We were once told, in a church we were attending, that grace is the “unmerited” or “undeserved” favor of God. But while this plate was spinning, a second was set in motion. We were also told that we are “worthy” of God’s grace by virtue of the fact that we have been created in His image and are therefore valuable to Him.
I agree that we are valuable to God. This value has been revealed in Christ who died for us because of His great love for us. But I am having a problem balancing “worthiness” with grace.
What does worthiness have to do with grace? Grace is an act of kindness by which God bestows on someone what he or she does not deserve, and is unworthy of. If this is not the case, the meaning of grace is lost. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). Worthiness was lost when we fell in Adam.
We do not receive grace because we are worthy. To be worthy is to expect a just reward.
Grace is not a just reward.
If we are worthy, there is no need for grace. When favor is given, as when a king extends his scepter to someone, it is at the king’s discretion. If he grants favor to everyone because everyone in his kingdom is worthy, favor becomes meaningless.
Grace makes us worthy. “But the father said to his servants, Quick, bring the best robe and put it on [my son], and give him a ring for his hand and sandals for his feet. . . Bring the fattened calf and kill it” (Luke 15:22,23). Worthiness is not something that is already there when grace arrives. If it is, the reason for grace is removed.
Grace shrinks from entering where worthiness has hung a hat apart from Christ. Worthiness is a bed the atoning work of Christ has made, where grace can lay its head.
A worthiness independent of Christ, and grace, can lead to false hope. It can damn (II Pet. 2:1).
Sometimes truth is turned on its head. We were told that we need to believe in ourselves. “In order to believe in Jesus, you need to believe in yourself.” Though the sincerity and good intention of my brother is not in question, Jesus did not say, “Believe in yourself; believe also in me.”
Imagine Paul and Silas, when asked by the jailer in Philippi, “What must I do to be saved?” saying to him, “Believe in yourself!”
When Paul lists the things men will be in the last days (I Timothy 3), the first on the list is “lovers of themselves.” He is not recommending it. From the moment we “touch down” on earth we are naturally consumed with ourselves. We are self-centered from the day we are born. The world revolves around us. That’s why we have problems with self-esteem, depression, pride; the list goes on. We are self-absorbed.
I do not deny valid identity problems young (and old) people face in our world today. But seeking to believe in ourselves can be a dead-end street. Reaching beyond ourselves brings freedom. Believing in Jesus brings the world into focus.
As far as the Bible and our persecuted brothers and sisters are concerned, “I must decrease” is the word. John the Baptist said that. We do well to consider it.
Jesus said no one born among women was greater than John (Matt. 11:11). If anyone had a reason to believe in themselves, or a right to say they were worthy, it was John. Yet he said, “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease,” and, “I am not worthy to [even] unloose the strap of His sandal” (John 1:27; and Luke 7:6,7), much less be the object of His grace.
Jacob is in the “Bible Hall of Fame” too. He gave Israel its name. But like John, he also said, “I am not worthy of [the least of – KJV] all the mercies [lovingkindness] and all the truth which you [God] have shown to me” (Gen. 32:10). Essentially he was saying, “I am not worthy of your grace.” Who is going to break the news to Jacob, that he is worthy?
But why change the Word of God?
Self-denial is the way of Christ. He said, “If anyone wants to follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. . . whoever loses his life in behalf of [or, because of] me, will find it” (Matt. 16:24,25). Ironically, in dying to our self, we live. In fact, Jesus ties worthiness to self-denial. He said, “He who loves father or mother, or son or daughter more than me, and does not take up his cross and follow me, is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37,38).
Let’s look at worthiness.
Who is worthy? We think, because we were created by God we are worthy. The reverse is actually true. He is worthy because He created us! “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you have created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Rev. 4:11).
In Revelation 5 there is a book in heaven with seven seals. The question is asked, “Who is worthy to open the book?” In response, there is not an ear-splitting “Everyone here!” No one says a word. John is crying because “no one was found who was worthy” to open the book! Then Jesus takes the book and they sing a new song to Him: “You are worthy!” Following this, ten thousands of ten thousands, and thousands of thousands say with a great voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”
As for us, those who are worthy, because of Him (Eph. 1:6; I Cor. 1:30,31; II Cor. 5:21), will walk with Him in white (Rev. 3:4).
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us; but to your name, give glory” (Ps. 115:1).
© James Unruh, 2016 and beyond