The news from Jesus was mind-boggling: The very people who thought they would never be eligible to get into God’s Kingdom are invited in—not because of their goodness, but on the basis of His.
What’s more, Jesus wanted this life-transforming message to be communicated around the globe throughout history. But how? What would His approach be?
That’s when Jesus unveiled His strategic plan. In effect, He told His followers: “You are my marketing strategy. You are the means by which my message will be spread in your family, neighborhood, workplace and school. You’ll do it by being salt and light. That’s Plan A. And friends, this had better work, because there is no Plan B.”
What an outlandish idea—that frail and fallible people like you and I would be the main purveyors of this eternity-altering message.
It was a high-stakes strategy. And the results have been … well, let’s admit it, a bit mixed. Even though Jesus used the images of salt and light in a positive way, some Christians have managed to turn them into negative metaphors.
Just as there are times when salt can sting and light can glare, some Christians have good intentions, but they inadvertently repel people from God’s Kingdom. At least, that’s what I found when I was an atheist. In fact, four kinds of Christians particularly irked me.
First, there were the in-your-face Christians, like the guy I used to pass on my way to work at the Chicago Tribune. He’d shout into a bullhorn that distorted his words so much I couldn’t even tell what he was saying. But he angrily waved a Bible, so I got the basic idea. If that’s Christianity, I’d say to myself, then count me out!
Recently, I came across a manual detailing how Christians can hook up a loudspeaker to their car to preach on the road. You’re supposed to declare: “Pull over right now and ask Jesus to save your soul!” You’ve heard of drive-by shootings? Well, these are drive-by shoutings!
In-your-face Christians were always anxious to launch into a spiritual discussion at the most inopportune times. I could imagine squeezing between the rows at a crowded movie theater, looking for an empty seat. “Is that seat saved?” I’d ask the person next to it.
“No, it’s not,” he’d bellow. “But the real question is, are you saved?”
Frankly, I resented strangers who tried to push themselves into something as personal as my spiritual beliefs.
I also was repulsed by the greeting-card Christians, whose understanding of their faith was so shallow that they could only talk about it in the kind of simple-minded clichés you’d find on Christmas cards.
I’d ask a million-dollar spiritual question, and they’d give me a 25-cent answer—or no response at all. I’d think, How can they believe something they’ve never even thought through?
The holier-than-thou Christians repelled me, too. Smug and self-righteous, they painted themselves as being much better than they really were, and tarred people like me as being much worse than we really were.
I got the idea that if I were to venture into one of their churches, people would frantically whisper behind my back, “Look out! It’s one of those hell-bound pagans! Quick, lock up the valuables! Gather the children! Protect the women!”
The other folks who chased me away were the cosmetic Christians. They had a skin-deep spirituality that looked good on the outside but didn’t penetrate deep enough to change their behavior—like the journalist who was one of the most unscrupulous reporters in Chicago, but who let everybody know what a church-going family man he was.
It doesn’t have to be that way. As individuals and churches, we can make a conscious decision to fulfill Jesus’ command in the way He intended. We can commit, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be like salt that is savory and light that gently illuminates.