In the fall of 2008, as the presidential race was at its peak, Baptist Press reported on an article that was prominent in the secular news at the time as well, namely an adversarial discourse between then Senator Barack Obama and Dr. James Dobson, psychologist and president of Focus on the Family.
Dobson was reacting to several things Mr. Obama had said, one of which was from a speech he made in June of 2006.
"Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. What do I mean by this? It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons ... but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I can't simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all."
Dr. Dobson stated that Obama's views on democracy are wrong.
"What the senator is saying there, in essence, is that I can't seek to pass legislation ... that bans partial-birth abortion because there are people in the culture who don't see that as a moral issue, and if I can't get everyone to agree with me, it is undemocratic to try to pass legislation that I find offensive to the Scripture. Now, that is a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution. This is why we have elections -- to support what we believe to be wise and moral. We don't have to go to the lowest common denominator of morality, which is what he is suggesting."
Back in 2006, when Senator Obama gave his speech, Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also took issue with his position. Writing in June 2006 in his daily blog, Dr. Mohler called Obama's position "secularism with a smile." Mohler said
"Sen. Obama seems to believe in the myth of a universal reason and rationality that will be compelling to all persons of all faiths, including those of no faith at all, such principles do not exist in any specific form usable for the making of public policy on, for example, matters of life and death like abortion and human embryo research. This is secularism with a smile - offered in the form of an invitation for believers to show up, but then only to be allowed to make arguments that are not based in their deepest beliefs."
It is significant to note this kind of dialogue is taking place in the public square, especially since this is exactly what our message today addresses. It begs the questions, "What role should we as Christians play in society, and do we have a responsibility to stand for what we believe, even though it is at odds with others in our society?"
As we continue to study our confessional statement of doctrine, the Baptist Faith and Message, we come to article 15 which deals specifically with this issue of The Christian and the Social Order.
Article 15 of the Baptist Faith and Message says
"All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the Spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth."
As we approach this topic this morning, as always we must ask, "Is there a word from the Lord?" To that end I would ask you to turn to in your bibles to Matthew 5:13-16, and 6:10 two well known passages from the Sermon on the Mount, and listen to the words of Jesus. (Read text)
I want us to look first at the role Christ has called us to play in whatever society He has placed us; secondly we will consider some of the specific issues within our culture which we as Christians are called to address, and finally we will look at some practical ways to do this.
First a prefatory word about our text seems to be in order.
The Sermon on the Mount constitutes our Lord's teaching on what it means to be a member of His Kingdom. It is essential to note that the kingdom of God at this point is dynamic instead of spacial; that is to say, it is spiritual rather than physical. The Kingdom of Christ exists within the lives of all whose hearts are submitted to His rule and reign. Many people simply see the Sermon on the Mount as some of the most beautiful and poetic of our Lord's teaching. But what they fail to see is how truly radical it is. In these three chapters Jesus describes the characteristics that mark the true Christian, basically telling us that if we want to be citizens of His kingdom we must become like Him. And if we become like Him the world will respond to us just like it responded to Him. Far from being merely great moral teaching or sweet platitudes about good behavior, our Lord here calls us to a radical way of life; a way of life different from, in fact, opposite from the standard of the world and yet a life which is to be lived in the midst of this fallen world which continues to be in opposition to Who He is and what He has taught us.
Simply put, the Sermon on the Mount calls us to be incarnational witnesses for Jesus in our world. It is to that end that we are to live to see His kingdom come and His will done on earth as it is in heaven and to be salt and light in the world in which we live.
I. We are called to be salt and light
Look at Matt. 5:13, "You," is plural, indicating a corporate or collective responsibility, shared by all who follow Him. "Are," is a present, active, indicative verb, which places emphasis upon being rather than doing. That is because what we are will always be more important than what we do, as what we are determines what we do. Jesus says that our actions spring forth from our hearts or our character: What we are always determines what we do.
This truth is reflected in our confessional statement when it says, that, "Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ."
Before we can do what we have been created to do we must be what Christ intends for us to be, namely, we must be regenerated, or born again. Religion cannot change us, only relationship with Jesus can do that. Jesus says that those who are born again are the salt of the earth. Jesus uses the metaphor of salt here to describe the function of His people in this world.
Scientists tell us that salt has more than 14,000 functions. Go on line to google.com and type in salt and you'll come up with more than 39 million websites with the word salt in it. But for the purpose of our study, I want to review seven basic functions of salt, which we went through in more detail when we studied the Sermon on the Mount.
A. It seasons
That is, it adds flavor to life, it enhances. Christians in the world should give life a wonderful flavor; we should show others what abundant life is all about. We ought to make Christianity attractive and desirable.
B. It preserves
Salt has long been used as a preservative. It is used to keep things from rotting or to slow down the process of decay. Christians are to be that agent of society that keeps a fallen culture from rotting even further. We are to exert a moral influence on our culture, to keep it from becoming totally wicked.
