Monday, January 07, 2008

Why Worth Is Better Than Worthy (Transcript)

Thousands of sermons are written and spoken every year with the basic theme that you, as a Christian, are unworthy.

You are unworthy of your salvation, you are unworthy of God's grace and mercy, you are even unworthy of the blessings that you have in everyday life. Your family, your house or apartment, your car, your dog or cat.

You are so unworthy as to be a worm and a slug on the face of the earth. Why if it wasn't for God and His love for you ol' worms, you would have nothing. Nothing. And if it wasn't for God and His love for you, you would be thrown into the Lake of Fire without hesitation.

You are so unworthy you make a bird heading South for the Winter more worthy than you. At least the bird faithfully obeys God at all times. Can you imagine a bird having an instinct from God in his little bird brain to go South, and he thinks, “No, I'm going to do what I want, God. I'm going North for the Winter.”? Ridiculous.

You, on the other hand talk and act such foolishness all your life. You were born that way. God says obey your parents, and what do you do? Right. And that's just the beginning of sorrows. Your life is spent in virtually total rebellion against God, until you're born again, and even then you succumb to the lies of the world and the flesh and the devil sometimes and God says, “Fly South”, and you fly North.

You are so unworthy that you don't deserve anything from God. But God is loving and merciful and He drags you out of the miry pit and puts your feet on the rock, and you go to heaven someday. But not because you're worthy, you worm.

Now that about sums up a common message preached, doesn't it?

Here's my question. Is it true? Is it true that we are unworthy? That we don't deserve anything from God?

Well, yes, it's true, as a matter of fact.

Oh, we're fearfully and wonderfully made. But that's not the issue. Every fearful and wonderful bone in our body was put there by God himself. 1 Corinthians 4:7 says, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

So even our gifts and abilities and wonderful attributes – the very fact that we were created in the image of God – that's nothing to boast about. We didn't earn it, we didn't deserve it, we weren't worthy to receive it, and we still aren't worthy.

So is there anything wrong with that message that's preached in Bible-believing churches all over the world every week? Is there anything wrong with preachers pounding into the heads of their congregations how unworthy they are?

I mean, they mean well, don't they? It's often put in the context of how great God is, isn't it? And God is great isn't He? And merciful and loving and righteous and omnipotent and sovereign? And you'll sometimes hear it put this way: We must have a high view of God, and a low view of man.

And there is a sense in which all of that is true. You won't find anything in the Scripture that says that we are worthy of the goodness of God. Only He is worthy, the Bible says. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain. He alone is worthy, we sing. And that's true.

Then is anything wrong with that message preached?

I believe the answer is “Yes”.

I believe there are two things wrong with that message. I'll call it the Unworthy Worm Message.

1. It's only part of the truth.
2. It is misleading because it neglects another even greater truth.

The greater truth that is neglected is simply this:

God Has Given Us Worth

God in His sovereignty has deemed that we are worth something to Him. In fact he has deemed that we are worth a LOT to Him. He has deemed us worth so much that God the Father has given us to God the Son as a gift, as a Bride, and as a reward for His death on the Cross.

Have you ever stopped to think about where the worth of something comes from?

When my parents were born, the United States was under what was called the Gold Standard. That meant that paper money, dollar bills, were not only paper, but actually were backed up by actual gold, held in reserve somewhere. The paper, which otherwise would have been worthless in it's own right, was actually worth some gold.

That system was abandoned in 1933, but when I was a kid, we still had what were called Silver Certificates. They were dollar bills that were actually backed up by silver. Theoretically, you could trade those bills for actual silver, though I never met anyone who bothered to do that.

But now the United States, like virtually every other nation, has what is called "fiat currency". In other words, we just deem or declare by "fiat" that a dollar bill is “worth” a dollar. And a twenty-dollar bill is worth twenty of those so-called dollar bills, and so on.

But why are they worth anything? Why did even the gold and silver have worth? Why do we say a diamond is worth such and such an amount of money? And why do we say dirt is worthless? Wait, potting soil is worth something. Why?

