Portrait of a Christian

Series: Preacher: Date: October 1, 2006 Scripture Reference: Matthew 5:13-16

My mom makes a great mock apple pie. I say “mock” because there are no apples in it. It looks like a real apple pie; it smells like a real apple pie and I think most of you apple pie connoisseurs out there would agree that it tastes like one but it’s not real. It’s a clever imitation made with zucchini instead of apples. Mom also makes a great mock crab cake, and she tells me that it looks and smells and even tastes like a real crab cake-but it’s a fake too. There no crab in there-only zucchini doused in Old Bay seasoning and other spices. Zucchini is apparently a very versatile vegetable! Who knows-perhaps one of these days mom will figure out a way to use it to prepare mock prime rib!

I got to thinking about my mom’s mock cooking as I studied our text for this morning, because in my mind, these four verses that make up the next section of our study of the sermon on the mount help us to distinguish between what I would refer to as “mock” discipleship and the real McCoy. You see, the sad fact is there are people out there who say they are followers of Christ but a closer investigation shows they are not really all that committed to his will. Their lives are more of a mockery of authentic discipleship.

This familiar text provides us with a portrait of the real thing so we can use it as a “plumb line” of sorts, to help us determine if someone really is following through with their commitment to follow Jesus, or if on the other hand, they are what I would call “zucchini believers.”

Of course that “someone” might be self-it could be you or me. But in any case, this text helps us to evaluate how “real” our dedication to Jesus is. We can hold this scriptural template up to our lives and see how authentic our day-to-day walk with God really is. These verses can help us to see to what extent we are conforming our actions and attitudes to the image of Christ. It can help us to see how real how genuine our Christianity is. And that can be a hard thing to determine at times. I mean, think about it for a minute. What does a “real” Christian look like? How does genuine discipleship tend to manifest itself? How can you recognize the real thing?

  • Can you spot a real Christian by determining their political party affiliation?
  • Can you identify an earnest disciple based on how they vote on hot issues like abortion or the war in Iraq or global warming?
  • How about their denominational acronym? Is someone more likely to be a sincere Christ-follower if they are in the SBC or the CBF or the UMC or the RCC or the AME or the PCA or the ABC?
  • If they have an Icthus decal on their car? Does that indicate for sure that the occupant is a bonafide fisher of men?

Someone told me once that if the fish points to the right this person is a conservative Christian and if it points to the left they are a liberal. I don’t know about that, but does the presence of this decal say anything about the driver’s level of spiritual maturity?

  • Do cross pendants around people’s necks show they are committed to Christ?
  • Or what about taste in worship music? If someone prefers to clap their hands and sing praise choruses, is that an indication of the depth of their love of Jesus?
  • Or are people who stand reverently singing from a hymnal more likely to be truly devoted to the kingdom of God?

Do you see my point? It can be very confusing to determine what a real Christian looks like or acts like. So we need the diagnostic help that these verses provide.

With that in mind, take your Bibles and turn to Matthew 5:13-16 and read along with me. As we do, see if you can notice the principles Jesus gives us here when it comes to describing an authentic Christian.


Matthew 5:13 – “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 by men.

14 – you are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.

15 – 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.

16 – in the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.”


This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Now, I want you to understand. This text is indeed a great one to turn to when it comes to resolving this issue because Jesus’ descriptive statements are not phrased as suggestions. No. These word pictures he uses are stated as requirements. Jesus says to those of us, who have committed to be his followers, “you are the salt of the earth you are the light of the world.” No “ifs, ands, or buts about it.” Our level of effectiveness, our authenticity as a follower of Jesus, is measured by the degree to which we meet these standards. Jesus doesn’t say you are like salt or that we will be light some time in the future. No, he says you are these things. This is our calling. It’s our purpose as his disciples. It’s who we are and why we live in this world. Once we are converted we are automatically tasked with functioning as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In fact, the word “you” here in the Greek is emphatic. It literally means, “you, my followers, and none others, are the salt and the light!”

Let’s dig deeper. What exactly is Jesus getting at here? What is he saying about authentic Christians with the phrases, “salt of the earth” and “light of the world?” What do these metaphors tell us about an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ? I want to mention five things.

(1) first, these word pictures tell us that real disciples-are precious.

