I'm sure most of you have jobs. Each workday you spend a certain amount of time serving your employer. In return for your service, your employer agrees to pay you a certain amount of money or give you a certain quantity of goods (if you work under a barter system). The time you spend working for your employer and the amount he pays you have been agreed upon by both of you. You, as the employee, consider the value of the money you receive to be equal to the value of the work you perform. Your employer also considers the value of your work to be equal to the value of the money he pays you. As a result, you have earned the pay you receive for your work. You are entitled to receive the money paid you by your employer. However, should you fail for any reason to give an equal value of work for the money you receive, one of two things has happened:
Oftentimes employers will give employees time off with pay from work. This is a gift given to the employee by the employer. Unfortunately, employees oftentimes fail to give an employer what they have paid for. In this circumstance, the employee has stolen whatever money exceeds the value of the work he has rendered.
Please keep this example in mind as we consider whether one may earn salvation. What must be necessary for one to earn salvation? The value of his service to God must equal the value of the salvation he receives from God. Is this possible? Please turn to Luke 17:7-10. One of Jesus' apostles made a statement (verse 5), and Jesus responded with a parable. In the parable we read of a master and a servant. The servant has been in the field plowing or feeding cattle (verse 7), in obedience to the commandments of the master (verse 9). When the servant comes in from the field, does the master tell him, "Go and sit down to meat." (verse 7)? No. The master tells the servant to prepare the master's meal, and the servant may eat once the master is finished (verses 8 and 9). He doesn't thank the servant because the servant had done all things he was commanded.
Jesus makes application of this parable in verses 10 and 11. Recall how we spent a good deal of time considering grace as we started this study? Jesus actually uses the noun charis in verse 9! Recall how charis is translated "grace" 130 times in the New Testament, with 24 of those instances recorded by Paul in the book of Romans (including Romans 4:4, which states "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.")? In Luke 17:9 the NT translators used the word "thank" to translate charis. So Jesus tells us that the master doesn't "thank" (which could also be translated "give grace to") the servant simply because he had done everything the master commanded. In His application He tells us the attitude we must have: "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do." (verse 10). Here Jesus shows us the impossibility of our earning our salvation. But why is it impossible? Because, even when we have done all that God commands us, our service is still unprofitable to God! Since our service will never equal the value of the salvation we receive, it is only because of God's grace and His generous gift that we receive salvation at all. But does this tell us that we are not to work? Absolutely not! On the contrary, Jesus tells us that we are unprofitable servants even though we have done all those things God commands us! What attitude should dominate our lives when we consider the gift God is offering us? It is our duty to do all He commands us to do! Merriam-Webster tells us that duty refers to "obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one's position." The Greek word translated "duty" is opheilo and means "to owe, to be in debt for." So, when we have done all we can do, we realize we have done it because we owe God, not that He owes us!
Let's consider verse 9 in light of Jesus' application in verse 10. Jesus tells us that the master doesn't thank the servant because he did all he was commanded. In like manner, when we do all we are commanded, our master (God) doesn't thank us. Now, let's use "grace" in place of "thank" (which we may accurately do, since the Greek from which each is translated is charis). When we exchange "grace" for "thank" we learn that God doesn't give us grace simply because we have done all we are commanded to do! But does God withhold grace if we fail to do all we are commanded to do? Continue our study on works and determine the answer.