Merit vs. Worth

My post last week on “Worthiness” was a little controversial as I knew it would be. Underlying the discussion was questioning the idea that we cannot be “worthy” if we were dead in our sins and unable to earn salvation. I was arguing that ALL people (Christian or not) are worthy of love and belonging, and I stand by that view based on the scriptural view that all people were given the image of God, which is the basis for human dignity. However, I drew some criticism for saying that Jesus dying for our sins demonstrates our worthiness. I understand the objection: isn’t part of the Gospel that we did not merit saving?

My counter is that obviously we were worth saving because God did it and God doesn’t do anything that isn’t worth doing. But I’ll admit it sounds strange to say “We were worthy of being saved”. I think the disconnect here is that the word “worthy” has become synonymous with “meritorious” and carries a connotation of entitlement. This becomes a question of definitions, so that’s where I want to go to make my meaning clear.

What is the difference between “merit” and “worth”? I’m no expert on meanings, but my sense is that merit is meeting an objective standard, whereas worth is subjective value. That is, everyone can evaluate the merit of something and will come up with the same answer if they are evaluating the same criteria. Something’s worth, on the hand, is going to be different for different people because we all value things in our own ways. As I was growing up I remember my dad saying a million times over “Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay”. That’s a true statement. Whatever the merits of something for sale, people won’t pay anything if they don’t value it, and they will pay exorbitant amounts if they do.

A real example, one that the Bible itself uses a lot, is the relationship between father and son. If you want to look at the merits that my son brings to my life, an outward observer would be hard pressed to objectively understand why he means so much to me. Logically, he consumes time, energy, money, and a large amount of my resources. By an external standard this world has many children like him who have the same amount of merit. But to me, my son is tops and I won’t hear differently. Whatever he merits, to me he is worth more than everything I have and then some. I love him not on the basis of merit, but on his worth to me.

Spiritually, I think this difference between merit and worth is an important distinction. Our worth is truly found in Jesus and how he values us, not in the world and its brokenness. It is true that no one merits salvation, but Jesus found us worth saving, and how wonderful is that? This leads to a very simple definition of grace: grace is the gap between merit and worth, and what a large gap that is!

The Bible itself uses the metaphor of father and children to describe our relationship to God, and what could make it more clear that our basis for value is not found in our merits, but in his view of us? So yes, we have worth, tremendous worth, that is demonstrated by the grace he has poured out on us.

I suppose the only disconnect here is whether us having “worth” means we are “worthy”. For some reason, the second word smacks of entitlement, and that is certainly not what I meant. Those who follow Jesus are not entitled to salvation, nor do they merit it. But God found us to be worth saving. For me, that makes it safe to say “worthy”, but it’s a foreign worthiness given to us by God because of the value he places on us.

I think it’s a shame that Christians walk through this world believing that they have very low worth. If the God of the universe who created everything in it says we are of great worth, we should be red-faced to think or say any differently. I’m not saying we should be self-centered or self exalting, but to not accept the great worth he places on us is to not accept an aspect of his amazing grace.

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About Jeff S

Programmer, musician, father, and lover of Jesus. I have a strong passion to see people free from abuse and religion misused so that they can find the ultimate empowered life in Jesus.
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5 Responses to Merit vs. Worth

  1. dpersson7 says:

    You made a great distinction between the these two words and it really makes sense to me. One of the problems with focusing on our “unworthiness” as Christians is that it doesn’t just affect our perception of ourselves, it spills out and can cloud our view of others. If we all are just cast offs it doesn’t really matter what our brothers and sisters are suffering. It’s the “no matter what is happening in your life, you are getting better than you deserve,” mentality, which I have discovered helps no one. It tends to discourage people from turning to the Lord for help and lets fellow believers off the hook from helping their brothers and sisters. This was very encouraging to read. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jeff S says:

    Thank you so much for your comment- I think you are right on. As you point out, one of the big problems with this line of thinking (so prevalent in Reformed circles), is that your self image will carry over into how you treat others.

    After all, “Love others as you love yourself” is the command in scripture.

    Like

  3. Pingback: Total Depravity or Alien Citizenship | PRESSING ON TOWARD THE GOAL

  4. Denise says:

    You are very right to make this distinction. The Lord created us and called us good. He called His creation and man and woman “good” without anyone having done anything to earn that. I think our fundamental worth is found in the fact that He created us on purpose and deemed His creation good. And when that good creature rebelled against Him, the Father chose to sacrifice His Son to *redeem* His creation and restore it and us to the glory inherently within. In choosing sin, we mar the image of God imprinted upon us. But we cannot erase it. That’s nothing that we can take credit for because we didn’t make ourselves or anything else in the natural world. It’s as the Apostle Paul said, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” 1 Cor. 4:7 The worth we have we have received from God simply by virtue of being created by Him. And that worth was confirmed in His choice to redeem His corrupted creatures. I think you sum it up well in saying that God doesn’t do anything that’s not worth doing.

    Merit, by contrast, is what you earn through your actions. God both created and redeemed us without respect to merit, only inherent worth. Essentially, we can experience the love of God simply by being. But He does reward us according to merit, or discipline according to demerit.

    Like

  5. Denise says:

    You are very right to make this distinction. The Lord created us and called us good. He called His creation and man and woman “good” without anyone having done anything to earn that. I think our fundamental worth is found in the fact that He created us on purpose and deemed His creation good. And when that good creature rebelled against Him, the Father chose to sacrifice His Son to *redeem* His creation and restore it and us to the glory inherently within. In choosing sin, we mar the image of God imprinted upon us. But we cannot erase it. That’s nothing that we can take credit for because we didn’t make ourselves or anything else in the natural world. It’s as the Apostle Paul said, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” 1 Cor. 4:7 The worth we have we have received from God simply by virtue of being created by Him. And that worth was confirmed in His choice to redeem His corrupted creatures. I think you sum it up well in saying that God doesn’t do anything that’s not worth doing.

    Merit, by contrast, is what you earn through your actions. God both created and redeemed us without respect to merit, only inherent worth. Essentially, we can experience the love of God simply by being. But He does reward us according to merit, or discipline according to demerit.

    Like

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