Now to fully comprehend this we need to look back. We need to look to the history books to help us understand the setting in which these words were uttered, because in our day and age, salt and light are both taken for granted. In our minds these things aren’t precious. They aren’t all that valuable. Our cupboards always have at least a couple canisters of salt. Often we have different varieties of salt to use in cooking and our tables and hutches have several kinds of salt shakers handy. We have the standard ones that we use at daily meals, but we also collect various kinds and use them as decorations or for special occasions. Most of us probably even have a few of those little salt packets that we get at fast food restaurants in our purses or glove compartments. For us salt is everywhere. It’s no big deal. It’s probably the cheapest thing you can buy in the grocery store.

And light is no real big deal for us either. We have lights on our key rings and our children’s shoes and our cell phones. Without thinking about it we flip on switches as we enter a room or just leave them burning. I bet there are lights on at your house right now even though no one is there! I know they are on at my house because sue or I have to constantly remind the kids to turn off the lights. It may sound like we’re being picky, but we frequently have to tell them that even in the good ole U.S. of A, light may be plentiful-it may be relatively cheap-but it is not free.

Well, for these people sitting on that mountainside listening to our Lord that day, things were very different. Back then, salt and light were not taken so lightly. No, these two things were very precious. They were greatly valued in that culture. For example, salt was so highly esteemed that the Greeks thought it was divine. They apparently worshiped a “salt god.” I wonder what their temples looked like? Did the columns resemble huge saltshakers? And the Romans-well their soldiers were often paid in salt. Can you imagine that? A centurion would march up to the table on the 15th and the 30th day of every month and the payroll officer would say, “Let’s see. Someone of your rank and pay grade gets-oh yeah, it is right here-two Morton canisters and 1, 2, 3, 4 pinches. There you go don’t spend it all in once place.” By the way, this is where the phrase, “not worth his salt” comes from. It’s also the root for our word, “salary.” But in any case, salt was precious back then incredibly valuable.

And light was just as treasured because it wasn’t easy to have. It was a lot of trouble and expense to have even the feeble illumination of an oil lamp back then. These Jews that Jesus ministered to had to carry little clay dishes and oil and wicks along with flint to light these fragile “lamps” if they wanted to see at night. There were no light switches to turn on-no street lights to line the roads. After sunset most of the time these people really did stumble around in the dark. To them light was a precious luxury.

So when Jesus used these two metaphors, those people would have understood him to say that, in his opinion, genuinely devoted disciples were precious! Jesus is saying they are worth their weight in gold or salt. And if you encounter someone who is serious about following Jesus, passionate about becoming more and more like him, committed to doing his will, remember that individual is priceless! In fact, take a moment and think about the most Jesus-like believers you know. Several names pop in my head Marge Reynolds, Barbara Shields, Al Hillier, Dick Mcclain, Lloyd Linn, Frank Coffman, Cathie Burke, Buddy Young, and Faith Waziri, just to mention a few. Whatever names you are thinking of, wouldn’t you say those people are precious to you? Think of all the things God has taught you through their priceless example!

This leads us to a second thing this text teaches us about real Christ-followers. You see, this part of the Sermon on the Mount also helps us to understand why genuine believers are so valuable. For example, one reason they are precious is this:

(2) genuine disciples make the lives of the people they know better.

In the same way that salt adds flavor to food and light pushes away the depressing shadows of a dark room, real Christ-followers enrich the lives of those around them. They add “spice” and “light” to a dark, spiritually bland world. Like salt, they add flavor to life, and their lives brighten up the lives of people who know them in the same way a light makes a room more cheery the moment you flip its switch.

Hershell Ford calls this section of scripture, “the blessings of a Christian” and I like that because that is what Jesus is talking about here. He’s talking about this fact that devoted disciples bless those around them because they are selfless, happy, optimistic, joyful, fun-to-be-with people. A genuine disciple is someone that other people like being around.

And unfortunately this is one area in which many of us fail as disciples. We’re more joy-less than joy-full. You see, it’s so easy-even for Christians-to slip into negativity in this fallen world of ours and so often we do exactly that. We spend our time focusing on all the bad things in life. We act as if the ability to find fault in a fallen world is a sign of great discernment and spiritual maturity. We complain and gripe and become people who are devoid of joy, and this turns other people off. It repels lost people.

As Joe Aldrich puts it, “we must be good news before we can share the good news.” And he’s right. No one likes to be around a negative, solemn, long-faced grump. But unfortunately that’s what many lost people equate with Christianity. They think the typical church is made up of a bunch of unhappy, joyless people.

