“I can change the world of one person”

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:13

My wife and I returned recently from vacationing in Alaska. The scenery was stunning, a daily reminder of God’s grandeur and omnipotence. The next day, we needed these reminders. A gunman from Allen, Texas, attacked a Walmart in El Paso, killing at least twenty people and wounding twenty-six others.

The next morning, a gunman opened fire in an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, killing at least nine people and injuring twenty-six others before he was killed by police.

What words describe your reaction to these tragedies? Horror? Outrage? Anger? Grief? You’re shocked, but you’re probably not surprised. There have now been 251 mass shootings in America in 2019, and the year is only seven months old.

The fact that we’re shocked but not surprised is one of the most tragic parts of these tragedies. It’s easy to lose hope, to believe that this is just the way things are now and that there’s nothing you and I can do to make a difference.

But hopelessless is the wrong way to respond. We must find a way to make a difference of some kind. Counselors tell us that when dealing with grief, doing something positive for someone else is vital. For them, of course, but for ourselves as well.

Paul Shane Spear: “As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.”

This week, as we continue studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we come to one of the greatest compliments paid to anyone in all of Scripture. We’ll learn that it applies to us. And we’ll learn how God can use even our lives to change the world, one soul at a time.

The next time you get discouraged about our fallen planet, remember what we’ll learn today. And decide to be who Jesus says you really are.

Who is spiritual salt?

“You are the salt of the earth,” says Jesus of Nazareth. Following his Beatitudes, these words begin the most famous sermon in human history. Every single word deserves our attention this morning.

“You”: Jesus’ word is plural, not singular. Whatever it means to be the “salt of the earth,” it means it for every one of Jesus’ followers.

No matter how mature spiritually you may think you are or are not, no matter what you know about your faith, if you are Jesus’ follower you are the “salt of the earth.” You may not know much, but then neither did they at this beginning of Jesus’ ministry with them. If you follow Jesus, you are addressed here. You are included.

No matter what your past has been. These disciples were of little account in the world’s eyes. While they were successful businessmen, Galileans were seen as second-class citizens compared to the city sophisticates in Jerusalem and Judea.

Tax collectors would join their number, and farmers, and prostitutes and slaves. And murderers. God always uses surprising things to do his work. Dust to make Adam, a rib to make Eve. A desert bush to call Moses. A slingshot to defeat Goliath. A baby in Bethlehem to save the world.

No matter what your future may be. Every disciple addressed initially by these words would die a criminal’s death except one, and he was a convicted felon.

We all have something in our life which we think exempts us from being used fully by Jesus. Failures, shame, insecurities, inabilities. But the Bible says, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27–29).

Jesus knew we’d need help believing it. And so his Greek is emphatic, literally translated “You, yes, you.”

“Are”: This is a present-tense statement. It’s true right now, of every one of us.

This is not a status you are to work to attain. You are the salt of the earth, at this very moment. If Jesus is your Lord, you’re in his spiritual saltshaker. This is who you are.

And it’s your nature, not just your location at church or your work during the week. Salt is always salt, no matter where it’s found. Whatever it happens to be doing. Whether it’s sitting in the saltshaker as we are this morning, or part of the ocean, or flavoring a potato. It is always and everywhere sodium chloride, salt.

You are Jesus’ hands and feet: “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Right now.

“The”: The Greek uses the definite article, so that it can be translated, “You and you alone are the salt of the earth.”

Jesus’ description is true only of us. There are no others. These words are addressed only to his followers. This function cannot be fulfilled by political leaders, or military generals, or economists or business leaders, or doctors, lawyers, teachers, athletes, or musicians.

And not only by preachers, deacons, or staff members. Not only by seminary graduates. There is no clergy/laity distinction in the Bible. Every member has a ministry. Every person is saved to serve. “You will be my witnesses,” Jesus says to us all.

Being “the salt of the earth” is a calling we each fulfill. And we alone.

