25Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters - yes, even his own life - he cannot be my disciple. 27And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. 34Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Last Sunday we focussed on Jesus’ words in 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.”
In making this statement, Jesus is implying that the world is turning more and more rotten. It was true two thousand years ago, and our track record over the last two millennia has confirmed His words. In fact, if anything, things have become progressively worse – not better.
The world cannot stop itself from going bad, and this is why it needs salt. Jesus is telling His disciples and His Church today, “The world needs you. You are the salt of the earth and you must stop it from going bad.” God wants Christians to be the salt that will hinder the process of social decay.
God wants His own people, the regenerate and righteous people – those who are in Christ, to be the most powerful restraining influence in a sin-sick world. We are called to become a moral disinfectant in a world where moral standards are at an all-time low. It is in that sense that we are meant to be the salt of the earth, an influence for good in the world.
But there is a condition attached to that call from God. The condition is that we retain our Christian saltiness. Jesus goes on to say, “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.”
This concept is what we will spend some time on this morning. What does Jesus mean by warning us against losing our saltiness, and what can be done about it?
Science and chemistry were hardly my strong subjects at school, but I do know that the chemical compound of sodium chloride, commonly known as salt cannot have its salty taste removed. Put sodium and chloride together in the correct ratio, and you will have salt. So how does salt lose its saltiness? By adding something else.
Add enough sugar, flour, or anything else you can think of to salt in large enough quantities, and eventually you will no longer taste the salt.
To apply that principle in a spiritual sense, Christians lose their saltiness when we add impurities – things not of God.
What we have here is clearly a warning. If it was impossible for Christians to cease to be salt, then there is no point for Jesus to give us the second part of the sentence. He could have just said, “You are the salt of the earth,” period. But He mentions also a condition and we have to be aware of this warning.
Jesus is talking here of a form of Christianity that denies its power.
In Luke 14:35 He says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
In other words, “Take careful note of what I am saying to you. Be careful that you do not lose this salt quality, that you do not run out of gas,” to use a modern expression.
So how does salt lose its saltiness at the spiritual level? In what way does a Christian cease to function as a Christian?
Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God - having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”
Paul writes that in the last days, there will be a form of godliness which denies the power of it. On the outside it all looks fine, but the heart is a different matter.
When the salt has lost its saltiness, it still looks like salt, whether it is mixed with impurities or not. It is still white. It is still granular. It is still powdery. But if you taste it, you notice that it doesn’t have any salty taste anymore. It still has the form of salt, but it denies its power. It denies its effectiveness.
Paul says that this is what is going to happen in the last days – our days. People will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God - having a form of godliness but denying its power.
There will come a kind of Christianity that has all the outward appearance of Christianity. It goes through all the motions of Christianity. It uses the language of Christianity. It still speaks the liturgy of Christianity. But although it still looks like Christianity on the outside, it has lost its internal effectiveness. It has lost the power of Christianity. The salt has deteriorated to the point that it is left with nothing but the name. The substance is gone.
So we are confronted with this question. How does the salt lose its saltiness? What are the things that might cause it?
There are at least three reasons that cause a Christian to cease to function as a Christian, and therefore useless to God and the work of the Gospel. In order to do this, we’ll look at the three parallel passages in Jesus’ teaching that speak about this idea of salt losing its saltiness: Matthew 5:13, Luke 14:34 and Mark 9:50.
Firstly, Luke 14:34 in the New American Standard version says, “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned?”
The word ‘therefore’ is a conjunction. It connects this verse with what has come before. It’s been said that whenever you see the word ‘therefore’ in Scripture, ask what it’s there for. It’s all about context, and in this particular case, in Luke 14, Jesus is teaching about the cost of discipleship. In verses 26-28 He says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters - yes, even his own life - he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Identifying with Jesus automatically involves some suffering and some rejection in the world. And Jesus is saying, “If you love your family or even yourself more than me, then you will never decide to come to me because you will find that the cost of following me is too high for you.”
This is about salt which refuses to dissolve, to carry its cross and to die.
Jesus then goes on to tell two parables about a man not considering the cost before building a tower and of a king who goes into battle hopelessly outnumbered and under-prepared.
Salt begins to lose its taste when people have not first considered the cost of discipleship, and they go back to their original lives.
They begin to follow Jesus but stop because they are distracted by worldly pleasures and all the other impurities that constantly tempt us away from a life of obedience.
