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Christians are never to be silent about what we believe. We have been commanded in Scripture to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13–16). The previous verse (v. 12) is clear: we are to rejoice and be glad even in the face of persecution. This truth presupposes that we will be attacked by others as we declare truth. As salt, we are a preservative for goodness. Salt was a protectant against putrefaction. What is clear from this example is that as members of the kingdom, we are responsible to stand against the impurity of culture. In this example, Jesus was declaring the sanctifying saltiness of the believer. In the same way that a believing wife sanctifies her unbelieving husband (1 Cor. 7:14), believers are to have a sanctifying impact on culture through righteousness.
Jesus also declares that we are light. We are to be “a city set on a hill” that cannot be hidden. In the Old Testament, we find that Israel was to be the “light of the nations” (Isa. 42:6). Jesus would declare that He indeed is the “light of the world” (John 8:12). However, this same verse points to the fact that as followers of Christ, “we will no longer walk in darkness, but we will have the light of life” (v. 12). As those who have the light of life, we are no longer to fellowship with “fruitless deeds of darkness, but instead, expose them” (Eph. 5:11). As both salt and light, we have only the option to maintain a bold standard for truth in a darkening and decadent world.
In his speech “Vision for America” Ronald Reagan would appeal to this same passage in Matthew 5:14 and declare that America was to be a “shining city on a hill.” This term, however, is reserved for the Christian, not a Christian nation. In our current culture, Christian has come to mean someone who was born in America. As a result, we have witnessed an impotent church culture that has enjoyed the fruits of the gospel apart from being closely tied to the fight for the gospel. Cultural Christianity, particularly in America, has embraced prosperity while abandoning any notion of Christian persecution.
Second, pragmatism has invaded church culture to such a degree that we have abandoned the notion of an offense in the gospel we preach. Scripture is clear that we are to honor Christ above culture. We are instructed to “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Scripture abounds with men who stood for truth, even in the face of death. The idea of pragmatic silence was foreign to John the Baptist. He was placed in prison by Herod, who had married the wife of his brother Phillip. It was John the Baptist who said, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). Whether it was Moses (one man) against the might of the army of Egypt or Gideon’s army of three hundred men, God has customarily done more with a few than He determined to do with a majority of people. A majority consists of God and a willing servant.
So, how did we get here?
Culture has shifted from embracing a Judeo-Christian worldview to one that repudiates every traditional expression related to biblical principles. Basic ideas regarding anthropology—gender, race, ethics—now face challenges for validity with each passing news cycle. The result has witnessed a retreat for many Christians. Rather than being salt and light, many now believe silence is the most loving response. To those Christians, Scripture would seem to instruct us to live quiet and peaceable lives (1 Thess. 4:11). This is true. We are instructed to live quietly and to mind our own affairs as believers in Christ. This truth serves the same purpose as the Scripture passages that instruct believers to love one another: “that they may know you are my disciples” (John 13:35). Nevertheless, this is not an instruction to neglect being salt and light to a culture in need of the gospel of Christ.
So, where do we go from here?
Scripture is clear: “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The Puritan Thomas Watson wrote,
A Christian is a military person, he fights the Lord’s battles, he is Christ’s ensign bearer. Now, what thought he endures hard fate, and the bullets fly about? He fights for a crown!
Paul in writing to the church at Philippi makes things ever more clear as he writes, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (Phil. 1:29-30).
Believers need to develop a doctrine of suffering that embraces the challenges of the culture. Remember the words of Jesus, who instructed:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18–20)
Jesus makes it clear that those who follow Him would indeed be salt and light, not silent. The question we must ask ourselves is, How are we doing?