Rather than just post a bunch of passages defending good works, why don’t we look at all of chapter 25 in the Gospel of Matthew? Defenders of sola fide (justification by faith alone) are truly left flat-footed in light of the witness of Matthew. The evangelist tells us that Jesus emphasized that each of us are called to use the talent God gave us for the glory of the Kingdom of God. For that reason, the parable is known as “the parable of talents.”
In the parable of talents, the hypothetical master (God) gives his servants money – τάλαντα – to invest. To make a long story short, he rewards those who use their “talent” and punishes those who do not. To quote Matthew 25: 12: For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
Is God talking about material wealth in this passage? Of course not! Let’s look at Matthew 6: 19: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.
The parable of the talents is not a justification of a work ethic that brings material wealth. That would be a very New Age, or Puritan, interpretation. Rather, Jesus tells us to use the “talanta” which should be understood as “charism” or gifts of God, for the greater glory of God, here on earth. How do we know that the “talanta” are gifts? That is obvious: it is the master who gave the talent to the servants. In other words, the talents are, like faith, freely given by God, not earned by us.
In Matthew Chapter 25, the sacred author then moves on to another pivotal story told by Jesus, and frequently ignored by the sola fide crowd. To quote Jesus words exactly from verses 35 and 36: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.
The bottom line is this. We are called, as a matter of faith, to witness to the Good News, to be of service to to others, and to do charitable works for the greater glory of God. But, we never “earn” or “merit” salvation, since all good things come from Christ, not our own handiwork. By doing good works, we do not seek credit, but rather put to good use the free gifts (our time and energy) that God gave us. To everyone who has, more will be given.