rebelling against low expectations

A Shining Salty City On A Stand


In my previous post, My iPod Is My Best Friend, I began my response to Lauren’s question regarding corporate change, by laying a personal foundation. In response, Jake posted the following:

Assume for a second we, as teens, really get it. We are watching/listening to the right things, choosing our friends wisely etc. But what do we really need to do to affect the people around us?

First of all, I’m very glad Jake asked this question. If people weren’t asking these kinds of questions after reading our posts, something would be very wrong.

However, before jumping right in, we would do well to recognize that reading, watching, listening, and spending time with wise companions is a mammoth task. I’m ashamed to say that yesterday I sat down with a book of Foxtrot comic strips and wasted a good 20-30 minutes. I don’t say that to be legalistic about reading comics. I enjoy a well-written strip. In fact, our country could use a Christian Amend (Foxtrot), Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes), Adams (Dilbert), or Schultz (Peanuts). Still, I cannot deny that after spending that particular time period reading about the exploits of Jason and his pet iguana, I felt convicted of hypocrisy. This is a continual battle against the culture. You can’t just “get it.” Furthermore, even if you could just “get it,” the change doesn’t happen instantaneously. We’ve grown up in a media-saturated culture whose expectations of young people are incredibly low. The residual effects of that social conditioning cannot be wiped away with Windex.

With that said, we as Christians, imperfect as we are, are commanded to be salt and light to the earth. How do we rise up to that calling as young people? In this post, let us examine exactly what Jesus meant when He told us to be salt and light.

[Note: The following is still more foundational, rather than specific, but the specific is coming. Don’t worry.]

A common misconception regarding the command to be “salt” is the idea that it means that we’re to give the world flavor. Christians make the world taste good. However, while salt was used to flavor foods at the time of Christ, this was not its primary purpose. Rather, in a time before refrigeration, pasteurization, and pressure cooking, salt was highly valued as a preservative. A little salt rubbed into meat would slow decay. Our calling as Christians is not just to make the world taste good, but more importantly, to preserve it. As rebelutionaries, we are called to fight against the push of our culture towards moral and intellectual depravity. We must do this individually and corporately; if we lose our saltiness, we accomplish nothing; if we are isolated, we accomplish nothing.

The command to be “light” is also open to misconception. One common misconception is the notion that being a light involves being very careful not to draw attention to yourself, but just standing around and letting your little light shine, wherever you happen to be. But this is the exact opposite of the examples used by Christ. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” If you’re traveling nearby at night, you cannot help but see it. It arrests your attention. In the same way, a lamp set on a stand lights up the entire house. Light is incredibly invasive. Our calling as Christians is not only to shine our light brightly, but most importantly, to do so in such a way and in such an arena that we cannot be ignored. Again, we must do this individually and corporately.

As you might have guessed, the most important thing to recognize here is the necessity of both individuals and communities. A community is made up of individuals. We must each take on the responsibility of reforming our own lives, and then come together in order to effect change in the culture around us. In the posts that follow, we’ll be examining exactly how we do that.

“And though the culture might prevail against one who is isolated, two will withstand it—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • I think this is an excellent first step. Salt and Light, indeed. Now a question for you: Do we take the culture by storm – through hard fights, battles, and controversy – or through subtle actions, slowly turning it back to God?

  • Excellent question, David. I could answer you, but I’d be developing my response as I went along. Honestly, Brett and I don’t have everything completely figured out yet. =P

    Because of that, we would encourage all of our readers to not let The Rebelution become another place where they passively intake, but to contribute and wrestle with these issues with us. We’ll be posting our conclusions once they are developed and articulated. Meanwhile, what do you all think? How would you respond to David’s question? David, what do you think?

  • I see it as a battle, but also as a long, hard slog. (‘Do not become weary in doing good.’) Personally, I think disicpline will be a huge part of it. Can we be disciplined enough to stay focused on a distant goal that may not even be achieved in our lifetime? My parents started homsechooling over a decade ago with the goal of being world-changers. They have had to come to terms with the fact that they probably won’t see a total reformation of American culture in their lifetimes. They have played a part in what God is doing, but it has not been a very glamorous part. Their battle has been one of being disciplined and keeping the faith.

    I believe the time is right for a reformation, and I want to take part in it more than I want just about anything else. But I have to have enough faith to remain disicplined and steady no matter what God has for me.

