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Counted Worthy

Except for the very proud, most of us probably feel rather unworthy of the gospel and a savior who not only lived perfectly, but also went to the cross for us. When we consider our own sinfulness, and even our meager attempts at righteous living since our conversion, it is probably easy to feel unworthy. To a certain degree, that overpowering humility is both logical and productive, but it is not the purpose of God that we should feel like failures and as if our doom is practically assured because we cannot manage to live sinlessly. There is another sense throughout the New Testament in which a worthy lifestyle is recommended to the believer, certainly making it at least a possibility.


I. We're Not Worthy

A. Filthy Rags

1. the prophet Isaiah was not talking about this generation, but about his own idolatrous people when he declared that, "we are all become as one unclean, and all our justices as the rag of a menstruous woman: and we have fallen as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away" (Isaiah 64:6, Douay-Rheims Bible).

2. it is hard to imagine anything illustrating personal and community unworthiness better than the vestis menstruis polluta

3. many have driven this passage into the church age and made it seem as if man is exempt from responsibility in his own salvation, and that God is unimpressed with even his most pious deeds, but that is inconsistent with the prophetic text and the spirit of the gospel; its only consistency is with the worthless creeds of men

4. the context applies to the apostate and idolater, not the diligent and faithful; even the context offers that, "You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways" (Isaiah 64:5, ESV).

5. the spirit of the New Testament respects and encourages faithful living (Hebrews 6:9-12)

B. Unworthiness

1. a sense of unworthiness, however, is unavoidable as we consider all that God the son has done for us

2. even his own older cousin felt unworthy as he anticipated the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, "And he preached, saying, "the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie," he admitted (Mark 1:7).

3. most of us can imagine very few people on Earth for whom we would die, and perhaps even fewer that we think would die for us; so when we think about the cross, we are left in awe and with a sense of indebtedness and unworthiness

4. if that inspires us toward gratefulness and obedience, it is productive (Luke 17:7-10)

a. David's sin was ever before him, not as an impediment to grace, but as a humbling reminder of how capable of sin he was

b. Peter was humbled by his denials of Jesus and became wiser for the experience

c. Paul knew that he was chief among sinners and that equipped him to invite notorious people to consider the cross as their rescue and redemption

5. if, however, it makes us feel as if a single sin renders our faith entirely futile, then we have allowed the theories of men to cloud our judgment and give an advantage to the adversary

C. The Balance

1. of all people, a Roman centurion illustrated the proper balance of self-estimation and humility, so that Jesus praised him and rewarded him with a miraculous act of grace (Luke 7:2-10)

2. to his neighbors, the centurion was entirely worthy of Jesus's help, but to the centurion himself, he could not imagine one so majestic stooping to aid him, even when he needed it most desperately

3. he demonstrates the reality of humility and self-estimation that makes for diligent faithfulness, but without ascending into self-exultation and feelings of superiority and invulnerability

4. in the words of Jesus, entrance into eternal life will result from worthiness -- not sinless perfection, but grace-infused faith (Luke 20:34-36)

II. Worthiness

A. Answer

1. Jesus taught a parable about a wedding feast that illustrates the separation between worthiness and unworthiness (Matthew 22:1-10)

a. for our purposes, the wedding feast is our potential addition to the citizenry of Christ's kingdom, dependent upon responding to the gospel invitation

b. some simply refuse to come -- because of disbelief or apathy -- while others ascribe their rejection to other priorities like ambition, the pursuit of earthly wealth or fame, or indulgent pleasure

c. still others make themselves enemies of the cross and become skeptics and persecutors

d. regardless, all are judged to be unworthy of the invitation, having rejected it, and are lost, even as obedient believers are found and gathered at the feast

2. we cannot allow genuine unworthiness -- being chief among sinners -- or these other distractions to render us eternally unworthy

3. obedience to the gospel call separates the believer from the category of unworthiness that Isaiah identified with filthy rags (First Peter 4:17-19)

B. Persecution

1. Peter, who had tried to avoid punishment by denying he even knew Jesus the night he was arrested, soon found himself in the crosshairs of the Sanhedrin

a. along with the other apostles, Peter and John were ordered to forget the name of Christ, and were even beaten mercilessly to emphasize the point

b. Peter's courage shows how humility had balanced his sense of what worthiness was (Acts 5:40-42)

c. Peter really was worthy now, where before he only felt worthy because of his brashness

2. persecution continued to follow the church as it spread to Greek lands like Thessalonica, where the pressures were both Hebrew and imperial (Second Thessalonians 1:3-5, 11-12)

a. their worthiness is not a function of pride, but an admonition to endure persecution and even to rejoice that their faith was complete enough to get the attention of the ungodly

b. it was the worthiness of Christ that they were to extol, however, not their own which remained vulnerable to trial and time

3. because "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted," there can be a humbled sense of satisfaction at being counted worthy to suffer as a Christian (Second Timothy 3:12; see also First Peter 4:14-19)

C. Worthy Walk

1. before persecution can be attributed to the faith, a Christian must engage in holy lifestyle, what the inspired writers describe as a "worthy walk"

a. imitating the character of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-3)

b. being fruitful in discernment and good works (Colossians 1:9-12)

c. not taking advantage of others (First Thessalonians 2:9-12)

2. it can be difficult to encourage this kind of lifestyle and to label its worthiness, but remember that it is only worthy as it imitates the character of Christ and gives honor to God

3. it is not about self-exultation, but discipleship, and even as close we could come to sinlessness would leave us in need of grace to have even a glimmer of hope about eternity

4. any praise or admiration we receive for holy living should be redirected to God who produced the instruction and motivated the behavior with love and grace

D. Manner of Life

1. we have something awesome to live up to, and should not allow the inevitability of imperfection to dissuade us from trying; God is interested in us giving our best and sent his son to be our perfection, understanding we fall short (Philippians 1:27-30)

2. God will judge us according to our works, but that can be misleading if one detaches it from grace and substitutes personal merit for divine longsuffering

3. our manner of life should reflect the things that Jesus taught and the principles upon which the new covenant rests; when that is true, we are humbled by grace, but worthy of discipleship


Being counted worthy is not a reason for pride, the kind of exultation that led the Pharisee to brag of his pious superiority to the publican, thus disproving it. Worthiness cost Jesus his life and God his son. Make the most of the invitation by answering it every day.

Questions for Review

  1. Explain the hyperbole in Isaiah's prophecy.

  2. How does the New Testament encourage faithful living?

  3. Why is a sense of unworthiness unavoidable?

  4. How did the centurion find balance?

  5. What does persecution have to do with worthiness?

  6. What makes for a worthy walk?

  7. How is anyone worthy of eternal life?

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