As you seek to live out God’s calling on your life, there might be times when you ask yourself a form of this question: What is more important—living a life of holiness or reaching out to friends that don’t know God? Do you want to know Jesus’ answer? It’s “yes.” That is, they go hand in hand.
A passage that is particularly illuminating in this regard is found in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus gives his famous entreaty to each of us that we are to be salt and light.
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:13-16).
Salt and light. Let’s take a look at each one.
When Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth, he is referring to our role in preserving culture. Salt in Jesus’ day was used to prevent the decay of meat, to keep it from going bad. We can offer the same thing to our communities. Jesus has a very important caveat, though. He says that if we cease being “salty,” we are worthless. What he means is that if we lose our commitment to being “set apart” for God, we lose our ability to preserve—in essence, we are no different from the culture, and so our role as salt is lost. So we must have this commitment to holiness.
At the same time, we have the opportunity to shine a light into the world, and the tricky part there is that a light is only effective if it isn’t hidden away. So we have to be intentional about being around those far from God, so that they might see the light that we have. But this light that Jesus talks about isn’t a blinding light; rather, it’s an inviting one. “It gives light to everyone….”
To summarize, then, if we are to be salt and light, it means that we have to be 1) holy— uncompromising in living a life pleasing to God; 2) intentional— not hiding away, but rather putting ourselves in the paths of those far from God; and 3) inviting—shining the kind of light to the world that is welcoming rather than abrasive. Jesus says that when we do that, what we can expect is that others will come to know God too.
We have to have a passionate commitment to both holy living (salt) and intentionally being inviting to others (light). They go hand in hand, and they help us not fall off into one of two extremes. If all we care about is holy living, we lose focus of why Jesus came, which was to seek and to save the lost. If our focus is only on reaching out, we will lose the perspective of the power of submitting completely to God and letting his Spirit do the work.
Shannon co-authored this with Syler Thomas. Syler is a native Texan who has been the Student Ministries Pastor at Christ Church Lake Forest in Illinois since 1998. As a student, Syler planted the InterVarsity chapter at DePaul University that is still going 20 years later. He writes a column for Youthworker Journal, has had articles published in Leadership Journal and the Chicago Tribune, and is the co-author of two books. Syler and his wife, Heidi, have four children.