James D. Slopsema is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.

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. 

Matthew 5:13

It is good at the beginning of each year to be reminded of the place we occupy in God’s creation as well as the responsibilities that fall to us before God.

Ye are the salt of the earth.

This remarkable statement of Jesus appears in His Sermon on the Mount. To the multitudes of simple folks that had followed Him, Jesus proclaimed, “Ye are the salt of the earth.”

So is it with all in every age who follow Jesus as true disciples. They are the salt of the earth.

At the beginning of another year it is good to be reminded that in Christ we too are the salt of the earth.

In harmony with this reality we must also be encouraged to act as salt.

The Idea

Ye are the salt of the earth.

Salt had several uses in Bible times. To determine how God’s people are the salt of the earth it is necessary to discover which use of salt Jesus had in mind when He compared His people to salt.

In Bible times salt was used, first, for seasoning food. Salt makes food tasty and agreeable to the palate. Said Job, “Can that which is unsavory be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?” (Job 6:6)

Salt was also used for medicinal purposes. Salt is an antiseptic. In Bible times new born babies were bathed and then rubbed in salt.

Salt is also a preservative, retarding spoilage in meat. Most likely salt was also used for that purpose in Bible times.

Finally, we are told that the salt used in Bible times was mined from the marshes, lagoons and rocks in the Dead Sea area. This salt was mixed with various minerals, among which was magnesium. Consequently, this salt was also used in Bible times to make a saline solution to fertilize the land.

In determining how God’s people are the salt of the earth many latch hold of the idea that salt is a preservative. The people of God are salt, we are told, in that they act as a preservative in the midst of the world. As they enter into every sphere of life they are able to exert a restraining influence in the world of men so that the development of sin is held in check. And some go even further, speaking in glowing terms of God’s people being a reforming influence in the world. As a result of the presence of God’s people in this world we can expect social evils eventually to be eradicated so that the kingdom of God will somehow be attained here on earth.

Yet this can not be how the children of God serve as the salt of the earth.

For this explanation is completely at odds with the basic use of salt. The world in which we live is not basically sound and wholesome. It is spiritually rotten. There is in the world of ungodly men absolutely nothing that is good to be preserved. Men don’t put salt on rotten meat to preserve it, much less to restore its original freshness. No more do the children of God serve as the salt of the earth by preserving or restoring that which is already spiritually decayed.

Besides, the rest of what Jesus says in this connection points us in another direction. Jesus spoke of salt losing its savor or flavor. This points us in the direction of salt as a flavoring.

The great emphasis in the Bible is that salt is added to food to flavor it and make it tasty.

The Old Testament speaks frequently of the covenant of salt between God and His people Israel. It was the custom for those entering into a covenant to ratify their covenant by eating bread with salt. This symbolized that the covenant just made was agreeable to both parties, pleasant to their taste. In light of this, Gods covenant with Israel was called the covenant of salt, thus indicating that it was very pleasing to both God and Israel.

Quite in harmony with all this, God also required that all the meat offerings brought by Israel to the house of God be seasoned with salt. This salt represented the faith and repentance of Israel which made their offerings very pleasing to God.

With this use of salt in mind Christ called God’s people the salt of the earth.

When Christ spoke of the earth He had reference to the whole earth in all its fullness. He had in mind the earth with all its powers and resources, the earth as it is literally teaming with life and activity. Of that earth God’s people are the salt.

They are the salt of the earth exactly because the earth in all its fullness is made pleasing to God through their presence.

The Realization

God’s people are the salt of the earth in that they are kings and priests of God who use the earth in the service of God’s name.

God created man as king to rule His creation. As king man has received the ability to discover the various powers of nature and to bring them under his control. As king of God’s creation man has indeed accomplished many great feats. He has discovered the healing powers in creation and conquered many dreadful diseases. He has discovered the principles of art, literature, math, and music established by God in the creation and developed them to a very high degree. He has harnessed the various forces and powers of nature to provide many conveniences in life, to travel at very high speeds, to fly through the air, to land on the moon. Man is king in God’s creation.

And God’s people are an integral part of the human race that rules the creation. In fact, they form the heart of the human race. They indeed are kings of God’s creation.

But God’s people are also priests of God.

A priest is one who consecrates himself and all that he has to the service of another.

As priests of the living God, God’s people press the creation which they have been given to control into the service of their God. All the resources God has given to them—their money, their lands, their food and drink, their clothing and shelter—they use in the service of God. In like manner do they also use the wonderful inventions God has placed at their disposal—their cars, their radios and televisions, the conveniences in their home. All that they are and all that they have they present as an offering to God.

Because of this work of His people as kings and priests, the earth is pleasing to God. His people are as salt that makes the earth palatable to God’s taste.

God’s people are the salt of the earth only in Christ.

By nature man is not king and priest of God but king and priest of God’s arch-enemy, the devil.

Originally man was created as king and priest of God. And for a time man served God in that capacity so that he was the salt of the earth.

But at the fall that was drastically changed. For even though man retained his position of king and priest in God’s creation, the fall changed man spiritually. He became corrupt and depraved. And so he became king and priest in the service of devil. Man continues to rule the creation as king. But in his fallen state he uses the whole of the creation for his own pleasure and glory and thus ultimately in the service of the devil himself.

But in Christ the elect of God are transformed once more into kings and priests of God. In Christ the elect of God no longer serve themselves but the God that made them. And so in Christ they become the salt of the earth that renders the earth pleasing to God.

The Calling

But if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Jesus describes here something that quite frequently happened to the salt the people used. The salt taken from the Dead Sea area was mixed with various other minerals and substances. After a while these foreign substances could deteriorate and give the salt a most terrible taste. When that happened nothing could be done to restore it. It was good for nothing but to be thrown out into the street to be trodden under foot of men.

Jesus points this out to suggest that also God’s people, the salt of the earth, are able to be spoiled for a time so that they no longer act as salt. This happens when they allow their sinful natures to control their lives for a time so that they use God’s creation in the service of sin rather than in the service of God. When this happens the earth is no longer pleasing to God, but very distasteful.

This implies a calling.

We must guard against our sinful flesh lest it render us useless as salt. Thankfully, when we allow ourselves to be rendered ineffective as salt through our sinful nature, God does not just cast us aside. Instead He does what can not be done to salt; He purifies us and restores us to usefulness. But that is often the hard way of discipline and chastisement. Let us guard against our sinful nature!

And in the power of Jesus Christ let us act as salt.

Let us work as salt in the year that lies before us.

Let us work as salt all the years of our earthly existence.

Then we will also be able to look forward to the privilege of working as salt in the new creation, which we with all the redeemed will be able to control completely and render as a perfect sacrifice pleasing to God throughout the endless ages of eternity.