Heated debate often results from any discussion of self-worth. Do we derive it simply by being human, due to our relationships with others or by virtue of redemption in Christ alone? Many say we have no self-worth at all and quote Isaiah 64:6 as biblical evidence. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” That doesn’t seem to leave much room for negotiation. Yet if I am a rag – a piece of shirt for instance – then at one point I was a useful object, or at least had the potential to be. What made me a rag? Isaiah 53:6 tells us more. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Paul teaching that, “There is none righteous, not even one.” Romans 3:10 “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 We are contrary beings; defiant, with a sin nature – it’s natural for us to sin. Even when we do good, it’s often because we must or we are attempting to get something in return. In comparison to God’s holiness and perfection, we are indeed “filthy rags.”
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking it all.” James 2:10 Why? Because the concept of the Law, the need to differentiate between right and wrong, is a frame of mind; the intent being to bring us to the law of love. Where we falter and fail is that we often break that chain of expectation and response, picking and choosing what we want to obey; making null and void the whole process. But provision has been made, the Hebrew writer pointing out that, “…the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed by blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Hebrews 9:22 (See Leviticus 17:11) This was instituted to teach responsibility and the concept of giving up something of value to fulfill a spiritual debt. However, human sacrifice was disallowed in Judaism, substituting an animal for a human became the new norm – the animal representing the sacrifice. And now, because of Jesus, we are no longer required to gain forgiveness through the sacrificial system at all, because He sacrificed himself “once for all when He offered Himself.” Hebrews 7:27 (See Hebrews 7-10)
But that’s not all, we are further told that God understands our weakness, our inclination to sin, the temptation we battle on a daily basis. “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:18 Remember the forty days of temptation Jesus endured after his baptism by John? He didn’t do that on a whim, the Holy Spirit leading him into the desert for that specific purpose. (Matthew 4:1) As a result of this time of trial he was able to more thoroughly identify with us, more completely understand us and more effectively substitute for us. He did it without fault – but with understanding. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15 No wonder then the question, “…how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” Hebrews 2:3 Paul exhorting us, “…in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies (lives) as living sacrifices,” Romans 12:1 Not sitting down and lamenting our worthlessness and inability but to do what you do know, improving yourself as you go along. Living a “sacrificial life” of love and service fully, actively and effectively; remembering that, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” 1 Corinthians 15:19 We have a past, we live in the present, we await a glorious future! If this is not so, why withstand temptation, why deny ourselves what the world has to offer and insists is best? If the present is all we have, then “Let us eat, drink (and be merry), for tomorrow we die.” 1 Corinthians 15:32 Yet scripture assures us that we do have much to live for, both in the here-and-now and the here-after. As a result of God’s amazing grace, we have value, worth, opportunity and responsibility; and can, “…approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
The question of self-worth is an ancient one; each generation determined to find out who they are, what they are capable of and who they are responsible to – if anyone. Which is what it often comes down to, for as individualistic as we would like to be or think we are, we constantly compare ourselves to others; either to validate who we are and what we do or to excuse what we do and who we have become.
Instead of comparing ourselves to others and their constantly shifting world-view, we might be better served to look entirely “outside” ourselves and any others in setting the standards by which we live. Matthew 22:34-40 giving a proper perspective on worth and self-image. There Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment – the best principle for living. His reply, ‘Love the Lord your God, putting Him first in all things.’ and, ‘Love your fellowman as you love yourself.’ (My paraphrase) Yet if I have no self-respect, no sense of self-worth, then what am I going to base the second part of this command on? Let me suggest that there is a difference between self-absorbed ego and a sense of self-worth. We all need to know what we can and/or can’t legitimately accomplish, and have confidence in the abilities we do have to function properly in society. By honestly appraising our potential, we can more effectively work to submit our lives to the grace and power of God and rise above our limitations and achieve beyond our natural ability in Christ. Jesus instructing us to, “…in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Matthew 7:12; deeds stemming from the concept of a healthy sense of self. Those who lack it are often harmful to themselves or allow others to use and even abuse them, influencing them to mis-think the declaration of, ‘Do to others.’ Conversely the self-absorbed egoist is self-centered, somewhat self-abusive in demanding the right to do anything they please; resulting in an equally uncaring, inconsiderate attitude toward others and downright rebelliousness in matters pertaining to God.
Jesus declared, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (or abundantly, KJ) Eternal life is all we are guaranteed as Christians (John 3:16 & 2 Peter 3:9), but Jesus desires for us a full life, an abundant life regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in; really only possible when lived in Christ. Before we knew what to be thankful for, before we wanted to do right or live well, God saw at least the potential for worth in us and desired to bring it forth. The Psalmist recording how we are fearfully and wonderfully made with a plan ordained for us from the very beginning. (Psalm 139:13-16) What are we worth? Evidently everything to God, as Christ exchanged his residence in Heaven (for a while), living as a poor itinerant preacher, foregoing the pleasures the world had to offer – for us – while we were yet sinners. (Romans 5:8) He was then willing to die a horrible, agonizing death to redeem and reclaim us to himself; thereby giving us the opportunity to make our lives count for something.
Paul explained the source of his accomplishments as total dependence on God, saying, “…when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9,10 Did Paul cease to exist? No. Did Paul have ability, insight, or personal involvement at stake. Yes. But it was fully realized only when he submitted his life to the will of Christ. As Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing… This is to my father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:5-8
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