What does spiritual salt do?

So what is it that we each are uniquely? The “salt of the earth.” In first-century eyes, this would be the highest compliment Jesus could possibly pay his followers. Salt was so valuable in the ancient world that it was considered to be worth a man’s weight in gold. The ancients would choose salt over gold. Why?

First, salt was the only means of preserving food in the first century.

There was no refrigeration, of course. No way to keep food. During the routine crop failures and economic depressions which plagued them, salted meat and food was all they had with which to survive.

And so we exist to preserve the world spiritually. God created the world to be good. In fact, when his creation was completed, he called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But human abuse of our spiritual freedom led to the “fall” which changed everything. Now “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

You and I exist to preserve the world spiritually. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The only hope for mankind to be preserved from spiritual, eternal death is the gospel we exist to give the world. The message of the Church is the only spiritual hope of the world. And of your neighbors and friends. For whom are you the “salt of the earth”?

Second, salt was the primary purification agent in the first century.

Rubbing salt onto meat or food was their only way to purify it so it wouldn’t poison them. Rubbing salt into wounds, as painful as this is, was their only way to cleans the wound so it wouldn’t become infected and kill them. Salt was the penicillin of the ancient world.

Christians are the purification agents of the earth. We are to be examples of purity in all we do. James 1:27 admonishes us to “keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

You know some Christians whose lives are so pure and moral that they encourage you to be pure and moral as well. It is said that when people saw George Truett, the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, on a downtown sidewalk, they would stop and stare. There was something about him, a godliness and purity, which caught their attention. And he made others want to be godly and pure as well.

Who is more godly because they know you? For whom are you the “salt of the earth”?

Third, salt was the chief seasoning for common people.

Most had no access to expensive imported spices. They had no way to make food palatable except with salt.

Christians are the seasoning of the earth. Jesus promised that he came “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Salt makes you thirsty and seasons what you eat. Who wants the faith they see in you? For whom are you the “salt of the earth”?

How can we be spiritual salt today?

So how do we fulfill our purpose well? It is crucial that we do so. Jesus warned us: “If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (v. 13b). None of us wants this. How are we “salt of the earth” effectively today?

First, stay pure.

Salt is no good when it loses its purity. Nothing can salt salt. When it is impure, it is of no value.

We are to contact our world, or our salt is no good. But we must maintain our purity, or our contact is no good. The Bible says, “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. . . . You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other” (Colossians 3:5,7–9). How pure is your salt?

Second, leave the saltshaker.

Salt does nobody any good in its container. It doesn’t matter how beautiful its container may be, or how many grains of salt it contains. It only matters that the salt does its work. And this work can only be done when the salt leaves the saltshaker and contact that which needs what it can do.

One of Satan’s great strategies is to keep the salt in the saltshaker. Know only Christian friends. Attend only Christian functions. Keep the team in the huddle so it won’t get into the game. All the while, Jesus commands us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Be the salt of the earth, in the earth.

For whom are you praying evangelistically? Do you have a list of unsaved friends you’ll bring to chapel, or to a Bible study or a concert or an event? Who is being influenced by your salt?

Third, disappear.

When salt does its work, you can’t see it. You can’t find it. It’s gone. Only its influence remains.

John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). The Bible says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Is your motive in Christian service to be honored, or to honor Jesus? In your career? In school? Mine in this sermon? How selfless is your salt?

Last, be encouraged.

Salt cannot tell whether or not its work has been effective. It does its work, and the rest occurs as it will. Believe that God will use you, and he will. The river touches shores the source never sees. If you will act as the salt of the earth, a very little will change everything.

The first believers “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). They didn’t know it, but we do. Be encouraged. You are valuable beyond measure. You are the salt of the earth.


Denzel Washington: “At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished. It’s about what you’ve done with those accomplishments. It’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.”