    In another vein, we have to be able to stand up against the evil we perceive in our culture without faltering and to offer an alternative to that evil. If God chooses to effect great change through us, we must be ready to build another culture as well as to tear down the present evil. We will have to have what has been called ’emotional capital’ to shape the culture that comes after.

  • As long as we talk in such general terms as has been done in this post, it is a matter of goals. As to methods, whether furious or subtle: well, it probably depends on the situation. Both boldness and perseverance are required.

    In counter-response to the bold/subtle antithesis, I would ask what it means to “be as wise as serpents, and as gentle as doves.” This might lead to something valuable. Because otherwise, the “be bold” command might end up viciousness, and “be subtle” could lead to compromise.

    I think the chapter in “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton entitled “The paradoxes of Christianity” help explain this.

  • I would have to say that we must fight passionately (“Zeal for your house will consume me…”) but use wisdom (“Get wisdom, get understanding. Do not…turn from them.”). Jesus displayed this in His ministry (in a perfect way that we can’t even hope to match). On one hand, He stuck up for the truth diplomatically (in the case of the adultress) and in others…well, diplomacy just wasn’t part of the plan (e.g., His condemnation of the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Jerusalem).

    That being said, I think that the function of persons may vary. Some in the Body may be called to be warriors and to attack the evil instituted among men (e.g., John the Baptist). It will assuredly be otherwise for many.

    For now, however, I think that boldness is what is called for. Too many people have lost the zeal for God’s House that once marked the Church.

  • Excellent insight, Karen. Discipline is absolutely essential. It’s like attending a conference or spiritual retreat. The spiritual and emotional high you get from that, what my Dad calls a “mountaintop experience,” is great… But it’s taking that resolve and enthusiasm and translating it into the grind of daily life that marks true change.

    I loved the Chesterton, Nathan. He is one of my all-time favorite writers and thinkers. Thanks for the link. I think the command of being wise as serpents and gentle as doves is very key to this entire issue.

    David, I agree with much of your analysis. However, you bring up a very interesting point, regarding Jesus’s diplomacy. What is your understanding of the story of Jesus and the adulteress? How was diplomacy present there?

  • �And though the culture might prevail against one who is isolated, two will withstand it�a threefold cord is not quickly broken.� — is this a quote from somewhere… the last part sounds like Ecclesiastes 4:12

  • I would have thought we were to evangelize in a way like this:

    I can imagine being bold and loud to people who would only respnd to loud voices and bold character. And I could see Christians be gentle and quiet to those of the same character.

  • I am 40 years old and the idea of rebelling against rebellion and the salt and light as you have talked about is also applicable to “adults” in the church. We need to all resist the effects of our culture, thank you for your stand and your efforts to change how we think about our lives and stages of life and how we should live it for God’s glory! To His praise!

  • That is a really good question– whether to “strike” hard and quick, to create a radical change, or to do it in subtle increments… one of the previous bloggers (Nathan Straub) made a really good point: boldness could turn into visciosness, and subtlty could result in compromise…

    It kind of feels like we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place… like either way could result in a “one step forward- two steps back” kind of fashion…

    I wish it would always be a “quickly take it by storm” kind of thing, because i want things to be better _right now_, at this immediate time; but patience is a fruit of the Spirit. And i’d rather it take more time and get better results and be in the Lord’s timing, rather than impulsively shoot forward and make things worse than they already are.

    Maybe it depends on the culture and people… in some places and times, a radical turnabout caused (or would cause) the best end result; in others, it took (or takes)longer and more subtle changes to bring about the best long lasting result. It would also then depend on which area of culture is the one to be changed–the bigger and harder issues of course would take longer, and the smaller ones would still be difficult, but could be dealt with and changed more easily than harder ones.

    But i guess ultimately we can only do things as quickly as we can–and these kind of issues are the reasons we need to keep a good relationship with the Lord…because then we will receive guidance as to how we are to procede with the cultural revelutions we are trying to bring about…

    God and peace be with you all,
    Elisabeth J. Gruber

  • This is a battle. We are just fighting this battle like Ghandi did. I mean we are not sitting here and waiting for all teens to become Christians, but we are going out into the world to share faith without violence. This is a battle we are fighting. We are just fighting like Ghandi:

    NO Violence.

