“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
The Lord calls us to be agents of his kingdom in the midst of a broken world. As Jesus said in the sermon on the mount, he calls us to be salt and light. But if we aren’t obedient to him, if we lose our “saltiness” or fail to allow the light of his truth to shine through us, then we fail in the mission to which he calls us.
It has been wisely said that the Lord calls us to be in the world but not of the world. This is the central message of 1 John 2.15-17: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
There is a great need for the Christian community to recognize the truth of the gospel of the kingdom. There is a profound difference between a salvation-oriented gospel, and a kingdom-oriented gospel.
Salvation is eternally, enormously important, but salvation is not the goal of the Christian life, it is simply the beginning of it. Jesus did not bring the kingdom to save us; rather, he saved us so that we can serve in his kingdom. When the church focuses too much on salvation, it loses sight of the call and commision to be agents of the kingdom. When the church focuses too much on salvation, it risks becoming self-oriented, myopic, and internally focused.
The purpose of salvation is to redeem you from sin and restore the image of God in you so that you can be salt and light in the world. The purpose of salvation is to return you to the purpose for which the Lord created you: be an effective agent of the kingdom of God in your time and place in history.
There are three dimensions of the image of God that are restored in us through salvation, and all three dimensions are necessary for being salt and light in the world:
- Character: the moral dimension. Obey God’s commands.
- Connection: the relational dimension. Love people.
- Competence: the functional dimension. Be exceptional at your daily work.
The purpose of the church is to equip people to grow in all three dimensions. The challenge is that the church focuses on the moral and relational, but is terribly neglectful of the functional. As a result, the Christian community has not developed the core competencies, nor has it earned the credibility, to contribute to the central functional elements of American society. The church is simply not on the functional playing field in America.
The church has abdicated functional training and skill-building to secular institutions, which has contributed to the decay of American culture. Without the wisdom and guidance of objective truth from the Creator, secular institutions build competence and skill on a philosophical foundation that rejects objective truth and morality.
The result is competence without character, which is disastrous for our society.
The church needs to be redirected. It needs to be reformed into a fully engaged disciple-making community. A true transformational community that equips the people of God to be the people that God calls us to be. Every church needs to ask itself: How are we equipping people with the skills they need to be effective in their jobs Monday through Friday?
How can a church claim to “make disciples” if it doesn’t address and equip its members for the primary activity that they engage in Monday through Friday?
Spiritual stagnation happens when people are satisfied with simply being saved. When people mistakenly think that salvation is the goal of the Christian life, when in fact it’s simply the beginning of the great journey. When they are grateful for the forgiveness of sin, but then seek comfort and convenience. When they want what Jesus does for them, but aren’t nearly as interested in what Jesus is trying to do in them and through them. When they want the blessings of grace but not the disciplines of grace.
The church in America in all its diverse and various forms has lacked wisdom in the way it has engaged modern (and now postmodern) society. Many elements of the church copy the popular culture, while other elements of the church condemn it. But we are failing to do the one thing that God calls us to do, which is create culture in our respective spheres of influence.
We must create culture that reflects the reality of the Creator. We must be fully engaged in the culture-shaping institutions of our society: business, the arts, education, science, healthcare, athletics, government, media. That requires the church to become a true disciple-making community that equips all Christians to grow in character, connection, and competence.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5.17-20)
Trust God and do the work.