How does salt become tasteless? (Matthew 5:13)

INTRODUCTION. A consideration of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 5:13 that salt (the disciple of Jesus) can lose its taste and thus become useless. How can the disciple can avoid this danger?

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is perhaps the best known teaching from the entire ministry of Jesus Christ. In this message, Jesus establishes the principles that will mark the new covenant people of God from His issuing of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) until His glorious return at the end of the age. In this article, I want to explore our Lord’s warning about salt becoming tasteless.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” – Matthew 5:13

CONTEXT. First, we notice the context of this verse. It is significant that Jesus’ warning about salt becoming tasteless follows immediately after the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes (5:3-12) establish the expected behaviors and attitudes of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven, but the “salt and light” verses (5:13-16) reveal the responsibilities for which the disciple is accountable. The disciple is responsible to remain “salty” and he is responsible to shine his light before the watching world.

MEANING. So, in Matthew 5:13, Jesus is issuing a warning to would-be disciples that it is possible for salt to lose its savor. But what is the full force of this warning? What is Jesus teaching?

Observe first the identity of the salt. “You” in this verse refers to all disciples of Jesus. This is not limited to the Twelve, because at this point in Jesus’ ministry the Twelve disciples (apostles) had not been appointed (see 10:1-4), and because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is giving instructions for all of His followers throughout the time between the advents. So, all disciples of Jesus are “the salt of the earth.” This is the analogy Jesus makes.

But what is the function or the purpose of this “salt of the earth?” To answer this question, we need to consider the nature of salt and we need to think about for whom this salt is useful.

What do we know about salt that makes it a good analogy for a disciple of Jesus? We know that salt’s taste is essential to salt. That is, the way you identify salt is by its taste. Salt is valuable because of its savor. Take away its flavor and you have taken away its essence. Salt that has lost its flavor is impossible to identify as salt and has lost its usefulness.

Now, as we consider Jesus’ analogy, we know that the disciple’s essential nature is a “taste” that is distinct from the world. The way you can identify a disciple of Jesus is that he/she lives in a manner that is separate from the world. The disciple is most useful to the Master (2 Tim. 2:21) when he is distinct from the world. On the other hand, a disciple who lives in a worldly manner is impossible to identify from the world and is of little use to the Lord or to the kingdom. So, the disciple of Jesus is “the salt of the earth” when he is living a “salty” life that is sharply distinct from the world and is, thus, useful to the Master for adding heavenly flavor to the disciple’s small piece of the world.

WARNING. There is, however, a stern warning here, that it is possible for salt that was once salty to become tasteless and, once the salty taste is gone, it will not become salty again. When the taste is gone, the salt “is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out.”

What does this warning mean? That is, how severe are the consequences of the salt losing its saltiness? While Jesus could be warning His disciples about the dangers of apostasy, I think it is better to understand this as a strong exhortation to be a “salty” disciple. Notice that Jesus declares “You are (in fact) the salt of the earth.” If, as we have interpreted, the “you” refers to Jesus’ disciples, then all disciples are, in fact, the salt of the earth. So, the real question becomes, “Are you salty salt, or are you tasteless salt?” Then the warning becomes, “Don’t become tasteless salt, because tasteless disciples are good for nothing!” So, determine now to remain a salty disciple until the Lord comes or calls you home. And how does the disciple remain salty? By being poor in spirit (5:3), by mourning (5:4), by being humble/meek (5:5), by hungering and thirsting for righteousness (5:6), and so on. The disciple stays salty by continuing to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel and by striving to obey what the Lord commands.

APPLICATION. Having understood the meaning of the verse, we will go on to apply it to the individual disciple and to a local church body. First, let’s consider THE INDIVIDUAL DISCIPLE and how this “salt” might become tasteless. As we mentioned above, a disciple will begin to drift toward tastelessness when they begin neglecting the Beatitudes and allowing worldly behavior to creep in unopposed. But there are other practices which will also rob your walk of its saltiness.

Neglecting regular, diligent time reading the Bible will quickly render you tasteless. In fact, the fastest way to attain tastelessness is by neglecting the daily intake of the word of the living God. Therefore, the disciple must prioritize daily time in God’s word.

Shallow and brief and inconsistent prayer will also make you saltless salt. Instead of this, the disciple must learn what it means to commune with God in prayer. Spend time crying out to the Lord when you are hurt or worried or disappointed. Pour out your heart before the Lord. Praise Him for His creation and His salvation. Long for fellowship with Him as the deer pants for the water brooks. Do this, and your salt will remain salty.

If you become silent in your witness for the Lord (Acts 1:8) and if you fail to proclaim God’s excellencies (1 Peter 2:9), you will begin to sense your saltiness draining away like a tire with a slow leak. But if you will boldly identify with Jesus, and if you will “tell of His glory among the nations” (Psalm 96:3), your life will display a sharp saltiness. Being a witness for Jesus is not only boldly obedient (Acts 1:8), but it is also one of the best defenses against salt deficiency.

While Jesus’ teaching is certainly directed at the individual disciple, there are also ways that a LOCAL CHURCH FELLOWSHIP can become tasteless and, like the tasteless disciple, become good for nothing. If the Bible is not the primary basis for all preaching and teaching in the church, you are moving toward tasteless salt. The church that does not emphasize spiritual growth through discipleship is a church that is drifting into tastelessness. Is your church eager to proclaim the gospel with the result that there are new believers in the fellowship? If not, you could soon be tasteless and useless.

