“If we are saved by grace, how can Paul write about Christians being worthy? This sounds like works salvation.” A sincere elderly lady raised this line of reasoning as we studied 2 Thessalonians.
Scripture affirms no one is worthy. And yet, at other places explicit statements expect Christians to be worthy. How can this be?
What seems to stick in the minds of most people are those strong affirmations that no one can be justified based upon the works of the Law (Galatians 2:16). Since salvation is not by works and everyone needs Christ, no one is worthy.
And yet, we can also read, “we pray for you always, that our God will make you worthy of his calling” (2 Thessalonians 1:11) or “live worthily of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). Still other scriptures imply a similar message, “I pray that your love may abound … so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9,10).
What might at first seem confusing and contradictory is easily resolved when we consider the two distinct contexts for these statements. One addresses the ability to become a new creation, the other the expectation to fulfill one’s new God-given purpose as his new creation.
A metaphor using raw materials and brand new cars can quickly help us sort between these two very distinct contexts of worthiness that we might sometimes erroneously lump together. Imagine a huge pile of ingots and sheets of various types of metals mixed together with plastic pellets and other basic resources.
It is impossible for those raw materials to transform themselves into brand new automobiles. Yet, factories and assembly lines do transform those resources into wonderful cars that we expect to provide us transportation.
In a similar way, scripture acknowledges humanity’s absolute unworthiness and inability to attain salvation based upon our merit. Left to ourselves, we will never be worthy of justification.
However, this is not the end of the story. God has the power to transform our spiritually dead lives into becoming new creatures. Just as factories create new automobiles out of materials, so too God’s power can remake us into being his workmanship through Christ.
Furthermore, just as we expect cars to perform their intended function, so too those in Christ are expected to fulfill God’s calling for them to do good works (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:11), proclaim God’s virtues (1 Peter 2:9), promote the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1,3) and whatever else conforms to God’s holy ways (1 Thessalonians 4:1-7).
Once a vehicle rolls off the assembly line, it can either fulfill its purpose or sit idly and rust away. Similarly once we have been raised up with Christ to a new life, either we can embark in living for God or continue to live for self.
Yes, we will never be worthy of entering salvation. Once God has remade us, let’s seek to fulfill our function with our short time under the sun.