It’s hard to figure out how to be a part of the world, but not. How to be a mortal person in a mortal world, but somehow not of the world; to transcend it somehow even though we’re in a mortal body. To have to work each day, take care of mundane issues, and still somehow not be defined by the mundane.
It also seems to be that we measure our in-ness or of-ness by simply being a certain distance from the world. As long as we seem to be a reasonable distance above it, we consider ourselves safe from its deceptions and wiles. We label ourselves of God when all we really are is simply a little better than the world.
We all are what the scriptures describe as natural men and women (Mosiah 3:19). Our natural, mortal, human bodies are a large portion of what we are. We have been given the gift of mortality, a weakness that is at the heart of each of us (Ether 12:27). And, mortality is purposeful. God put us here, as mortal, on purpose.
So, how do we answer the command to be in the world, but not of the world?
A Discussion on Salt
This is a topic I recently pondered for a lesson I had to teach to the YW in my ward. As I pondered how to help them to learn from the Spirit how to be in the world but not of the world, I had to consider the definition of both in and of.
In = being present in a place, being enclosed or surrounded by something, being inside a period of time, expressing movement within an event, place, or situation
Of = belonging to, related to, or connected with; used to indicate a belonging to a group of people or country
So, fundamentally, God is asking us to be present in the world, enclosed by it, surrounded by it during a period of mortal time, to move around in the world, and yet to not belong to the world. It seems a rather difficult request. Why are we here at all if God doesn’t want us to be of the world?
In Matthew 5:13 we read the answer to our purpose in this world though we are not to be of the world:
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
So, we are in the world to salt it. That is our purpose. We are not to conform to the world, or to ever be of the world. We are to do for the world that which salt does for food.
What does salt do for food?
- Preserves, inhibits the growth of bacteria by drawing out moisture
- Amplifies flavor, making flavors more powerful and good
- Salt makes the texture of foods better by helping to retain water after being cooked, slowing the rate of yeast growth in bread, and it adds crispness or crunch on certain foods when used to top it
- Adds nutrition
- It helps to bind foods together because it helps that food to form certain critical binding proteins
- Maintains and enhances the color of food, and can increase caramelization
So, spiritually, those who follow Christ are supposed to be the salt of the earth. To be in the world to preserve it (Helaman 13:12, 3 Nephi 9:11, Alma 62:40), to inhibit the growth of evil by drawing out the goodness. We are to amplify the good that is in the world, highlighting it. We are to improve the lives of those around us by easing struggles, serving them, guiding them, so that life is more full. We are to spread the gospel that families might be bound together for eternity and individuals can be bound to God through covenant, and become like Him. We are to live and contribute in such a way that the propensity and frequency of spiritual experiences increases impacting all those around us.
Lighting and Uplifting Instead of Adopting and Conforming
If you read about salt, most studies will confirm that it is very difficult for salt to lose its savor, or saltiness. But, it can happen. Salt loses its savor, more or less, if gets exposed to too much moisture when stored, if it gets contaminated or stored with foul substances, or if it takes on the properties of other molecules or ingredients.
Different kinds of flavored salts are all the rage these days and can be bought or made. The salt itself can take on the flavor of any flavoring it is mixed with or stored with. The pure salt begins to adopt the flavor, or savor, of other things.
In a spiritual sense, we become useless and have lost our savor if we contaminate our lives with worldly stuff. We lose our savor when we begin to adopt the beliefs, practices, traditions, philosophies, and ways of the world, rather than staying true to the ways of God. Even if we don’t adopt everything, impurities ruin our power to “salt the earth.” As we conform, we fail to fulfill our function as spiritual salt. We adopt and conform rather than light and uplift. As we follow and conform to the world we become useless as spiritual salt.
Savor Requires a Continual Infusion of Light
It is the mistake of many a good person to believe that spiritual savor and light is the result of only an absence of evil in our lives. We suppose that as long as we simply aren’t purposefully sinning (rebellion) that this is sufficient to maintain our spiritual saltiness. However anyone familiar with even a simple light switch knows that the light in the room will only go on if there is power coming into the house. Having only a light bulb that works means nothing if there is no infusion of power to turn on that light. As well, we must actively turn on the switch and leave it on.
As children of God who have entered into “the way” we are like light bulbs. We must pay the power bill and turn on the switch in order for our light to shine. We do this by seeking not only to not sin, but by actively pursuing God’s will for our lives. We do this by coming to know God through studying His words, emulating Him, responding to the promptings and warnings of the Holy Spirit, and actively seeking to “feed His sheep.” We do this by cultivating integrity and honesty with ourselves and with God. We do this by owning our mistakes, wrongs, and weaknesses and repenting (changing/turning toward God).
Elder Mark A. Bragg, of the Seventy said:
We are children of God. Receiving light, continuing in God, and receiving more light are what we are created to do. From the very beginning, we followed our Heavenly Father and His plan. Seeking the light is in our spiritual DNA.
In Doctrine and Covenants 50:24 we read:
That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
To maintain our spiritual savor and light, to be in the world but not of the world, to uplift and to light the world, we must not conform or ride a downward parallel course. We must seek light and truth and cling to it. We must seek to be light and truth and to lift others through our Christlike traits. We must leave our homes, our friends, our families, our schools, our places of work better than when we first entered them.
Notice that anything which is of God is light! If we are of God and not of the world, we will light the world. We will preserve, protect, and highlight the world.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
Elder Neil L. Andersen, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught:
Overcoming the world is not one defining moment in a lifetime, but a lifetime of moments that define and eternity. Bruce D. Porter said, ‘Our challenge…is to come to know [the Savior]…and, through faith in him, to overcome the trials and temptations of this world.’
To be in the world but not of the world, we must seek to uplift and light the pieces of the world that we have influence in. As the salt of the earth, though “fitting in” and conforming to the world around us is what the natural man/woman wants to do; we must “submit to the enticing of the Holy Spirit, and put off the natural man, and become a saint,” a piece of pure, spiritual salt. Though we are mortal, our spirit is immortal and is capable of subduing the natural man and aiding us in our challenge to be of God and not of the world.
We can truly be in the world but not of the world. Be salt.