I happened across this phrase on an old friend’s Facebook page recently. If you’ve never heard this line, or something like it, then you didn’t grow up in the churches I grew up in. For many, it may not be immediately apparent why a phrase like this demonstrates a highly aberrant, reductionist view of grace. There are numerous ways to go about exposing this, but let me settle with a single parable of Christ which illustrates how grace works.
Take the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25:14-30. It is a familiar passage: a man was traveling to a far country and called his servants to him and distributed his wealth giving one servant 5 talents, another 2 talents, and another 1 talent (a “talent” was the heaviest unit of weight in the ancient Hebrew monetary system), in order to do business until he returned.
On his return the master of the house called the servants to give an account of his goods. The first two servants invested the talents and returned twice the amount to the master. The servant with the 1 talent, however, hid his talent in the ground and returned it to his master just as he received it. The master’s reply to him is very telling: “You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed…” He was then stripped of his talent and tossed out of the house.
What does this have to do with grace? Everything.
The traditional rendering of the ‘talents’ by the Church Fathers is that of grace. It is a picture of divine power given to God’s servants – or, in classic Protestant speak: “unmerited favor” – in order to do the Master’s work in the world. Without this gift the servants could do nothing whatsoever. On His return the Lord will take an account of what His servant’s had done with His gift. Those who used it for the kingdom will be rewarded with the kingdom. Those who did nothing – trusting that God would do all the work, i.e. “reap where He had not sown,” – will be seen for what they are: lazy, wicked and insincere believers.
The quoted phrase above is highly deceitful. It takes a truth – “grace is freely given” – and draws an implicit false conclusion – “thus, do nothing.” Such a conclusion, if lived out, will leave one in the predicament of the talentless servant.
Those who are convinced that grace is the gift of non-discipleship will probably not be convinced by my little exposé. That’s fine. For the rest, I hope this helps to settle the fact that God wants a relationship with his children and not mere puppets and playdolls who look on as their owner plays house with them.
Thanks for reading.