25 Nov Gospel People 06 – Culture
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13 “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. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 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.
What does it mean to be Christians? Tonight’s sermon is going to be very practical. For the first half of the series, we were very doctrinal. We learned about salvation, what it means to be a new creation, our union with Christ and our worship to Christ. Last week we talk about how the gospel changes our relationship with money. Tonight, I want to talk about how the gospel changes how we live our daily lives. Belief in the gospel not only radically changes our relationship with God but it also radically transforms our relationship to the world. Now I want to be very clear that we do not believe in moralism but we believe in morality. Do you know the difference? Moralism is any teaching that say that in order for you to be loved and accepted by God, you have to do this and that. Moralist see Christian life like a checklist of things to do in order for God to bless you. Most people think of Christianity this way. “If you want to be a Christian, don’t have sex outside marriage. Don’t go clubbing. Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t steal your company’s money.” And many others. Let me be clear. This is not Christianity. God hates moralism. Moralism is antithesis to the gospel. We do not believe that good behaviours can save anyone. The message of the gospel is that none of us is good enough for God but Christ died for us to make us good.
Christians are not moralists but Christians believe in morality. “Morality is being transformed by the Spirit’s power to God’s revealed will for human flourishing” – Matt Chandler. Here is what it means. When God saves us, God does not save us to leave us where we are. When God saves us, he saves us for good works. He gives us set of values for us to live by that contributes to human flourishing. There are orders that God has set in order for us to flourish. For example, work. God has set an order from the very beginning of Genesis that in order for human to flourish, human needs to work. So, we are not created to sit around at home, play games and watch Korean drama. Pub G is a great game but you need to work. If we are going to flourish, we need to work. So, if you refuse to work and being lazy, you are acting against God’s created order. You won’t flourish by being lazy.
This is what we have in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew chapters 5 to 7, Jesus is giving his disciples a set of values for them to live by in order for them to flourish as Christians. Of course, we won’t go through all three chapters today. Otherwise we will finish the service at midnight. I want us to pay specific attention to verses 11 to 16 where Jesus calls his disciples salt of the earth and light of the world. These statements give us the big picture of what it means for us to be Christians.
Based on this passage, I want to make 10 observations. 10 observations on what it means for us to be Christians. Some of you like, “He usually only has three. But he has 10 points tonight.” And you start singing, “I gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a long night.”
So, what does it mean to be Christians? First, Christians are preservatives for the world. How many of you own more than one fridge at home? If you are student from overseas, by home I mean back home in your home country, not the place where you currently live. Most of you are student and what I know about college students is that most of you are broke. You survived weekdays by eating Indomie and drinking tap water. And go to hurricane and Korean bbq on the weekend. But yeah, how many of you own more than one fridge at home? Your parents are loaded! Why do we need so many refrigerators? It’s because we need to store foods in refrigerator to slow down the bacteria process and lengthen its decaying process. In another word, refrigerator is used to preserve food. But people in Jesus’ days did not have refrigerator. Instead of refrigerator, they used salt to prevent food from decay. The primary use of salt in Jesus’ days is to prevent decay. What Jesus is saying is that your presence and my presence in the world act as a preservative to prevent the world from decaying. And that’s the reality of the world that we live in. We must understand that the world that we live in are decaying. We live in a corrupted, decaying world. I don’t think I need to convince you much on this. The Bible is clear that ever since sin entered the world, the world is getting worse and worse. In fact, it only takes 3 chapters from the introduction of sin to the point that the world become so corrupt till God destroyed it with flood. If you are not a Bible person, all you have to do is to read newspaper to know that this world is not getting any better. Evil are getting worse by day. ISIS is getting crazier. Random shooting becomes more and more frequent. For all the talks about human flourishing through technology, the world that we live in are not getting better but worse. But in the midst of this decay, God has decided that your presence and my presence act as preservative to stop the earth from decaying. We as Christians should not blame the world for its decay. It is to be expected. The Bible is clear on that. But we should ask ourselves what we can do to prevent it?