  • Matthew 6:1-18
    This speaks of discretion in your acts of good. In other words, though we should set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, and in purity, we should be careful to never show off in our good acts or strive to make these acts known.

  • A quick comment on the non-violence comments and on the bold part our battle. While it is true that Christians are not supposed to spread their faith through conquest, we are called to be aggressive at times. I’m thinking of Jesus driving out the money changers from the temple. It was not violence, in that it did not involve physically attacking people, but it was a violent reaction. However, the violence was not directed at pagans and strangers to the faith, but to those who were contributing to corruption in the church. I think there are times when in our efforts to be gentle and subtle we forget that even Jesus was passionate and zealous, angry in his judgment of those who were harming the body. Sometimes we are called to physical action, to demonstrate our faith by our deeds, instead of just our words.

  • I wondered what being the “salt of the earth” really meant. Now it totally adds up. I think I thought it meant to be good, but I couldn’t connect that with what salt meant to me, personally, as a simple seasoning.

    Does anyone know the symbolism of the “yeast” of the Pharisees? Like, why yeast? I know that yeast is used in making wine alcoholic . . . does that have any connection? I didn’t know if it’s like the yeast (lies, or religious lies, specifically), when added to something pure and good for us, like wine (or truth), creates something dangerous that will lead us into wrong? This may sound like grasping at straws. Oh well.

    And regarding violence; I recently read a quote by a Christian author that went something like, “As Christians, we are to be a witness through our own suffering, not by causing suffering of others.”
    I think this is very true to illustrate why we must be non-violent — even when we are persecuted and even attacked. I believe that we should be passionate for God — His Truth and His “House” — just as Jesus was, but I also believe that we are to be purely Righteous in our anger and our zeal, and fully directed and ruled by Him. Also, I believe that what He guides us to do and all that we should do will never, ever go against His Commandments (such as, not to murder in heart or deed).
    In my belief, all Justice done to my adversaries must be done only and fully by God’s Hand alone, not involving me, or it is not His Will that “justice” come to them as of yet in the first place.
    By the approach of being meek (not weak or cowardly or compromising) in our approach, and allowing Him to accomplish the rest, I believe that it will be proven that we do not stand alone (alone, as in, without God).

    Our job is to shine His Light through us with passion and zeal — in other words, to surrender and allow Him to live and speak and act through us Life and Light. It’s His job to put us on a stand and allow us to be an example to the world (some of us can try all we want to gain a platform — and I’m not discouraging that — but unless it’s God’s Will it won’t happen). I think this article is right in that we should not resist the platform that He gives us, but rather that we should shine in such a way from that very platform so that the light cannot be mistaken or ignored as being His Light (so people walking by aren’t going, “Is that a reflection of the moon? Did I leave the refrigerator door open? Am I the only one who sees that?).

    But then again, all it comes down to is the focus of our hearts — is it God or performing/trying to be “good”? Everything we do and all that we are stems from how our heart is before God. If it’s right before God, then no, we shouldn’t try to hide it — we should allow Him to shine it to challenge others to surpass us in seeking Him and knowing Him and loving Him. If it’s not right before God, then there’ll be no hiding it eventually anyway (look at all the people who failed throughout history that God allowed platforms so that we could learn from them, too, so as to be challenged to not become like them) so in that case we better get our act together if we call ourselves Christians, I think.

  • My response to David (way up at the top) is that some things have to be fought outright and by storm- like abortion and homosexuality. other things can only be changed by our actions and small choices we make each day such as not lying about your age, or praying for your friends when their in need

  • In response to David at the top: you can’t get anything done by sitting around, and no battle was ever won by running away, or appeasing the opposition. We have to fight for whats right, no matter what, because it is not just about us, but the people around us, and the people that will come after us, but we also have to use caution, if we offend people, we’re not going to change their minds, be AS WISE AS SERPENTS and GENTLE AS LAMBS.

  • OOPS I submited my comment before finishing. You need both. We can’t take the world by force on our own, God has to be there, without Him, we are nothing. He is the power. The battle is his, and the Victorie is ours, but if the owner of the battle isn’t there, we’re gonna’ lose BAD.

  • We always need to shine for God and to LOVE with a open heart, some times it’s hard to do but thats what we can work on. We can all shine for God in our own way. we just need to put a little faith in him.

