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Do Jesus' Parables Teach Salvation by Works?

Today’s reading

Leviticus 4-6; Matthew 25:1-30

Selected Verses

And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. Leviticus 4:20

And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 25:30


In today’s reading in Leviticus the phrase oft-repeated is "he (or they) shall be forgiven.” In yesterday’s reading the emphasis was on “a pleasing aroma to the LORD.” The sacrifices described in Leviticus resulted in God being pleased and the worshipers being forgiven. God does not merely show restraint in not punishing the sin of true believers, He forgives them and He is pleased with the offering they make.

Of course we know from the New Testament that these offerings all pointed toward Jesus Christ, the final and complete offering for the sins of His people. In Him, God is pleased and we who believe in Him are forgiven.

So what does the parable of the talents in Matthew have to do with this? Here we see God’s judgment portrayed on one who failed to invest his talent for the master’s benefit. He is not forgiven. In fact, he loses the one talent he had and is cast out of his master’s presence. A similar judgment falls upon the unprepared virgins.

In light of these parables, we might wonder if Jesus is teaching that we are acceptable before God based on our works or personal preparedness. In fact acceptance before God depends on faith in the offering for sin made by Christ. On the other hand the reality of our faith is demonstrated in fully employing the talent or gift God has given us and in having an expectant attitude about the Lord’s coming in power and judgment.

Think about it

Many trust in their own good works for salvation, only to be lost in the end. Others believe that their trust in Christ only needs to be demonstrated once through repeating a prayer, being baptized, or some other outward profession. These self-deceived people fail to show the fruits of faith in their lives. According to the Bible they will also be lost in the end. Jesus never taught salvation by works. Rather He taught that faith bears observable fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). Ground your faith in Jesus Christ’s offering for sin. But be sure your faith shows itself in your life by diligent use of the means of grace (God's word and prayer and the sacraments) both personally in your home and corporately in your local church.

© 2017 John A Carroll Used by permission

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