Getting a grip on how much we’re not worth it: You’re looking the wrong way.

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:7-8

The other day I saw a portion of a new book by D.A. Carson called “Scandalous.” In it, he says “Those who draw really close to Jesus think of themselves, first and foremost, as those loved by him rather than those who profess their love for him.” He is talking about the instances in the New Testament where writers described themselves as being loved by Jesus. The point is is that the attention is focused not on them and their efforts but on Christ and what he has done. This is a good thing to think about because we — me, you, all of us — have a tendancy to inflate our self-worth when talking about our salvation.

But, if that’s the case, then how do we read and understand the verse above? When it says God loved us “while we were yet sinners” it doesn’t mean that we were especially valuable. Rather, it points to the depth of his grace and love. We have a tendancy to get it backwards because we are so intent on protecting our self esteem. In Fifty Ways Jesus Came To Die, John Piper addresses this kind of thinking:

I have heard it said, “God didn’t die for frogs. So he was responding to our value as humans.” This turns grace on its head. We are worse off than frogs. They have not sinned. They have not rebelled and treated God with the contempt of being inconsequential in their lives. God did not have to die for frogs. They aren’t bad enough. We are. Our debt is so great, only a divine sacrifice could pay it.

There is only one explanation for God’s sacrifice for us. It is not us. It is “the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). It is all free. It is not a response to our worth. It is the overflow of his infinite worth. In fact, that is what divine love is in the end: a passion to enthrall undeserving sinners, at great cost, with what will make us supremely happy forever, namely, his infinite beauty. 

Christ’s death on the cross is a magnificent event. We should all look at it and marvel. But if we come away thinking it’s a lesson about our worth, then we’ve tragically missed the point.

Self-worship is stupid

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
— Luke 14:11

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
— Matthew 16:25

Thanks to Jared Wilson for his post yesterday “The Kingdom is For Those Who Know How to Die“:

[T]he real beatitudes are today the powerful scandal they were in Jesus’ day. Because the kingdom is for the hurt, the grieving, the mourning, the poor and poor in spirit, the meek, the downtrodden, the marginalized, the discarded, the weary, the torn, the broken . . .

And why? Why is that?
I believe it is because those people have a keener sense of their own need. When you are on the drug of money or power or success (or any kind of drug), you can be numb to your basic, fundamental deficiency. Why do we keep trying to fill the God-shaped hole with any god but God? Because the other gods are just ways to believe we have no needs, that we have the power inside of us. Any worship directed to anyone or anything other than God is essentially self-worship.

And those who keenly feel and know their own brokenness know self-worship is stupid.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

— Matthew 5:3-11

God’s chief goal is not my self-esteem

As I looked at the post I linked to yesterday and the then the responses to that person’s post, I came across a warning from one person that the video and accompanying post presents a too man-centered view and is just as fallible as the medieval church and its harrassment of people like Galileo and Copernicus. Well, since we are only able to see the universe from this perspective, how else would we be able to interpret such a remarkable thing as the universe.

In one respect, yes, we are the center of God’s creation. If you look at Genesis, man was the crowning creation of his work. He made man, called it good, and then rested. But we fool ourselves greatly and risk great danger for our lives if we think that God is all about how good we feel about ourselves. I have heard people — often children, but adults as well — say that the reason God created this world or man was because he was lonely. While it sounds innocent enough, it also implies that we supply something that God was lacking and thus works to elevate us and lower God in stature.

We were not created to have our deepest joys come from ourselves through the boosting of our self-esteem. Rather, we were created to get our deepest joy from God, who created us. John Piper explains:

We are all bent to believe that we are central in the universe. How shall we be cured of this joy-destroying disease? Perhaps by hearing afresh how radically God-centered reality is according to the Bible.

Both the Old and New Testament tell us that God’s loving us is a means to our glorifying him. “Christ became a servant … in order that the nations might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8-9). God has been merciful to us so that we would magnify him. We see it again in the words, “In love [God] destined us to adoption … to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:4-6). In other words, the goal of God’s loving us is that we might praise him. One more illustration from Psalm 86:12-13: “I will glorify your name forever. For your lovingkindness toward me is great.” God’s love is the ground. His glory is the goal.

This is shocking. The love of God is not God’s making much of us, but God’s saving us from self-centeredness so that we can enjoy making much of him forever. And our love to others is not our making much of them, but helping them to find satisfaction in making much of God. True love aims at satisfying people in the glory of God. Any love that terminates on man is eventually destructive. It does not lead people to the only lasting joy, namely, God. Love must be God-centered, or it is not true love; it leaves people without their final hope of joy.

I agree totally with this. But it is a never-ending battle against the god of myself and my constant desire to boost my own ego for my own sake. And it is everywhere. How often have we heard that it is important to love yourself before you can love someone else? It is as if we didn’t have a natural-born love already hardwired into us. Love of myself doesn’t motivate me to love others, but love of God motivates me to love others and be much more happy as a result.