Oliver Wendell Holmes is reported to have said that he might have become a pastor if certain ministers he knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers. And, after meeting some ministers I can understand why he would say that. Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote in his diary, as if he was recording an extraordinary phenomenon, “I have been to church today and am not depressed.”

My dad once told the story of a woman who was asked if she would become a Christian. She replied, “No, I have enough to be sad about already.” Well, this misconception is our fault. You see, many people observe “mock” disciples, Christians who take their eyes off of our all-loving, all-powerful heavenly Father and become sad and insipid rather than salty disciples who embrace a dark demeanor instead of allowing the light of God to reflect on their faces. Authentic disciples are not this way. They are people whose happiness and optimism is fueled by their trust in God. They live as if they actually believe his promises. They walk close to our Lord! And because they do, they experience abundant life, a meaningful life that overflows with living! Real disciples know how to laugh and rejoice! They embrace this outlook on life because they know God loves them! They know their sins are forgiven! They know that no matter what “bad” comes their way heaven is near! And this kind of attitude is precious in this dark and dreary world of ours. Well, let me ask you, do you go around with a long face griping about life? When you converse do you find yourself always slipping into “complaining mode”, grumbling and complaining about your health, grumbling and complaining about how now one cares about your health, grumbling and complaining about high prices, grumbling and complaining about traffic grumbling and complaining about the church and so on and so on. Is your focus on the inevitable problems of life? Have you allowed the struggles of living in a fallen world to cause your “salt” to lose it’s savor? Have you focused so much on your own problems that you are hiding the light of God under a bushel full of negative attitudes? Are you the guy other people tend to steer clear of because life is hard enough without having to deal with your negativism? Or are you the kind of individual who people gravitate to, the kind of person that makes life better, the kind of person who embraces a joy that is literally contagious? If you are more like the former then remember, Philippians 2:14, 18 says, “do everything without complaining you should be glad and rejoice!” Jesus says that one reason genuine disciples are precious is because they make the lives of the people who know them better.

But that’s not all. Jesus also says that they are precious because

(3) genuine disciple helps keep this fallen world from getting worse.

With these word pictures here in Matthew 5, Jesus is saying, “The world is like rotting meat and you are to be the world’s preserving salt. The world is like a dark night and you are to be the world’s light. Like salt in putrefying beef, as my followers you are to hinder social decay. Like light in the prevailing darkness, you are to illumine society and show it a better way.”

Do you understand what Jesus is saying here? When we really make him lord he uses us to help halt decay in our society. He emboldens us and empowers us to stand up and go against the flow and say, “that is wrong. People should be allowed to behave like that. I’m saying, real Christian disciples get involved in their communities. in their PTAs, in the local government, standing up for Christian principles, encouraging the passage of Godly laws. In the same way that salt extends the “best if used by” date on meat and in the same way that light illuminates and guides, we are to be involved slowing the decline of our culture, helping people to see why right is always literally better than wrong.

Ray Pritchard says, “We who follow Christ are to be a moral disinfectant stopping the spread of evil. We are to be the conscience of the community, speaking out for what is true and right.” And I would amen that statement! People who really follow Jesus are the ones who fight world hunger and disease. They are the ones who build homes for the homeless. They speak out for the dignity and value of the pre born. They speak out against hatred and racism. They go against the flow, slowing it down helping retard moral and spiritual spoilage in the world.

Sue attended Tres Feast this past week and heard Robi Keyes speak and after hearing her tell me about Robi’s testimony, I would say that this Godly woman is a perfect example of this principle. Robi’s husband is in the state department stationed in Thailand. Well, this authentic Christ-follower saw how rampant the “rot” of prostitution was there. And she did something about it helping to start a ministry for these young girls who are so often forced into this lifestyle. She provided them jobs, Bible studies, and English lessons. Now-that’s a real disciple because real disciples notice the decay that is so prevalent in our fallen culture and they stand up and do something about it. It’s as Tony Evans once put it, “If you want a better world, composed of better nations, inhabited by better states, filled with better counties, made up of better cities, comprised of better neighborhoods, illuminated by better churches, populated with better families, then you start by becoming a better person.”

