[Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Shauna Letellier’s book Remarkable Faith: When Jesus Marveled at the Faith of Uremarkable People. (Thanks to Faith Words for sending me a copy for review!) This section of the book on unworthy faith really resonated with me, and I hope it can inspire you on your faith journey as well!]
When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this,5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well. (Luke 7:1-10 NIV)
Christ had been entrusted with the authority of God. The centurion commanded soldiers. Christ commands disease, demons, and death. The centurion was an ambassador of Roman glory. Christ was the exact representation of God’s glory (see Hebrews 1:3). His careful assessment gave him an accurate view of himself. He knew he was undeserving, and instead of despairing, he appealed to Christ anyway. “His combination of humility, dependent request, and trusting awareness of God’s power is the essence of faith.”
In Christ, You Don’t Get What You Deserve
As twenty-first-century believers we are often tossed around by messages presented to us from every direction about our worth. Some advertisers have us believe we are worth little without their product. Others try to convince us that we are so worthy we deserve their services. We must look to our Chief Commander to find out what is true. We must not compare ourselves to others—Christians or non-Christians. We must make an assessment of ourselves in comparison to Christ.
Only then will we discover the truth that we actually deserve spiritual death (see Romans 6:23). It’s what we’ve earned. But God is merciful, and Jesus was obedient to his orders. He came to rescue us from what we’d earned and deserved to his orders. He came to rescue us from what we’d earned and deserved. He generously offers what we do not deserve and cannot earn: grace.
Grace by definition is an undeserved gift. “The moment we have to do something to make ourselves more acceptable to God, or the moment we have to have a certain feeling or attribute of character in order to be blessed by God, then grace is no longer grace.” Then “grace” becomes something we believe we deserve. It becomes something we have earned that God is obligated to pay. This was the error of the religious leaders, and an ongoing, though subtle, error we find even in our own hearts some two thousand years later.
Who Instills Worth?
Whether you’ve built a synagogue, an orphanage, or a fine Christian reputation, you cannot earn God’s favor. God’s grace to us in Christ is a gift! We are worthy because we acknowledge our continual need of Jesus Christ and because he has declared us worthy! It is only by his declaration that we can come boldly to God. Though we are undeserving, we are privileged to belong to God and worthy because of Jesus.
The Gift You Cannot Earn
We cannot place God in our service by stockpiling good deeds and dangling them before him as a currency, as though we hold the carrot that makes him do our bidding. Our “good deeds” are not a means to get what we want from God. He has completely nullified that strategy by his grace through Jesus Christ. He asks us to come to him without pointing to accomplishments or reasons that supposedly make us “deserving.” We must come with an accurate understanding of his authority over us. We don’t deserve his grace, but he continues to lavish it on his dependent children.
Oh Lord, Your power and authority are beyond words or comprehension. With the centurion I confess I am an unworthy host. Your holiness exposes my sinfulness, and I am not worthy to approach you. I have nothing to offer that would merit your favor. Nothing I do can make me worthy of you. But by the cross you declare me worthy. You made me holy. You offer to live with me, in me. Instead of offering you a gift, I receive your gift of grace. Help me submit to the wild ways of your power and authority. Help me to trust, like the centurion, that neither time nor distance, neither race nor creed, can limit the scope of your rule. Help me follow his marvelous example of faith.