One the ways we can prevent the world from decaying is to call sin, sin. This is obvious but it need to be said. Lots of times what happen is that we are afraid to call sin, sin. One time I was talking to a friend of mine who is not a Christian. We were talking about same-sex marriage. He basically argues that as long as they love one another sincerely, then it is not wrong. Who are we to tell them who can they love and who can’t they love? Now that put me in a dilemma. At one side, I am convinced that same-sex marriage is sin but on the other side, I do not want him to dislike me. Don’t judge me. I know you do the same thing. You know sin is sin but rather than pointing it out, you keep it to yourself because you do not want to be dislike. Here is the thing. Jesus calls us the salt of the earth. He does not call us sugar of the earth. Our presences are to prevent decay. But how can we prevent decay if we do not speak out the truth? And yes, when we do speak out the truth, it stings. But that’s how we prevent decay. People should know where we stand and what we believe and people should feel uncomfortable sinning in front of us. If you are working, your presence in the company should make people feel uncomfortable cheating in their work hours rather than you join them in cheating your clock. If you are student, your friends should feel bad about cheating on exams rather than you cheat together with them. While I’m at it, let me offend you for a bit more. I think when I sign up for this job, there is a clause that says I have to offend you once a month minimum. If you are using torrent to download programs illegally… should I continue? Let’s not downplay sin. Stealing is stealing and stealing is sin. It does not matter if everyone else does it. It does not matter if everyone cheats. It does not matter if everyone swears, steals, have sex outside marriage. Sin is sin and we need to call sin for what it is.
Second, Christians are Godly flavours for the world. When we think of salt today, we think of seasoning. It’s because that’s how we use salt predominantly. We use salt mostly to cook. Salt gives flavour. That’s why we love McDonald French fries. They are seasoned with lots of salt and we love it. This is also how they used salt in Jesus’ days. And I think this is the primary picture that Jesus is trying to communicate since he refers to the taste of salt. If the first observation is negative, this one is positive. We not only need to call sin, sin, but we also need to add Godly flavours to the world. We are called to influence the world for God. We need to show the world the kind of life that will attract the world to God. So, hear me Christians. How we live matters! How you perform at job matters. How you love your family matters. How you manage your money matters. How you conduct your life matters. The world should be able to look at the way we live our lives and is attracted by it. They might not believe what we believe but they still should be able to look at the way we live our lives and are attracted by it. They might think we are crazy for rejecting same sex marriage but they cannot deny that the way you love your wife and the way you submit to your husband are very attractive. One of the effect of salty food is that it creates thirst. Am I right? With another word, Christians ought to live in such a way that makes people thirsty for Christ. So, the question is, are we salty enough to make people thirsty for Jesus? Which lead me to my third observation.
Third, Christians are different. If we are to prevent decay and gives flavours to the world, then we must be different. Jesus says that if salt lost its saltiness, what good is it? Lots of people look at this verse and say, “Well, technically salt can’t lose its taste. It is sodium chloride.” Then some commentators try to save Jesus and say that even though salt cannot lose its taste, it can be corrupted to the point that it is unusable. But Jesus was not arguing whether salt can lose its taste or not. He is making a point that salt is useful because it is different. With another word, what good are we as Christians if we are not different from the world? This is the point Jesus is making. One of the greatest tragedy in the contemporary church is that many churches try to become like the world in order to attract the world. So, we look at what works in the world and try to adapt that to the church. If we do that, we might be able to attract crowds but we lose our original function. Christians are meant to be different. The way we think is different from the world. The way we live is different. The way we use our money is different. The way we love our family is different. Our priority is different. All of our lives need to show that Christ is our main priority in life.
