The Key to Gospel Impact: Being “A City Set on a Hill”
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus says that his followers should function as “a city set on a hill”—that is, a city set on display for the world to see, visible for miles around because it’s so evidently supernatural.
This involves two things. First, it involves Christians living lives that have been transformed by the gospel and that society sees as attractive and compelling. Second, it involves doing this together, as a loving community of Christians.
If you’re a Christian, I’d like you to take a moment and put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s never been to church and is somewhat skeptical about Christianity. What do you think they might think if a Christian said to them, “Jesus has changed my life”? How might they respond?
I think for many non-Christians who are a bit on the skeptical side, it would be kind of like someone coming up to them and saying, “Hey look, I’ve been eating these magical beans, and they’ve changed my life.” I know that may seem like a silly comparison, but I think that is the way a lot of people view Christianity.
So, how would you respond if someone told you they’ve been eating magical beans that that those beans had changed their life? Personally, I might smile and say, “Hey, that’s great,” but I wouldn’t take it that seriously.
But let’s say the person had a life that I found very attractive. I observed them in different situations giving honest answers even when they could have lied and made their life a lot more convenient. I observed them helping other people and being generous towards them even when those people were in no position to return the favor. I observed them demonstrating love towards people even when people did them wrong. And I just observed a joy and gladness within them that’s sort of mysterious and difficult to put into words.
And so, if a person had a life like that, and they came up to me and said, “Hey look, I’ve been eating these magical beans, and they’ve changed my life,” I would at least think about it a little bit. I’d ask myself, “Could it be that these beans really do have magical powers?” And it would at least arouse my curiosity, even if I didn’t actually try the beans.
Now, if I was going through an exceptionally difficult time in life, I might get desperate enough to try the beans. But under normal circumstances, I’d probably conclude that my friend is just a really great person who has exceptional character and a phenomenal personality, and he just thinks that those beans are magical and are making him the way he is. In reality, however, he’d still be that way even without the beans.
But let’s say that there wasn’t just one bean-eater living an incredibly attractive life. Let’s say there was an entire community of bean-eaters, and they all had lives unlike anything I’d ever seen before. And they didn’t just exhibit their character qualities individually. No, they really loved each other and cared for each other and enjoyed such a unity in their group that made me want what they had.
I don’t know about you, but that would probably convince me to at least try these so-called magical beans. Even if the idea of magical beans seemed silly to me at first, I would probably at least try them if I saw a group of people with lives unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
That’s what Jesus calls his followers to be: a city set on a hill. A community of people whose lives have been changed by something far superior to some kind of magical bean.
Unfortunately, many who call themselves Christians are not living this kind of a life. That’s why many people in American society don’t respect them very much. But what if we did start living in a way that was compelling and attractive to others? And what if we did it together?