I had just begun serving as a volunteer ministry coordinator, and during a staff meeting I excitedly talked about the tasks I had finished and the new ministries I was planning. I later recognized that I had shared these accomplishments because I was excited about my ministry- but also because I hoped to prove myself worthy of my new position and maybe even receive a few accolades. The next day I apologized to my dear staff friends for boasting. Bless them, they claimed they had not noticed. (My friend Kyle even assured me, “Anyone who is that excited about making labels has more serious issues than boasting.” 😀 )
In recent weeks, I have been thinking about my need to prove myself, and how this flies in the face of experiencing God’s complete grace and love for me. Everything I am, all I am able to do, any worth I can claim, comes from God alone. God comes to us not because of our merit but because of God’s love. God just loved us first and will love us forever. How can we possibly feel any more valued than this?
If we can comprehend that we are truly God’s beloved, blessed and forgiven people, and then begin to live as such, we are given three incredible freedoms:
The freedom from our need to prove we are valuable or worthy.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NRSV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
My worth comes from God alone. My value IS in God alone. Instead of telling the staff all I had done or planned to do, I could have let my actions speak for themselves. The integrity of my work would show my joyful gratitude to God while using the gifts and graces God has given me for ministry. My work should be for the glory of God alone, for God is the source of all that is good, the source of all that we are able to accomplish.
The freedom from our need to prove we are right or justified.
Matthew 27:11-14 (NRSV)
Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
I can recall several instances when I was unable to justify myself to others, either because of confidential information I had to keep, or because my reasoning would fall on deaf ears, or both. For example, as a ministry leader I once had to keep a volunteer from serving because of confidential information I had received from a variety of people. I could not tell my ministry team all the reasons why I made the decision, and the person denied any wrongdoing. As I endured the anger, grief, and confusion of those who did not know the whole story, I remembered how Jesus stood in silence before his accusers, even as he was led to his death. Jesus knew that God’s assessment is the only one that matters. God knows our whole story, and God is the One to forgive us all, including the volunteer- and me.
The freedom from our need to prove we are better, or at least “less bad.”
Luke 18:9-14 (NRSV)
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
When I am feeling guilty, how easily I want to claim, “I may have done this, but at least I didn’t do what they did…” When I am feeling inadequate, how easily I want to believe, “They may have done better, but I was just having an off day…” When I am feeling regret, how easily I want to explain, “I am sorry for doing this, but any other person would have done the same thing, or worse.” Much like a child tries to convince a parent, my conscience tries to convince myself and God that in some way I am still ‘better than’ in the midst of my brokenness.
We do not need to prove that we are better or any less bad than others. In God’s eyes, we are all equally beloved children. We are all sinners, we are all saints. Perhaps God would like us to not compare ourselves to others, but to compare our own growth in love and obedience from yesterday to today. We are equally and highly valued- wherever we fall on the ‘sinner-saint’ continuum- simply because we are God’s.
We are loved beyond our imagining, far beyond any worldly comparisons or judgments. There is no need for us to justify ourselves, to prove our worth to others, or to diminish our faults before God. With God’s love proven to us in incredible ways throughout our lives and promised for all eternity, we are free to stand on God’s merit alone. We have nothing more to prove.