<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Untitled Document Can We Ever Achieve a Meritorious Worthiness?

We often stress the need to have an obedient faith in order to be saved, and rightly so; but have we ever left people with the false impression (or even mistakenly thought ourselves) that our obedience makes salvation something that we have earned? That by doing certain deeds, we can truly merit forgiveness of sins and entrance into heaven?

When hearing Xxxx Xxxxxxxx recently, as he held a gospel meeting in Mandeville, Louisiana, I was impressed by many of the good truths he brought out in his sermons. One of those points, which I found very meaningful, was that we can never be worthy in God's sight! No matter how many years we could do good for the Lord, we would still never be able to stand before Him, based on merely our own merit, as being worthy. How true this is. For without the Lord's grace and mercy, what hope could we have of ever having sins forgiven, enjoying a relationship with God, and eventually seeing heaven?

When we say that a man can never be worthy in God's sight, we are talking about a worthiness that would stem from man's own achievements, which would involve having never failed in keeping any of God's laws; and, therefore, without sin, and deserving heaven based on one's own life.

But, of course, there are other ways, with regard to other matters, in which we can be worthy. For example, in Matthew 10:10, Jesus states that a "worker is worthy of his support"; and He points out in the next verse that a person can be viewed as being a worthy member in a community. And, in that sense, a "house" can be "worthy" (v. 13). Furthermore, Paul shows in 1 Timothy 5:7 that elders "...who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching." In addition, slaves are instructed to "regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against" (1 Tim. 6:1). And even with our affiliation with God, the implication appears to be that we can have a "worthy" relationship with Him by putting Him above all others and following after Him (Mat. 10:37,38). But this, of course, doesn't mean that we could ever "earn" that relationship or eternal life by that worthiness; for only Jesus was ever worthy in the sense that He truly did earn or deserve all the glory, honor and blessings bestowed upon Him (Rev. 5:1-14; Phil 2:8-11; Jn. 8:29; 17:4). But God's viewing of us as being worthy, however, is based on our acceptance of His grace and mercy by complying with His word -- and not because of a summation of all our good deeds.

This is also expressed in the parable of the wedding feast, in which those who had rejected the king's invitation are referred to as having been "not worthy" (Matt. 22:8), reminding us of those Jews who by their repudiating of the gospel had judged themselves unworthy of eternal life, in a manner of speaking (Acts 13:46). As Adam Clarke writes, "for how should those be deemed worthy to sit down at His table who had affronted Him by their treatment of His gracious invitation?"

Had these accepted the king's invitation, they would have most likely been honored with the proper wedding garments that customarily would have been given them by the king for this feast.

In a similar manner, God invites all of us to the "marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:9). To reject that, however, is to remain in our unworthiness; but to accept it is to be "blessed," as the beginning of that verse states.

God's gracious invitation is seen in various places of the New Testament (cf. Matt. 11:28-30); and let us remind ourselves, too, of those whom the Lord invites: In Luke 5:32, Jesus states, "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." How thankful the Christian can be. Though formerly lost in sin, the child of God has been set free and made worthy in God's sight, by accepting the Lord's gracious invitation.

Compare this also to the parable of the prodigal son who saw himself as being too "unworthy" to even be called his father's son (Luke 15:18,19). The son had certainly gotten himself into much trouble by his riotous and immoral living; but by his repentance, his father was able to receive him back as if his son were a worthy individual (Luke 15:20-24). Is this not also true with the sinner who comes to God? Not that we deserve the Lord's forgiveness and blessings, but we can receive that by God's grace and mercy, after having met the necessary conditions. Through that, we who are unworthy can be regarded as "worthy" in God's sight -- though not by our own merit.

Similarly, in answering the Sadducees' question about the resurrection, Jesus states that "...'The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection'" (Luke 20:34-36).