Edward Everett Hale: “I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

Of course, the greatest example in history of one person changing history is the life and legacy of the Lord Jesus. Think about it: a baby born in a cow stall to peasant parents, worshiped by field hands. He grew up in Nazareth, a town so small it’s not mentioned even once in the entire Old Testament.

He became a carpenter, then an itinerant rabbi. He never wrote a book or owned a home. His followers included none of the celebrities of his day. He was eventually betrayed by a disciple, condemned by the religious authorities, and executed by the government. His corpse was then laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Today, more than two billion people call him Lord. The book containing his story is the best-selling book in history. More books have been written about him, more paintings have been painted of him, and more songs have been sung to him than to any other person in history.

And when he comes back, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10–11).

Today, pledge to continue his ministry on earth. “You are the salt of the earth,” he tells us.

Will you be who you are this week?

A Miracle in Your Hand

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:17-18

The Consumer Electronics Show gave an award to a Bluetooth-connected water bottle. Its built-in speaker plays music, takes and receives phone calls, and offers caller ID. It also recognized a countertop dishwasher that requires no plumbing connections; you load your dishes, add a gallon of water, and turn it on. And a laptop computer with a keyboard that turns into a writing pad.

Of innovations there is seemingly no end. But nothing humans can invent compares with the words in that ancient book we call the Bible. Its truths are ancient and yet more relevant than tomorrow’s news.

One of the greatest challenges America faces today is our declining experience with God’s word. Only 35 percent of us read it even once a week.

In the 1960s, Americans began rejecting the concept of absolute truth and biblical authority. A smaller percentage are church members than ever before. Should we be surprised by the epidemic of substance abuse, loneliness, pornography, broken families, crime, and suicide that have resulted?

I’m convinced that the single greatest key to experiencing God’s power and purpose is meeting him in his word every day. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Jesus says about the relevance and transforming power of God’s word in our lives today.

Value the word of God

Jesus continues the most famous sermon ever preached: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (v. 17a NIV). “Do not think” is very strong in the Greek, literally “Never think that . . .” “That I have come to abolish”—to deny the divine authority, to demean. “The Law or the Prophets”—the entirety of God’s word to this point.

Our Lord goes even further: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

“Truly I tell you” translates a phrase known to be used only by Jesus in all of ancient Judaism. It means literally, “I guarantee you this . . .” “Until heaven and earth disappear”—when time ends (Revelation 21:1).

“Not the smallest letter” refers to the Hebrew “yod,” the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. “Not the least stroke of a pen” refers to the points on a Hebrew consonant. We would say, “not the dotted i or the crossed t.”

“Will by any means disappear”—this is the double negative, will “no, not ever disappear.” “Until everything is accomplished”—until the Bible does its work, fulfills its purpose. More of this in a moment.

For now, make this decision: value the word of God, for its work in our lives is miraculous.

  • It keeps us from sin: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
  • It guides our lives daily: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
  • It brings us joy: “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Psalm 19:8 NIV).
  • It gives us hope: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

God wrote a book. Value it, for it is his miraculous gift to us. J. I. Packer calls it “God preaching.” Augustine describes it as “love letters from home.”

Value it today, if you want God to use it to give your life true success.

Study the word of God

Next, study it. Every word, “the smallest letter” and “stroke of a pen” is the word of God. And so it deserves not only our affirmation but also our study. But we must know how.

I still have my first Bible—a red Gideon New Testament I received in the fifth grade. I valued it so much I carried it in my jeans pocket, which is why it is so tattered today. But when I began reading it, I found the “begats” of Matthew 1 and got no further. I valued the Bible but didn’t know how to study it for myself. We need to do both.

Begin by deciding to meet God in his word every day. Set a place and time as your appointment for the Bible. Purchase a study Bible—several are very good; the ESV Study Bible is my personal favorite. Get a notebook to serve as your journal. And begin—with the Gospel of John if you don’t have another place in mind.

