The human sense of self-worth is powerful. That’s why we spend so much time and effort proving ourselves to others. We need to show ourselves worthy of what we have, what we do, and who we are.
Knowing this, Satan prevents some people from coming to Christ through embarrassment over having nothing to offer in return for his mercy: “By suggesting to sinners their unworthiness.”
What is a person worth?
We’ve built our culture on the foundation of self-worth. Grade point averages, college exams, glowing resumes. The entire path to career fulfillment is a variety show of accomplishment.
And then we come home from our jobs and settle in front of the TV while others prove their worth to us. Singing and dancing contests, questionably spontaneous dating shows, and even cooking challenges. We applaud the winners and cast off the unworthy.
Is it any wonder that people assume they have to prove themselves to God? Many non-religious people assume Christianity is about striving to make God happy. About following a long list of rules to avoid punishment. A lot like every other aspect of life.
But when we have scriptures like Romans 5:6–8 to teach us, this argument falls apart.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (ESV)
Through encouragement and enlightenment, Thomas Brooks provides four reasons why your worthiness is not a barrier to forgiveness and eternal life.
1. God has not required you to be worthy
If there’s an argument about being worthy enough to deserve God’s mercy, it doesn’t come from the Bible. You can be sure that’s the voice of your enemy.
Brooks offers several verses of Scripture to counter this nonsense. I want to highlight this one.
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”John 6:40, ESV
Jesus himself said God’s will – his desire – is to grant forgiveness and salvation on one condition: faith in his Son. The Lord here says everyone who “looks on” him will have eternal life. As with his conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, this is a reference to Moses lifting up the bronze serpent in the wilderness. All who looked on that serpent were saved from the real serpents’ venom.
God did not require the Israelites to understand this. There was no material connection between the snake venom in their veins and the visual stimulus of the bronze serpent entering their eyes. There was no scientific logic to grasp. God required only faith.
We needn’t comprehend how believing in Jesus and what he did for us on the cross translates to salvation from sin. We don’t have to learn the mechanics of how holding a belief in our brains enacts the transfer of righteousness from Jesus to us and the debt of our sins to him. This is not going to be on the test.
If God insisted we understood his ways, that would be clear. And if he needed us to be worthy of his love, he’d find a way to make us worthy.
2. Only unworthy people ever receive mercy
But history shows God only saves the unworthy. The Scriptures display a multitude of examples across the millennia.
Let’s take the examples Brooks offers here:
- Matthew – a cultural sellout, making money collecting taxes from his Jewish neighbors for the oppressive Roman Empire.
- Zacchaeus – a “chief tax collector,” likely more wealthy than Matthew, known as a cheat.
- Mary Magdalene – possessed by seven demons when Jesus found and rescued her.
- Manasseh – Does Brooks here refer to the half-Egyptian son of Joseph, or to the evil king of Judah? In keeping with the theme, it’s more likely the latter. King Manasseh “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 21:2). The scriptures say he was worse than the pagans the Israelites had driven from the land. Yet God allowed this unworthy man to reign over his people.
- Paul – a persecutor of the early church and hater of the gospel.
- Lydia – a Gentile woman who worshiped God but who did not know the gospel until Paul preached it.
What worthiness was there in any of these people to earn God’s favor? In each case, God moved toward them with his mercy despite their sinfulness.
And so, He moves toward you with the same unconditional love.
3. If you wait until you’re worthy, you’ll never receive mercy
Therefore, your only hope is to respond to God’s movement with your own approach of faith.
Brooks references James 2:23, which reminds us God credited Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness. All Abraham did was believe God’s promise to give his innumerable descendants the land on which he stood. He didn’t have to know how God would do it, or when, or even why. He simply believed.
Our limited human minds don’t understand how simple faith equates to righteousness in God’s economy. We foolishly think earning God’s favor is a better approach. But God in his wisdom knows that is a futile hope. So he accepts even the most meager faith and treats it like perfect obedience.
Taking help our great Helper offers makes so much more sense. But we often fail to think sensibly when confronting our sinfulness.
4. Your problem isn’t worthiness, it’s pride
One of our defense mechanisms is false humility. We don’t want, as Brooks says, to come to God with nothing to offer him.
Oh! you would gladly bring something to Christ that might render you acceptable to him; you are reluctant to come empty-handed.
This is, in fact, pride. What could we bring to God that would satisfy him more than his son’s righteousness? How could he be more pleased with anything but Jesus’ self-sacrifice?
Read through the gospels, and you will find those with nothing to offer Christ received everything from him. Blind, lame, beggars, prostitutes. Bleeding for 12 years, crippled for 30 years, wracked with demons, naked and alone. They found healing, forgiveness, and life.
Don’t be like those who Brooks, using a deft rhyme, says “prefer husks among swine, before the milk and wine.” The “prodigal” son came to his senses when he had nothing. His loving father humiliated himself, running to wrap the boy in his forgiving arms.
The only worthiness that matters is Christ’s. “Worthy is the lamb!” (Rev 3:4)