Do you want to know what is sad? Sad are those people who believe salvation is the end of the story. Sad are people who believe this: “Since I have accepted Christ as my personal Lord and savior I can live my life however the Hell I please with the full assurance that when I die I will go to Heaven.” Note to self: outer darkness is not Heaven.
I honestly don’t know how this whole idea got started. Salvation is not the end of the story, it is supposed to be the beginning of the story. Read Paul, Peter, James, John. Read the prophets and tell me what the end of the story is. Read the words of Jesus right here (and everywhere else for that matter). One thing that millions of contemporary Christians don’t want to think about, much less hear about in their churches is the idea that someday we will have to give account for ourselves. God will hold us accountable.
And Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats.
Salvation is not the end, it is the beginning. This is the point where God is finally able to begin to work on and in our lives because in Christ we have given him permission to work on us. And as God would have it, two things are happening at once. God is working in us and also on us.
First, in us, he is changing us from the inside-out. Creation is continuing on our inner selves until we reach the point where we can speak like Job, “I will be content when I wake up bearing his likeness.” God is trying to transform our stupid, stubborn selves into the people he means for us to be. We are to become like him and he is generally fighting us to root out all the sin, death and evil that corrupts us and keeps us broken. We are to be transformed in the renewing of our minds, Paul said. We must be born again.
Now, does this work require our cooperation or is it something God will simply do to us. What do you think? Cooperation, of course. God will never force himself on us. No, not ever. We are the reason I said God is trying to transform our stupid and stubborn selves into the people he means us to be. In the traditional formula we would say we have been creatures of sin, death and the devil and all that rot needs to go.
So God is working us step by step. Could God do this all in one fell swoop? Yes, of course he could, but for most if not all of us there would not be much of us left. For some, they might just about cease to exist altogether. That is not God’s desire, so we move step by step through our lives, changing bit by bit as a kindness to us, until we are changed into the people he wants us to be.
Second, God is also working on us or upon us, and that brings us to this parable. You see, God not only wants us to be his people on the inside, he wants us to be his people on the outside as well. Our lives, how we live, our lifestyle, our relationships with others and all that we say and do is important to God. To put it most plainly, he wants us to always do the right thing. He wants us not only to be like Jesus, he wants us to do like Jesus too. Yes, and greater works than these.
In my mind, this parable is most closely related to Jesus’ story about light. It is saying we must not hide our light under a basket, but give light to the whole house. We are to let our light shine before people so they can see our good works and give glory to our father in heaven. And for someone who believes that salvation is the end of the story, who believes it does not really matter how they live between now and glory, how are they ever going to let the light of God shine in their lives?
This parable says plainly that people are given gifts at salvation, at the point when they realize Jesus has gone away and they await his return, they are given something, and the expectation is they will invest in those gifts, one, three or five as they may be. And why? Because the Lord will expect a fair return on his investment.
But wait, I was saved by grace. Nothing was required of me for salvation…
True, but these gifts are not given to save you. They are given after the fact with the idea that you will invest them or invest your lives in them. And the main reason people don’t know this is because NO ONE HAS THE COURAGE TO TELL THEM THEY WILL BE HELD TO ACCOUNT. I’m sorry. Did I just shout that?
Some people complain about this parable and think it is very unfair to the poor person who only had one gift to begin with. My response is fine, turn the parable upside down. “Master, you gave me one and I return to you two. Master you gave me two and I return four. Master you gave me five and I buried them because I was afraid.” Do you think the result would have been any different? I think not.
Look, at this point in Matthew Jesus is beginning to prepare his disciples for his going away. He is plainly saying gifts are and will be given to the disciples and he is telling them to invest those gifts as well as they can because they will be called to account. Were they not saved? (Judas is questionable, but the others…) Yes they were saved, but their work or really their lives only began after the resurrection and ascension. Their salvation was not the end of the story. It was the beginning. Try reading the book of Acts.
No one is without a talent, even if they swear they are. God is willing, ready and able to empower, or if you prefer, to come upon and gift all believers. Then the only question is what will we do with what we have been given. Will we do as Jesus did? Say, yes and even greater works than these.
Salvation is not the end of the story. To be sure, death is the end of the story, and to that end, like it or not, intentional or unintentional, we are all building our lives as Paul suggested. Some are building in gold and silver. Some are building in wood. When we face the fire of God, some will be purified. Some will be burned away to ash and dust.