You see, better people-which refers to better, more authentic Christians-are to influence the world in a positive way. It is our job to help keep this fallen world from getting worse. A peanuts cartoon showed peppermint patty talking to Charlie Brown in which she said, “Guess what Chuck? The first day of school, and I got sent to the principal’s office. It was your fault, Chuck.” Charlie brown responds, “My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?” To which she declares, “You’re my friend, aren’t you, chuck? You should have been a better influence on me.” While Peppermint Patty was trying to pass the buck, she was also speaking some truth. We should be a good influence on those around us. It’s our calling. It’s our job.

In August of 2000, Matt Freidman, a reporter for the Jackson Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, shared the following testimony of his encounter with a Christian who understood this principle of authentic discipleship.

Several months ago I was on a TV show to discuss with other panel members recent problems plaguing the Jackson, Mississippi, community. The city council was in disarray because the council president and another councilman were headed off to jail. The council president had been caught making shady deals with a strip club in relation to a re-zoning ordinance. The panel moderator, a news lady named Katrina Rankin, looked at me and asked, ‘Matt, whose fault is all of this?’

Suddenly, I became agitated. I was prepared to tell her in dramatic on-air fashion that we are a nation of laws and that the council president trampled on those laws. If we were looking for a place to lay the blame, there was only one place to put it-smack dab in this lap as he sat in his well-deserved jail cell. That is what I was going to say.

But I never got the words out. One of the panelists sitting next to me was a gentleman named John Perkins-author, teacher, community developer, and national evangelical leader. Before I could respond, Perkins answered, ‘it’s my fault.’ All heads turned his way and he elaborated. ‘Ihave lived in this community for decades as a Bible teacher. I should have been able to create an environment where what our council president did would have been unthinkable because of my efforts. You want someone to blame. I’ll take the blame. All of it.’

Perkins knew that as someone who knew Jesus Christ personally as a student of the Bible-this handbook for life that God has given us as someone who knew the difference between right and wrong, it was his job to speak up, his job to be a positive influence and so he honestly felt he had failed here failed to be a positive influence.

Well, let me ask you: Is there something in your little world that needs a positive influence? Do you hate your work environment because it is so cut throat? Is your neighborhood a bad place to live for some reason? Are their hard feelings between your friends? Does your next-door neighbor seem to be unable to mow his lawn? Is there any “annoying needs” in your little world? You know what I’m getting at! Is there any “rotting flesh” around you? Well stop complaining and do something about it, disciple! This is part of what it means to follow Jesus. This is what salt and light people do! Don’t avoid bad-get involved because that is what it takes to make things better and this leads to a fourth thing that Jesus says.

(4) real disciples apply their faith to real life.

These people on the mountainside that day knew that for salt to be a preservative it had to be rubbed into the meat. It did the meat no good if it stayed in the barrel. And they also knew that light was only good when used in the darkness. They knew that Jesus was saying that he expected his followers were to be involved in the real world. Authentic disciples don’t isolate themselves or insulate themselves from society. Unfortunately, so often that is exactly what many of us do. We take our religion and put it over here and our life and put it over here. We don’t let the two mix.

We say, “Here’s the church here and here is my marriage over here. Here’s the Bible over here and here’s my parenting over here. Here’s my work over here, and here’s my prayer life over here. Here’s my sexual desire over here, and here’s that ancient biblical standard over here.” We don’t put them together. We don’t “rub” our faith into our life. We don’t shine our light in the darkness that is all around us. In fact, some of us separate our faith from life to the extent that we have absolutely no contact with non-Christians. We avoid them like the plague. People, that is not genuine discipleship. Deitrich Bonhoeffer put it this way, “A flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him.” We should heed Bonhoeffer’s warning here. We must not become as Rebecca Pippert puts it, “a rabbit-hole Christian.” In her classic book, Out Of The Salt Shaker, she describes this kind of “mock” disciple like this.

A rabbit-hole Christian is the kind who pops his head out of a hole, leaves his Christian roommate in the morning and scurries to class, only to frantically search for a Christian to sit by (an odd way to approach a mission field). Thus he proceeds from class to class. When dinner comes, he sits with the Christians in his dorm at one huge table and things, “what a witness!” From there he goes to his all-Christian Bible study, and he might even catch a prayer meeting where the Christians pray for the nonbelievers on his floor. (But what luck that he was able to live on the only floor with seventeen Christians!) Then at night he scurries back to his Christian roommate. Safe! He made it through the day and his only contacts with the world were those mad, brave dashes to and form Christian activities.

