Salty Christianity (Mark 9:49-50)

Salty Christianity (Mark 9:49-50)


I.) Christ’s Conclusion with His Disciples

A.) Our text this morning begins with a very ambiguous statement from Jesus Christ:

“For everyone will be salted with fire.”

I want to come right out and tell you that I do not have a definitive answer as to what He means. Much to my relief I discovered nearly every well learned theologian throughout history encounters the same dilemma when looking at this verse. I will offer you a couple view points on what some believe Jesus to mean here before we delve into the verse which this statement provided a bridge into.

This verse itself may be somewhat cryptic, but the verse it leads to is well within our ability to comprehend and apply. It is Christ’s conclusion to His teaching dealing with the disciple’s sinfully proud predicament of:

“Which of them was the greatest.”[1]

Jesus’ lesson not only challenges us to be diligent in preserving peace among one another, but it also reveals the purpose of the Christian in a fallen world.


II.) The Purpose of Salt

When attempting to understand the use of salt in this portion, it is critical we distinguish what purpose of salt Jesus had in mind.

There are at least two common uses of salt:

1.) As a flavor enhancer.

2.) As a preservative.

When carefully considering Jesus’ use of salt in His teachings, one will discover that He is using salt regarding it being utilized as a preservative.

Before refrigeration was a thing, salt was the primary means of preserving meat from rotting. If salt lost the desired preserving quality it was completely useless. Not only did putrefaction occur in what you wanted to keep, there was no way to refill the salts saving property:

“It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”[2]

The Israelites had several salts from the Dead Sea which contained elements in them that often lead to the ineffectiveness of its preserving properties.[3]


III.) Salted with Fire

With salt as a preservative in mind, let us attempt to understand this confusing saying:

“For everyone will be salted with fire.”

Again, there are many different schools of thought on what He means here:

1.) The first being that this statement is connected to His teaching on the reality and eternality of hell.[4] The thought being that Jesus is stressing the preservation of the body of the one who is in:

“The unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”[5]

In other words, everyone there will be physically preserved in eternal fire.

2.) Some believe this statement implies not only the preservation and punishment of those who do evil, but “the purification of the good” as well:[6]

“Believers shall be seasoned with salt of grace. Or, that as every sacrifice under the law was salted with salt, to purify and make it holy; so everyone that is to be saved, shall be salted, purified, or have their conscience purged from dead works with fire, or the Holy Ghost.”[7]

3.) Regarding Old Testament sacrifices having to be salted with salt, others believe it means:

“Every Christian is purified by fiery trials of life.”[8]

4.) Lastly, there are others who suggest there is an implication in Jesus’ words here that calls His disciples to a radical sacrifice.[9] In the Old Testament, the salt that was placed upon sacrifices represented the persevering covenant of God. The grain offering was one of consecration, which exemplified complete devotion to Him. The salt added to the offering before it was burned was referred to as “the salt of the covenant.”[10] So the salt which symbolized God’s enduring promise was used in a sacrifice where the person was showing total dedication to God. When Jesus says, “everyone will be salted with fire,” He is referring to believers that present themselves as living sacrifices.[11] Those who continually live dying to self and following Him.

So the question is:

Q.) Which interpretation should we believe?

A.) Believe the one a thorough and honest study of the Word persuades you to believe.

I personally lean more towards believing Jesus’ statement is in connection with His teaching on hell, and that He stresses the preservation of the body. There is certainly the potential of His statement referring to the refining of believers giving accounts of their lives lived in Christ:

“No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each mans work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.”[12]

We see fire both purifying and preserving believers in this text.

Again, believe the interpretation a thorough and honest study of the Word persuades you to believe.


IV.) Salt is Good

As we can see in our text, Jesus’ speaking of salt draws Him to further elaborate a truth:

“Salt is good…”[13]

It is important we understand that Jesus has already told His disciples at the Sermon on the Mount:

“You are the salt of the earth.”[14]

That fact that His disciples are considered salt implies a specific quality about the earth: It eludes to its rottenness, and its natural process of putrefaction.

The question is this:

Q.) What brings about the decay of humanity?

A.) Sin.

Every societal ill throughout time is a result of sin. The fact every person is physically degrading and will one day die is a testimony to the sin that resides in the heart of humanity.

Regarding the implication of the disciples being the salt of the earth, Martin Lloyd Jones says:

“It implies a tendency to pollution and to become foul and offensive…It is fallen, sinful and bad. Its tendency is to evil and to wars. It is like meat which has a tendency to putrefy and to become polluted. It is like something which can only be kept wholesome by means of a preservative or antiseptic.”[15]

When Jesus tells the disciples that they are the salt of the earth He is saying that God’s purpose for Christians it to preserve that which naturally rots. Salt is good because it saves from decay.

There are two clear ways Christians act as salt in a world that is only not their home, and but at enmity with their God and Savior:

1.) The first way we act as salt upon this earth that is rotting is by the proclamation of the gospel message.

The greatest issue we face as humanity is the problem of sin in our hearts. Sin not only brings about destruction, it incurs the wrath of a just God. Since sin is rooted and produced in the heart of man, no external reform is capable of dealing with the issue we face. God is the only being who can remove wretched hearts of stone and give living hearts of flesh.[16] He does this by making those who were dead in sin alive by the power of His gospel.[17]

He gave His Son who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf that we might become God’s righteousness in Him.[18] He shines the glorious light of Christ into the hearts of men and women.[19] He draws people to see and believe the work of His Son on the cross.[20] He transfers them from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.[21] He commissions those whom He has transferred to be not only the light of the world, but the salt of the earth.[22]

2.) This brings us to the second way we act as salt on this rotting earth, and that is by living in the light of the gospel proclaimed.

Growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ by pursuing and loving His righteousness and hating the sin in our lives we once loved. Preservation can occur by sacrificially living our lives to the glory of God.

This does not mean you do not need to teach the gospel, nor should you walk away thinking Christianity is contagious. What is meant by this is that your testimony as a Christian is enough to temporarily stop the rot of some sin at certain points.

This is often experienced in the workplace when a believer walks into a group of unbelievers. If they are discussing something immoral the conversation often immediately ceases to exist. As salt keeps meat from rotting, the  presence of a Christian is able to keep the rot of sin contained for a time.

Do not fail to notice that it is the testimony of the individual Christian that either suppresses decay or incites it.


V.) The Uselessness of Unsalty Salt

Consider Jesus’ statement and question:

“Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again?”[23]

This is a rhetorical question. You cannot replenish salts desired property. Salt that eventually degrades to the point of not being able to preserve can never regain that cherished property. If salt does not have the ability to preserve:

“It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”[24]

The last statement emphasizes its ineffectiveness, and Jesus evens says:

“It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out.”[25]

His point to the disciples is this: “Do not render yourselves useless!”

Q.) What was leading to their uselessness?

A.) They were not at peace with each other.

Q.) What lead to their not being at peace?

A.) Pride, which drew them to argue over:

“Which of them was the greatest.”[26]

They truly could not function as the salt of the earth when the sinful rot of pride was among them and destroying the unity they were to have.

Their pride caused them to:

1.) Think more highly of themselves individually when they ought to have been more concerned with humbly serving one another.[27]

2.) To discourage others from serving Christ.[28]

3.) Be blind to both the benefit of helping other believers, and the danger of leading other believers into sin against God.[29]

4.) Be blind to the severity of their own sin.[30]

So in conclusion, Jesus says to those whom He has designated as the salt of the earth:

“Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again?”

His point being “Do not render yourselves useless:”

“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”[31]

Be purified, and preserve your unity.


VI.) Have Salt in Yourselves

This text presents a valid question:

Q.) Is it possible for us as the salt of the earth to render ourselves useless for the cause of Christ?

A.) I believe the answer is yes.

This not only occurs if we refrain from proclaiming the gospel, but when we fail to live in the sanctifying light of the grace and knowledge of Christ. Growing in His holiness by separating from sin, and pursuing His righteousness. If our lives are not being preserved from sinful rot than we will be like salt without savor on rotting meat. We will be completely useless for the purpose God has established for us as the salt of the earth.

Listen to the second epistle of Peter, because it is almost as if he has this very lesson of Jesus in mind. He provides us with a very practical way we can make sure we are useful as the salt of the earth:

“Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.”[32]

Peter is laying out what working out your salvation with fear and trembling looks like.[33] He is outlining a progression of virtues we are to furnish our faith with:

1.) Pursue the virtue of moral uprightness.

2) With moral uprightness comes knowledge, which is the virtue of moral wisdom proved by one’s ability to live rightly.

3.) With moral wisdom comes self-control, which is the virtue of being master over your desires and lusts.

4.) With self-control comes perseverance, which is the virtue of being able to endure serious struggles.

5.) With perseverance comes godliness, which is the virtue of living in a way that reveres God.

6.) With godliness comes brotherly kindness, which is the virtue of loving other believers out of a genuine love for God.

7.) With brotherly kindness comes love, which is the virtue of unconditional love for others.

Listen to what Peter goes on to say:

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.”[34]

As the salt of the earth, render yourselves effective by maturing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and growing in respect to your salvation.

1.) Preserve the earth by proclaiming the gospel.

2.) Preserve the earth by living in light of the gospel.

This is our purpose as salt, so:

“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”[35]

Jesus said the world will know that we are His by our love for on another.[36]


[1] Mark 9:34b

[2] Matthew 5:13

[3] The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark 9-16, John MacArthur; Page 49

[4] The New Testament and Wycliffe Bible Commentary; Mark 9:49: Page 154

[5] Mark 9:43b-44

[6] Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Merrill Unger; Page 956

[7] Commentary on The Holy Bible, Matthew Henry and Thomas Scott; Page 185

[8] Ibid, Page 185

[9] The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark 9-16, John MacArthur; Page 49

[10] Leviticus 2:13

[11] Romans 12:1-2

[12] 1 Corinthians 3:11-15

[13] Mark 9:50a

[14] Matthew 5:13a

[15] Studies in The Sermon on The Mount, Martin Lloyd Jones; Page 151-2

[16] Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26; Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10

[17] Romans 1:16; Ephesians 2:1-8

[18] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[19] 2 Corinthians 4:6

[20] John 6:44; 65

[21] Colossians 1:13

[22] Matthew 5:14-16; 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16

[23] Mark 9:50

[24] Matthew 5:13

[25] Luke 14:35

[26] Mark 9:34b

[27] Mark 9:33-37

[28] Mark 9:38-40

[29] Mark 9:41-42

[30] Mark 9:43-49

[31] Mark 9:50b

[32] 2 Peter 1:5-7

[33] Philippians 2:12b

[34] 2 Peter 1:8-9

[35] Mark 9:50b

[36] John 13:35

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