C. It purifies and cleanses
As Christians, our lives are to bring an element of purity and cleansing to an otherwise corrupt culture. With our lives we are to set the standard for what purity is.
D. It heals
Through the witness of His people, Jesus Christ wants to draw the hurting and broken of this world to Himself. Our lives are to have a healing effect upon those around us.
E. It creates thirst
Our lives are to be such that as we interact with others, a thirst is created within them for the water of life that flows from within us. Jesus told the woman at the well, in John chapter 4, "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." If we are in fact the salt of the earth as Christ has called us to be, our lives will create within those around us a thirst for Jesus.
F. It irritates
Now, I know you're thinking, "Well, I know some Christians who really irritate me." But that's not what I'm saying here. Even as salt in an open wound stings like fire, so the righteous life of a Christian is often an irritant to those whose lives are filled with the open sores of sin. If we live like Jesus lived we will suffer persecution because our lives will be an indictment against the lives of those who continue to be in rebellion against God.
G. It is valuable
Salt is one of the most important chemical elements known to man. It is something that all humans and animals need to live. When Jesus used the term in his sermon, it was something to which every one of His hearers could relate. be lazy was, "not worth his salt."
Jesus is saying that as His people in this world we are of great value. As those who have been entrusted with the words of life, as those who are vessels wherein His Spirit lives, we are of extreme value, not only within the kingdom of God, but within this world. We are the salt of the earth. But here He also says that we are the light of the world.
Whereas salt is tangible, light is visible. Salt does its work in the ordinary, many times unseen areas of life; light does its work out where everyone can see. Light shatters darkness, it illuminates the pathway, and it enables all to see things as they really are.
Jesus here declares that we, His children, are to be light in this world. As we allow Him to live in and through us, we will be the ones who illuminate the truth to the world around us. Furthermore, He says that when men light a lamp, they do not hide it under a bushel basket, but put it on a lamp stand so all who are close by can benefit from the light.
So here it is. We are the salt of the earth, but salt does no good unless it gets out of the salt shaker. We are the light of the world, He has lit us up. Jesus has set us aglow, and He did not light us, He did not set us aglow so that we could be hidden. To the contrary, He lit us up so that we can shine a light on all around us.
Which brings me to my second consideration: What are some specific issues we have been called to address, both as salt and light in our culture?
II. We are called to preserve and illuminate
True belief always includes action. If we claim to believe something but then fail to act on it, we don't really believe it. Our doctrinal statement lists several areas which we, as Christians, are called to action:
Anyone familiar with the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention knows that the primary issue surrounding the foundation of our convention was that of slavery. Unfortunately, our founding fathers were on the wrong side of the issue. Since then our denomination has publically repented of that sin and today not only condemns racism, but advocates the biblical position that in God's eyes all people are of equal worth.
Revelation 5:9 tells us that God sees all people equally. It says, "And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation."
As Christians we are called to welcome all people, irrespective of their ethnicity or social standing, into the body of Christ.
B. Greed, selfishness and vice
The materialistic spirit of our age seeks to justify greed and selfishness, but scripture strongly warns against it.
Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, "No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money."
First Timothy 6:9-10 says, "But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains."
Greed causes poverty and pain. It leads people to hoard what they do not need while their brother, who does not have what he needs, goes without. Contrary to what the world tells us, as Christians we are to love one another, not to take advantage of one another. Greed, selfishness and vice are all sins which demonstrate a lack of faith in Jesus Christ and a sense of self sufficiency.
C. Sexual immorality
If there were ever a day and age when sexual immorality was enjoying a heyday, it is today in the United States of America. Adultery is rampant in our culture. According to focus on the family , even though some 80% of Americans admit that it is wrong, more than one third of men in America and about one in four married women admit to having had at least one extramarital affair.
And one of the biggest contributors to adultery is pornography. According to one Christian source, the number of pornographic web pages in the United States jumped from 14 million in 1998, to more than 260 million by 2003, comprising some 12% of all of the information posted on the World Wide Web . Men who look at pornography are more likely to grow dissatisfied with their wives and to seek to act out their fantasies. This is why scripture warns us about what we look at.
David said in Psalm 101:3, "I will not set anything godless before my eyes."
And Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:28, "But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
And of course, another realm of sexual immorality which we as Christians oppose is that of homosexuality. Unfortunately, many Christians have treated this sin as if it were somehow worse than adultery, but in truth, sin is sin, and it is all abhorrent to God. Jesus died on the cross for all sinners. That means that all sin, not just homosexuality, perverts God's standard of perfection. Homosexuality is expressly forbidden in scripture, just read Leviticus chapter 18 or Romans chapter 1.
