Christianity is an identity, not a challenge

Matthew 5:13-20

You, Christian, are the salt of the earth. This mattered more before refrigerators. It’s not just you give the world it’s flavor, and too much of you is bad for everyone’s heart. You are the preservative. Jesus says you are what keeps everything from rotting and falling apart. You, Christian, are the light of the world. You stand between the world and the dark. That’s a tall order. It’s terrifying. Especially as our numbers appear to shrink, as our world appears to rot, and dark and latter days hem us in. It feels like we’re losing. It feels like everything’s falling apart. And somewhere down the line the hope of the church stopped being about sharing Jesus with sinners and turned into just surviving another generation. Concern stopped being that the world doesn’t have enough peace and started being that we don’t have enough officers or money or power. We’re not just afraid for our institution. We’re afraid for our retirement. Our relationships. Our health. We’re afraid we don’t have enough of whatever it takes to make things ok. If the salt has lost its saltiness, it’s no good for anything. Trample it underfoot. It’s called despair. It’s not good for anything.

Jesus only seems to want to twist the knife. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The thing is, they were probably better at this stuff than us. The pharisees weren’t villains who twisted fancy mustaches. They were men who thought family mattered. They stood for morality and the good of their people. They supported their church. They were the upright people you’d expect to see standing against the darkness of the day. They were the ones building something that would last another generation. That isn’t enough. Their temple was torn down. Not one stone stood upon the other. Everything they fought for wasn’t enough, not for this world, and not for the next. If you have to do better, they didn’t do enough. They were trampled underfoot, but where does that leave us?

So much of our struggle, our fear, our despair, is rooted in the fact that we go looking in the scriptures for a challenge rather than an identity. What can I do to achieve something worthwhile? Succeed where others failed? Build something that moth and rust can’t destroy? What can I do to show I’m the salt and the light that will make this place better and make me stand out from those who make it worse?

This is not about you. Christianity is not about you. It’s about Jesus for you. Christianity is not a challenge. It’s an identity. The light of the world is Jesus. That light dwelt in darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. The light became the light of men. Now the light is you. Not because of what you did. Not because of what you built. Not because of what you stood for. Because Christ and His righteousness are yours. Now. For real.

He is the light set on the hill. The light that came into the darkness that crept in every time we sinned and failed, every time we tried our best and it wasn’t enough, and every time we contributed to the destruction by our own sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. The light came into our darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it. The light was set on the hill of Calvary. The light set on the hill is the cross. Jesus died there for sinners. The afraid sinners. The despairing sinners. The sinners who couldn’t do enough and the ones who made things worse. He died for me. He died for you. He died for pharisees. He died for all. Your sins are forgiven you. Darkness lost. The world was preserved. Rot comes undone as He rose from the grave. Death is destroyed. Dark is vanquished. Light shines from Christ.

That shines through Christians to the world. They see our good works. More than just the outward works of the Pharisees. More than the ability to build or the power to enforce morality. More than the outward works, who Christ is for us shows the world the inward work of love. Mercy. Forgiveness. Peace. This isn’t a challenge. It’s an identity. You are love, because you were first loved. This is not a quantity of works, but a quality of character. You are not the sum of your sins weighed against the sum of your works. You are not what you’ve broken or failed to do. You are what Jesus made you. Salt. Light. Holiness. Loved.

This identity lets you face the fullness of the law without fear. You don’t need to downplay it or excuse it. You don’t need to justify yourself by abolishing the parts that would make you look like a sinner. Your sins are forgiven. You are in Christ. The law can’t hurt you. When the Son of God calls you holy and forgiven, the law can’t give you an identity. You don’t need to excuse the law or hide the law or relax the law. Jesus fulfills it for you. The more you relax the law to flee from what it would call you, the more you try to not need Jesus.

If we can fulfill the law perfectly, it’s not that hard. To relax the law is to point away from Jesus. To see the law fulfilled and not relaxed one iota is to see Jesus. To teach the law fully is to teach Jesus. To call on you to actually strive to do the same is to hope in Jesus. Be not afraid of your failure. Be not afraid of your sin. Christ has fulfilled the law. Christ has won your forgiveness. Christ has given you an identity, not a challenge. This is just who you are now. Baptized. Holy. Loved. Light.

Christianity is an identity, not a challenge

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