What Jesus Taught

Summary: The word “grace” appears 121 times in the New Testament and is a major focus among most Protestant churches. As Protestants define it, the word “grace” means, “God’s unmerited favor.” Therefore, when the scriptures say that we are “saved by grace,” the way many Christians interpret this is that God saves us, not because we have done anything to merit it. However, interestingly, the word “grace” only appears four times in the gospel, three of them are found in the gospel of John, and none of them are from the words that Jesus spoke. This article looks at the teachings of Jesus to see what it has to save about salvation.

The scriptures tell us, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:80). “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began: (2 Timothy 1:9). “Which some professing have erred concerning the faith” (1 Timothy 6:21). “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4). “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6).

The word “grace” appears 121 times in the New Testament and is a major focus among most Protestant churches. From the scriptures just cited, the message seems to be that God saves us, not because of anything we
do, but “according to [God’] own purpose and grace,” and that it is through his grace that he has accepted us because of our belief in his Son, Jesus Christ. On the other hand, those who “have erred concerning the faith” by believing they are justified by keeping the law, have fallen from or are not entitled to God’s grace.

Interestingly, the word “grace” only appears four times in the gospel, three of them are found in the gospel of John, and none of them are from the words that Jesus spoke.

As Protestants define it, the word “grace” means, “God’s unmerited favor.” Therefore, when the scriptures say we are “saved by grace,” the way many Christians interpret this is that God saves us, not because we have done anything to merit it, but simply because it pleases God to do so (Ephesians 1:5).

However, if that is true, then the question is, why didn’t Jesus teach that? He spent three years and “went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1), yet there is not one recorded instance where he ever talked about God’s grace, let alone that this was the only requirement needed in order to be saved.

Closely associated with the idea that we are saved only through grace, is that once God has saved us, we are saved forever. There is a popular phrase that many Christians use that says, “Once saved, always saved.”
After all, if we have done nothing to merit God saving us, then obviously, there is nothing we can do that will cause us to lose God’s grace of salvation. Or stated in reverse, if we can lose our salvation, then it has to be because we’ve done something to merit it, and since our salvation is not based on merit, then it’s impossible to lose God’s grace of salvation.

However, everyone is familiar with the story of a rich ruler who came to Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, and everyone is familiar with the answer Jesus gave when he said, “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth” (Mark 10:19-20).

This man asked Jesus a direct question about what he needed to do to inherit eternal life (which is the same as being saved). The answer Jesus gave to his question was to do a list of things, which also included not only keeping the law of Moses but selling all of his goods and giving it to the poor, then leave his home and come follow Jesus. However, because the rich man wasn’t willing to part with his wealth, the story clearly infers that this man would not be going to heaven.

From the accounts we have of this story, the rich man was sincere in wanting to know how to gain eternal life. Then why did Jesus tell this man what things he needed to do instead of telling him that he didn’t need to do anything except believe in him? The traditional explanation to this question is stated as follows:

“In telling the young man to keep the commandments, Jesus was not saying that he could be saved by obeying the commandments; rather, Jesus was emphasizing the Law as God’s perfect standard. If you can keep the Law perfectly, then you can escape sin’s penalty—but that’s a big if… Far from keeping all the commandments, as he had claimed, the man was a sinner like everyone else. The Law proved it” (“Got Questions“)

However, it’s not enough to tell someone what won’t save them. The question is, why didn’t Jesus didn’t tell the rich man what he had to do to be saved, since that’s what he sincerely wanted to know? But, then again, perhaps Jesus did answer the man’s question if our salvation is dependent on what we do or don’t do.

If we really are saved by grace alone, then we should expect to see this message clearly expressed in the teaching of Jesus. As he himself said, “for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47).

Since Jesus is the source of our salvation, and “he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God,” and during his three-year ministry he spoke before crowds of thousands of people, telling them how to come into that kingdom, then we should expect to learn how to be saved by looking no further than what Jesus himself said.

The most common way Jesus taught was through the use of parables, which are stories of everyday people engaged in doing everyday activities that the common man was very familiar with and could easily relate to. The purpose of using parables was to compare something people readily understood to something they were unfamiliar with. In many of his parables, Jesus would begin by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like….,” and then tell a story meant to help people better understand what heaven is like.

