We continue our series of messages through the gospel of Matthew. We are in chapter five of the so-called “Sermon on the Mount’ – the sermon extends through chapter seven. Here are verses 13 through 16 of chapter five:
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)
Salt was an important commodity in the days of Christ. Among its varied uses, people used salt to preserve food, especially meat, which quickly spoiled in hot environment. Salt was used then, as now, to enhance the flavor of foods. And it was used to prevent infection from developing or spreading. Salt was so valuable that Roman soldiers often received their wages in salt. You’ve probably heard the expression, “He’s not worth his salt.” Well, that might be where the expression originates.
In Jesus’ day, most of the salt (chemically, sodium chloride) came from the Dead Sea. But much of it was often mixed with other chemical compounds which diluted the useful properties of the salt. That’s why the Lord’s audience would have immediately understood His reference to salt in this passage: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? So, in other words, if the salt loses it ‘saltiness’, “It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”
So, Christian – how is your salt? And I ask the same question of myself. Jesus created us to be salt, so that through our words and our life and our lifestyle He might use us to preserve others from being spoiled by the surrounding godless culture, to enhance the ‘flavor’ of true Christian faith, and to prevent the spread of sin’s infection through the culture and perhaps especially its spread through people in our circle of influence.
That is why I need to make sure – and YOU need to make sure – that our saltiness is not diluted by the culture or by false and godless teaching within the culture and even within a growing number of churches. As St Paul wrote, these are those who hold “to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. (2 Timothy 3:5). And as the Lord Jesus said, we are IN the world, but we are not OF the world.
So, what kinds of things can dilute our saltiness? One answer is that when our beliefs about the infallibility, inerrancy, and full inspiration of God's word are at variance with what the prophets, apostles, and all the other writers of Scripture say about Scripture. That is one thing that distinguishes true Christianity from false Christianity, often called cults. ANY group that denies the full authority and inspiration and infallibility of Scripture is teaching falsehood and heresy.
Now, one might call that circular reasoning – we believe the bible is God's infallible, inerrant, and inspired word because the bible says it is. And were it not for the many historical evidences of Christian faith, such an argument would be quite valid and unassailable. BUT – of all the events that have occurred in history that prove to the honest seeker that the Scriptures are the very words of God, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the supreme evidence of the infallibility, inerrancy, and inspiration of the Bible.
If Jesus did not rise from death on that third day, then NOTHING He said about the full inspiration of Scripture, or anything else He said about faith and morals, can be relied on.
But because He did rise from death, then what the sinless Son of God said about the scriptures, about life, death, heaven, hell, sin, and judgment must be considered fully and inerrantly true.
For the sake of time, here are only two examples of how the Lord Jesus understood the Scriptures: John 10:35 -- Jesus told the religious leaders the Scriptures ‘cannot be broken’ (annulled, dissolved, done away with) (John 10:35). And in His so-called ‘High Priestly Prayer’ He asked the Father, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). In other words, the Lord Jesus told His apostles – and us in 2022 – God's Word is truth. In other words, the second Person of the Holy Trinity said God’s Word equals truth. And it is only by that truth that anyone can be sanctified – set apart by God for service to Him.
Put yet another way, it is only through belief in, obedience to, and the proclamation that God's word EQUALS truth that we retain our saltiness.
But as one should expect, Satan, knowing the absolute critical nature of our belief in the complete inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, Satan has always – even from the Garden of Eden – introduced destructive heresies that cut at the heart of that truth. Remember his temptation of Eve in the Garden? He seduced her, introducing the poisonous seed of doubt: “Hath God said?”
There are several similar dictionary definitions of the word ‘heresy.’ Essentially, heresy is a teaching which runs counter to Biblical truths and which, if believed, will lead the person to eternal damnation.
Church history is replete with damnable heretical beliefs such as Gnosticism, Arianism, Marcionism, Docetism, and others. We cannot take the time during this message to examine them. If you are interested, a simple internet search will pull up pages and pages of early church heresies. But let’s focus attention on some modern heresies which if believed, will lead a person to eternal damnation.
Heresy number one: The Bible is infallible only when it speaks of morality and faith. It is not infallible when it speaks of history, or geography, or astronomy, or biology, or whatever else. In other words, God doesn't know as much about those subjects as we now know.
Heresy number two: This heresy goes by the names of Restorationism, or Universalism. This heresy claims that all people will be saved, or that we may ‘reasonably hope’ that all people will be saved. Why? Because God is a God of love, and He will not send anyone to an eternal lake of fire. But proponents of this heresy – and there are a growing number of such false teachers and preachers promoting this heresy – proponents must answer the questions, “Why did Jesus have to die? Why did the apostles die martyr’s deaths because they proclaimed in Jesus humanity’s only hope of eternal life? Why did Jesus warn so often about hell?”
