Does the parable of the talents teach salvation by works?

Does the parable of the talents teach salvation by works?

The famous parable of the talents in Matthew 25 sounds a lot like it is teaching some kind of salvation by works. After all, three servants are given money to use. When the master returned, the two who used that money well were rewarded and welcomed into the master’s happiness. The one who did not use the money well was cast outside into the outer darkness. That sounds like those who serve God well enough get in while those who do not fail to make the cut.

That is what it seems to teach at a quick glance, but that’s not understanding the whole parable well.

All of the servants in the parable of the talents were servants to start with. Their status was not something that was earned by what they did. And they were given an incredible amount of wealth to manage right at the start. The starting point for everyone is the blessing of God; that is not something that we did something to deserve.

The receiving of a reward or a punishment was not really due to what the servants did. Everything hinges on the attitude of the servants to the master. The first two servants understood the great responsibility of what they had been given and got on with the job. They happily returned to the master what was his. They loved their master and worked hard in his service. The third servant explained that he did not like the master, doubting his intentions. He was not prepared to work hard for such a master, so he hid the money he was given. His actions flowed from his poor attitude towards the master.

Works and faith go together. If you trust in Jesus and love Him, you will live your life in line with that. Your actions will show your faith. Likewise, if you care nothing for Jesus, you will not use your resources for his service. Your lack of faith will be seen in your lack of action to serve God.

We are saved by grace, through faith. And the way we live shows whether we understand the grace that has been shown to us. Trusting in Jesus must lead to a changed life, to a life spent trying to advance the cause of the Master.

All of this means that Christians who are trying to serve King Jesus do not need to fear that they will be found to have not done enough on the Last Day. We should work hard in response to the grace we have been shown, to be sure. But we are saved by Jesus and what He has done for us; what we do is only evidence that we know how great a gift we have been given.


(On a personal note, this is my 300th blog post on Written for our Instruction. It has been a good discipline for me to explore the many applications of God’s word to life, and I am grateful for the many who also seem to find it helpful).