Impacting a world that wants to impact you
By Chris Adsit
When I was a college student, I spent part of one summer working at Maranatha Bible Camp in the-middle-of-nowhere, Nebraska. Our project was to build a big metal building that would eventually house a new dining hall. We students did a lot of the grunt work, but they brought in professionals from North Platte to actually build it. The foreman – “Bunker” – was this huge, burly dude with a bullet-bald head, handlebar mustache, an impressive canvas of tattoos before they were mainstream, and the physique and persona of a professional wrestler. He was quite a contrast among the population of Christian goody-two-shoes campers and staff – loud, bombastic, and definitely not a Jesus follower. His speech was liberally sprinkled with profanity, he always showed up in the morning looking a bit hung-over, and his interactions with us weren’t exactly the sweetest. But we loved him, suppressed our judgmentalism, obeyed his every command with enthusiasm, and worked hard. We stayed salty.
Then came the fateful morning when he was hammering – hard – on a concrete form, and rather than the normal ping of a hammer on a nail, we heard a sickening thud. We knew his thumb had just taken a direct hit, and we braced ourselves for the tsunami of screamed curses that was coming. He grabbed his left thumb with his right hand, thrust it between his legs, and stood hunched over like a giant boulder, motionless, for several moments. Was he gathering steam for a truly epic explosion? Was he about to faint? We all beheld him with wonder, edging behind large, solid objects hoping to deflect the blast.
Then a miraculous thing occurred. After a good fifteen seconds, Bunker suddenly began jumping up and down, holding his smashed thumb aloft, spinning around in circles and yelling, “DARN DARN DARN DARN DARN!!!” Our minds were blown. We had witnessed an epic transformation!
Bunker began sheepishly showing up at our chapel services at the Camp, we gave him a Bible, and he began reading it voraciously, asking us questions about the really cool s**t he’d been reading (his words).
Bottom line: the salt of the kingdom of God in us had saltified Bunker, and he committed his life to Jesus.
You’ve got two choices. If you are a Christ-follower and have tapped into God’s eternal kingdom, it’s up to you whether or not you will influence the world around you and thereby fulfill the purpose and calling God has on your life. Or you can allow the world to influence you and nullify the effect you could have on those around you who desperately need what you have. Be like Bunker, or allow God to use you to help the Bunkers of the world be like Jesus.
I’ve learned a lot about salt from the late, great David Pawson, former RAF chaplain, pastor and Bible expositor from England. He threw a bright light on the two passages where Jesus spoke of being salt.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” – Matthew 5:13
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.” – Luke 14:34,35
Most of us in the modern era assume that Jesus is talking about salt in the context with which we are familiar: as a flavoring agent or as a preservative. But what Jesus meant when He spoke of salt and its use is best seen in the Luke passage. He spoke of two normal ways salt was employed in the ancient world – to be put on the soil or to be put on the dunghill.
Salt as fertilizer. Salt was scraped up from the shores of the Dead Sea by salt merchants. It was not only composed of sodium chloride, but also contained an array of trace minerals as well. Farmers didn’t know about crop rotation in those days, and they would often deplete the soil of their fields. They found that when they mixed Dead Sea salt into their dirt, it became more productive again. The positive effect of salt: it made good things grow.
Salt as an antiseptic. No flush toilets or port-a-potties in ancient Palestine. If you felt the urge, you’d go down to a corner of your backyard, do your duty, and then you would take a handful of salt from a nearby box and sprinkle it over your dung (by the way, the Greek word used here specifically denotes human dung, not livestock manure). This helped eliminate the possibility that microbes would multiply and infections break out. The negative effect of salt: it kept bad things from growing.
This is what Jesus was talking about when He told us to be salt. As we walk with God in faith and obedience, filled with His Holy Spirit, letting our lights shine, the effect we will have on the world around us will promote the growth of good things and retard the growth of bad things. And just as Dead Sea salt will have no effect if it’s kept in the box and not mixed into the soil or thrown onto the dung heap, so Christians will have zero effect on their environment if they don’t come in direct contact with it.