In the 25th chapter of Matthew we read of a parable that Jesus told where he likened the kingdom of heaven to a man who was going to travel to a faraway country, but before he left, he called his servants together “and delivered unto them his goods.” To one he gave five talents, to another he gave two talents and to another he gave one talent.

When the master returned, he required an accounting from each servant of how well they had cared for their owner’s property, and he discovered that two of the three servants had been faithful to the charge given them. In fact, their master praised them saying, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

However, the third servant was not as diligent and gave as his excuse, “I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed, and I was afraid.” And indeed, the master was very hard on this servant for his lack of faithfulness and had no mercy on him as he took away all that the servant had and cast him out.

At the very beginning of this parable, Jesus tells us that the story he’s about to tell is to help us better understand what the kingdom of heaven is like, which means Jesus wants us to relate what he’s about to say to what heaven’s expectations are for us. Therefore, as we read this parable, that is the perspective we need to keep in mind.

In the story it’s clear that Jesus is the master who is going to travel to a faraway country and that we, as believers in him, are his servants, and in the story the master gathers his servants together just before he departs on his journey and gives each of them a task, assignment, or a work to do while he is gone.

In the parable we notice that each servant was not only given charge over a specific portion of their master’s property, but we learn that as they carried out their duties they increased the portion they had been given. In fact, we see from the master’s reaction when he returned that this is what he expected them to do, and apparently they understood this to be the reason why they were put in charge of his property.

Since Jesus is likening this story to heaven, then it’s clear that the master in this story represents Jesus who has left this world and taken his journey back to heaven, and the servants represent those who are his followers, meaning those who have accepted him as their Lord and Master. When the master in the story returns from his far away journey this represents Jesus when he returns “in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matthew 16:27), which is what this parable is meant to illustrate.

Some have interpreted this to mean that when Jesus returns, he will reward those who believe in him with eternal life, while those who didn’t believe in him will be rewarded with eternal damnation. However, those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Master, have made themselves his servants, and in this story, when the master returns, he holds HIS servants accountable for what they did while he was gone. Furthermore, he rewards each one of them differently according to how well they have increased what he gave them. However, that servant who didn’t do anything with what they were given was cast out “for his lack of faithfulness.”.

Also notice that the master didn’t look for how much effort each of the servants put forth in serving him. In the parable, the master’s praise of the servant who doubled his two talents was exactly the same as that of the servant who doubled his five talents, and it would have been the same towards the servant who had one talent if he had doubled it. But, instead of increasing his master’s wealth, this servant was “slothful” in the performance of his duties.

What we have to remember is that all the servants in this parable belonged to the master. This wasn’t a case where a master was going to make someone else’s servant accountable to him and then punish them because they didn’t do what he wanted. All the servants in this parable were each in the employ of the same man. Therefore, the “servants “represent those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior, or who belong to the community of believers. Just like the parable of the two sons, Jesus is directly addressing his remarks to those who claim to believe in him. He is not speaking about non-believers. And this is consistent with what Jesus taught when he said, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).

But there is a crucial aspect in the parable of the talents that is often not recognized. That aspect has to do with the reason why each servant behaved as they did, but to better understand this principle, it might be helpful to look at a more modern situation.

In order to survive in the world, we need to earn money, and for most of us that means doing some kind of labor for someone. Whether it’s working for a large corporation or a small business, most people get paid for performing certain duties. However, whether we dread what we do or like it, for most people a job is just a job. It’s something we do to earn money so we can afford to buy the things we need and want. In many cases, most employees look forward to their days off, vacation time, and holidays, and this is true even of people who are proud of the company they work for.

But then there is another group of people – a much smaller group – who work for someone out of loyalty. In other words, the salary and benefits they receive are of secondary importance. What is most important to them is making sure that either the business itself or their boss succeeds. These kinds of people are dedicated and committed to doing whatever they can to help support those they work for, regardless of any personal sacrifice they may have to make.

In the parable of the talents, we get a sense of this kind of attitude with the first two servants. They were tasked with doing a job while their master was away, and the implication is that they did it, not just for the pay, or out of fear of being punished, but out of loyalty to their master. When their master returned they were happy to show him what they had done, not because they were expecting a reward but from the satisfaction of hearing the joy it brought to their master. And we know how joyous the master was over what they had done because of the generous gift he bestowed upon each of them.