As you read, seek to know the author’s intention. I told hundreds of students at Southwestern Seminary, “The Bible can never mean what it never meant.” Your goal is to learn what the Bible means to say, so you can relate this intended meaning to your life.

To do this, first pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your study. Then ask foundational questions. If you begin with the Gospel of John, ask who wrote it. (John, Jesus’ beloved disciple and best friend.) To whom and why? (People who needed to know why Jesus was and is God.) When? (After the other Gospels had been written, to give his interpretation of Jesus’ life and meaning.) Any good study Bible will give you this information.

Now ask four crucial questions as you study:

  • What does the text actually say? Know the grammar, the meaning of the words you are studying. As an example, I’ve given you this today with the words of our text.
  • What does history reveal? Know the culture and times which explain the text.
  • What theology is taught? Learn what the text says about its intended theme, whether it is teaching about God, salvation, sin, the future, etc.
  • Finally, what practical action is required? What does this text want you to do, now that you’ve studied it?

Write these truths down in your journal as you learn them. Ask the Spirit to relate them to your life, and he will. And God will use this book to lead you to true success.

Find Jesus in the word of God

Why? Because this is his definition of success: “For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). You are a success with God to the degree that you are like Jesus. And studying the Scriptures is how this happens, for each of us.

This is why Jesus said of the law and the prophets, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” “Fulfill” means “to complete” their purpose. And this is his purpose: to make us more like himself. This is success with God, the only kind which matters ultimately and eternally.

Then we can know Christ intimately and represent him to our world. Then we can be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Then we can reflect his light to our dark world. Then we can be the presence of Christ today.

Then we are successful with our lives. You’re not finished with the word of God until you’re more like the Son of God. When did this last happen to you? When will it happen next?


The Bible available to you today is a miracle. Now let it do its miraculous work in your life. Start today.

When I was a missionary in East Malaysia during college, I was honored to distribute paperback New Testaments in the Malay language to the people. I will never forget an elderly woman who took her copy of God’s word in trembling hands and held it to her heart. It was the first copy of Scripture she had ever owned. As tears streamed down her face, I thought of all my Bibles at home gathering dust.

When we love God’s word as she loved God’s word, our lives will never be the same. This is the promise and the invitation of God.

It’s Not What You Know, But Who You Know

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:19-20

It’s been another challenging week in the news.

Lightning struck a tree at the Tour Championship in Atlanta yesterday. It exploded, injuring six spectators with debris.

A New York Times article warned us that if the Yellowstone supervolcano were to erupt, it would be “like nothing humanity has ever experienced.” It would cover large parts of Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah in up to three feet of volcanic ash.

The ash cloud would destroy crops, ruin power lines and transformers, plunge global temperatures, and devastate farming. One group of researchers called such an eruption “the greatest catastrophe since the dawn of civilization.”

In other news, an asteroid that could have leveled an entire city flew by our planet recently. What makes the story so frightening is that astronomers did not detect it until it passed us. If it had struck our planet, “it would have gone off like a very large nuclear weapon,” according to one scientist.

We could talk about the fact that shark attacks have doubled in highly populated areas in the last twenty years. Or the New Zealand teenager who may have exposed hundreds of people to measles when she visited Disneyland and other popular tourist destinations.

We are all mortal. This fact means that we must all prepare for what happens when this life ends. I cannot promise you that you will die this week, but I cannot promise you that you won’t.

But the good news is that if we will live for heaven on earth, we will live our very best life on earth. It’s as C. S. Lewis says: “Aim at heaven and you get earth ‘thrown in.’ Aim at earth and you get neither.”

How do we best “aim at heaven” today?

How to be great in heaven

Jesus’ Sermon continues: “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (v. 19). Here Jesus shows us who will be great in heaven, and who will be least.

The “great” will be those who “practice and teach” the word of God. Both are crucial, and in this order. The “least” will be those who break the “least” of the commandments of God and influence others to do the same. Those who do not live by the word and will of God and lead others away from his word as well.

