I want to talk about the educational implications of the biblical call to walk worthily of the Lord. Earlier this week there was an article I wrote at Desiring God called “Are You Worthy of Jesus?” This message is an effort to take the biblical truths in that article and apply them to Bethlehem College & Seminary. What are the implications for the way we do education in the biblical command that we live in a way that is worthy of God?
The Relevance of This Topic
There are at least two prominent reasons why I am drawn to talk about this. One is that the implications for how we teach, and how we structure the priorities of our life together in an educational community, are profound. Teaching people to walk worthily of the Lord makes a huge difference in how we think about the task of education.
The other reason I’m drawn to this topic is because the controversies the doctrine of sanctification in our day have enormous implications for how you will think about the Christian life, and how you pursue it, and how you will teach others to pursue it. Does the doctrine of justification by faith alone (which I believe and love with all my heart) impede moral effort toward purity and holiness Christlikeness? Or does it release and empower moral effort? Is the spirit of our time such that we should minimize or highlight biblical commands like
“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24).
“If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).
“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4).
“Pursue holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29).
So I am drawn to this topic both because it sheds light on this controversy, and because it profoundly shapes the way we think about education.
So first we will try to get the biblical teaching before us, then explain what it means, and then draw out three implications for our educational life together.
“Not to be worthy of Jesus is not to be his disciple.”
The Biblical Teaching
In the book of Revelation, Jesus says in the letter to Sardis, “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy (Revelation 3:4). This is not hypothetical. It’s not even a command. It’s a statement of fact. These people at Sardis will walk with Jesus in the age to come because they are worthy. This is not the worthiness of justification; this is the worthiness of not soiling our garments.
In Matthew 10:37–38 Jesus says, “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.”
This is the same as when he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26–27). Which means that not to be worthy of Jesus is not to be his disciple.
This is not a standard held up to show that no one can reach it. This is a straightforward demand and expectation from Jesus: love me more than you love anyone, or you are not my disciple; and you are not worthy of me.
The apostle Paul picked up this language and said,
“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).
The point of all these texts in Paul is not to tell that there is an impossible standard we can never meet, but to tell us what normal Christianity looks like. It is a life worthy of our calling, worthy of the gospel, worthy of the Lord, worthy of God, worthy of the kingdom.
“Normal Christianity is a life worthy of our calling, the gospel, the Lord, God, and the Kingdom.”
Twenty-two years ago I asked Tom Steller if he would write a chapter for the new book, Let the Nations Be Glad. He was overseeing missions at the time. Tom chose to write on an afterword based on 3 John 1:6 which says, “You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.” Tom drew a beautiful connection between the worth of God and the worthiness of senders.
We could add to Jesus and Paul and John, the witness of John the Baptist, who said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:7–8).
What Does It Mean?
So what does it mean to be worthy of Jesus, to walk worthily of the gospel, and our calling, and the Lord, and the kingdom? In all these passages being “worthy” is something expected and necessary in the Christian life. It’s not the imputed righteousness of justification. It is not an unreachable ideal held up simply to make see we can’t be worthy. But what complicates matters, and indirectly helps us grasp what this means, is that there are other passages which remind us how unworthy we are.
When the Centurion said, “‘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 later Jesus describes a servant who comes in from the field and then prepares dinner for the master: “Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:9–10).
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).
So, how shall we understand the worthiness of unworthy Christians? For we have all sinned. And we continue to sin. And anyone who says he is without sin “deceives himself, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 1:8). In this age we will never perform works of righteousness good enough to earn acceptance with God. “By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).
Worthy of Repentance
The key that unlocks this mystery is found in the phrase, from both John the Baptist (Matthew 3:8) and Paul (Acts 26:20), “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” This cannot mean “Bear fruit that deserves repentance.” The repentance is already there. It comes first: “Repent and turn to God, performing deeds in worthy of repentance” (Acts 26:20). The repentance is the tree; the worthy deeds are the fruit. Fruit does not earn, or merit, or deserve its appearance on the tree.
“Worthy of repentance” means: repentance itself has such worth that the fruit it produces shares in that worth and corresponds to 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. The health of the fruit corresponds to the health of the tree.
What is repentance? Repentance is the turning to God as supremely valuable away from all else as supremely valuable. Repentance is the change of mind and heart that results in valuing God above all other things and all other persons. That turning. That change. That repentance is beautiful. This is what humans were made for. This is worthy. That is, it is a suitable, fitting, appropriate correspondence to God’s supreme worth.
