The following was reconstructed from Sermon notes. This sermon was originally delivered at Unity Faith Chapel [now Pettyville Christian Church] on December 1, 2002.
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” -Matthew 7:21-27
I would encourage you to read the entire Sermon on the Mount, especially after this message. The Sermon ends with that warning; it begins with what we’ve come to call the Beatitudes and the Similitudes. We will look at the Similitudes today, found in Matthew 5:13-16:
“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
The first of the two Similitudes involves salt. Now, I’ve heard “salt” explained as a lot of different things. For example, we know that salt purifies, preserves and enhances flavor. Yet I think the point Jesus is trying to make here is much more basic: There is something distinctive about salt that makes it salt. Salt is salty. If salt isn’t salty, it’s not salt; it might be dirt! A website called JoyfulHeart.com notes the following, which may help shed further light on this passage:
“The salt the Israelites obtained was often impure, mixed with alkali salts from around the Dead Sea. Water could leach out the sodium chloride, leaving the other salts intact, so that it looked like salt but tasted insipid.”
For those of you who left your thesaurus at home, “insipid” means “lacking in flavor; tasteless; dull; flat; lacking interest.” Salt that ain’t salty is like pyrite [fool’s gold]: pyrite looks like gold, but it’s well nigh worthless.
There’s something distinctive about the Christian faith. Without this distinctive quality, we aren’t really Christian at all. We may look and talk like the real McCoy, but in truth we’re something else entirely. Please note that I’m not trying to cause you to doubt your salvation here, but I am urging you to examine yourself to see whether you’re really of the faith [2 Corinthians 13:5]. I want you to make your calling and election sure [2 Peter 1:10]. As they used to say, If they put you on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
Look at it this way: Suppose I claim to be rich. If I gave convincing arguments, you might be tempted to believe my claim. I could act the part, talk the part, even look the part. I could be careful to be seen with the right people and at the right places. If I were really convincing, I could fool you perhaps indefinitely… until you bothered to look in my pockets and my bank account, that is! The qualities distinctive to being materially rich are lots of money and possessions. I do not possess these distinctive qualities. I’m not rich; quite to the contrary!
The point is that that what makes us distinctive as Christians is not what we do. There’s more substance to it than that. It’s not that we pray, fast, preach, attend a house of worship, do good deeds and witness. It’s not that we believe and profess a creed. It’s not that we try to live a good life. It’s not that we abstain from sin and harful habits. After all, other religions do these things.
So what is it that makes Christianity different?
This brings us to our second Similitude: Light. The first thing I’d like to point out from the text is that our Light is to shine in such a way that men may see our good works. Works is a sticky issue for many Christians. We are not saved by works obviously. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it abundantly clear that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works. Salvation is the gift of God. Salvation is received, not earned by faith:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Yet James 2:14-22 makes it abundantly clear that faith without works is no faith at all.
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?”
If you truly believe something, you will act on it! If you believe that lightning will soon strike your seat, you will find somewhere else to sit. If you believe it will rain, you will carry an umbrella. You might say you believe it will rain, but your doubt will be as obvious as your lack of preparation.
James’ assessment of the relationship between works and faith reminds me of a story told of Blondin. It is said that Blondin once crossed Niagara Falls several times on a tight rope while pushing a wheelbarrow. A crowd formed to watch the feat. At long last, it is said that Blondin asked the crowd if they believed he could cross the Falls with that wheelbarrow again, and of course they said they did. They had, after all, seen him accomplish this very thing just a while ago. They all claimed they had faith in his abilities, but he revealed their faith to be a sham by making the simple challenge to “Get in the wheelbarrow.”
James pointed out [verse 22] that faith is made perfect by works. The word rendered “perfect” here in the original Greek means “complete.” It becomes clear that we need both faith and works, for works are an outward expression of an inner condition [cp. Matthew 7:16-20]. Furthermore, it is surprising to some Christians to find that we are saved for a purpose, to do good works:
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” -Ephesians 2:10
God has foreordained that we should walk in good works, just as God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). Now if God ordains something, it happens – so we should expect it!
At this point, you should be asking yourself where we get this Light that is to shine in such a way that men may see our good works. Note that our good works and our Light are separate entities in the context of our text. The simple answer is that the Light we shine is Reflected Glory.
