbied for by quangoes and officials in various state-funded agencies in Northern Ireland. For example:

The Equality Commission has publicly supported recommendations that would extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland, effectively allowing abortion on demand.

Back in 2007 the Northern Ireland Office launched a consultation on the sexual offences laws. Their document included proposals to legalise minibrothels and to give 13-year-olds a legal right to have sex with other teenagers.

Three years ago the Children’s Commissioner instigated a judicial review of the law on physical punishment to make it a criminal offence for parents to smack their own children. According to press reports at the time the Commissioner spent £200,000 of public money on this legal action, which was rejected by the courts.

Last year the Department for Social Development published consultations on Sunday trading and Gambling. Measures put forward included allowing large stores to open 24-hours-a-day every Sunday, and permitting casinos to operate in Northern Ireland.

In 2009 the Charity Commission unveiled guidance for charities in which it argued that churches whose membership policies were not ‘sufficiently open’ could have their charitable status removed.

Many ordinary people in Northern Ireland would find these policy proposals ridiculous and offensive. Certainly these proposals are in conflict with the teachings of the Bible. So let’s imagine what could have happened if Christians in the Province had remained silent on these issues. Imagine if believers had retreated into their churches and refused to challenge the wrong thinking and false ideas being promoted in the public arena. Imagine if these proposals had become law.

Northern Ireland could be a place today where:

– abortion is effectively available on demand

– brothels operate lawfully

– 13-year-olds have a legal right to have sex with other teenagers

– responsible, loving parents are prosecuted for smacking their own children

– large shops and stores are open 24-hours-a-day every Sunday

– casinos are being set-up

– churches are losing their charity status for holding to Biblical terms of membership

Northern Ireland could be a place where all of these things are legal … but thankfully it is not that place. God has been merciful to us.

As these terrible policies have been promoted by state funded bodies many Christians have prayed and acted. Christians have responded to public consultations, contacted their politicians, spoken out on radio phonein debates, and written letters to the newspapers. Many have taken seriously the Bible’s call to pray for those in authority.

Yes there have been setbacks and disappointments on a number of issues. Some Godless laws have been introduced. But the prayers and the actions of Christian believers in being salt and light for Jesus Christ has had a restraining influence. It has protected the good of our neighbours, the vulnerable, and the unborn. Taking a firm but gracious stand as salt and light for the Lord Jesus Christ, has, under God, made a difference for good here.

Callum Webster