A few weeks ago I took our college group—and later in the week, our young professionals—through a study on what the Proverbs say about diligence. The week prior we had all been laid low by the many Proverbs that condemn laziness.
I began the lesson my noting that diligence is an “all of life” issue. That is, rather than talking about work ethic—a metric that is typically used in relation to how we approach our job or career—we should speak in terms of diligence and how Scripture calls us to apply diligence to every facet of our lives: our walk with Christ, our jobs, our relationships, our responsibilities at home, our ministries, and even our recreation (see Prov 12:27; 19:24)!
But I argued from Matthew 25:17-30 that diligence is also an assurance of salvation issue. In Jesus’ parable of the talents we learn that the servant to whom the master entrusted one talent and failed to multiply that talent not only received a stern rebuke from his master; he was consigned to eternal punishment.
He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth‘ (Matt 25:24-30; emphasis added).
Unlike the other two servants who had improved the resources they had been given and enjoyed the warm commendation of their master—“Well done, good and faithful servant” (vv. 21, 23)—the “wicked and lazy slave” failed to multiply his resources and reaped just payment for his neglect.
Jesus isn’t teaching salvation by works in this passage. Rather, he is telling us that the person with true faith will gladly receive and make diligent use of the resources he has been given for the glory of God and the good of one’s neighbor. If we walk in idleness and neglect, and we fail to make use of our abilities and resources for Christ’s sake, then it will be difficult to find assurance of salvation.
In his book, Temptation and Sin, John Owen connects spiritual depression directly to slothfulness and one’s neglect to use their gifts and resources for the glory of God and the good of the church.
Great opportunities for service neglected and great gifts not improved are often times the occasion of plunging the soul into great depths. Gifts are given to trade withal for God. Opportunities are the market-days for trade. To napkin up the one and to let slip the other will end in trouble and disconsolation. Disquietments and perplexities of heart are worms that will certainly breed in the rust of unexercised gifts. God loseth a revenue of glory and honour by such slothful souls and he will make them sensible of it (346; emphasis added).
On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, many of us have been reminded of the Augustinian monk who sought peace with God through his religious efforts. He finally found rest in the gospel of justification by faith alone. Perhaps you are struggling with a lack of assurance because you are trying to gain saving righteousness through your intense spiritual exercises. If so, you need a fresh encounter with the good news that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the law in your place, and that your right standing with God is based solely on his life, death, and resurrection, received by faith alone (Rom 4:5; Gal 2:16).
But some of us might be struggling because we are no longer exercising the gifts and multiplying the resources with which Christ has entrusted us. If that is your situation, heed Owen’s counsel and get to work for the glory of Christ and the good of your neighbor. You’ve been given spiritual gifts for the benefit of the church (1 Cor 12:8). You’ve been created and recreated in Christ to love and serve our neighbor (Matt 22:37-39; Gal 6:10; 1 Thess 3:12). We have access to divine power that energizes us for ministry (Col 1:29). To neglect these valuable opportunities and resources will only keep us in a place of spiritual depression and a lack of assurance.