Of course as Christians, our great challenge is to hate the sin and love the sinner. We are called to speak the truth but with compassion as well as courage. God does not hate homosexuals, as some hate filled fanatics claim; in fact He loves them so much He sent Jesus to die for them, to save them from their sin just like He died to save you and me from our sins. Our job is to extend His grace and love to them so that we might earn the right to be heard by them and show them that God has a better way. But we are called to stand against it being normalized in our culture.
D. Helping people in need
As Christians we have a responsibility to reach out to those who are not as blessed as we are and to minister God's love to them physically and tangibly. As individuals and as a church we are called to help the poor, to feed the hungry and to speak out for those who have no voice.
Nowhere is this truth more clear than in Matthew 25:35-40 where Jesus says, "‘For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, Lord when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You? And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me."
There are two extremes to which people often go when it comes to these verses. One takes people to the social gospel, where only the physical needs are met and the soul is left unattended. The other extreme is only to minister to the spiritual needs and to neglect the material needs of those less fortunate. Without mistake Jesus has called us to spread the gospel, but He has also called us to share of our material goods with those in need. That's why we are called to love others not merely in word but also in deed.
E. Sanctity of life
As Christians we hold to the propositional truth that all human life is sacred from the moment of conception till natural death. Thus we oppose abortion, euthanasia, and any form of assisted suicide. God is the giver of life and as humans we have no right to shed innocent blood. This includes any technology or research which involves the destruction of a human embryo.
And folks, don't be fooled into thinking these are social issues. They are spiritual issues which have social consequences. Many churches, of the more liberal persuasion, will not take a stand on issues like abortion and same sex marriage, claiming that these are social issues with which the church should not be involved. But as Christians we are called to be involved in every area of life, especially those areas which scripture specifically addresses, and these two issues are clearly addressed in scripture.
Remember, our citizenship is in heaven and we are called to live in such a way that His will is done and His kingdom comes, on earth as it is in heaven. Which brings us to our final consideration this morning.
III. How do we do it?
Allow me to suggest three practical ways in which we can be salt and light and put what our Lord has called us to be into practice.
We are to be vocal, to speak out in our culture for God's truth.
This includes what is said from the pulpit and what is said around the water cooler. As Christians we are not called to be the silent majority. The world would has no problem with us believing whatever we want to believe, what they don't like is when we are vocal about it. But if we are called to anything we are called to speak God's truth to the culture in which we live.
When the truth of God's revelation is withheld from society, they cast off all restraint and the society quickly begins to decline.
Proverbs 29:18 says, "Without revelation people run wild, but one who keeps the law will be happy."
As Christians God has called us to be truth speakers; we are to convey His truth to the world around us, whether it is popular or not.
But not only do are we salt and light with our words, we are salt and light as we exercise our wills: this is how we vote.
In the last presidential election you heard people say they were voting with their wallets. Rising fuel costs and the sagging real estate market were the determining factors for many at the polls. Others said that it was the charisma of the candidate that ultimately caused people to vote for this or for that candidate. And still others will simply voted along party lines, voting for the same party they have always supported. But for Christians our vote has more to do with eternity than the economy, it has more to do with Christ than with charisma, for Christians our vote is an extension of what God has called us to be rather than about a party to which we belong.
James 4:17 says, "So, for the person who knows to do good and doesn't do it, it is a sin."
Remember, our citizenship is ultimately in heaven. God Himself will be on the throne and will judge each of us according to our works. As Christians we no longer belong to ourselves, as scripture says, we are not our own, we have been bought with a price. We who have been crucified with Christ no longer live unto ourselves, but it is Christ who lives in us.
Would Jesus vote for a candidate who supports abortion on demand? Would Jesus vote for a candidate who supports homosexual marriage? Would Jesus vote for a candidate that stands against what His word clearly teaches? If Jesus would not vote for them, how can we vote for them and still call ourselves His people? Make no mistake about it. The world always hopes that Christians will stay home on Election Day. But be certain about this as well, as God's people who are committed to seeing His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, God will hold us responsible for how we exercise His will in the voting booth.
This is our witness - ultimately it comes down to this doesn't it?
We can give the finest speeches and cast our votes for the very best candidate, but at the end of the day, what really matters is how we live, what our witness is really like. How we live tells the tale. How we treat others, how we conduct our business, how we spend our time, our money, all of these things clearly and visibly demonstrate whether or not we are really believers. And whether or not you realize it, someone is always watching, looking to see if what you claim is true about Jesus, is true in you.
This is why Jesus says in Matthew 5:16, "Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."
If we pray as Jesus teaches us, that His kingdom come and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, are we living in such a way that we could be the answers to our own prayers? Are we being salt and light in our culture, or have we compromised and lost our preserving and purifying ability? Have we become so spiritual dim that we cannot see clearly ourselves, much less lead others to spiritual truth?