“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus once said to his disciples.
German theologian Helmut Thielicke makes an important point regarding Christ’s words when he notes that Jesus did not say, “You should be the salt of the earth.”
No, Christ said, “You are the salt of the earth.” Jesus is calling his disciples to become in real life what he has already proclaimed them by his power to be. (In much the same way, and by exactly the same power, it is biblically true to say that Christ’s people are both “saved” and “being saved.”)
Jesus knew quite well what his disciples were by themselves. They were inconspicuous “nobodies” by the world’s standards. Peasants, fishermen, rabble-rousers. They were “insignificant” people, a miserable little crowd. Only Jesus knew how miserable. He knew better than they when they would falter and fail, how they would sleep when they should have been watching, how they would deny when they should have been confessing.
Christ knew that the Twelve themselves would be fussing at the holiest meal they ever ate with their Lord, and he would be the only one who would stoop to serve. He knew that Peter would whip out a sword to defend him one moment and a tongue to deny him the next. He knew that they would scatter like frightened quail when he needed them most.
Those early disciples were, Thielicke points out, a wretched little troop. Come to think of it, they looked almost exactly like his disciples in our present age.
But Jesus looked at them, knowing full well who they were and what they would do, and he proclaimed them to be the salt and the light of the world. Just like he does us.
Obviously, the power to become what he had called them to be lay not in them but in their Lord. The greatness wasn’t in them. Not a bit of it. It was in their Savior. What they had, Thielicke writes, was a “borrowed greatness, but it was greatness.” And so those disciples of Christ became what their Lord had called them to be.
As Thielicke notes, in affairs of state, in their homes, in prisons, even in the Roman Coliseum, and all over the world, Christ’s disciples spread salt—sometimes the salt of their own blood—but they seasoned the whole world.
Today we still taste their influence. Our world is still brighter because of the reflected light they shared. They became what they were called to be. And so must we, if we would wear his name.
Salt and light. Simple things. But they say a lot about the kind of people Christ’s followers are to be, the kind of lives they are to lead, and the blessing they are to be in an otherwise bland, decaying, and dark world.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at