Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Unworthy, but not Worthless

worms unworthy humble child of God

By Dale Fincher

Because of sin, we became worms?

In a recent publication that arrived in our mail, I read about the modern worship experience in church. And one of the worship leaders interviewed said that the purpose of worship is to remember that we are worms before God.

That we are worms.

Is that the story?

Our Christian vocabulary has confused two very important words and made them one.

Unworthy.  Worthless.

These do not mean the same thing. But when we attach them to each other, we end up talking and believing that our unworthiness means our worthlessness.

A teen told me how worthless he felt. “I’m a sinner,” he said. And to be a sinner meant to be worthless. He tied the two together, thinking that a wrong choice led to a valueless soul.

“No,” I replied, “you are not worthless. Being a sinner cannot ever make you worthless.”

What this teen heard most of his church-life is that being a sinner makes you unworthy of friendship with God, unworthy of inheriting God’s promises of peace and joy and life everlasting. This is true. But maybe his own worship leader shared from the stage that we are but worms. Unworthy meant worthless.

“Unworthy” is failing to live up to requirements. If you cheat your employer, you do not deserve a raise. If you fail to study for a test, you do not deserve a high grade. If you forget your child’s birthday, you do not deserve a happy child pretending it didn’t happen.

You are unworthy of reward when you fail to do what is reward-worthy. You cannot merit the winning title of the Boston Marathon if you come in last. You do not deserve God to reward you when, through sin, you’ve done nothing to deserve that reward.

That is what it means to be unworthy. Your merits fall short. You are unworthy to be honored (Rom 4:4).

To be worthless, however, is quite different. While being unworthy is about our merits, being worthless is about our value. If you lost the Boston Marathon, you are as full of value as the person who won. If you forgot your child’s birthday, you are no less valuable than the parent who remembered weeks in advance and rented an elephant for the occasion.

The distance between unworthy merit and worthless value is the distance between east and west.

Jesus did not come for the worthless. He came for the unworthy.

Jesus came for those who are valuable. His coming did not make us valuable.

Jesus’s forgiveness does not make us suddenly valuable, as if a worm collection was suddenly wanted.  No, Jesus forgiveness makes us deserving the reward of knowing God. His forgiveness pulled the classic car from the abandoned garage to rev the engine and slap on fresh whitewalls. This is what the Scripture means by “grace.” His forgiveness reminds us, again and again, that we are valuable, though our merits are short.

You are human after all. Humans cannot give themselves value. Humans were made valuable from the start, without our consultation, whether we like it or not (Gen. 1:27). A popular Christian writer once responded negatively at me for this. He believed that Jesus made us valuable on the Cross. He said we’re concerned about value today because we’re too concerned with economics.

What he overlooked is that the Scripture affirms our value long before it recognizes our merits. Creation came before the Cross. We were made valuable in Eden before any temptation to think otherwise. And God makes a plan to rescue us even before the Law and Sacrifices.

I think that writer forgot the old Sunday School phrase, “I know I’m somebody, cause God don’t make no junk.” Unworthy, for him, became worthlessness.

Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?” Jesus himself makes an economic metaphor on our value (Mark 8:36). Our value is worth more than all our merits, worth more than all the world.

Does God then reach down to us because we’ve done good deeds, obligating God to pay attention to us? No. We cannot obligate God to us through anything we do. Does God reach down to us because he loves the valuable humans he has made, obligating himself to his creation? Absolutely.

Let me say it again, though it may sound unusual to some ears: We can never obligate God to save us. But he obligated himself to save his valuable creation.

We are unworthy, but not worthless. We are worthwhile and loved, no matter what we do (Rom. 5:8). God loves the valuable and teaches us how to see one another beyond what we deserve. See that homeless man or that homeowner, that divorced man or that promiscuous woman, that prideful pastor or that addicted teen? Their deeds may be unworthy of your attention, but they are valuable enough to love, unworthy but not worthless. They hold God’s image too.


*Dale Fincher is an outspoken introvert, apologist, and advocate for gender-equality. He and his wife, Jonalyn, co-founded Soulation seven years ago to help people be appropriately human. He is also the co-author of Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk, (which is available for free this week on Amazon.com.) In his downtime, he enjoys murmurings of a fly-fishing river. He makes his home with his wife and toddler son in an aspen forest outside Steamboat Springs, Colorado.


