Not long ago one of our younger children confided that they did not feel worthy of being water baptized. I immediately explained that Christ makes us worthy. This was not a new topic for us; we had covered this ground before. But our child was feeling burdened by a sense that their faith, thoughts and actions were all lacking.
Our church views Christian baptism as “an outward testimony of what has occurred inwardly in a believer’s life” which “illustrates a believer’s new identity in Christ because of His death, burial and resurrection.” It’s an act one enters into obediently as a public profession of faith, but not an act which is required for salvation.
This is not a post about water baptism though – because water baptism was not really the issue. Our child’s concern centered around feelings of their own inadequacy – essentially they questioned their own “worthiness.” Since this is such a common issue even for adults, let’s take a closer look at what that means in various contexts.
Our society uses merit-based standards to judge whether someone or something is worthy of a title or role, such as a Grammy or Oscar award winner, military General, Nobel Laureate, pageant winner, etc. We consider income, status, accomplishments or the opinions of others to determine worth. We also place a great emphasis on self-esteem, which is defined as “a feeling that you are a good person who deserves to be treated with respect.”
Then God said, ”Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26 ESV)
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:13-14)
…and we have worth because of God’s promise and guarantee:
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14) (emphasis mine)
…not because of what we have done but because of what God has done:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Our worth comes not from ourselves or from what other people tell us about ourselves, but from God. From His perspective we are of inestimable value to him because of how He made us, with intrinsic value as a reflection of Himself. We are also of inestimable value because of what God gave to us,(salvation), which came at a great cost to Himself – the death of His Son on the cross. When we consider that great price Jesus paid to redeem us, this can help us comprehend better how much we’re worth to God – the one who matters most.
But not so fast. Our child was confused because, although scripture makes clear we cannot earn our salvation or our worth, God still expects and calls us to be worthy. Our child assumed that in order to be water baptized, they needed more faith and to be living in a way which was somehow worthy of baptism.
Several passages illustrate the expectation that being worthy of God is necessary for Christians; here are three:
Bear fruit worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8)
…repent and turn to God, performing deeds worthy of repentance. (Acts 26:20)
…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord… (Colossians 1:10)
To make things more complicated, some passages frame unworthiness in a positive light. When the Centurion said to Jesus in Luke 7:6, 9, “‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof,” Jesus replied, “not even in Israel have I found such faith.” John the Baptist referred to himself in relation to Jesus this way: … he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie (John 1:27). (emphases mine)
Doesn’t this seem contradictory? If we are called to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, how then is our unworthiness considered a demonstration of faith? And how can we be worthy of Jesus if we are so sinful? This seems hard to reconcile. John Piper says, “Nothing we do puts (Christ) in a position of owing us anything good…Being ‘worthy’ of a gracious Savior includes a sense of unworthiness similar to the confessions of the Centurion and John the Baptist…You become “worthy” of (a suitable beneficiary of) grace when you see your need for grace, and when you embrace the infinite value of the Gracious One.”
There is nothing we can do to deserve any worthiness or salvation on our own. Christ has already poured himself out for our sake because of His great love for us. When we recognize our sin and unworthiness we can then recognize our need for a savior. When we become aware of his beautiful, marvelous grace, we see the salvation which Christ alone has provided and can trust in his atonement. When we treasure the One who is of infinite worth, that is where our worthiness is found.
God alone is worthy! Psalm 115:1 reminds us, Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!”