Matthew 5.2 – Conditional Identity

Speaker: Scott Jarrett | Sep 18, 2016

6. Jesus asserts that the identity we have gained as God’s people must be maintained through productivity and public witness (again Exo 19:4-6 = Israel’s identity also needed to be maintained – i.e. it was conditional):

6.1. (13)

In the ancient world, salt was used as fertilizer for the soil/earth (“earth” = th/j gh/j = Earth as in the land, earth as in the soil – e.g. Mat 13:5, 8, 23; see also Luk 14:34-35 = Notice, Jesus speaks of salt in re: to the soil/manure – i.e. as fertilizer). Salt as fertilizer – not as a preservative, is therefore (m-l) Jesus’ intended meaning (He did not say, “you are the salt of meat”, but again, “the earth/soil”). One is about preservation, the other production. Though preservation is important, Jesus’ concern (here) is the production of righteous/just behavior[1] as the expected lifestyle of God’s people (Consider again – Mat 13:23 – the “good soil… bears/produces fruit…a hundred fold…some sixty, some thirty”; Eph 2:10). Producing such righteousness/justice is to be what characterizes (i.e. is the norm) of our everyday lives (e.g. JUDCO is not the only time/place you implement/enforce God’s Law. Your everyday life since becoming a Christian is to be a consistent, ever-increasing pattern of righteous/just judgment and behavior in all things.). The reason for Jesus’ concern for productivity? Our identity as the people of God (and its subsequent blessings) are very much dependent on the production of such consistent and constant righteous/just behavior in our lives. (IOW): If we cease to be productive in righteousness/justice as the core characteristic of our life (if we have “lost” our “saltiness” or more literally, “become foolish” = verbal form for moron), then we forfeit also our identity as the people of God and His blessings – esp. His mercy (“It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled…” = This is the conclusion drawn in similar teachings by Jesus. All such statements are a reference to the loss of justification/apostasy/eternal damnation. No doubt then, this is Jesus’ intended meaning here as well – see Mat 8:12, 13:41-42, 47-50, 21:33-43, 24:48-51, 25:14-30; Luk 14:25-35; Joh 15:1-6; see also 2Pe 1:5-11; Rom 11:19-22)[2].

6.2. (14-16)

As in the prior case, the modification of the direct object (“light”) by its conjoining prepositional phrase (“of the world”) is not intended to communicate the disciple’s mission or mandate to the planet/humankind. It is instead being used by Jesus as a way to introduce the one thing all light (“of the world”) holds in common: it makes things visible. Hence why He says, “A city on a hill cannot be hidden” (14). (IOW): When the lights are on, its location becomes visible. This is also light’s purpose. Hence, Jesus’ reason for saying what He does in (15). This too (then) becomes the obligation of the people of God. Maintaining our identity requires that what we produce as consistent righteous/behavior (our “good works”) be something that the public around us can attest to since what we are in that environment is to be no different. We are not chameleons – hiding our Christianity or acting differently when in public.  If we are to continue to be recognized by God as His people/saved, our righteous/just behavior wb evident/visible even to “others” – i.e. non-Christians (16; see also 1Pe 2:12; “Give glory to your Father” or “give glory to God on the day of His visitation” = your visible actions will have been a true vs. a terrible testimony to the God they will one day meet; e.g. People in the workplace, at school, in the neighborhood, who are around us on a regular basis, would not attest to contradictions between what the Bible teaches and what they have seen us practice). The warning of loss and eternal damnation is implied in (14-16) based on it close connection and similarity to the previous analogy re: salt (i.e. Jesus treats both antitheses: un-salty salt and invisible light the same – as completely unrealistic (i.e. unrealistic in re: to being a Christian). As such, the old saying is confirmed, “What we are before men, is Who we are before God”.  There are no secret (or invisible) saints.

6.3.The Apostle  James echoes Jesus’ teaching.

Though as Christians we gained our identity (and justification) through faith (Rom 3:28), we must maintain it through righteous/just behavior that is both public and productive (Jam 2:14-26)[3].

[1] This is not only the central focus/core of the chiasm in the previous verses (6-7), but also their common theme throughout. (IOW): it is also why we are persecuted, repent and are obedient (4-5, 8-12).

[2] It is important to note that scholars have wrestled over the fact that Jesus’ analogy is unrealistic (i.e. salt cannot become un-salty). That however is His point: God expects no lack or ceasing of righteous/just behavior in His people. They are expected to maintain “saltiness” the entirety of their lives. Anything less is an unrealistic view of what it means to be a child of God (consider 1Jo 3:4-8).

[3] Luther’s failure to reconcile Rom 3:28 w/Jam 2:14-26 was due to his ignorance of the gain/maintain principle of salvation taught throughout Bible. He instead embraced the very heretical idea of work-based salvation which made it seem as though James were the true heretic (esp. his words in 2:24). The importance of understanding gain/maintain therefore cannot be overstated. Almost every book in the Bible teaches it. All God’s salvific covenants contain it as part of their conditional structure.