Dr. Jim Denison
John Bisagno was for many years pastor of the historic First Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. When he was 20 years old and about to finish college, he was having dinner at his fiancée’s home one night. His future father-in-law, Dr. Paul Beck, had been in ministry for many years. After supper, as the two were talking, Dr. Beck gave John his observation: only one in ten who begin in vocational ministry at the age of 21 are still active in ministry at age 65.
John couldn’t believe it. He went home and wrote on a blank page of his Bible the names of 24 young men who were his peers and contemporaries. He considered them to be the future great preachers of his generation. 23 years later, only three remained in the Lord’s service.
In the Christian faith, and in life in general, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish.
Think of famous preachers and evangelists in this generation who are now fallen from effectiveness. Think of pastors in our city who have suffered similar fates.
Think of CEOs of major corporations who are now in disgrace. World renowned athletes who have faded to obscurity. Celebrities once famous for their singing abilities, or acting careers, or literary achievements, but now are forgotten.
On the other hand, we have all known pastors and preachers who finished well. Executives who retired in financial and moral success. Athletes and celebrities who kept their character. Role models for us all.
We all want to finish well. To be remembered as women and men of God, people who could say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). At our funeral, we want the pastor to be able to quote these words about us. We want to live well, and finish well. How is this done?
Today Jesus continues his famous Sermon. Let’s listen in.
Know that it could happen to you
“If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” “If” in the Greek language assumes that this could easily happen. Jesus knew that what he is about to describe could occur in the lives of his followers, even his first disciples, the apostles. If to them, certainly to us.
“Loses its saltiness”—pure sodium chloride cannot decompose. However, the salt in use among Jesus’ people was impure, taken from the shores and marshes of the Dead Sea. When it decomposed, all that was left was white powder. It looked like salt, but it had none of its power or effect.
So it is with Christians who trusts appearance over reality. Those of us who think they are fulfilling God’s purpose by looking Christian, attending Christian events, acting in Christian ways around other Christians. The only test of salt is whether or not it works. Not how it looks, but what it does.
Note that Jesus’ words are in the present tense, literally “if the salt is tainted.”
It does not matter if it had been salt at one time, if it had originally fulfilled its purpose.
A shaker filled with salt may have been in perfect condition last week, but that doesn’t matter to the restaurant patron today. If it is wet, lumpy, or corrupted today, it’s no good. All that matters is that it does its job now.
No matter what I have done for Jesus in the past, or plan to do for him in the future, all that matters is my current usefulness to him. This is the only issue.
Any believer can fail God. If you think it can’t happen to you, it has likely already started.
The Bible is sometimes misquoted to say “Pride goes before a fall.” It actually says, “Pride goes before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18). Every time.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, world-renowned scholar of Scripture, made this his prayer every day: “Lord, keep me from pride.” When did you last make his prayer yours?
Find and fulfill your purpose
So what exactly does it mean for the salt to “lose its saltiness?” The Greek word means to lose its power, its effect, to fulfill its purpose no longer. What is our purpose? What is God looking for in our lives?
When I taught at Southwestern Seminary, my students always wanted to know what would be on the test, and especially the final exam. You need to know the questions you’ll be asked as well.
Here they are. First and foremost, do you know Jesus personally?
Jesus told Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). We must ask Jesus to forgive our mistakes and be Lord of our lives. Only then can we have a personal relationship with him.
Otherwise we will one day hear the most horrifying words in all of eternity: “I never knew you. Away from me!” (Matthew 7:23). You can only spend eternity in God’s paradise if you know his Son personally. Do you?
Here are the rest of the questions God will ask you when you stand before him:
Did you discover your gifts for ministry? God created you uniquely in his image. Now he has given you spiritual gifts to be used in serving him. What are yours?
Did you use these gifts to fulfill the service for which he intended your life? If so, in what ways? What is your ministry?
As a result, did God use you to bring others to Jesus? He will ask you one day, “Who did you bring me?”
As we saw last week, “You (plural) are the salt of the earth.” And the one definition of success for salt is simple: does it do its job? Not how beautiful its container might be, or how much of it there is. Did it do what it was created to do?
What happens if our salt does not fulfill this purpose?