On the other hand, the third servant only did what he had to. Notice he said, “I was afraid.” Instead of trying to please his master, this servant was thinking only of his own situation. He was just doing a job for what was in it for him and felt no sense of loyalty to his employer. It didn’t bother him that his master’s wealth wasn’t increased. His fear was about being punished, not about disappointing his employer.

If Jesus is our master and we are his servants, then the message of this story is that Christ expects us to be loyal to him and to commit ourselves to serving him out of a sense of the love, adoration, and respect rather than because of the blessings we can get from him in payment for our labors.

This is the true meaning of worship. It’s where we feel it an absolute privilege for him to consider us to be one of his servants and we want to do everything we can to please him. And to hear him say to us, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” would be the greatest thrill of our life.

In another parable Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not
come.” Therefore, he sent his servants to invite people from off the street to his son’s marriage feast.”

The symbolism of this parable is that the Jews were God’s chosen people to whom he was going to bring salvation, but they would not come to him. The servants in this parable were the prophets, and since the Jews rejected them, God was going to take the gospel to the Gentiles who were given the invitation to come unto Jesus.

In the parable, the strangers who were invited to the wedding represented the Gentiles who had accepted Jesus. “And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:2,3,12-14).

The man in the parable who was not properly dressed in a wedding garment was one of the invited guests. He had accepted the invitation to come unto Christ, but his garment was not acceptable. Because of that, he was cast out of the wedding feast.

In the book of Revelation, John was told to write a letter to the church at Sardis, wherein the Lord told them, “I have not found thy works perfect before God…. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Revelation 3:2,4,5).

Of all those Christians who belonged to the church in Sardis, only a few had not defiled their garments, and they were the only ones worthy to wear a white one. To be “worthy” of something means having done something to “merit” it. All the other members of this church had been invited to the marriage feast, but they won’t have on the proper wedding garment because they had defiled them. And what will happen to them? Their names will be blotted out of the book of life, and they will be cast into outer darkness. In order for their names to be blotted out, they first had to have been written in the book of life, which shows that someone can lose their salvation after it has been given them.

Early in his ministry Jesus taught, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: (Matthew 7:22-24, emphasis added)
Some have used this parable as evidence that our works don’t save us, but a careful study of this verse shows just the opposite. Jesus said that a wise man is someone who not only hears what he has said but does them.

In talking about when he comes to earth again in glory, Jesus explained what makes someone a wise servant when he said, “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. Who
then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.”

According to what Jesus taught, a wise servant is someone “whom his lord when he cometh shall find doing.” Then Jesus went on to explain, “But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his
coming And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:45-51).

Notice that the “evil servant” did something that caused him not only to lose his reward in heaven, but he also lost his salvation “and [was] appointed his portion with the hypocrites.[where] there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

In this parable, the wise servant and the evil servant both worked for the same lord, meaning they both belonged to him, not to someone else. The analogy here is that those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Master are his servants who are required to follow and obey him, but some of his followers are wise by doing what he says while others are foolish because they don’t do what he has asked. Jesus likened these servants to those whose foundation is built on sand, and when Satan rains down upon them, great will be their fall. This is what is known as falling from God’s grace.

Jesus went on to further elaborate on this point when he said, “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.”

And what will determine who is a sheep and who is a goat? The sheep are those who gave meat to the hungry, gave drink to a stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited those in prison. In other words, their status was determined by what they did. In like manner, the goats are those who did none of these things.

Then what reward will they receive?

“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand (the sheep), Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But to the goats he will say “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:31-46).

The clear message of what Jesus taught about salvation is that it’s what we do that determines who will inherit the kingdom of heaven and receive life eternal, while those who don’t do what God commands will go away into everlasting punishment.

There is nothing in any of the teachings of Jesus that even hints that salvation comes through grace alone without the need to do anything except believe in his name. There is nothing in the teachings of Jesus that says we are incapable of obeying what he tells us. There is nothing in his teachings that says once we have been saved, there is nothing we can do to lose our salvation. In fact, everything Jesus taught says just the opposite.

However, most Protestants rely on what Paul said in a few places as proof of how to become saved, while discounting or reinterpreting everything Jesus taught. But as Christians, we are not followers of Paul; we are followers of Jesus. Instead of trying to make the words of Jesus conform to what Paul said, we should be seeking to interpret the words of Paul in light of what Jesus taught.


Related articles can be found at The Nature of Salvation