The characteristics of discipleship

Salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16)

Jesus taught his followers that they were to be like salt and light, but they need to be effective in these roles, “If salt loses its saltiness … it has become worthless, so it is thrown out". Likewise with light, “your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven".

Understanding the text

This passage is part of a longer section of teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is giving instruction about Christian living, responsibilities and relationships with others. In this passage on salt and light, Jesus uses two familiar images to help his listeners understand about the nature of discipleship.

  • Salt is an important ingredient in many foods to improve flavour. In Bible times, it was also used as a preservative (to stop fresh food from going bad). Salt that cannot perform these functions is useless. Jesus wants his followers to be like salt in their local community, through being a force for good and bringing improvements to people’s lives.
  • Light is important to guide the way, especially in darkness. Jesus wants his followers to show their faith in the societies where they live, like a light shining visibly. Jesus points out that there is no use lighting a lamp and then hiding it. Jesus concludes by saying that Christians should be visible and effective in society so others will be led to God.