In what sense are Christians worthy of God or of Christ or of their calling? And in what sense are we unworthy?
On the one hand, Jesus and Paul both teach that we must be worthy of Jesus and his calling.
Jesus says that in Sardis there are “people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy” (Revelation 3:4).
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37–38).
“Those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Luke 20:35).
“The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy” (Matthew 22:8).
“Repent and turn to God, performing deeds worthy of repentance” (Acts 26:20). Similarly, John the Baptist had said, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
To the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia, Paul said, “Since you thrust the word of God aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).
“Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).
“Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).
“Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10).
“Walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:12).
“May God make you worthy of his calling and fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
“Your suffering is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering” (2 Thessalonians 1:5).
In all these passages, being worthy is expected and necessary in the Christian life.
But on the other hand, Jesus commended the Centurion’s faith as unparalleled for humbly confessing his unworthiness. “‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. . . .’ Jesus said, ‘Not even in Israel have I found such faith’” (Luke 7:6, 9).
And John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He who comes after me, the strap of his sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27).
How shall we understand our worthiness of Jesus in view of our sinfulness?
Worthy of Repentance
The key that unlocks this mystery is found in the phrase “Bear fruit worthy of repentance” (Acts 26:20; Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8). This cannot mean “Bear fruit that deserves repentance,” because the repentance is already there. It comes first: “Repent and turn to God, performing deeds worthy of repentance” (Acts 26:20).
“How shall we understand our worthiness of Jesus in view of our sinfulness?”
“Worthy of repentance” means: repentance has such worth that the fruit it produces will share in that worth. “Fruit worthy of repentance” means that there is a suitable correspondence between the beauty of the repentance and the beauty of its fruit. Repentance is the turning to God from all else, and the valuing of God above all things. That is beautiful. That is what humans were made for. That is worthy.
Then, this inner treasuring of God above all things bears fruit in deeds. And these deeds reflect the supreme worth of God. And so they too, in all their imperfection, are worthy. Their worthiness is a reflection of the repentance, which is a reflection of God’s infinite worthiness.
So being worthy of repentance does not mean “being deserving of repentance,” as if we earned it or merited it.
Understanding Jesus’s Words
This solves the riddle of Jesus’s words, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). This does not mean that we deserve Jesus, or merit Jesus, or earn Jesus. Nothing we do puts him in a position of owing us anything good.
When Jesus says we are not worthy of him if we treasure our parents or children or life more than him, he means that he has infinite worth (far above parents and children and life), and the only suitable (worthy!) response from us is to see that, and prefer him as our supreme treasure.
Seeing His Worth Is Ours
Thus, our preference for his worth is our worth. To be worthy of the infinite worth of Jesus is to see and savor him as infinitely worthy. This is not earning or meriting or deserving him.
“To be worthy of the infinite worth of Jesus is to see and savor him as infinitely worthy.”
In fact, one aspect of his beauty that we cherish supremely is his grace toward sinners like us. Being “worthy” of a gracious Savior includes a sense of unworthiness similar to the confessions of the centurion (Luke 7:6) and John the Baptist (John 1:27).
You become worthy of grace (a suitable beneficiary of grace) when you see your need for grace, and when you embrace the infinite value of the Gracious One. In this sense, if you love mother or father or son or daughter or your own life more than Jesus, you are not worthy of him. Your worthiness is your desperate preference for his gracious worthiness over all things.
Embracing the Worth of the Feast
This is confirmed in the story of the wedding feast. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast” (Matthew 22:3–4).
But they would not come. They “went off, one to his farm, another to his business” (Matthew 22:5). So the king throws open the doors to everyone who will come and sends messengers to invite them all (Matthew 22:9). But before he does this, he says, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy” (Matthew 22:8).
This is identical to the situation where Jesus said, “Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Only here he is saying, “Whoever loves farm or business more than me is not worthy of me.” The principle is the same. Worthiness of the wedding feast is not earning or deserving or meriting it. Worthiness of the feast is preferring the feast over business and farm.
The worth of the guests is their embrace of the worth of the feast.
His Worth Above All Things
I invite you to apply this principle to other passages, like the command to be worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1), and worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27), and worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:10), and worthy of God (1 Thessalonians 2:12), and worthy of the kingdom (2 Thessalonians 1:5).
“Our worthiness is seeing and savoring the One of infinite worth.”
In every case, what we find is that our worthiness is not our deserving or meriting or earning, but rather our seeing and savoring something of infinite worth. Our worthiness is our preferring that worth above all things.
We do not merit or deserve or earn the Lord and his calling and his kingdom. But in our need, God grants us to see them as infinitely precious — infinitely worthy. And we embrace them with desperate desire. We prefer over all. We treasure. We receive. We trust. That is what it means to be “worthy of the Lord.”