The Return of The King – Ryan’s Sermon Blog (Part Two)

3 Oct

Q: “The Bible passage (Matthew 25:14-30) and Sunday sermon seemed to say salvation by faith and works… so confusing. Was the 3rd servant a believer or not?”

Thanks for your question! It’s a helpful one because you raise some very important issues.

Starting off, it’s worth stating what the parable is NOT saying: ‘Be faithful or else [you won’t be saved].’

No, we keep going back to the basics: We are saved because of Christ’s faithfulness, not our own! And I tried to keep pointing out the work of Christ for us, primarily in salvation but also in his provision (the things he’s given us). Rather, what the parable is doing is simply encouraging those already trusting in Jesus (and so are already saved) to live in line with who they are in Jesus. ‘You have been made slaves of Christ, now live as slaves of Christ.’ Not to earn salvation but simply as a way of living out your saved life. The call from the parable is for faithfulness on our part – action on our part actually.

My aim was to point out three things from the parable that would encourage us to live those faithful lives as people already trusting in Jesus. That’s why I said a few times at the start ‘This is not a parable about getting saved. This is for those already trusting in Jesus and to encourage us to be faithful as His, while we wait for our King to return.’ It’s not about earning our salvation; it’s about living it out. As far as I could see from the parable, three key things would help us as Christians live out our lives of faith in Jesus. They were seeing:

  1. Who we are
  2. What we’ve been give
  3. Who our Master is.

The focus in all of those was on Jesus actually. I only had minor little off shoots trying to show what that would mean for us practically (we’re under authority, we don’t own what we have etc.).

I hope that makes sense. It’s very important that it does. The passage and the sermon are not saying salvation by faith and works. It’s always and only by faith (Romans is a great book on this). However as books like James will tell us: faith in Jesus is not devoid of works. My faith in Jesus means that I do things. Not to earn salvation – I already have that through faith in Jesus! – but actually my actions show that I have that faith. Now obviously the problem is that sometimes we make judgments based on outward appearances and those outwards appearances are not always true. That’s why in the first sermon from Matt 25:1-13 I tried to help us see that it’s necessary to have faith-driven actions. I.e. we realise that it is easy to fool people with what we do, but we’ll wanna make sure that why we do the things we do flows from our faith in Jesus. Again, this is simply all talking about us living as a people already saved and belonging to Jesus (cf here Eph 2:10).

Now as for the third slave:

In a nutshell: he was never a believer. And the reason why we can tell that is because his actions didn’t match up to what they would have if he had been someone who really knew and trusted he master. The other two slaves knew the Master and that drove them to right action. Not the case with the third slave – his inactions showed him to be someone who didn’t know or trust the Master i.e. he wasn’t saved.

BUT while this guy was never a believer, my understanding (and on this I’m not willing to die on a hill) is that the third slave (and the 5 foolish girls from Matthew 25:1-13) stand for those who aren’t believers but who would profess to be. In other words in the parables of Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus is looking at people who would profess to follow him but he knows that not all of them are. It’s not meant to provoke a witch hunt or shake the confidence of those who are saved but it is meant to get us asking some important questions and making sure we’re re-orientating our lives (by God’s help) back to the basics of the gospel. The third guy would say that he was a slave of the Master but by his actions/lack of actions he showed that that wasn’t true. And so his fate becomes that of the average person who wouldn’t even come near to saying that they were a slave of Christ – i.e. he joins the destiny of the rest of the world who rejects Jesus. He was just a bit more tricky: he wouldn’t have said he rejected Jesus, but by his life he showed that he really did/had.

So again, to reiterate: the parable and the sermon are not about salvation by faith and works. Rather, as those, by God’s grace, having faith in our Master Jesus, we’re being encouraged to have the works/life that match that. I.e. you are Christ’s (that is secure) now in joy, realising the privilege you have been given, live that out. And I’m convinced that at least three things from the parable would fuel the right kind of living as a people already belonging to Christ, seeing: who we are, what we’ve been given and over all of that, who our Master is. As always, it’s simply pointing us back to the gospel, back to Jesus. And as always (even as God’s people) we won’t always live the lives we’re meant to and we’ll need to be reminded that God’s grace reaches further than our sin and imperfection.

As I said, a helpful question – thanks for it! And actually your question will be even more important for this Sunday and Matthew 25:31-46 because if there’s ever a part of Scripture that might be taken as promoting salvation by works then it might be this one (and it’s been used like that at times through history). The important thing to realise about Matthew 25:31-46 however is that it’s doing something different to the parables in Matthew 24 and 25. This is more cosmic, it’s not aimed at differentiating between true and false believers, instead this is talking about final judgment – the delay is over – and the differentiating is between believers and unbelievers. What will make the difference between being a blessed or cursed one when the King returns in judgment?

What do you think from Matthew 25:31-46?

Ryan van der Avoort


Stay tuned – Ryan will answer more of your questions in part three of his series tomorrow


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