This morning I was reading Matthew 25:1-30, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you’. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Some questions came to mind, as they always do. What does the oil and the lamp signify? All fell asleep, but half awakened prepared to join the marriage feast, and half were unprepared. Why were not all prepared? How does this parable apply to me? I want to explain how I understand the difference between the faith that is the consequence of true grace, versus the appearance of faith that stems from human effort. When a person is convicted in their heart that they are in a sinful state, and such conviction comes from the Holy Spirit, it is not related to their present circumstances. They may be wallowing in self pity due to temporary suffering, or momentarily ecstatic about their wealth and health, they may have just been reading the Bible or watching an idiotic video, but when that conviction calls, it is irresistible. In an instant, they recognize they are helpless and hopeless, in need of a savior. At this point, I admit I am not totally sure if it follows that they call on Jesus Christ, or try to reform by their own efforts. I believe it’s the former.
There are others who also feel a conviction of sin, but rather than it coming from the Holy Spirit, it is a mere attack of conscience. This group, and any others who try to reform themselves via their own efforts–the foolish–are doomed to fail, even if experiencing some fleeting successes. Perhaps they, like remoras, attach themselves to the idea of being saved through Jesus Christ, but do not have the unlimited supply of grace that comes only from being grafted onto the tree that is Jesus. Those who were convicted by the Spirit, and cried out from the heart for Jesus Christ only, are like branches grafted on to a tree, receiving nourishment–grace–from the roots. I believe that the oil and the lamp represents grace and the light that it gives.
Both groups fell asleep, because no one knows when the bridegroom, Jesus Christ, will come, and vigilance is tiring. There is no defense against sleep. One moment you are awake, thinking of whatever, and the next you are waking up. But those grafted onto the tree have unlimited grace, which comes only from the root. That’s why those who took extra oil with them, the “wise”, said they did not have enough to give, because they were not the source of the oil of grace. The fate of the foolish, who try to reform by their own efforts, but run out of oil when it’s really needed, is to be told by Jesus “I do not know you.” Does that apply to you? I hope not.
What about those who think they have grace but are still stuck on self effort? This is like the sermon preached on grace, which ends with a flourish of “go and do this, this, …” No, the Spirit of grace will convict you of what it wants you doing. I still sin, I still fall asleep when I should be alert, but I don’t worry. Grace is this: When God sees my sin, He sees Jesus Christ pleading my case, and renders the verdict, Not Guilty. No matter how many times I am tried, my lamp will not go out. You can have that too!