Heresy number three: Jesus is a created being, which is a heresy adhered to by Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the original Mormons. This heresy that Jesus is a created being first appeared in full form in the 4th century, promoted by a renegade bishop names Arius. But here are some recent statistics about modern Arianism which ought to grab our attention.
According to recent surveys of self-professed evangelical Christians, 88% believe that Jesus is fully human and fully God. BUT, said another way, 12% do not believe that fundamental doctrine of faith. Furthermore, 22% said God the Father is more divine than Jesus. Nine percent weren’t sure.
Sixteen percent believe Jesus was the first creature created by God. Eleven percent of evangelicals ‘were unsure.’
As for the Holy Spirit, more than half of self-identified evangelicals believe the Holy Spirit is a ‘force,’ and not a Person. Seven percent weren’t sure. Nine percent said the Holy Spirit is less divine than God the Father and Jesus. Another 9% answered “not sure.” Bottom line: Only 42 percent affirmed that the Holy Spirit is a Person.
All of this means that an overwhelming majority of EVENGELICAL Christians are Arians in their theology about the nature of God.
Heresy number four: According to another study, 36% of self-identified evangelicals believed that we partly contribute to EARNING our place in heaven by doing good deeds. This is exactly what St Paul railed against in his letter to the church at Galatia, and what he wrote to the Christians in Ephesus that we were all “dead in our trespasses and sins,” God, in His love, “made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:1-5).
Do you see how our salt can lose its saltiness and become useless for Christ and His work through us? If we accept any of these heretical positions, then where shall we stop? The resurrection of Jesus? His substitutionary atonement for our sins? The wages of sin? Is ANY of it true? And we wonder why Jesus was what some would call ‘harsh’ to say that those who have diluted the Truth will be cast out to be trampled underfoot by others?
And there is yet another common pattern many Christians follow that result in a loss of saltiness. What is that? By consistently failing to match our walk with our talk.
If we compromise what we know are God's commandments for a holy lifestyle, if our walk does not match our talk, then we dilute the message of the gospel. And when we dilute God's message, then we might be better off not saying anything about our faith. When our lifestyle consistently does not match our talk, we give the nonbeliever reason to mock Christ and Christian faith.
Here is how St. Paul wrote about that point to the Christians at Rome: “But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God . . . you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:17, 21-24)
Every Christian – Catholic and Protestant – would do well to pay heed to what Pope Paul VI wrote in 1965: "Believers can thus have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. [When they] are careless about their . . . faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they … .conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of [Christian faith].
I’ve known people – and I suspect so have you – who attended church regularly but lived with someone outside of the marriage commitment. I’ve known those who attend church regularly and who have had an abortion – or two – and have never repented of their damnable sin. I know of those who regularly attend church but who vote for politicians who support and promote abortion. I know those who regularly attend church and who support so-called ‘gay marriage’ and all sorts of other sexual sins.
And they then dare to call Jesus their Lord and, in so doing, make a mockery of the bloody sacrifice He made for them – for us – on Calvary.
In the same Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave what is a very ominous warning to all who persistently live lifestyles that belie the gospel message:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
I will always remember an incident that happened to me nearly 50 years ago. Fifty. It seems like it occurred last week. My friends and I went to a nearby cafeteria for breakfast. When someone distracted the cashier at the front door, I sneaked by and hurried to the food line. I still don’t know why I did it. I had very recently become a Christian, but easily fell back into old patterns. As I piled food onto my tray, I dismissed my nagging guilt. When my friends joined me a few minutes later at our table, I bowed my head and silently gave thanks to God for my food. That’s when Tom snickered, “Look at Maffeo. He sneaks in without paying, and then thanks God.” They laughed with sarcasm. But I wanted to crawl under the table.
So, that’s all the bad news. But there is GOOD news available to all of us, even and perhaps ESPECIALLY to those who have lost their saltiness.
The things that are impossible for men and women – making diluted salt salty again – is possible for our God.
What is the remedy to the bad news? How can the crooked be made straight again? How can even the most seriously compromised Christian be made right again in God's eyes?
I hope we all know the answer to those questions. Confession of our sins to God, repentance, and a purposeful and consistent turning away from the crooked path and toward the straight one.
Here from Ezekiel: “But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live. Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:21-23)
And from 1 John 1:8-10 – “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
God is serious about sin. He is serious about His judgment of sin and the sinner. He is serious about saltiness. We will see next week He is serious about our light in a dark world.
BUT He is JUST AS SERIOUS about His superabundant willingness to forgive the penitent and to purge every molecule of sin’s stain from his or her record. God wants so much to reconcile you and me with Himself that He gave us His Son as our sacrificial substitution on that cross. The Father cursed Jesus so He would not have to curse us (Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23; Matthew 27:46). The Father made Jesus OUR SIN, so that He could then make us the very righteousness of God Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Why would anyone linger to come to God, to repent of their past sins and to turn away from what they are doing wrong today?