At it's foundation, things are “worth” whatever they are deemed or declared to be “worth” by those who deem or declare them to be “worth” something. Isn't that true? And that “worth” can vary drastically.

Today you might think a bar of gold bullion is worth a lot more than a bottle of water and a sandwich. But two days from now, stranded in the middle of the Mojave Desert without food and water, you'd take the Corned Beef and the Dasani water, wouldn't you? All of a sudden it became “worth” a lot more than the gold.

O.K., back to God and us.

God has chosen to give “worth” to us, for reasons ultimately known only to Him, or for no reason at all.

And I'll take the bold stand that being “worth” something to God, is infinitely better than being “worthy”.

Because God is infinitely above us, and infinitely wiser than us, and infinitely greater than we are, and infinitely more righteous than we could have ever been, and infinitely more powerful than us, our “worthiness” could never have attained to much under the very best of circumstances. And Lord knows, we didn't grow up under the very best of circumstances. We grew up with the nature of Adam, which we inherited.

Our own worthiness, like our own righteousness, is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

But God did something amazing. Something that we can barely comprehend now, but which we will praise Him for long after this earth is burned up. Long after we debate worth vs. worthy. Long after we strain our eyes looking into a glass darkly, trying to figure out “Why?” We call it eternity, and we will praise Him and sing “Worthy is the Lamb” for eternity.

Long after we stop asking why the Lord saw fit to save us worms, we will praise Him because He gave us worth. He declared us worth something. Through no work or striving or earning or intrinsic value of our own, He nevertheless deemed us a suitable gift for His Son.

O.K., He has some serious work to do on us. Like uncut diamonds, we are rough and don't look so good. But inside, He has made us a New Creation, and He knows what He values, and He's perfectly willing to grind and sever and chip and polish until what's left is only what He values. And He is working all things together for good, and He is the one that declares what is good, isn't He?

Will we spend eternity congratulating ourselves for being worth so much? Of course not. It's all of grace, all of God.

The Eight-Cow Wife

Patricia McGerr sailed to the island of Kiniwata in the Pacific over 40 years ago. She tells the story of a man they called Johnny Lingo.

People kept mentioning this Johnny Lingo, and they seemed to admire him, but they always had a sort of mocking smile or laugh when they mentioned him. Patricia finally asked why the mocking smiles.

It seems that five months before, Johnny Lingo had come to Kiniwata and found a wife named Sarita. And the joke was that he had paid Sarita's father eight cows for her.

Listen as Patricia McGerr tells the rest of the story.

I knew enough about island customs to be impressed. Two or three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four or five a highly satisfactory one.

"Good Lord!" I said. "Eight cows!" She must have beauty that takes your breath away.

"She's not ugly," he conceded, and smiled a little. "But the kindest could only call Sarita plain. Sam Karoo, her father, was afraid she'd be left on his hands."

"But then he got eight cows for her? Isn't that extraordinary?"

"Never been paid before."

"Yet you call his wife plain?"

"I said it would be kindness to call her plain. She was skinny. She walked with her shoulders hunched and her head ducked. She was scared of her own shadow."

"Well," I said, "I guess there's just no accounting for love."

"True enough," agreed the man. "And that's why the villagers grin when they talk about Johnny. They get special satisfaction from the fact that the islands' sharpest trader was bested by dull old Sam Karoo."

"But how?"

"No one knows and everyone wonders. All the cousins were urging Sam to ask for three cows and hold out for two until he was sure Johnny'd pay only one. Then Johnny came to Sam Karoo and said, `Father of Sarita, I offer eight cows for your daughter.'"

"Eight cows," I murmured. "I'd like to meet this Johnny Lingo."

I wanted fish. I wanted pearls. So the next afternoon I beached my boat at Nurabandi. And I noticed as I asked directions to Johnny's house that his name brought no sly smile to the lips of his fellow Nurabandians. And when I met the slim, serious young man, when he welcomed me with grace to his home, I was glad that from his own people he had respect unmingled with mockery. We sat in his house and talked. Then he asked, "You come here from Kiniwata?"


"They speak of me there?"

"They say there's nothing that you can't help me get."

He smiled gently. "My wife is from Kiniwata."

"Yes, I know."