When does salt lose its saltiness? You can’t change the nature of sodium chloride, but you can dilute it. If an unscrupulous salt merchant needed to expand his profits, he would often scrape up a lot of extra sand as he gathered his salt. The concentration of actual salt would become so low that it no longer had the desired positive or negative effects. That shipment of salt was useless, so the disgusted farmer or housewife would simply throw it out into the street and it would be worked back into the dirt under people’s feet.
Salt doesn’t lose its savor by ceasing to be salt, but by being adulterated and diluted by other substances.
Jesus told us that we are to be the “salt of the earth.” The word for earth in the Matthew passage is the same Greek word as soil in the Luke passage. “You are the salt of the soil” – whether it’s the place of food growth or the place of poop disintegration.
Notice He didn’t say, “You ought to be the salt of the soil,” or “Try to be the salt of the soil.” He made it clear that we ARE the salt. Jesus has no other source from which to influence the world. You’re IT – you and His Spirit within you. It won’t be the politicians, the captains of industry, the internet, the universities. It’s the Christians, and there is no Plan B. In fact, those groups of people – the ones on whom civilization often pins their hopes – are the very soil and dunghills that we need to be influencing!
We influence the world around us not by trying to be like it, but by being totally different from it. What good does it do to throw more dirt on our fields, or more dung on our dunghills? Only when we let the distinctive savor of the kingdom of God flow out of us will the world notice the contrast and be attracted to the source of that novel, God-sourced effect.
But as you may have noticed, much of the world is disgusted by Christianity, and “religious” people in general. This is mainly because the Christians claim to be something different and better, and yet the non-Christians see no difference between themselves and us. There’s a word for this: hypocrisy. When they see it in us, it validates their opinion that believing in God is meaningless. So they want to throw the holier-than-thou hypocrites out, and trample us underfoot. Salt that loses its savor will only generate contempt.
However, when a Christian acts like a Christian, doesn’t compromise with the world system, and retains his or her distinctiveness, this is attractive. Good things start to grow, bad things die off, and people who are sick and tired of the same old unsatisfying mediocrity, dead ends, and life frustrations want to find out what you have – what makes you different.
It makes bullet-headed, foul-mouthed foremen want to imitate you and tap into the unique light and strength that they observe in you. It won’t operate if we keep it locked up within the cloistered walls of our churches. Don’t gripe when you are in direct contact with the dirt – that’s where the magic happens! Jesus spent a lot of time among the riffraff, beer cans, and poker chips of His day. He loved those people. The most likely scenario in which those folks will be enlightened is tied to our presence, not our absence.
So what does saltiness look like? Jesus described it eloquently in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). In most cases saltiness is the opposite of what the world says is important:
- Poor in spirit (humble, not spiritually arrogant)
- Those who mourn (feel grieved when they oppose God)
- Gentle (meek, kind)
- Merciful (active kindness to those in need)
- Pure in heart (righteous, selfless motives; undivided loyalty)
- Peacemaker (foster unity rather than fighting)
- Persecuted (abused because you follow God)
These are the qualities the Spirit of God will produce in you and fling out onto those around you – and it will have an impact. Granted, not everyone will like your salt. But those whom God has prepared are desperate for it. To some we will smell like “the fearful smell of death and doom” while to others we will be “a life-giving perfume” (2 Corinthians 2:15,16 TLB). But either way, you’ll be used by God to either convict of sin (and perhaps motivate them to repent and seek God), or show people the path to the Kingdom.
So, make a decision today. Will you imitate the dirt and the dung around you, and allow the world to squeeze you into its mold? Or will you be salt, thrown by God on the world around you to make good things grow and bad things die? The Kingdom of God and this corrupt world needs you salty, my friend.