Conversations surrounding reaching the culture happen everyday in evangelical circles. Many conversations revolve around strategies, styles and models—seeker, emerging, missional, contemporary, blended, traditional, etc. I think these are all good and important conversations (and ones I like to have), since these conversations basically are about contextualization. While I believe there is a place to talk models, styles, and strategies (i.e., contextualization), I would like to propose an additional way to reach the culture—those far from God—is to simply just “be” you. In other words, simply “be” the person and the people that God has created, and is re-creating you to be.
Going back to Matthew 5, Jesus, addressing his disciples on the Sermon on the Mount, preaches, “You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world…” (Matt 5:13, 14). Jesus uses “salt” and “light,” two natural elements to describe the people of God. Just as salt will be salt, and light will simply be light, so too the people of God should simply be the people of God. In other words, they should simply be themselves. There are three common characteristics that salt, light, and the people of God have.
1) They are all things that have been created for a purpose. Salt in antiquity was primarily used as a preservative agent. While we know of salt as a flavor enhancing spice, those in antiquity did not have refrigerators and therefore needed an agent of preservation for their food so that it did not spoil. Salt acted as a preservative, keeping food from spoiling. Light acts as an agent of revelation. Without light we could not see. Whether it is the sun or a lamp, light pierces the darkness and provides illumination for people to see. Light exposes darkness and provides revelation of what is true—what is reality. The people of God were created by God and for God, existing as his redemptive agents of humanity by which he would use to “bless” and “make disciples” of all nations. In addition, he desires to work and live through them, manifesting to a watching world the way (the reality) he intended life to be.
2) They are natural and pure things, and therefore are devoid of any unnatural elements. Any attempt to mix salt with impure or foreign elements will prohibit it from being a preservative element; and any attempt to put a light under a basket will prohibit it from giving light. Therefore, God’s people should seek to be pure and holy, protecting themselves from foreign elements or idols, which would prohibit them from carrying out the purpose for which they were created.
3) They are all something that benefit others and therefore are attractive elements that people seek after. Salt, light, and the people of God all exist for the benefit of others. Salt and light are commodities people seek after in order for their lives to flourish. As salt and light increase the flourishing of people as they preserve their food and provide light for their path, so too the people of God act as agents of “blessing,” of flourishing, as they live as the redemptive people of God in the world. They are people who talk of another King, who express allegiance to another kingdom, who love the unlovable, who accept the foreigner, who stands for justice, who works for the welfare of the city, who take care of the poor, the sick, the widow, and orphan, who create community, who meets needs of the needy, who forgives when they have been wronged, who suffers joyfully, who patiently endures, and who lives expectantly in light of the future. As the people of God live as the redeemed, forgiven, rescued, and transformed people of God, they become like the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world,” acting as agents of flourishing, which attract seekers who long for the life expressed in and through them.
In closing, one of the truest ways to reach the culture—people far from God—is to simply be yourself. But being yourself actually comes at a cost. It costs you your life. Surrendering to and allowing Jesus—through the Holy Spirit—to conform you into his image, transforms you into his conduit by which he reflects his glory throughout the world. Think about it, salt does not try to be salt, light does not try to be light, they simply “are” elements brought about through the Creator. Externally, we can strive to be the people of God, following man-made rules, regulations, traditions, strategies, and models, which can be effective to some degree. However, surrendering to Jesus, our great God and King to re-create us, allows him to internally transform us (as his image in the world) and externally shine through us, thereby [naturally] making us into the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” Remember to just be you where God has placed and planted you. Remember that you are his, created in Christ Jesus for his good purpose. Remember that you are his; therefore he is the preeminent aim in your life. Remember you are not to have any idols that would dethrone Jesus as the focal and center point of your life. And finally, remember that you exist for the glory of Jesus and the good of others. Seek out ways that you can be a “blessing” to others—showing and sharing with them the good news of your great King.