The Complexities of Salt in Jesus’ Message

Can salt lose its flavor? What does it mean to be the salt of the earth? What was Jesus trying to tell us when he discussed being the salt of the earth?


Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, told us:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5:13)

Salt can be a good thing by adding savor to food, or it can be a bad thing by destroying the land’s ability to produce.

In this way, salt represents the sanctions point of God’s covenant with us: positive and negative. Jesus called us to be savory salt, good salt, in the world. Our good works testify to God’s good character. Our good works, as representatives of God, spice up our relationships, businesses, and our societies as a whole.

A Christian who does bad works is falsely testifying to God’s character. They have become tasteless salt, fit to be thrown out and trampled. There will be negative sanctions for their actions.


God promised the Israelites that negative sanctions would fall upon them if they broke God’s covenant. Salt was used to illustrate this:

“The whole land burned out with brimstone and salt, nothing sown and nothing growing, where no plant can sprout, an overthrow like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in his anger and wrath.” (Deuteronomy 29:23)

Abimelech used salt to destroy the productivity of the land of those he defeated: “And Abimelech fought against the city all that day. He captured the city and killed the people who were in it, and he razed the city and sowed it with salt.” (Judges 9:45).

It’s a common myth that the Romans did the same thing after conquering Carthage.

Salt is also a preservative. Salting is vital to the drying process when creating delicious meats like beef jerky or salami. After being dried out, they will last much longer than they would have on their own.

God refers to his covenant with us as one that will be long preserved: “It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.” (Numbers 18:19b)


It is also important, however, to remember salt’s role in the Old Testament. The priests were to salt all of their sacrificial offerings before burning them at the alter:

“You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” (Leviticus 2:13)

“You shall present them before the Lord, and the priests shall sprinkle salt on them and offer them up as a burnt offering to the Lord.” (Ezekiel 43:24)

This was especially true for the whole burnt offering, or sin offering. Before the Israelites were allowed to present offerings to the Lord, their sins had to first be atoned for. This was done by preparing and sacrificing the whole burnt offering.

The flesh of the sin offering was to be salted before it was burnt so that its aroma would be pleasing to the Lord. This paints the picture of a God who takes pleasure in consuming the flesh of the damned.

This is probably not a pleasant image to most modern Christians. Jesus Christ, in his New Convenant, however, confirmed and validated the legitimacy of this idea by referring back to the Old Testament:

“And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.” (Mark 9:47-50)

Christ’s good works are imputed to us when we are converted. We are to follow the law and become progressively sanctified in this life in all that we think, say, and do. It is not good enough just to have faith. It is not good enough to not do evil:

“Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:17-18)


We are to be good salt, the salt of the earth. We are to speak good words and confirm our good words with good works. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit facilitates our works:

Gary North writes that “Saving faith in Christ is faith in the saving works of Christ.” By being the salt and doing good works, we affirm our faith in Christ’s works. Our charity is also inspiration to others. It diminishes their resistance to hearing the Gospel if they see the legitimacy of charity in their life.

A charitable nature also encourages success in business. It reduces our tendency to squeeze every last penny from our customers. We are encouraged to “leave a little on the table for the other guy.” This fosters harmonious business relationships. Quality of life is improved on both sides of the transaction.

As the Kingdom of God is spread, its savor will be made more apparent to all. Just like salt, it will benefit those who respond to the gospel with saving faith, and it will condemn to eternal death those whose hearts are hardened at its taste.


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