"They speak of her?"

"A little."

"What do they say?"

"Why, just....." The question caught me off balance.

"They told me you were married at festival time."

"Nothing more?" The curve of his eyebrows told me he knew there had to be more.

"They also say the marriage settlement was eight cows."

I paused. "They wonder why."

"They ask that?" His eyes lighted with pleasure. "Everyone in Kiniwata knows about the eight cows?"

I nodded.

"And in Nurabandi everyone knows it too. His chest expanded with satisfaction. "Always and forever, when they speak of marriage settlements, it will be remembered that Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for Sarita."

So that's the answer, I thought: vanity.

And then I saw her. I watched her enter the room to place flowers on the table. She stood still a moment to smile at the young man beside me. Then she went swiftly out again. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the sparkle of her eyes all spelled a pride to which no one could deny her the right.

I turned back to Johnny Lingo and found him looking at me.

"You admire her?" he murmured.

"She ... she's glorious. But she's not Sarita from Kiniwata," I said.

"There's only one Sarita. Perhaps she does not look the way they say she looked in Kiniwata."

"She doesn't. I heard she was homely. They all make fun of you because you let yourself be cheated by Sam Karoo."

"You think eight cows were too many?" A smile slid over his lips.

"No. But how can she be so different?"

"Do you ever think," he asked, "what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? And then later, when the women talk, they boast of what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe six. How does she feel, the woman who was sold for one or two? This could not happen to my Sarita."

"Then you did this just to make your wife happy?"

"I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than that. You say she is different. This is true. Many things can change a woman. Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks about herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any woman in the islands."

"Then you wanted--"

"I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman."

"But--" I was close to understanding.

"But," he finished softly, "I wanted an eight-cow wife."
You know what Jesus paid for His Bride, for you. A price infinitely greater than eight cows. I thought you'd want to know the worth that He places on His Bride.

Sarita wasn't “worthy” of the eight cows. But Johnny Lingo deemed her “worth” the eight cows, and it transformed her. May your worth to Jesus Christ be a transforming influence on you as your mind is renewed by this truth.


Only Look said...

Man Terry...that is the best post that I have ever read by you. I began to weep...with joy believing that I am of such great value to my Jesus after having spent a lifetime consumed with my good to see and behold His face and to know that all things are working together for my good and yours and all of us that love God through His precious Son. I am bought at such an expensive price of His precious blood. Man this post was good.

Terry Rayburn said...


I know what you mean. I could hardly maintain my composure as I recorded it and the truths passed through my brain once again. We could, of course, never thank Him enough, so we'll have to spend eternity.

Anonymous said...

I think the point is being missed with this post and the comments. You are correct. We are not worthy. But God did not create us, and then save those to be saved to gives us worth. He did this for His good pleasure to glorify Himself. Romans 6:4 and Romans 9:23. We are to boast about the creator and not the creation.

Terry Rayburn said...


Your comment saddens me.

1. Please don't be another in a long line of victims of Worm Theology. In seeking to glorify God (which I join you in, believe me), you have fallen for the backlash which the Bible calls self-abasement (Col. 2:18, 23).

The problem with self-abasement is that it denies the "fearfully and wonderfully made" doctrine (Psalm 139:14), and even more importantly denies the "new creation" doctrine (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).

While self-abasement has the APPEARANCE of wisdom (Col. 2:23), it in fact slights the Lord, and takes away from the glory that He should get for what He has done. "Wonderful are your works", Psalm 139:14.

2. By falling victim to Worm Theology, you are stifling your own joy and wonder at what God has done in you.

You probably still refer to yourself as a Sinner (an incorrect Biblical term for a Saint), and therefore think it's perfectly NATURAL for you to sin, when in fact it goes AGAINST your new nature.

Notice I'm not saying we don't sin. But our IDENTITY is now that of a Saint, not a Sinner, and we have a new nature that loves Christ and hates sin, and we are dead to sin and alive to God through Christ (Rom. 6:11).

When we sin, it's because we are deceived by the world, the flesh and the devil into DENYING our new nature and the Spirit within us, and walking by the flesh (our old "program" or way of thinking, with the sin that indwells our members, but is not us -- Rom. 7:17).