Fourth, God wants to use every Christians for his purpose. I love this. So, we know that to be salt of the earth is to prevent the world from decaying, to add Godly flavours to the world, and to be different from the world. But do you realize to whom Jesus is talking to? He is not talking to bunch of impressive people. He is not talking to the most religious and influential people of his days. No. Jesus is talking to his disciples. He is talking primarily to Peter, John, and Thomas etc. And let me tell you who they are. They are bunch of unimpressive people. Matthew was a tax collector. Thomas doubts Jesus. John, all he does is telling people that he is Jesus’ favourite. Peter, where do I start? The disciples are bunch of people who argue among themselves about which one of them is the greatest while Jesus tells them that he is about to die. #wrongfocus. How much more oblivious can they get? Yet Jesus looks at this group of unimpressive people, and tells them, “You are salt of the earth. You are light of the world.” I love the fact that Jesus calls them salt and light. Salt and light are very common ordinary things. Jesus did not call them the gold and silver of the earth. The point is, God uses common ordinary people for his purpose. God can use anyone. God can use you without great talents. God can use you without a seminary degree. God can use you without a lot of money. God wants to use every Christian for his purpose. We do not need to pray, “God use me if you want.” It is God’s desire to use us. God does not need us to be impressive for him to use us. He only need us to be available.
Here is the thing about being used by God. In order for us to prevent the world from decay and add Godly flavour to the world, we have to be in the world. One of the biggest error we can make as Christians is we try to disassociate ourselves from the world. We see how corrupted and how dark the world is and we try to hide from the world. We created our own Christian circle with a Christian school, Christian restaurant, Christian café and we become very exclusive and we are proud of it. We are proud at how safe it is for us and our family to be in this Christian club. It’s like this. We try to find the cutest and best saltshaker we can find. We go overseas and buy a saltshaker that we like and use it to store salt. And here is the funny thing that we do a lot of times as Christians. We talk about how amazing our saltshaker is. We talk about our church. How church is great, how church is awesome, how amazing and how cute it is. We praise the church-shaker. But let me tell you. It does not matter how amazing that saltshaker is, the salt in saltshaker is absolutely useless as long as it remains there. Salt is only useful when it is taken out of the saltshaker and it is spread. Here is my point. Christians are useless as long as Christians remains in the church-shaker. God wants Christians in every part of the world. God wants Christians to be spread in the world. And only then Christians can prevent decays and add flavours to the world. And in order to do that, God must take Christians out of church-shaker. He must take you out of comfort zone. And do you know how he does that? God takes the church-shaker, turn it upside down, and shake it! Hear me clearly. Christians, you are not called to play safe in the church, you are called to be spread in the world. You are called to be rubbed into your school, your work, your community and stop them from going bad and add Godly flavour to them. And yes, it is painful. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it’s not easy. Yes, it’s dangerous. But that is what we are called to do. Christians do not live for their own safety but to make the world thirsty for Christ. We are not salt of the church but salt of the earth. And often times, God needs to turn our lives upside down and shake it in order for him to use us.
Fifth, Christians are destined to shine. Jesus calls Christians light of the world. Now it doesn’t take genius to figure out the function of light. Light illumine darkness. It is impossible to not see light when there is light in the darkness. One Sunday a school teacher tried to make his point by giving the kids an illustration of what it is to be light of the world. He turned off all the light in the room and asked the question, “Can you see anything?” The kids answered, ”No.” Then he turned on a small torch under his face and he asked again, “Can you see anything now?” And some kids answered by crying, “Mommy.”
Light illumine darkness. With another word, Jesus is not only saying that the world that we lived in is decaying, but it’s also filed with darkness. It is a very dark world that we lived in. When you are in the dark, you cannot see. You run into things and you hurt yourself because of it. Anyone ever wake up in the middle of the night and try to go to toilet and hit bed frame when you walk? Let me tell you, I don’t usually cuss. But my reaction when my foot hit the frame is not “Praise the Lord.” I can’t tell you what I said because then I’ll be fired after the service. The world is covered in darkness. But it gets even worse. The world not only covered in darkness but the people loved the darkness. John 3:19 – And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. This is the reality of the world that we live in. People love darkness over light. People love lies over truth. People love sin over righteousness. People love self over God. People love worldly pleasure over spiritual blessings. It’s like back in the days when I used to ride a bus and see an elderly woman standing in a full pack bus. What did I do? Let me tell you what I did most of the time. I closed my eyes or looked the other way and pretended I did not see her. When I did that, I did not feel obligated to give up my seat. Don’t judge me. You know you did what I did. This is how many people live in the world. They love to live in darkness over light. But Jesus calls Christians the light of the world. Our presences are to give light wherever we go.
Sometimes it is easier for Christians to believe that Jesus is the light but we find it hard to believe that Jesus calls us the light of the world. We are destined to shine in darkness. Are you with me? You are not destined to keep your light to yourself. You and I are called to invade dark space and made it impossible for the world not to see. So, in your school, work and every area of life, your presence supposed to bring light into the darkness. There is no such thing as invisible Christians. You are meant to stand out. God wants you to shine in the darkness. It is not enough for us to shine only on Sunday. Christians are to be light every day, every place and every time. Few years ago, someone came up to me and said, “Yos, I want to move out from my place.” I asked why. “Well, I am the only Christian in the apartment.” I asked, “Why is it a reason for you to move?” This person insisted, “Because I am the only Christian. No one there share my value. It is a very dark place. I don’t want them to influence me.” At that time, I thought it was a good idea for him to move out. But I realized now that I was a fool. If I can go back in time and re-did my conversation with him, I would give him a different answer. I would say, “It is precisely because your apartment is a really dark place that your presence there is extremely crucial.” Christians, we are not called to hide our lights. We are called to go out to darkness and shine!
Sixth, Christians are the reflection of Christ. Now let’s be careful here. At this stage, the human tendency is always thinking that we deserve the attention because we are awesome. That somehow, we are worthy of all the attention we get. Everyone want to be acknowledged and everyone want to be praised. But that’s not the kind of light that God calls you to be. Listen to what Jesus says in John 8:12 – Again Jesus spoke to them saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Jesus is the only true light of the world. So, when he says that you are the light of the world, he is not saying that we have our own light to shine with. But because we follow him, our life should reflect his light. It’s like sun and moon. Sun radiates its own light but moon has no light of its own. But yet at the absence of sun, we can see light emitted from the moon. And we know that the light came from the sun. The moon only reflects the light that it received from the sun to us. That’s how Christian’s life should be. When Jesus was in the world, Jesus was the light of the world. But now that Jesus is no longer walking in the world, he wants to shine his light in and through us. We are called to reflect the light of Christ for people around us to see. So, if people want to see what would Jesus do (WWJD), all they have to do is see us.
Let me put it in our cultural context. If people want to know what would Jesus do with LGBTQ, all they have to do is look at how Christians treat LGBTQ. Do you know what Jesus would do with LGBTQ? Let me tell you. Jesus would go to their house, eat with them and invite them to church. Or to be exact, Jesus would bring church to them. He would do Bible study together with them, love them and lead them toward repentance. But do you know what we do? Let’s be honest here. There are two mistakes that we can do as Christians. First mistake is one that I can see happen in our church. Often times what we do with LGBTQ is we demonize them. We stay away from them. We tell our kids to not go near them. And if they walk in to church, we give them ‘the look’. We treat them like infectious disease. And this is unacceptable. Christians are meant to reflect the light of Christ. So, Christians should want LGBTQ to come to church. We should love it when they come to RSI. We should welcome them, embrace them and love them. Is that mean we tolerate their sin? Of course not. We should welcome them with open arms but at the same time we should not shy away from calling sin for what it is. The second mistake that church often do is they welcome and accept LGBTQ and never speak to the reality of sin. Even worse, many churches accept LGBTQ as normal. This is not what Jesus would do. Jesus would love and welcome them and tell them to repent because he loves them. And not only that, Jesus would show them an alternative way of living that would compel them toward him. Here is the thing. LGBTQ might think we are narrow minded for calling their lifestyle a sin but they can’t help but feel attracted to the way we live our live. They can’t help but feel attracted to the way Christian husbands love their wives, the way wives submit to their husband, the way Christians love and respect one another, and the way Christians sacrifice their lives for the sake of others. They might not agree with us but they can’t help but admire the way we live our lives. Christians need to be both offensive and attractive at the same time.