In SUMMARY, then, Jesus warns His disciples that we must make every effort to remain salty and thus remain useful to the Master.

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The Blessings of Persecution (Matthew 5:10-16)


            In Matthew 5:10-16, Jesus declares that those who are persecuted for righteousness and for His name will be blessed. How is the disciple of Jesus to understand these words or how to live in light of them? Jesus also makes clear that our response to potential persecution is not to shrink back and be silent but is to live a distinct life that boldly displays our identification with Him as salt and light in a rotten and dark world.


            When a would-be leader is first developing a following, the leader typically recruits followers by emphasizing the benefits to those who join the team and by ignoring or downplaying the costs or the challenges involved in the leader’s vision or agenda. “Get on board with my campaign,” they say, “and I will make you prosperous and your life good, and it will cost you very little.”

            How odd it is, then, when we hear Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 and hear Him teach about what His disciples can expect if they choose to follow Him. I wonder if you have ever considered the cost of His call and realized how counter-productive should have been His recruiting methods.


            For the disciple of Jesus, persecution is part of the job description. It is mentioned right along with hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Persecution is not a hidden clause in the small print, but is in the main body of the contract, near the top, in large print.

            Notice that you should expect persecution “for righteousness’ sake (5:10).” Think about this. Why should a person experience persecution because they strive to live a righteous life? But Jesus said it would be so and it has certainly proven to be the case. “The wicked spies upon the righteous and seeks to kill him (Psalm 37:28).”

            Notice also that you should expect that “others will revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Jesus (5:11).” In other words, because you publicly identify with Jesus, you should expect to be persecuted.

            Some may confuse suffering with persecution, thinking that they are pretty much the same thing. Not so. Suffering is different from persecution. It would be easy to sign up for suffering, because suffering has been guaranteed to all people since the fall of man and the introduction of sin into the world. All people will suffer to some degree. After all, “Man is born for trouble as the sparks fly upward (Job 5:7).” Suffering comes upon us despite all we do to avoid it. It is a part of the human condition that almost no one can escape.

            Persecution is not like that. Persecution for righteousness’ sake (5:10) and for Jesus’ sake (5:11) is entered into voluntarily, based on our commitment to Jesus as Lord. Persecution is avoidable. Be like the world in your behavior and be silent about Jesus and you will avoid persecution. Persecution for Jesus’ sake comes upon His disciples because they willingly choose to do those things that could produce persecution. Persecution occurs when those who hate Jesus can identify and harm those who visibly and publicly love Jesus.

            The prospect of persecution is loathsome to the human soul. All humans naturally recoil from the idea of persecution. There is a natural fear and dread that comes with being hated and harmed and possibly imprisoned or killed, simply because you strive to live a holy life and tell people how to go to heaven when they die.

            But despite this natural revulsion from persecution, Jesus calls His followers to expect it and to “Rejoice and be glad” in the midst of it (5:12). Why? Because “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and because “your reward in heaven is great.”


            Maybe there’s a loophole here for those who want to follow Jesus and get the benefits of being a Christian but who don’t care for the persecution part. Knowing that some will be tempted to reject persecution, Jesus declares that our lives must taste like the salt of the earth (5:13) and that we must live such that our faith in Jesus shines like a city on a hill or like a lamp in the house (5:14-15). This means that, rather than the disciple of Jesus managing persecution, the disciple is to display Jesus in every part of their life so that they maximize the possibility of receiving the blessing of persecution.

            Follow the logic here. First, Jesus declares that I am blessed if I am persecuted for righteousness’ sake (5:10), and I am blessed when others revile me and persecute me and utter all kinds of evil against me falsely on account of Jesus (5:12). Now, if no one knows about my hunger for righteousness and no one knows that I am a disciple of Jesus, those who hate Jesus will never persecute me, and thus, I will never receive the blessings promised to those who are persecuted. But because He wants me to be blessed, Jesus exhorts me to let my righteousness be a tangible saltiness in the world and He encourages me to let my association with Him be a visible light to the world. That way, my persecutors can easily find me and bless me!

            This is not entirely tongue in cheek. The New Testament is full of exhortations and commandments regarding persecution, making it evident that the disciple of Jesus is not to be surprised by hatred and persecution (1 Peter 4:12, etc.), but is to expect it as part of the call. Consider Romans 12:14; 2 Timothy 3:12; Matthew 5:44-48; 10:16-39. J. C. Ryle said, “Persecution, in short, is like the goldsmith’s stamp on real silver and gold – it is one of the marks of a converted man.” Since that is evident from the pages of Scripture, let us boldly tell of Jesus and live in righteousness and embrace whatever persecution may come as a blessing from the Lord.


  • Based on how I am living, how quickly could those who hate Jesus find me if they came to persecute someone? (The point of the question is to consider how I am living in light of Matthew 5:10-12. Do I believe Jesus that I am blessed if I am persecuted for His name’s sake? Is that evident in my life?)
  • Have you ever been persecuted for righteousness’ sake or for the name of Jesus?

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