3. You made assumptions in your comment, instead of reading carefully. I never said God didn't do what He did for us "for His good pleasure to glorify Himself". I agree with you on that.

Secondly, I never boasted about the creation, but specifically boasted about the Creator, and what He has done! Just as the heavens declare the glory of God, so does His transforming work in His Bride!

To quote myself :) "Will we spend eternity congratulating ourselves for being worth so much? Of course not. It's all of grace, all of God."

If that's not clear enough, let me say that ALL glory, ALL credit, ALL praise, should go to Him.

Self-abasement isn't humility. Humility isn't denying what God has done, it's giving Him all the credit.

Lighten up, brother. Give God His due in taking sinful fallen people and conforming them to the image of His Son, to present them to His Son.

"...just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless." -- Eph. 5:25-27

Anonymous said...

If I am misunderstanding what you are saying, I apologize ahead of time. What I believe you to be saying is that I am worth something to God because I am saved. Is that correct? You also, to me, appear to be saying that worth and worthy do not equate. However, being worthy is to have worth - and having worth makes one worthy. That is the definition given in even Daniel Webster's dictionary of old.

Gold, silver, and diamonds have worth because they are rare, precious commodities. Yes, the worth is still deemed by the demand for gold, silver, and diamonds - but that being what it is, it is their reason for worth. Should a mother lode of any of those precious commodities be found, the worth of those things based on their standard would fall - just as their worth would.

The blood of Jesus is the precious standard by which I have worth. When God looks at me, He sees me as clothed in white robes, a spotless bride of Christ. He sees me as such because of Christ's blood. It is Christ's blood that has the worth, and that worth has been imputed to me at my salvation.

If I could wipe the blood of Jesus off me (I cannot do so, for the Bible states that no one can take what is His), God would no longer see me in the same way - as a matter of fact, He would not look upon my sinful flesh at all because God does not look upon sin! So, there I would stand - same person - but not the same worth. It is not MY worth that is important to God, but the worth of the Son, and His blood that covers me. As you stated yourself:

Our own worthiness, like our righteousness, is like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)

Now do I live as if I am a worm, and a sinner? NO! I live as a joint heir to the kingdom of Christ. My joy comes from my worth THRU Christ. My joy comes through the imputed righteousness of what Jesus did for me. Imputation itself means that it is credited to a person. It doesn't mean that is truly what the person is - it is, however, credited to him.

My salvation is my worth; my salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone (and that GIVEN TO ME by the Holy Spirit), in Christ alone. It, alone, is what makes me worthy!

No, I do not live as a worm or a sinner - I live as a new creation through Christ, Jesus. I live to the fullest the abundance of life given me through Christ. To do otherwise would be foolishness to the Nth degree! And as I live that way, I make certain to tell everyone the good news of how I live that way! To God's glory - which is why I have any worth to begin with.

But, I do not for one minute believe - or try to convince others - that I am worth anything outside of that, on my own. To do so would be to lie, and to dilute the truth of the Gospel.

Terry Rayburn said...


"Worthy" has several meanings. The sense in which I am using it is "deserving", as in "merit".

Every analogy breaks down, but the bottom line is:

1. We have "worth" to God, by His good pleasure and work.
2. We can take no credit for it, and in that sense are not "worthy", or "deserving" of that "worth" He has ascribed to us.
3. This is a good and beautiful truth, and gives many of us joy and praise for the Lord.

Apparently it gives some indigestion.

And that's part of my point.

Only Look said...

It's so hard for us to fully receive the love of God and bask in His kisses upon us, but when we receive those kisses we cry out "Father...I am not worthy to be called your son" and then hear Him say..."Bring the best robe and put it on my son...."

Oh see it brothers and sisters...enjoy His love. So much is well said by you Terry.

Anonymous said...

Terry - you need not worry, I am not suffering any indigestion. As I said before, I am living in full joy of what the Lord has done for me.

One Look - I have no problem fully receiving the "full love" of Jesus.

Since you did not take time to break down those analogies that break down so easily, I guess I'll never know.