Consider this. 1 Peter 2:9 notes that God has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Darkness is where we were. Light is where we are. God is Who got us here. Note that it is HIS marvelous light we are called into. This matches up to Jesus’ testimony to Nicodemus that God didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, for the world was condemned already by the fact that Light came into the world, yet men prefered darkness because their deeds were evil. [John 3:17-19].
The problem is that by ourselves, we’re like flashlights without batteries. We’re not sufficient of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God [2 Corithians 3:5]. We have no light of our own, nor the power to produce it.
The Bible identifies Jesus as the Light [John 8:12]. Too, many note that passages such as Psalm 119:105 identify the Word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, but even this points to Christ, who is identified as the Word made flesh [John 1:1, 14]. 2 Corinthians 3:18 makes the picture much clearer:
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Our reflected light is the result of beholding His face. As the moon reflects the light of the sun, but has no light of it’s own, we reflect the glory of God. When the moon is full, we see the most of the sun’s reflected glory, but what’s going on during a new moon or a crescent moon or a gibbous moon? The moon gets in the way of the sun’s light and casts a shadow on the Earth. Have you ever heard a more perfect description of our walk with God? Whenever God’s glory is reflected imperfectly, it’s because we’re standing in the way. The more we get in the way, the less light we reflect. How many of us are gibbous? half moons? crescents? How many of us would have to be honest enough to admit that if anyone were to look your way they would only see a black disc in the heavens, barely discernable against the starlit backdrop? How many of us could honestly say we’re at full reflection?
Another way of saying “beholding His face” is “looking at God.” We look at God through His revealed Word, the Bible. Unfortunately, a lot of us don’t read our Bibles. I don’t blame you. It’s not safe! It will change you! It will transform you “from glory to glory!” In other words, bit by bit, level by level, we’re changed until we are conformed to the image of His Son. You were born in a moment, but it takes a while – through infancy, toddlerhood, childhood and adolescence – to reach maturity. There’s a reason salvation is refered to as being born again!
Here’s why reflecting His Light will change us from glory to glory. When we read the Bible, we are forced to come to grips with God as He is. We’ve re-invented God. This God is satisfied with what little attention we give Him. He’s willing to overlook our little pet sins. He’s OK with us using His Word to beat the world and other Christians senseless. He’s OK with being used. We’d prefer God as a vending machine or Santa Claus. Some of us prefer the other extreme: God as a small-minded bookkeeper keeping track of our rights and wrongs or a Galactic Cop who loves nothing more than to catch us red-handed and make our life miserable and send us off to Hell. But ALL of us would prefer a God we can figure out and predict.
But there’s only one true God and the Bible tells us all about Him. The God of the Bible isn’t so neatly defined. For example, in John chapter 4, God approaches a Samaritan woman who’s had several husbands and is currently living in sin… and treats her like an equal. Jews didn’t talk to Samaritans. Jewish men didn’t talk to women they were’nt kin to. Devout Jewish men certainly didn’t talk to someone with her track record! If this woman came to your church, how would you treat her?
He sent a man who was only just a moment ago demon-possessed to be His first missionary [Mark 5]. This guy wasn’t just a little demon-possessed; the demons in him were Legion and when cast out of him, these devils sent 2,000 pigs screaming into the sea! There’s no missions agency on this Earth that would send this guy forth to preach His Word. Would you send a guy like him to tell people about Jesus? [For the record, it was successful. If you doubt me, see Luke 8:39-40]. We’d like to think we would, but would we? The parable of the Prodigal Son strikes a chord with many of us who’ve wandered far from God and returned, but how many of us resonate with the older brother in the story? Giving the prodigal son a ring on his finger was like giving him the family credit card back in those days. Would you trust the guy who’d just wasted half the family fortune with that ring the moment he got back? A lot of us have a hard time wrapping our minds around this, but God knows that he who is forgiven much, loves much [cp. Luke 7:36-50]. And a man who loves God much can do much for the Kingdom!
