Come out and be separate. No. Go out and be salty.
Which is it? Are we to be separate or salty?
As our culture distances itself from its Judeo-Christian roots, Christians are finding themselves increasingly isolated from mainstream values. Christian holidays are being secularized. Christian influence is devalued and frequently mocked.
The response of some believers is to protect themselves and their families by withdrawing from the culture. It’s a reasonable and biblical response in light of II Corinthians 6:17 (NIV), which tells us,
“‘Come out from them and be separate,’ says the Lord.”
But what about Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV):
“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.”
How do we reconcile these two passages?
Some Christians live at one extreme. They live and work in environments isolated from non-Christians as much as possible. Their motive is to stay as far away from “those people” as possible. All their friends are Christians and the only person to whom they could be salt and light is the cashier at the supermarket. Problem is, often they’re too busy arguing over whether the cashier should wish them “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Their salt has lost its flavor and their light is barely a dim flicker.
At the other extreme are Christians who blend in with the unbelieving culture. Their motive is to fit in, rather than stand out. They assimilate so well that it’s almost impossible to determine the difference between them and their non-Christian friends. They appear to be embarrassed by their own faith.
Perhaps the answer is found in considering the difference between isolation and insulation. One removes us from the problem. The other protects us in the midst of it.
If I don’t swim in the ocean, I won’t need to worry about hypothermia (loss of body heat) from the cold water. But if I wear a wetsuit, the insulation provides a protective barrier against significant loss of warmth even when I’m in the water.
Or think of a boat. It’s safe in the water as long as the water does not get into the boat. As Christians, we need to be in the world without the world being in us. Insulated but not isolated.
The stronger we are in our faith and in our confidence in the One to whom we belong, the more insulated we’ll be from the harmful influences of an unbelieving world.
Of course, Christian alternatives to education and entertainment are not bad things. We do have to guard against the onslaught of immoral influences in our culture. And we do need to protect children from organizations that focus on promoting non-Christian values.But we also need to live as salt and light. Salt doesn’t benefit anyone if it remains in the salt shaker. Still, we need discernment so as not to dump our “salt” all over the people we’re with. And although light dispels darkness, those who look directly at the sun can become blind. Dependence on the Holy Spirit will help us be salty enough to create a thirst for the gospel, and light enough to dispel the darkness of a culture that needs the Lord…even if they don’t realize it.
God calls us to live out our faith in real ways, with believers and unbelievers. If we don’t engage our culture for Christ, who will?
What do you think?