Our Lord, the greatest teacher the world has ever known, masterfully used parables nearly two thousand years ago to impart spiritual truths to those who would embrace them (Matt. 13:13ff). Faithful preachers today still use parables to convey the divine message.
One way to teach using parables in the twenty-first century is to carefully study an inspired parable and expound upon its meaning. However, one must be careful never to interpret any parabolic details in a way that would contradict other passages from God's word. When teaching from the parables of Christ, look for the central thought or main idea and don't be swept away attempting to interpret every detail found therein. One can easily miss the point of a parable if he obsesses over what a particular detail represents or means. Worse yet, some have twisted the details of certain inspired parables and contrived fanciful theories and false doctrines (II Pet. 3:16).
Another way to teach using parables is to create a story to express spiritual principles found in God's word. Although this cannot (and should not) always be done, such can be a wonderful illustrative tool in the hands of a faithful evangelist. However, when using any tool, one should exercise caution. The purpose of one using parables (or stories) in preaching must be to illustrate and teach. Any entertainment value must be secondary (as was always the case in Jesus' teachings).
The following parable, though not divinely inspired, accurately expresses some important spiritual truths found in God's word (as one will see from a consideration of the Scriptures quoted and cited). I would be remiss if I failed to mention that this parable was composed by Scott Smelser, a brother in Christ. I can only take credit for this introduction, the application section, and some minor editing.
Let us now consider the parable itself. Pertinent Bible verses will be inserted throughout the illustration with the intention of making the spiritual truths obvious.
There once was a charitable power company. Out of mercy for a people in great darkness, they decided to give away free power. At much cost and sacrifice, they built a grand power plant, ran lines, and made free power available to the people in darkness. Note some initial spiritual parallels: John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son..."; Acts 26:18 - "...in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins..."
Here is the story of five people in regards to that charitable power company.
Dear friends, what lessons can we learn from this parable? How does it apply to our lives?
Perhaps the most vital question would be: Which of the five individuals do you resemble the most?
Are you like the first man--seemingly content to remain in darkness? If so, then your interest in spiritual matters is minimal. You do not care about living righteously according to God's standard, the Bible. You'll never get out of the darkness unless you desire to find God's light. "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Matt. 7:7,8; cf. John 8:31,32).
Are you like the second man--unwilling to do something simple (like flip a switch) to receive light? If so, then you understand that salvation is a gift of God, yet you are unwilling to comply with the conditions set forth in the Bible for accepting that gift. You are resistant to the fact that the New Testament clearly teaches that merely affirming faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is insufficient (Matt. 7:21). One must also repent of his sins and be baptized to have them washed away (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38; 22:16). Such is not earning salvation; it is merely complying with God's conditions! One who tries to lay hold of salvation in a manner in which the Bible does not prescribe will remain in darkness.
Are you like the third man--thinking that because you have met certain conditions, that you are exceedingly important and have earned the light? If so, then you do not understand that salvation cannot be earned--it is a gift of God (Rom. 6:23)! You do not comprehend that merely complying with divine conditions does not make you powerful or important. No one deserves salvation, and no matter what one does to obey God, he can never work hard enough or long enough to earn a home in heaven. One who thinks that his salvation is strictly based upon his obedience is still in darkness (cf. Eph. 2:4,5).
Are you like the fourth man--initially interested in the light, but after a while, only hypocritically so? If so, then you do not truly understand the love of God and the price He paid to make salvation possible. Romans 5:8 teaches - "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." If one comprehends and appreciates this, he will commit himself to the Lord and never turn back to the world of darkness (cf. II Cor. 5:14-17; Luke 9:62).
Are you like the fifth man--desiring to find true light and remain in it? If so, then you comprehend that salvation is a gift from God made possible by His love and Jesus' sacrifice. However, though you realize that eternal life cannot be earned, you understand that there are conditions to be met to claim His gift of love (namely, faith, repentance, and baptism). You embrace the light (by faithfully following God's word) and never turn back to darkness.
May we endeavor to be like the fifth individual! Let us claim God's gift of eternal life on His terms and strive to walk in His light. Let us treasure the fellowship therein and trust in the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to cleanse us from our sins (I John 1:7). God is so much greater than any power company. His love and sacrifice--as seen ultimately in Jesus Christ--is infinitely greater than anything a charitable power company could offer for free. "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" (II Cor. 9:15).
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.