Then this inner treasuring of God above all things bears fruit in thoughts and emotions and deeds. And these deeds — this fruit — point to the supreme worth of God. And so they too, in all their imperfection, are worthy. They are suitable, fitting, appropriate expressions of the beauty of repentance, which is a suitable, fitting, appropriate response to God’s infinite worth.
So being worthy of repentance does not mean “being deserving of repentance” as if we earned it or merited it. It means an appropriate, suitable, fitting response to the worth of repentance. Hence the ESV translation: “Performing deeds in keeping with repentance” (Acts 26:20).
This struck me more clearly years ago when I thought about President Nixon’s resignation. What does it mean, I asked, to say he failed to be worthy of the Presidency. he did not walk worthily of his presidential calling? It means not that he failed to earn the Presidency. He already had it. But he failed to see and feel the awesome worth of the office. His behavior was not commensurate with the worth of the office of President of the United states. His unworthiness was his acting as though the office was unworthy.
Our Passionate Preference
Now let’s take this understanding and apply to 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 should deserve Jesus, or merit Jesus, or earn Jesus. Nothing we do puts him in a position of being indebted to us.
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 — like the presidency, far above parents and children and life — and the only suitable, commensurate, (worthy!) response from us is to see that infinite worth, and savor it, and prefer him, above all things, as our supreme treasure.
Which means that our passionate preference for his worth is our worth. To be worthy of the infinite worth of Jesus is to see and savor and prefer him as infinitely worthy. This is not earning or meriting or deserving him.
“To be worthy of the infinite worth of Jesus is to prefer him as infinitely worthy, not earning or deserving him.”
In fact, one aspect of his beauty that we cherish supremely is his free and sovereign 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.
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). Come, freely. Without money without price. Without merit. Come and glut yourself on the supreme pleasures at my Son’s wedding feast.
But they would not come. They “went off, one to his farm, another to his business” (verse 5). So the king throws open the doors to everyone who will come and sends messengers to invite them all (verse 9). But before he does this, he says, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy” (verse 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 means preferring the feast over business and farm. Your worthiness consists in seeing and savoring and preferring the worth of the feast.
If we had time we could apply this principle with great fruitfulness to the commands 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).
In every case, our worthiness is not our deserving or meriting or earning, but rather our seeing and savoring something of infinite worth, and our preferring that worth above all things.
Implications for Our Educational Life Together
So we turn in closing to three implications of this for our educational life together.
1. We must teach not only what is, but the value of what is. No. We must say it more carefully: we must not only teach what is, but must teach and awaken suitable affections for the value of what is.
Why? Because you can’t be worthy of a God, a kingdom, or a calling whose worth you do not know and feel. Why is that? Because being worthy means an intellectual, emotional, behavioral life suitable to, commensurate with, the worth of what you know, and feel as worthy. That’s what we have found the biblical meaning to be. You cannot walk worthily of God if do not know and feel the worth of God. You cannot walk worthily of his kingdom if you do not know and feel the worth of his kingdom. You cannot walk worthily of his calling if you not know and feel the worth of his calling. Therefore, we do not achieve our goals for our students, if we do not teach what is, and the value of what is.
“You cannot walk worthily of God if you do not know and feel the worth of God.”
Jesus said, “Teach them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). He didn’t say, “Teach them to know all that I commanded you.” But to observe. To keep. To do. One of his commands was “be worthy of me,” that is, to prefer him over all things. This is what it is to be worthy of Jesus. And this is what we aim at in our teaching. Therefore we must teach and awaken suitable affections to the value of what is.
2. Therefore, the highest aims of our education are impossible for humans to achieve without the intervention of divine power. And we should cry out for that forever regularly in prayer as a learning community.
When the rich young ruler walked away because he preferred his money over Jesus, Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man to prefer God over great wealth.” And when the disciples said, “Who then can be saved,” Jesus said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).
If it is possible with God that we, blind, dead sinners, should come to prefer Jesus over everything, then we should ask for this. And this community should permeated by a spirit of desperate prayer for the sovereign work of God in opening our eyes to see what is really valuable.
3. Since walking worthily of God and his kingdom and calling means seeing and savoring and preferring and showing his supreme worth, this educational institution should be a community of corporate worship.
The essence of worship is a passionate preferring of the worth of God over all things, and the act of worship is giving expression to that passionate preference for the worth of God.
Therefore, a community that would walk worthily of her God, his kingdom, and his calling will be a worshiping community.
May God use Bethlehem College & Seminary to awaken and instruct students in the supreme worth of God and his kingdom and his calling so that through you thousands upon thousands of people would walk worthily of the Lord.