I was struck by the phrase "considered worthy" in this passage. Doesn't this indicate not that they were worthy in themselves to reach this wonderful place called heaven; but, rather, that they were, nevertheless, "considered" that way - due to what the Lord had made possible for them through His grace, His mercy, and their obedient faith? Because of Jesus Christ, the sinner saved by grace will be able to enter heaven's glory as if he had never sinned - for even just one sin could keep a person out! But this entrance is possible because all of those sins have been covered by the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19; Eph. 2:13) when one meets the necessary conditions of hearing the gospel (Rom. 10:17), believing in Christ (Jn. 8:24), repenting of sins (Acts 17:30), confessing faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:35-37), being baptized in water (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3,4; 1 Pet. 3:21), and remaining faithful throughout life (1 Jn. 1:7; Rev. 2:10). The forgiveness of sins is truly a most wonderful blessing -- and one which we have never deserved, nor ever shall!

The phrase "considered worthy" is also seen in 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5, in which Paul commends the Thessalonians for their increasing faith, love, and perseverance that they maintained even when in the midst of persecutions and afflictions; and he tells them that "This is a plain indication of God's righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering" (v. 5). Again, their worthiness does not mean that now - because of their faithful endurance through these trials - they had truly earned their reward in heaven. But it does indicate that they were setting forth the right example that manifested their faith in God and adherence to His word, which characterized them as those who would be saved by the mercy and grace of the Lord. Surely, no child of God should ever deceive himself into thinking that he is worthy before the Lord based on merely his own merit - and regardless of how great a sacrifice the Christian had to make or how intense the persecution he had to endure for the cause of Christ. For all of that combined could never add up to earning or deserving heaven.

Note also in 2 Thessalonians 1:11 the following: "...that our God will count you worthy of your calling..." (v. 11). By examining this more thoroughly, we see that the calling was not on the basis of good works; but, rather, of God's desire to save (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9).

This doesn't mean, however, that there are no good works that are necessary for salvation -- for there are. And we have a major responsibility to live up to that highest calling of all. For instance, to the Ephesians Paul exhorts, "Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called" (Eph. 4:1). And to Timothy, Paul points out that God "...has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher" (2 Tim. 1:9-11). As this passage shows, the plan of salvation was in God's mind before the world began; but we have the responsibility of learning that plan and obeying it, if we want to be saved by it (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 5:9).

This before-the-creation plan is also seen in other verses of the Bible, such as Acts 2:23, 1 Peter 1:18-23, and Ephesians 1:3-16. But let it be clarified that the Lord did not arbitrarily - and apart from an individual's beliefs and actions - chose, before the beginning of time, who would be saved and who would be lost; but He did design a plan whereby anyone who so willed could respond to the gospel and become a child of God. It was, therefore, this plan that God devised before the world began. Whether we respond to that plan or not, however, is now up to us - for the Lord has certainly done His part and has shown His desire for all to be saved and none to be lost (Jn. 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4). So, as they say, the ball is now in our court. We can be counted, considered worthy in God's sight by meeting His conditions - just as we can also be justified, made holy, etc. -- but the choice is up to us. May we truly realize what a best-of-all-deals this is to be able to receive such wonderful blessings from God that we could never deserve - regardless of what we would do!

The Christian is to strive to live a worthy life unto God (Eph. 4:1-3; Phil. 1:27,28). Note also in Colossians 1:10-14 that not only is the Christian charged with living this way, but also that it was the Lord who "qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints" (v. 12). Does that not also indicate the Lord's grace and mercy rather than our own meritorious achievement? The phrase in verse 13 also implies that it would be futile to try to save ourselves by our own worthiness: "For He rescued us from the domain of darkness...." (Compare also Romans 5:6-10: "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly...while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us....")

As we abide in the Lord, we can have the blood of Christ to cleanse us from all sin (1 Jn. 1:7); and when that is the case, the Lord can then view us as worthy (but, obviously, that was not because we deserved or earned it). To a few people in Sardis, for example, the Lord was able to commend for being worthy - for they had "not soiled their garments," which figuratively expresses their lives remaining dedicated to God, rather than becoming marred by sin.