Practice and then preach. This is how we conform to the image of Christ, achieving God’s definition of success for our lives. This is how we are like Jesus, and how we help other people follow Jesus.

This is why Billy Graham is great in heaven—not because he has preached to two billion people, but because he first practiced what he preached.

Dr. Graham would not step onto an elevator alone if a woman was in that elevator alone. An associate always went into a hotel room before he did. He would not eat a meal alone with a woman except his wife. He did not take one dollar from the collections given at his Missions, drawing only a salary that was publicly disclosed. His team always undercounted the crowds at his meetings, lest he be accused of exaggeration.

Billy Graham was on Larry King Live twenty-four times. During one of their interviews, King asked Dr. Graham what his greatest fear in life might be. His answer: “My greatest fear is that I might do something before I die which would bring dishonor to my Lord.”

His life was his most powerful sermon. So is yours. So is mine.

How to miss heaven

So Jesus shows us how to be great in heaven. Now let’s ask an even more urgent question: how do we get there? “For I tell you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20 NIV).

“I tell you” shows that these words come from Jesus himself. Your righteousness must “surpass,” an emphatic word which means to go far beyond, to outdistance greatly. Your “righteousness” must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. What was theirs? What must ours be?

The Pharisees were a small group, never more than six thousand men. Their name meant “separated ones,” and it describes their passionate commitment to separation from regular life in obedience to the minutia of the Torah, the Law of God.

The Pharisees calculated that the Law contained 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions, and they aspired to keep them all. As an example, they had thirty-nine categories of Sabbath laws. Not thirty-nine laws—thirty-nine categories. No group in human history has been more religious than were the Pharisees. If it were possible to go to heaven through human effort, their reservations in paradise would have been guaranteed.

But they were not: “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” “Certainly not” is a double negative: “by no means,” “there is no way that” you can enter heaven unless you are more righteous before God than were the Pharisees, the most religiously righteous people on earth.

In other words, you cannot do enough or be religious enough to go to heaven. The ladder doesn’t climb high enough. Religion won’t work, no matter how much of it you do. If it didn’t work for the Pharisees, it won’t work for us.

But we try, and we think we’re successful.

Most Americans are nowhere as religious as were the Pharisees. By some estimates, less than 20 percent of Americans attend worship services regularly, and about one in three read the Bible even once a week.

But only 2 percent of us are afraid we might to go hell. When Mother Teresa died, 78 percent of Americans said they thought she was in heaven, but 87 percent were sure they would go there.

Why? Because we’re “good people.” We believe in God and live good lives. Most have a church membership where they attend at Christmas and Easter and occasionally through the year. And our good deeds and religious beliefs are good enough, we’ve decided. But they’re not.

How to go to heaven

So, how do we get there? How can our “righteousness” surpass that of the most religiously righteous people who have ever lived?

I remember well my last visit to the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels. They are beautiful, but they are also off limits to me. There is literally nothing I can do to earn the right to wear them.

I could renounce my American citizenship, move to England, and become a British citizen. I could serve in the British armed services and rise to their highest rank of office. I could immerse myself in British politics and become elected prime minister. But there is literally nothing I can do to achieve the status of royalty, for I was not born into the royal family. I need a different kind of achievement than is possible for me to realize.

So it is with the righteousness of God required to enter heaven. I cannot achieve it, nor can you, or the Queen of England for that matter. Only God can give this to us. This is the righteousness he gives to those who accept his Son as their Savior. Then we become the children of God—born into the family of God, born again into royalty.

This is the “righteousness” which surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. This is the only righteousness that brings us to heaven.

Jesus explained it this way to the religious leader Nicodemus: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3 NIV). Paul added: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). No one. No Pharisee. No Baptist. Not Billy Graham. Not you or me.

You cannot get to heaven by what you do, but only by what Jesus has done. It’s not what you know, but Who you know. We must “put our faith in Christ Jesus.” Is Jesus your Lord and Master? Do you know him personally, intimately? Does he know you?