For someone who is out to slay the legalism dragon, I feel you are very closed to the opinions of others and will, therefore, not be expressing any others to you.

God's love and blessing to you
Robin Schneider

Terry Rayburn said...


Believe me, I'm not closed to the opinions of others. I welcome them.

It's just that your original comment was presumably for the purpose of disagreeing with me or correcting me, and for the life of me I can't see what you actually disagree with.

1. I said that God has given us "worth".

You agreed in principal, saying:

"The blood of Jesus is the precious standard by which I HAVE WORTH.... It is Christ's blood that has the worth, and THAT WORTH HAS BEEN IMPUTED TO ME at my salvation."

(Side note: I would still prefer to say that it's God Himself who ascribes worth to us, however, because to merely say it's His blood depersonalizes His love for us to an extent.)

2. I clarified the sense in which I defined "worthy" ("deserving" or "merit"), in answer to your statement about definitions.

3. When I said that all analogies "break down", I simply meant that when we make an analogy like I did with the dollar bill's "worth", or the "eight-cow wife", the analogy breaks down in the sense that you can't fully compare it in every way to the worth God has ascribed to us. It's just for illustration purposes.

4. I capsulized and clarified my treatise in my above comment to you, with the following:

a. We have "worth" to God, by His good pleasure and work.
b. We can take no credit for it, and in that sense are not "worthy", or "deserving" of that "worth" He has ascribed to us.
c. This is a good and beautiful truth, and gives many of us joy and praise for the Lord."

Do you disagree with any of that?

Your original comment seemed like a sort of grumpy disagreement, without really pinpointing anything you were actually disagreeing with.

You are always welcome here with your opinions, which I am happy to discuss.


P.S. Praying for your mom.

Only Look said...

I am sorry as well if I misunderstood some of you. I guess what sort of saddened me was that this turned into a debate. Something so beautiful and enriching in truth gets broken down and dissected and soon we are balancing out His blood against Himself and I understand what Terry is saying, but I am learning that something in our critical natures inhibits us from experiencing and enjoying a vital relationship with God. I dunno. Its kinda like...well I was reading some Scripture over at a debate blog:

Power going out...

They quoted this beautiful scripture about that woman with the issue of blood being healed and then turned and used it to prove a point. I felt greived inside as I anticipated a wonderful devotional post or something, but instead began to read another point maker in defence against other brothers and sisters in Christ in the body. It just sort of seemed to cheapen the whole beauty of it all and the whole wonder of coming into contact with God and I think about that song by the Imperials called Praise the Lord and the verse that says, "Now satan is a liar and he wants to make us think that we are paupers when in fact we are children of the king"

I've been guilty of listening to that voice in the past, so I dont want to sound sanctimonious...its just that this is my whole point.
ah point! Why did I have to make a point?:-)
It seems to inhibit us from basking in all that God has done for us and may in fact mislead others into being tempted by our critical nature into not believing. Even though I do believe in the Sovereignty of God that doesnt rule out how He uses us to reach or how we can in fact inhibit this reach as He told the Jews in His time on earth that they stood at the door not letting others enter in, and I think that we as believers can fall into that trap as well, that is sort of born out of critique and perfectionism even in trying to isolate and disect good doctrinal truths.

I think of Steve McVey's analogy in Grace rules where he as the boy being caught up in His marbles until being called to play basketball didn't see what he was missing in the beauty and vitality of grace that empowers us to enjoy the love of God which brings us to greater heights and away from the harm of the little marbles that seem to stand in the way and encourages us in sin while the call to play a greater game leads us in life and away form sin in the grace of God.

Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifies. I dont want to come off as being sanctimonious to you Berry. The Lord has given you some wonderful understanding of truth and Himself. I read some of your good blog. We all as bloggers just seem to have the tendency to strain out gnats through our gifts of discernment I think and it is often to our own harm. There is nothing wrong with the gift of discernment, but not in friendly fire and we are growing in that out here in the blogishere. I speak as one who has done this. I pray we all consider this in our weakness and in His greatness that hides us in the feathers of His almighty embrace and in His eye that beholds and loves us as a mother loves a newborn child.