We need the timeless truths of God’s Word to make sense of this crazy world. But Scripture not only explains what is really going on—it also fills us with hope as God works His sovereign plan to its ultimate, glorious conclusion. This blog series, first run in January 2016, is a timely reminder to that end. –ed.
This world is racing to hell. In a full sprint and with the hearty approval of their unsaved peers, unrepentant sinners chase down every temptation, indulge every lust, and gleefully invite their own destruction (Romans 1:28-32).
The book of Judges succinctly describes such aggressive godlessness and wanton self-indulgence with the repeated phrase “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25, c.f. 17:6)—an increasingly accurate description of contemporary culture.
As we saw last time, the solution to society’s sinful self-destruction is not political change. No amount of political leverage can press someone into God’s kingdom, and there’s no way to legislate true repentance and faith. That ought to be obvious to believers. In the end, the root cause of this world’s problems is not political, so it makes no sense to expect the solution to be, either. The heart of the issue is sin, and God’s pattern for dealing with sin has nothing to do with political parties or movements.
The only hope for this doomed culture is the transforming work of the Holy Spirit unleashed in the lives of sinners through the proclamation of the gospel.
That’s where you and I come in. We aren’t merely observers as the world succumbs to the ravages of its corruption—we’re called to administer the antidote. We have been set apart to testify to the truth of God’s Word—to live out that testimony as salt and light in this dark and tasteless world (Matthew 5:13-16).
As John MacArthur explains in his commentary on the gospel of Matthew, the believer’s divinely-ordained function in the world is a matter of influence.
We are God’s salt to retard corruption and His light to reveal truth. One function is negative, the other is positive. One is silent, the other is verbal. By the indirect influence of the way we live we retard corruption, and by the direct influence of what we say we manifest light.
Both salt and light are unlike that which they are to influence. God has changed us from being part of the corrupted and corrupting world to being salt that can help preserve it. He has changed us from our own darkness to be His agents of giving light to others. By definition, an influence must be different from that which it influences, and Christians therefore must be different from the world they are called to influence. We cannot influence the world for God when we are worldly ourselves. We cannot give light to the world if we revert to places and ways of darkness ourselves.  John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 1-7 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985) 240-241.
What does that look like practically? First of all, it means we need to watch how we live. We’ll talk more about this next time, but believers need to work hard to protect their testimonies before the watching world. We need to guard against behaviors and activities that tarnish our testimonies and cast doubt on the truth of God’s Word. We need to remember that our lives are not our own—that we belong to Christ as tools for the work of His kingdom.
Our responsibility then is to stay sharp and useful through self-discipline and separation from the world. If we’re going to have any influence against the overwhelming corruption all around us, we need to make sure the world sees a stark difference in the way we talk and act—the way we live.
The call to be salt and light also means we need to be quick and capable proclaimers of the gospel. The world is an intimidating place, and many believers can find no end of excuses to avoid boldly telling others about their salvation in Christ. But such timidity is unbecoming of our faith and the Lord who saved us. We can’t give in to the fear of man, the desire for acceptance, and the love of our comfortable lives. We need to be willing to sacrifice all those things—anything, in fact—in order to reach and rescue sinners headed to hell.
Perhaps the best cure for spiritual stage fright is found in the convicting words of Paul: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). With eternity in the balance, how can we afford to be silent?
Part of living in contrast to the world is always being ready to give an account for that difference (1 Peter 3:15), explaining how the Lord has transformed us through the power of His Word and the sanctifying work of His Spirit. That same spiritual transformation is the only hope there is for this world and its people, and we have the privilege and duty to tell them about it.
That doesn’t mean we won’t be met with opposition. Jesus warned His disciples of the world’s hostility (John 15:18-19), and we see that same hostility toward God’s people and His Word today. But even as the world operates as our enemy, working to silence our message and stifle our influence, we need to remember that they are actually our mission field. In his sermon “Hope for a Doomed Nation,” John MacArthur makes that very point:
Your enemy is your mission field. The world of enemies was God’s mission field. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Don’t hate the enemy; love the enemy as God loves the enemy and sent His Son for their salvation. . . . So what’s our job? Go into the mission field, love them the way God loves them, and preach the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, and let the kingdom advance one soul at a time.
Next time we’ll consider how the church is fulfilling that role, and how it is getting in its own way.