Today Jesus has shown us how to get to heaven and how to be great when we are there. Make him your Savior, your Lord. Then do his word and will and teach others as well. Follow Jesus, and help people follow Jesus. This is the gospel. It is so simple a child can understand it, and so profound we will spend our lives living it.

This is the gospel Billy Graham preached all over the world. It is the only way to heaven there is, and the only way we need.

Are you sure you are going to heaven? If you are, are you sure you will be great when you arrive? Will you receive eternal rewards that far outweigh their cost on earth? Are you living by the word of God and helping others live by the word of God?

When Cecil Sewell retired as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Union City, Tennessee, a town of ten thousand residents, his decision made no headlines in Dallas or across the nation. But he will truly be great in heaven.

In 1973, Rev. Sewell was leading a thriving church in Birmingham, Alabama, when the pastor search committee from a start-up church in Houston came to visit. Their church was so small and unimpressive that they did not show him pictures of its buildings. When they finally persuaded him to visit their church, they drove him around the area, hoping to impress him with the new homes and nearby college before they showed him their tiny campus.

Against all odds, he agreed to resign his large church and become their pastor. Later that year, he started a bus ministry to reach kids in the nearby apartment complexes. In August of 1973, that bus ministry invited me to his church. His wife, Sharon, led me to Christ. He baptized me and my brother, licensed and ordained me to ministry, and performed my father’s funeral and our wedding.

I have never known a man more committed to prayer and evangelism than Cecil Sewell. Every person I reach with God’s word is an extension of his ministry. I will be in heaven because he will be great in heaven.

Who will be in heaven because of you?

The Key to Authentic Happiness

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:14–16

Would you choose to stay at a vacation home with no WiFi, TV, or clock? The nearest bathroom is an outhouse down four flights of outdoor stairs. It’s closed the entire month of August because it might burn down in a wildfire.

Yet three hundred people are on the waiting list to stay at Summit Prairie, a vacation home atop a tower deep in the Oregon wilderness. The Wall Street Journal tells us that Summit Prairie is not the only such option in high-priced escapism. An internet-free home in Alaska’s Denali National Park rents for $3,150 per person per night.

Or you could sample a “kudhva,” an architectural shelter perched on tripod stilts in North Cornwall, England.

Americans are on a quest for happiness. Studies indicate that our happiness has been in a steady decline for at least the last twenty years. The rebound from the Great Recession did not produce a rebound in happiness.

What is the antidote?

Martin E. P. Seligman is a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. His bestseller, Authentic Happiness, is a fascinating answer to our question.

Dr. Seligman describes three kinds of “work orientation”: a job, a career, and a calling. A job earns you a paycheck and nothing more. A career entails a deeper personal investment in your work. But a calling is a passionate commitment to work for its own sake. According to Dr. Seligman, finding your “calling” is the key to authentic happiness.

So, what is your calling?

Know who you are

In our text, Jesus tells us: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). “You” is plural, including everyone who follows Jesus. “You are”—present tense, right now. Not you will be, but you are today.

You are “the light of the world.” This is a spectacular compliment. Not because of who we are, but whose we are. You see, Jesus is the true light of the world.

He said so: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). And later, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).

Now that he is no longer in the world, he has called us to reflect his light, as the moon reflects the sun.

The Bible says, “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light” (John 1:6–8 NIV).

This is true of each of us: “You are all children of the light” (1 Thessalonians 5:5). We exist to show our Father’s light. To be his mirror. To reflect his light to our dark world. To be the moon to his sun. This is Jesus’ high and holy calling for each of us.

Know that the world needs your light

But why is this calling so significant? Why is being the “light of the world” so important and crucial that it will give our lives deep and satisfying meaning? For this simple reason: you have the only answer to the greatest need in all of humanity.