  • To Nicole,
    Regarding your yeast question:
    Yeast is used as an analogy for sin in the Bible. Although your wine & yeast analogy could be good in today’s society, in Bible times, wine was a common drink; the Jews drank wine at many, if not all of their feasts. Although I cannot find where there is a parable/story in the Bible about a woman who is making unleavened bread and has to clean her whole house from top to bottom, in every nook and cranny, to rid the house of the yeast she had used in making leavened bread. I
    n Matthew 16, Jesus tells his disciples to “Be on Your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” A couple of verses later, after they figure out that Jesus is not talking about bread, the disciples realize that “he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

  • I believe that, as many others have said, that we need to use both a mixture of subtle and bol changes. But it does not lie with us to work out which to use. It lies with us to listen to God, and to do as he says. Things will always turn out far better if we let God make the decisions for us.

  • I recently was thinking on the very same thing and came to a few conclusions. Obviously, we do not want to lose our ‘saltiness’ however I feel that just having ‘saltiness’ is not enough. What is the point of being a Christian if we do not spread send our grains out into our neighborhoods, towns, states, countries, and world? I feel that it is not enough to simply give money to missionaries (as good an act as that is). Afterall, if that is all that we do, how many in our neighborhood would be saved?

  • Concerning the point made about being a ligth that cannot be ignored, I am troubled. I completely believe that truth and accept it whole-heartedly. My youth pastor always told s we must affirm what scripture affirms and deny what scripture denies.
    There are two verses, though, that have gotten me divided.
    Matthew 5:16
    “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
    Matthew 6:1
    “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

    Where’s the balance?

  • amen to that! i especially liked the line (and we quote) “Our calling as Christians is not only to shine our light brightly, but most importantly, to do so in such a way and in such an arena that we cannot be ignored.”

    That right there means a lot to me and is very important.
    God bless you guys!

  • The verses that Stephanie wrote are talking about two different things.

    The first one (Matt 5:16) is talking about our faith; how God changes our attitude and as Christians we desire to do loving, kind, patient, selfless things. By doing this we show that God’s taken our focus off ourselves, He’s made us see our sinfulness and His awesome holiness. If we let people see how our life has changed through our faith in Christ then they can glorify God and it’s a way of spreading the good news of the gospel.

    The second verse (Matt 6:1) is refering to good works, perhaps things like visiting the poor, visiting the elderly, baking food for people, and giving money. You shouldn’t boast about these things, but do them quietly so that only the necessary people know.

    As Christians we’re in a battle, which is why we wear full armour (Ephesians 6), this means different things for different people.
    Some people are on the front line, they’re the mouth in the body of Christ – shouting out loud and clear, startling people making them look around nervously to see who’s chasing them. (You might identify street evangelists, pastors, open air preachers, overseas missionaries, and others of these types of people)
    Other people are the soldiers that stay in the camp, these are like the ears of the body – ready to care for the wounded soldiers, making sure all the equipment is ready. (These people might present themselves as full-time mums, the school pupil who works hard for the glory of God, the elderly person who has a ministry of prayer and encouragement, and others)

    As someone’s said already: We need to keep a close relationship with God to find out what He’s calling us to do. Does He want our next witness to be a startling one or a subtle one? We need to ask Him.

  • […] Matthew 5:14-17 says that we are the light of the world. As Christians, our “chief and highest end” is to glorify God is everything we do. If we do this, then we are letting the light of Jesus shine through us and reach the darkness of this world. There is a great article on this over at The Rebelution. It is titled “A Shining Salty City on a Stand” and it covers the fact that we need to be salt and light to this decaying world. Glorifying God in all we do isn’t optional – it’s essential. The Bible says in Matthew 5:16 that we should let our light shine in front of all men. Even if we aren’t proclaiming the good news every minute of the day, we can set good examples for everyone we come in contact with by living according to the principles of the Bible. […]

  • yes, but what does this mean? HOW do you be the salt and the light? Ps, some specific actions…you guys are really good at this, so i can’ t wait for your response.. pls and thanx

  • I think that the command is to not compromise but act with humility and avoid acting with out proper thought and consultation. Also, ‘the farmer who watches every cloud never harvests’.

  • true , who would want to be salt on a piece of rotting meat?
    god doesnt just want us to hide thee faults of earth, but to save it with our example and ministry.