They start building, but then decide that it is too costly to finish, and that is not a good place to be.
Peter puts it very bluntly in 2 Peter 2:20-22 when he writes, “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.’”
You begin well, but you end badly. Either start and stick to the end, or don’t start at all. We must count the cost first. The disciple who retains his saltiness is the disciple who understands his commitment to God and he sticks it through to the end.
The second reason that explains how salt can lose its taste is given to us by Jesus in Mark 9:50. “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
Again, in order to understand what Jesus is teaching, we need to look at the context, beginning in verse 42. “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:42-50)
What causes salt to lose its saltiness in this case? The emphasis in this passage is causing a little one to stumble. This is the sin of leading others to commit sin, as well as giving in to temptation which brings personal sin. Your hand causing you to stumble. Your foot causing you to stumble. Your eye causing you to stumble. In other words, giving in to temptation and being carried away by sin. In these examples, Jesus tells us how terrible sin is, and He warns us that we are personally responsible for our sin. Yes, we are influenced by the sin of others, but the choice to give in or to run to Christ for strength is ours. When we allow ourselves to be weakened by temptation to the point that we give in to sin, we are going to lose our saltiness.
In Matthew 5 Jesus says that salt that has lost its saltiness will be thrown out and trampled underfoot. To be thrown out is an expression often used to indicate exclusion from the Kingdom of God.
Here in Mark, Jesus says the same thing, but using slightly different words. Three times in this passage, He talks about the fire of hell, about being cast into the unquenchable fire of hell. The warning is clear: Do not flirt and fool around with sin. We cannot afford the luxury of falling into sin. And that is why in the Lord’s Prayer, we say, ‘Lead us not into temptation.’ We are asking for God’s help to prevent us from falling into temptation. And God will provide a way to escape temptation.
For our third reason why salt becomes tasteless, we go back to Matthew 5:13. Here, the context is the teaching we have come to know as the Beatitudes, specifically the word “you” in verse 11. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”
Jesus is talking about His disciples here, and immediately after that He goes on to say that they are the salt of the earth. Those who are being persecuted are to be the salt of the earth.
When hard times come and we break under the pressure, that is when we can lose our saltiness. It is like the seed that was sown in the Parable of the Sower. It fell on a rocky place. And when the sun rose, what happened? It withered away and died because it had no root. The salt has lost its saltiness. And Jesus tells us that the sun symbolises the persecution that comes because there is no real root embedded in the truth of God.
When Jesus calls us the salt of the earth, He is also giving us a responsibility. You are the salt of the earth; therefore retain your saltiness. Otherwise you become a useless disciple. Jesus expects that we will retain our saltiness, that we will not lose our Christlike character.
You can lose your saltiness if you go back on your initial commitment to God. You give up because you discover that the cost of following Jesus exceeds your commitment. You can lose your saltiness if you allow sin to tempt you. How can we be the salt of the earth when we live in sin? We can lose our saltiness when we break under persecution, and fail to remain faithful to the end.
So what are we to do? In a world which is so full of temptation, in an age where our faith is tested each and every day, what can we do to maintain our saltiness?
Paul makes 4 brief points in 1 Corinthians 16:13. “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.”
- Be on your guard
- Stand firm in the faith
- Be men (and women) of courage
- Be strong
The first and last verses of Romans 8 say it perfectly: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:1, 38-39)
Embrace the victory that is yours through faith in Jesus Christ.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Luke 14:25-35
Many people are confused (and even offended) by Jesus’ words in verse 26.
What do you think Jesus is teaching us here about discipleship?
We are familiar with the term ‘The Cost of Discipleship,’ but what is your understanding of this concept?
How does this conflict with the false teachers of the prosperity “gospel” who tell us that God just wants us to be happy, wealthy and healthy?
Read Matthew 5:13, Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34-35
It is easy for us to miss the point of Jesus’ teaching in these passages and feel that it is up to us to “do” something, when in fact, He has already done it for us.
Nevertheless, we do have a responsibility to remain obedient to God. How do we do this without slipping into legalism?
Read 1 Corinthians 16:13
Discuss the four points that Paul makes here.
How can we apply these principles in our own lives?
Close by thanking God for His grace, and ask Him to give us the faith top remain obedient to His call to be the Salt of the Earth.