Would your life be significant and satisfying if you cured cancer or AIDS? If you found the solution to all war, abuse, neglect? If you discovered a way to end all hunger and poverty? Would you then consider your life fulfilling? We could do all this and more, but the world would still suffer in spiritual darkness. And this darkness would be its greatest problem, its worst disease, its most horrific malady.

God says so: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV, emphasis added).

God describes humanity this way: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:18–19 NIV).

This darkness is Satanic: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

What is the answer to his deception and darkness? You are “the” light of the world. Not just “a” light—the only light.

The Bible is very clear on this subject. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Scripture adds: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NIV).

Because you share his faith and bear his light, you are “the” light of the world. Its only light. Your faith is our world’s only hope of eternal life through a personal relationship with our Creator and Lord.

What calling could give your life greater significance? And thus greater fulfillment, satisfaction, and “authentic happiness”?

Choose to shine for God

Here’s the catch: your light must be visible. Otherwise it does nobody any good, including yourself. Consider these facts.

You are already a witness. Jesus said, “A city on a hill cannot be hid.” “Hill” is literally mountain. Houses in Israel then and now are whitewashed. With their lights at night, a city on a mountain cannot be hidden.

Neither can your life. People see you. They know whether or not you live what you believe, whether you will say what you believe. You are a witness. Is your witness good or bad?

Your light is intended for others. “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket” (Matthew 5:15a). Their lamps were small clay bowls filled with olive oil, with a floating wick. They were very hard to light. So once they were lit, at night they were covered with a basket which allowed them air while shielding their light. Jesus’ point is clear: no one lights a lamp so they can hide its light.

“But on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (v. 15b). People in Jesus’ day lived in one-room homes, with one small window. So they built a clay or stone ledge into one wall, and there they placed their lamps. For this was their purpose.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others” (v. 16a). “Others,” wherever they are. You are the light of the world, not of the church. Wherever you go, whatever you do. With whomever you meet. Your light was given to you, to be given to them.

Your life is your light. “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16). How?

Be godly: “The night is nearly over, the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:12–14 NIV). Do others see godliness in you? There you are the light of the world.

Care about hurting people: “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (Isaiah 58:9–10 NIV). Whose need are you meeting? There you are the light of the world.

Love your brother: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him” (1 John 2:9–11 NIV). Are you wrong with someone today? Where you love your brother, you are the light of the world.

Share your faith: “…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:15–16). Who has heard of Jesus through you? There you are the light of the world.

With this result: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). When we live as the light of the world, God uses us for his glory. It’s that simple.


You are the light of the world—its only light, right now. Shine that light by being godly, by caring for hurting people, by loving your brother, by sharing your faith.

This always works. Jesus was definite: “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16b) is better translated, “For the purpose of showing them your good works so they will glorify your Father in heaven.”

The darker the room, the more obvious and powerful the light. And the more people are drawn to it.

I’m convinced that the sacred/secular division is one of Satan’s greatest lies. The idea that we should separate Sunday from Monday and religion from the “real world” keeps our light under a basket instead of out where the world can see it. But when we live large and bold, powerfully and courageously serving God and others, the world must see our light. And God will be glorified as a result.

John Geddie was the first Presbyterian missionary sent from Canada. He and his wife, Charlotte, and their children set sail from Nova Scotia in 1846 bound for Polynesia.

What they found was horrific. The natives lived in squalor and ignorance. When one of them died, they ate his body and then killed his wives.

John worked for three years, learning their language and sharing the gospel with them. But few were interested. When he traveled in their forests, the natives threw stones, clubs, and spears at him. But he and his family persisted.

In 1851, everything changed. Several chiefs came to faith in Christ. The churches began to overflow. His island began sending missionaries to other islands.

John died in 1872. A plaque in his memory said, “When he landed in 1848, there were no Christians here. When he left in 1872, there were no heathen.”

Authentic happiness is fulfilling your calling. Your calling is to be the light of the world.

How happy will you be this week?