When we see God as He really is, it leads to personal repentance and godly fear, not arrogant judgmentalism. The prophet Isaiah cried “Woe unto them!” six times in chapter five of the book that bears his name, but in chapter 6 he saw a vision of the Lord on His throne, high and lifted up, and his immediate response was, “Woe is me!” [Isaiah 6:1-5] The fear of the Lord is not a popular subject in the church today, yet the Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom [Proverbs 9:10] and that we ought to work out our salvation with fear and trembling [Philippians 2:12]. Respectable Christians protest that the word fear ought to be rendered respect or reverence. Hogwash! Men who water down these passages want a tame God. Had they the slightest idea of the omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence and utter otherness of a Holy Creator God, they’d full well comprehend that word fear should be rendered, well, fear. Or would they have us say it is a respectful or reverential thing to fall into the hands of the Living God [cp.Hebrews 10:31]? A view of the God who is, the God revealed in Scripture, would cure them of taking such license with the plain meaning of His revealed Word.
The bottom line is: when we read the truth of God’s Word and evaluate our lives by it, we will be changed. From glory to glory, we rid ourselves of the stuff of earth and reflect greater amounts of His Light.
Nevertheless, we must not forget that the ultimate purpose of our reflected Light is to bring glory to God. Men must see our light in order that they might see our good works and glorify God for it. Christianity is not a private religion, so we do not need any more undercover Christians. No fair turning on the Light when you get into the church building and turning it off when you leave. Make sure the Salt gets out of the shaker! It does nobody good in there.
1 Peter 3:15 commands us to:
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”
Buut men do not ask after what they do not see. Do they see Christ in you, the hope of glory [Colossians 1:27]? Or just another rleigious nut? There ought to be something about the Light we reflect that draws us toward it – something that compells them [cp. Luke 14:23]. But if our Gospel be hidden, it is hidden to them that are lost [2 Corinthians 4:3]. God is glorified when we bear much fruit [John 15:8]. And the trick of it is that we cannot bear fruit on our own. We must abide in Him in order to bear any fruit at all [John 15:4-5]. To bear fruit, our roots must dig deep – those of us who aren’t reading our Bibles daily are only scratching the surface [cp. Psalm 1:1-4 and Mark 4:13-21]. To bear fruit, you must overcome the temptation to succumb to the “cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches.” Nothing must distract us. We must abide in Him. The Spirit will yield the harvest of at least love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance in your life [Galatians 5:22-23].
So what is it that makes Christianity distinctive? different? I’m not going to tell you. I want you to read your Bibles for yourself.
This will outrage some of you. We want the preacher to feed it to us. That way, we can say he was preaching at us [and nevermind whether it was true]. We can say it was just his opinion. But if you read it for yourself, there’s no one standing between you and God. You will have to deal with it.
Deal with it we must, for we are accountable as no other generation. We have taken for granted what we have. Abraham had a covenant, and Moses was given the Law, but neither had all we possess in the Holy Scriptures. Solomon in all his wisdom did not know what we can now know in this Book of Books. Isaiah and the prophets received the Word of God, but never had a complete revelation such as we possess. You do. Have we forgotten that of whom much is given, much is required [Luke 12:48]? You will be held accountable for what you learn… and what you remain ignorant of. Your pastor and teachers bear some responsibility, but ultimately every man will give an account of himself [Romans 14:12]. Will you stand before Him on that day and forced to admit that you could’ve read it, but you were doing other things. Just as it is your responsibility to learn the laws of the land and obey them [and ignorance of these laws does not excuse you], so you will be held accountable to kknowing God’s will as revealed in His Word. A whole stack of Bibles, so easily gotten here in USAmerica, will testify against the complacent Church, sinners and this nation on Judgment day [Matthew 12:41-42].
We cannot reflect the Light if we do not face it.
I’ll remind you again that the Sermon on the Mount ends with a warning that many will come to Him on Judgment Day, saying, “Lord. Lord,” and will be turned away, because they never knew Him. Jesus repeats this message in Luke 6:46-49:
“And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.”
Note that He asks, How can we call Him Lord and not do the tings He says to do? It’s equally important to ask how we can do the things He says, unless you know what He says in the first place? And how can we know what He says if we don’t know Him to begin with? Where can we know God and His will? In His revealed Word, the Bible.
So let me ask you: Are you reflecting His glory? His grace? His love? His holiness? Are you distinctive from the world? or just sort of blending in? When they see you, do they see Him?
-Rev Tony Breeden