A Christian doesn’t hide their light like this they let it shine. They don’t spend every waking minute at church. They get out there and interact with lost people! They apply their faith to life. Remember, Jesus did not say, “you are the light of the church.” He said, “you are the light of the world.”

In his book Led By The Carpenter, Dr. D. James Kennedy writes:

A man walked into a little mom-and-pop grocery store and asked, “Do you sell salt?”

“Ha!” said Pop, the proprietor. “Do we sell salt! Just look!” and Pop shoed the customer one entire wall of shelves stocked with nothing but salt-Morton salt, iodized salt, kosher salt, sea salt, rock alt, garlic salt, seasoning salt, Epsom salts-every kind of salt imaginable.

“Wow!” said the customer.

“You think that’s something?!” said Pop with a wave of his hand. “That’s nothing! Come look.” And Pop led the customer to a back room filled with shelves and bins and cartons and barrels and boxes of salt. “Do we sell salt or what!” He said.

“Unbelievable!” said the customer.

“You think that’s something?” said Pop. “Come! I’ll show you salt!” And Pop led the customer down some steps into a huge basement, five times as large as the previous room, filled wall, floor, to ceiling, with every imaginable form and size an shape of salt-even huge ten-pound salt licks for the cow pasture.

“Incredible!” said the customer. “You really sell salt!”

“No!”┬ásaid Pop. “That’s just the problem! We never sell salt! But that salt salesman — hoo boy! Does he sell salt!”

Now, are you more like the storeowner or the salt salesman? Remember, salt that stays on the shelf does no good at all. And light that is hidden is a waste. Genuine believers apply their faith to every aspect of life-work, home relationships!

(5) one final principle we see in this text is this. A maturing Christian points others to Jesus.

Just as salt makes people thirsty, just as light illuminates something else maturing, genuine disciples live in such a way that they point away from themselves and to Christ. I’m reminded of the story of the little boy who was sitting in church with his mother, and as he looked around at the beauty of the stained glass curiosity finally got the best of him and he asked, “Who are all those people?” To which his mother responded, “They are saints.” And then sensing this teaching moment, she asked, “Do you know what saints are?” She pondered for a moment and then responded, “They are people the light shines through.”

Well, that’s what real disciples are like-they are Christ-like-in that they let Jesus shine through them. They follow Jesus so closely that they literally let him use their flesh in such a way that they kind of “disappear” and people see Jesus instead. If you ever see someone who does good to be seen, whether his or her intent is to be seen as a noble person or a good parent or a big giver or whatever, what you are really seeing a mock disciple. You aren’t seeing the real thing because authentic disciples always lift Jesus up. They prefer to minister away from the spotlight. When Jesus said, “let your light shine.” He didn’t tell us to hold it up and cry out. “Look at me. I’m a Christian. I am a good and wonderful person. Don’t you wish you were more like me?” No, he didn’t tell us to do that. A light does not call attention to itself. Rather it points the way through the darkness.

Salt is another great illustration of this principle of discipleship, because one of its functions is to make something taste good. I don’t know about you, but when I have eaten a piece of corn on the cob that I really like, I put it down and what do I say? “That was great salt?” No I say, “That was great corn on the cob.” Whenever I eat zucchini that is perfectly spiced, I don’t say, “That was great salt.” No, I say, “That was great zucchini!” Because the job of the salt is not to make you think how great salt is, but how great the thing is with which its involved.

Well, do you do this? Does the way you live your life point people to Jesus? Do people see your good deeds? Can they observe the way you make life better for those who know you and the way you stand up for what is right? Can they look at your discipleship and say, “That guy must know God. He must be a believer. I need to talk to him because I want what he has! I want to know God, too.”

Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” when they ask you this question.

Well, how did you do? As you held this scriptural template up to your life was it a perfect match, or were their areas in which you need to improve? As we sing you may want to just bow your head and say, “God, I want to be saltier in my family life. I want to be a better husband or wife or parent ” Or “God, I want to do a better job of enriching my little part of the world. Help me to be a joyful person help me to be a person that you use to gracefully stand up for right.” Or “God, I want to shine brighter in my neighborhood or at work. I want to live in such a way that I point people to you.” Of course, if you feel God leading you to respond publicly, whether to profess your faith in Jesus or to join this church family, come.

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