  • thanks for this topic becuase it is one i have been thinking about alot lately.
    trying to shine my light is hard becuase i am shy of strangers. thanks for explaining the city on a hill and the salt thing. i really like what Laura said about salt making people thristy. if we shine our light and be different people will see the difference and want it. recently, i thought you shoud be like the world (dress) to reach the world. but then my mom pointed out that Jesus wasnt like the world. people liked him becuase he was different (and he was the Son of God). what do you think? should people be like the world (dress, listen to christian rap music that you cant understand the words, and act) just to reach them? or do you think they want something different?

    thanks again! 1timothy 4:12

  • As an aside, I would hasten to harken that it is not recommended that one should try to say the title of this post out loud too fast if one is interested in attaining a measure of purity in one’s speech. 🙂

  • First, in response to will fox: It is true we may not like being salt on a piece of rotting meat, but that is exactly what we are! We Christians are the ones who, through God, are preserving this rotting world. We are not covering up the sins of this culture, for every man and woman is judged alone. We are called to save and that is one way we can preserve this world.
    Second, in response to juliethetwin: I do not believe we should conform to this world simply so we will fit in. God made us the way we are and as Christians we are to stand out in this world. I am not saying it is bad to listen to rap, dress in the latest style, and act “cool”, but we should not be doing these things to please others. We should reach out to others, but not through trying to be cool. If you like rap, fine. I like Christian rap and hip hop, but I don’t do it to fit in.

  • Faithful Servent:

    I’m not trying to cause strife, but I would like to gently point out that Christian can be defined several ways. Sadly within Christianity itself, the label “Christian” is all too often applied to people who have never experienced the regenerative work of the blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. They are the namby-pamby Christians, to put it bluntly. They assume the title because everyone else does, or because they believe that baptism or accepting a creed will gain them entrance into heaven. Sadly they miss the entire point of the true Christian faith.

    Although Schultz claimed to be a Christian, he also described himself as a “secular humanist”. Although I truly hope he is with the Lord, we must realize that many are stepping into eternity with a false hope in works and religion, as opposed to the redemptive work of Christ alone.

  • I wished to say that its wonderful to find out that a person else also mentioned this as I had trouble choosing the same information elsewhere. This became the initial place that told me the result. With thanks. Good luck, Piper.

  • I often feel quilty, especially at work, if I don’t speak up for Christ when I think I should or simply bring him up in conversation. But maybe the peace and gentleness that we have in Christ reflects and shines alot brighter than we realize. Maybe the world does notice, and maybe it does stand out like a light on a hill simply because they don’t have it. I think if you truly love God and your desire is to become like Christ, someone around you will be effected, even in your imperfection, because your completely surrendering yourself to Him.

    One thing I am learning from my own experience is that when I feel intense pressure and discomfort when sharing the word of God, it’s not something God is expecting or requiring me to do at that moment. Know when the Holy Spirit is leading me, the task is easier (even if it were to be speaking in front of millions) and does not feel like a legalistic burden. I notice there is a difference and lightness between hard work, boldness and commitment lead by the Holy Spirit and one lead by fear or an obligation to do the right thing.

  • In response to Stephanie: I can see where your confusion is, however look closely at Matthew 6:1. Jesus tells us to not do our works “so that they may be seen by men.” We’re not after the approval of men; we do things only for God. That’s the difference.
    God is still telling us to be bold in what we do when we’re doing it for Him. To shine our light in everything, but not so we can simply be the brightest light there is, instead so that we can glorify our God!

  • We are in a war. Every action we take, whether subtle or not, is part of the fight. There will be times when God calls us to be on the front lines, bold and shouting for His name. And there will be times when He calls us to be part of a small, infiltrating force to go in and plant seeds. One is subtle, one is not. But both are needed and both are part of the war in advancing the kingdom of God. Walk with God day by day. Put on the FULL armor of God (Ephesians 6). And “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15). That word circumspectly means to be constantly looking all around; aware; knowing your environment; ready. Be ready for Jesus to ask you to be subtle or bold, because He will do both.

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  • Great post! I was just looking over the comments when I realized that there are about 7 straight years of comments on this one single post. I couldn’t resist making it eight! I hope I write something someday that continues to inspire people year after year the way your posts do! This post has given me plenty of hard things to think about. Thanks for having the courage to make a difference!

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →