Jesus taught that those who believe in him are, and are to be, salt and light in the world [Matthew 5:13-16; Luke 8:16-18].

In our concentration on the words ‘salt’ and ‘light’ it is easy to overlook the fact that Jesus calls his followers ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’. We are ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the context of the world and in contrast to the world. We are not salt that is sealed away in a packet or a candle shining unnoticed in brilliant sunshine or hidden and unseen under a box. We are light shining in the darkness of the world. We are salt permeating and penetrating the earth.

We are salt and light. Whether we like it or not, our very existence as the church places us in direct contrast with and in direct confrontation with the world. Our existence as the church of Jesus Christ challenges the world with the reality of his existence.

We also need to consider the implication of that little word ‘the’. Jesus calls his followers the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Not one light among many other lights. Not one among many salts. If we are to understand this in its obvious absolute and exclusive sense then we have to understand that Jesus means that there is no other salt and no other light for the world but us, his followers. This involves the church in an extremely heavy missional responsibility. If other light and other salt exist the missional responsibility of Christ’s followers would be considerably diminished, weakened and relativised. But Jesus’ words here indicate that his followers are the only light, the only salt, for the world, that he has put on the shoulders of the church this confrontational and disturbing identity and responsibility of being the light and the salt in the world.

It is interesting in this context that the missional activity of Christ’s followers, his church, in which Jesus sets us ‘on a hill’ visible to the world and in stark contrast to the world, is not our proclamation but our lives: ‘let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven’. Yes. We will be proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ, but that message will be disempowered and discredited if our lives contradict it. It is when the world sees our ‘good deeds’ that they will believe our message and by their repentance and faith praise God our Father.

Peter puts it this way: that we, the church, should ‘declare the praises of him who called us’ and should ‘live such good lives among the pagans that … they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’ [1Peter 2:9,12].

We, the church, are to so live in the world that those among whom we live will glorify God. This is our purpose and this is our mission.

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2009