Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 198. Saltiness
Mk 9:50 Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.
Jesus brings this discussion and teaching to an end in quite a dramatic way. Possibly we are familiar with these verses, and so familiar that they have lost their tremendous significance. Now we didn’t follow verse 42 to the end of that section because of the repetitive nature of it, but it was a dramatic passage: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off,” (v.43), “if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off,” (v.45) “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out,” (v.47) and in each case he says it’s better to do that than end up in hell (v.44,45,47). That is dramatic language.
The whole of that might be summarised as, if you don’t deal with the causes of sin, they may continue to cause you to sin and grow and grow until eventually your faith is zero and you have abandoned Christ and your destiny is hell. That is how important Jesus makes failing to deal with sin and so important is it, that he repeats the challenge four times in those verses.
Now he comes to the pinnacle of the challenge which in its simplicity is devastating. We come to it through, again, another chain of word uses. In speaking of hell he warns of it being a place of fire (v.48) and then he says, “Everyone will be salted with fire.” (v.49) Now commentators tend to agree that the meaning of this is unclear, but what is fairly obvious is that the reference to ‘salted’ means purified. Now whether hell is a place where every being is purified and the ‘old man’ or old nature is purged by fire, is not clear. Perhaps Jesus means that each one of us who are destined for hell will be purified on this earth.
The word of God should have a purifying effect upon us, bad circumstances have a purifying effect on us, and of course the working of the Holy Spirit has a purifying effect on us, so all of these things will be working to change us.
But Jesus, in other areas of his teaching has said that WE are to be salt, having a purifying effect upon this world: “You are the salt of the earth. But 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.” (Mt 5:13)
Now here is the terrible thing: if we fail to heed all of Jesus’ warning in these verses we will lose out salt-effect and once that happens there is nothing you can do to restore it. You may think that you can get away with it, but if you don’t deal with your sin it will eventually overcome you and there is no hope of return!