Seventh, Christians will be hurt. I know this is not popular but I need to say it anyway. If you are living as salt and light, you will be hurt. Pay attention to Jesus’ words. Matthew 5:11 – Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Jesus does not say blessed are you if people insult you but when people insult you. I don’t think you can get away from it. The New Testament is filled with this warning. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12 – Indeed, all who desire to live to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Have you heard of Plato’s Cave Theory? I first heard of it in my Philosophy class back in College. His theory explained Christians persecution really well. If you do not know, you are about to know. By the way, I don’t spend my free time reading Plato. So, if you have this picture of me reading Plato while smoking cigar and thinking about the invisible laws behind the universe, you have the wrong picture. I don’t have time for that. I just happened to remember this.
Plato explained that there is a group of men chained in a cave, and there is a fire behind them. The fire casts a shadow on the wall of the cave that dances because of the flame. This is the reality that the men in the cave experience every day. Let’s say one of the men broke free from the chain and went outside the cave and saw the world outside the cave for the first time. He would be singing “A whole new world, a new fantastic point of view.” For the first time, he saw blue skies, green grass, flowing rivers and bright stars. Then in his excitement, he went back into the cave to let the others know what he experienced and told them to break out of their chains and come out. Now, what you think would happen? Plato argued that if the freed man came back and tried to convince others to walk out of the cave, they would turn on him and kill him. The men in the cave would have gotten so accustomed to the reality inside the cave that anything that looks different to the reality that they experienced would be met with anger, hostility and wrath. The same principal is true for Christians. The people of the world love the darkness and they are hostile to the light. Christians will be persecuted. Yet Jesus said we are blessed because of it.
But pay attention to the reason that Christians are persecuted. Jesus said that his disciple will be persecuted on the account of Jesus. For the sake of Jesus. This is very important. Because there is a way that Christians are persecuted for reasons that has nothing to do with Jesus. Sometimes you are persecuted not because of Jesus but because you are acting like a moron. And for that, there is no blessing. So, if you are fired from your job because you spend 3 hours praying instead of working, you are not being a Christian; you are a fool. If you do not pass your exam because you chose to help a cute Christian girl who just got dumped by her boyfriend and you couldn’t study because of it, don’t call that “I am suffering because of Christ.” No. You are suffering because you try to win some points from her. There is no blessing in that. God does not bless foolishness. God blesses those who are persecuted for Christ’s sake. God blesses those who helped drug addicts but received insult in return. He blesses those who opened their house to care for the ex-convicts, only to have things stolen from their house in return. Timothy Keller writes that “If you identify as a Christian, your reputation will be hurt.” It costs you a lot to be Christians. Christians will be hurt.
Eight, Christians bring glory to God. Matthew 5:16 – 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. There is a tension between point 7 and 8. In one sense, Christians will be hurt for the sake of Christ. Christian will experience rejection and insult. Yet at the same time, there will be others who will really be attracted by how you live your life, by your testimony of Christ, and it will bring glory to God. Christians live in this tension. Christians are both persecuted and loved for the sake of Christ. There will be unbelievers who hate you because of your love for Christ but there will be unbelievers who will glorify God because of your love for Christ. You can’t choose one over the other. If you are hated by everyone, then you are not a Christian. You are a jerk. But if you are loved by everyone, you are also not a Christian. You are a coward. This is how we are to live as salt and light. We do not escape from this world and create our own Kingdom of Heaven community. Nor do we become one with this world. We are in the world but we are not of the world. We have one foot on this world. But we have another foot on the Kingdom of God. We are offensive yet we are attractive. This is what it means to be Christians. People see your good works and they glorify God.