Lest we become like that Pharisee in the Lord's parable in Luke 18:9-14 (of the two men who went to the temple to pray), we need to realize that no matter how much good service we are able to render to the Lord - even after many years of obeying His commands - we could still never merit, earn, or deserve our salvation; and, therefore, have nothing to boast in. For the accountable individual will always have a need for God's grace. Paul points out this truth in Ephesians 2:8,9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." The grace is on God's part, but the acquiring of faith is our responsibility; and there must be this coupling of the two in our lives for salvation to be so.

Paul states in Romans 10:17, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." We must, therefore, first hear the gospel; but we must also act upon it, in order that we may allow the power of God's word to save and transform us (Rom. 1:16; 1 Pet. 1:23). For to merely hear, but not obey is to deceive ourselves about our standing with the Lord (James 1:22) - since the faith that saves must be an obedient faith (James 2:14-26; Heb. 5:9).

But, even in view of this need for an obedient faith, Ephesians 2:8,9 will always remain true: Regardless of the many years that we could manifest our faith by our service to God, our salvation will still always be "by grace...through faith." Therefore, take away that grace, and our faith will have nothing to stand on, which is the case of the "...demons [who] also believe, and shudder" (James 2:19). Why do they tremble even though they believe? Because they will never benefit from God's grace and mercy; rather, their doom is forever sealed. The plight of the angels who transgressed is seen in 2 Peter 2:4: "For if God did not spare sinning angels, but thrust them down into Tartarus, and delivered them into chains of darkness, being reserved to judgment" (Modern King James Version). Tartarus is the place of punishment in the hadean realm, where all the lost souls will await the judgment. Many of these will be those who believed in the Lord, but not obediently. Corresponding to that is Paul's warning to the Thessalonians that when Jesus comes again it will be the time in which He will not only deal out retribution "...to those who do not know God..." but also "...to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thess. 1:18). So, unquestionably, faithfulness is necessary; but let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that it is by our faithfulness in which we "earn" eternal life. Remember, we are saved by an obedient faith (James 2:14-26), but it will always be "by grace...through faith" -- and not merited by what we do (Eph. 2:8,9). What we do to be saved are simply conditions we must meet for that salvation, so that we may benefit from the death of Christ. For Jesus certainly died for everyone (Heb. 2:9; 1 Jn. 2:2), but not all will be saved because not all have met these necessary conditions (Matt. 7:13,14).

Perhaps one of the best passages in the New Testament that makes it very clear that we could never be worthy (based on merely our own merit) and earn our salvation is Luke 17:10. It states, "So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'"

This statement is the application the Lord wants His followers to make from the lesson given in the previous verses (Luke 17:7-9), which deals with the service rendered by a slave to his master. The servant is merely doing that which is expected of him, so nothing really to boast about.

But this is not to say that the Lord pays no regard to our obedience - for He does! In John 12:26, for example, Jesus speaks of the one who would be His servant, by saying, "If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also...." Look what He then goes on to say in that same verse: "...if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him."

We are also reminded of the Hebrew writer's exhortation: "For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Heb. 6:10-12).

So, as Christians, we are to continually press on in our walk with God; but we realize that the great reward of heaven, at the end of the road, is far greater than what all of our efforts combined could ever deserve. Our "worthiness," therefore, has been made possible by the grace and mercy of God. If we, however, would try to stand instead on merely our own merit for eternal life, without Christ, we would all fall short and have no worthiness of our own, no justification, and no access to the throne of God's grace. So in answer to this article's title, it would be impossible for us to ever achieve a meritorious worthiness by which we could be saved. But thanks be to God for His grace, His mercy, His way of salvation that even the worst sinner can penitently come to by his faith and obedience and become a new creature in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 2 Cor. 5:17) -- and this way of salvation is now open to all (Acts 10:34,35; Acts 2:36-39; Acts 17:30,31).

by Tom Edwards

Return to the Question/Answer Index page

Return to the General Articles page

Home / Bible studies / Bible Survey / Special Studies / General Articles / Non-Bible Articles / Sermons / Sermon Outlines / Links / Questions and Answers / What Saith The Scriptures /Daily Devotional / Correspondence Courses / What is the Church of Christ / Book: Christian Growth / Website Policy / E-mail / About Me /