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11 thoughts on “Unworthy, but not Worthless

  1. I love Dale and Jonalyn’s work and agree that we are not worthless, an easy misreading of the following scripture, but scripture does call the people of God (assuming Jacob refers to this) worms:

    “Isaiah 41:14 Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob,
    little Israel, do not fear,
    for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD,
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.”

    I think it is a plea to humility. In light of the verse that follows where we/Israel become a double-edged threshing sledge (early forms of this were often wood planks embedded w/ *precious* stones, utilitarian and beautiful), it is not that we are valueless or incapable but that we are worthy (precious) and capable because of His grace, and the grace we know apart from relationship with Him is minuscule compared to that available in Him.

    That said, I’m totally against misusing the verse.

    My 2,
    deb

  2. At a time when David was feeling desolated and overwhelmed, he (prophetically) called himself a worm:

    “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.” Psalm 22:6.

    But in Psalm 139, a more cheerful and optimistic David writes:

    “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14

    The first few verses of Psalm 139 show that David knew his worth as a person made by God and known by God.

    I guess with just about everything in our faith and theology, it’s finding the balance.

  3. You got it, Marg.

  4. Thank you for this. I just met you this weekend at fhe conference. And my cousin who is halfway around the world shared your article. This article is so helpful. I am teaching year 7 girls in an RE class and I think we move to quickly from this point (often it is omitted altogether) as we share the gospel.

    And I think this should be a main point to get across in children’s ministry—I have come to believe it needs to be in their hearts. Their worth, where it comes from, what it means—these ideas should be settled matters in a child’s heart before we teach them about their sin.

    1. Hi Leslie,

      Small world. 🙂

      I’ve noticed that feelings of worthlessness (and anxiety) among girls and young women has increased in recent years. And this bothers me a lot. I’m glad you have the opportunity to address this. I taught RE for many years and loved it.

  5. “Humans were made valuable from the start, without our consultation, whether we like it or not.”

    Well put.

    Thanks for all your work; your blog is very helpful to me.

  6. I’m one of those guys who has felt worthless (and anxious). Not only that, but I have also known a lot of brothers and sisters who have felt the same way.

    I’ve read the Bible twice but the theology that I studied it from (Lordship Salvation) would make me feel “more worthy” when doing certain things (obeying the Lord), and absolutely worthless when not doing the whole list of God’s commands (even though I know we are not under the law, I would take the New Testament commands). You must know I’ve been extremely perfectionist, goodist, thoughtful and legalist guy, and a workaholic, who has dealt with throughts of worry, guild and fear.

    Even though I have come to read and hear more about the amazing grace of God over the years, and FAITH, and love of God which has helped me overcome the anxiety over the years, I have sometimes been brought back to feeling while hearing certain preachers or reading the Bible through some certain lenses. I realized I could rest when doing “good works” but I would feel worthless when I didn’t.

    Is there any particular book you would suggest to help me overcome these feelings? Thanks in advance.

    1. Hello Omar, I’m sorry for the way you are feeling. Unfortunately, I do not know of any book that may help.

      God knows our weaknesses. He knows it is impossible for us to be perfect. That is why we need a saviour who was, and is, perfect. Even though we are weak and fail, God loves us just the same and even delights in us.

      We are God’s children. I take great delight in my grandchildren, not because they are perfectly behaved, but because I love them and their unique personalities. Love covers a multitude of sins: l’amour garde le silence sur un grand nombre de péchés. 1 Peter 4:8b

      1. Hallelujah, haha. Praise God, He is our loving God.
        Yes, I will rest in His arms and in His grace.
        I’m reading a book called “Anxious For Nothing” by Max Lucado, which talks about this amazing love of God and it’s helping me.
        I will be holding on to the Gospel of Grace with all my strength because Jesus paid it all and we have become children of God. Hallelujah

  7. I was wondering… Would it be okay if I happen to translate your article into Spanish? I will, of course, give properly reference this link of your website as the source and give you all credit. Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Omar, yes, you have permission to translate this article into Spanish. Could I also post your translation on my website?

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