Ninth, Christians will be rewarded in heaven. Let me be very clear. Christians, your ultimate reward is not now but later. Do you hear me? One of the most damaging teaching in church today is what is called prosperity gospel. Nothing weaken Christians like a prosperity gospel. Prosperity gospel creates a culture where Christians do not know how to suffer. They focused so much on here and now and lose sight of what is to come. Let me give credit to prosperity gospel first before I destroy it. Prosperity gospel have one thing right. It is God’s desire to bless us. God wants to bless us. God wants to give us an un-surpassing joy. God wants to give us our best life. Yes and amen. But here is where they get it wrong. The fulfilment of all those blessings does not come now. It comes later. You do not live your best life now. You live as salt and light life now. You will be hurt in this world. You will be disappointed. You will get sick. You will be betrayed. How do I know? Just read the first 10 verses of Matthew 5. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn, meek, hunger and thirst. This sounds very different from living your best life now. That God wants you to be rich, healthy and successful. I’m not saying those things are wrong. What I’m saying is that Christian’s best life does not come now. Yes, God is gracious enough to let us experience a little taste of his blessings here and there. But that is not what we pursue. Christians pursue Christ and reflect Christ to the world. And Christians look forward to the eternal reward that we will receive in heaven. So, we do not grumble when do not experience the life that we want today because we know it is coming for us in eternity.
Tenth, Christianity is not an activity but an identity. It’s important that you get this last point right. Without this, being salt and light will be a heavy burden for you. But the gospel is good news. The gospel leads you to a path of rest and not burden. Notice that from beginning, Jesus says ‘you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.’ It is who you are. It is your identity as disciples of Christ. It is not something that you need to do in order to follow Christ. It is who you are already the moment you put your faith in Christ. Jesus is not asking you to be something else but to be true to who you already are in Christ. With another word, Jesus is saying, “be the Christian you.”
Colossians 3:3-4 – For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Listen to what Paul is saying. Every Christians, you have died! Yes, you have died. You have died to sin and your old nature. You are now a new creation in Christ. You are no longer the old you. In Christ, you have a brand-new identity. This is the gospel. The gospel does not say you need to behave in order for God to love you. The gospel says that you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. So, at this moment, God loves you the way he loves Jesus for your life is hidden in Jesus. When your saltiness is corrupted, God does not love you less. When your light is covered, God loves you the same as when you are shining bright and reflecting his light to everyone around you. The good news for us is that God’s affection for us is not based on our activity. God’s affection for us is based on our identity. And if you believe in Jesus, your identity is in Christ. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. God is reminding you that is who you are. So be one. Don’t make the mistake thinking that life of salt and light is a life of perfection. It is not. It is a life of continuous pursue of Christ. You will fall. You will stumble. But keep moving. Don’t stay there. That’s not who you are. The gospel tells you that God loves you perfectly. He does not love you less when you stumble nor he loves you more when you shine. He loves you because you are his sons and daughters. You are salt and light; therefore, be salt and light.
- Explain the difference between morality and moralism. Which one do we believe and why?
- In order for Christians to be salt of the earth, Christians must be different from the world. Explains. What number would you rate yourself as salt of the earth? (out of 10). How can you improve?
- What must happen in order for God to use us as salt of the earth?
- What does it mean to be a reflection of Christ? Give daily examples.
- God blesses those who are persecuted for his sake. Give some examples from daily life of persecution for the sake of Christ and persecution because of one’s own foolishness.
- Explain the tension between “Christian will be hurt” and “Christians will bring glory to God.”
- The Bible is filled with the promises of God to bless his people. If that is so, what is wrong with Prosperity Gospel? Can you give examples of how belief in prosperity gospel leads to devastating effects in life?