Another helpful article from Counselor Rick Thomas. I stumbled upon him a few months ago while searching the net. Worth following if you do not.
She keeps saying, “I’m not good enough; I wish I was better.”
Over and over again, like a mantra:
“I am not good enough; I wish I was better. I am so unworthy. I have done so many horrible things. How could Christ love me?”
Do you hear what she is saying?
Do you see the problem with her theology?
Let me interpret her statements through a theological filter:
“I am a bad person. I am so bad God cannot possibly love me. If I was not so bad, then maybe God would love me. I need to be a better person. I need to make myself more presentable than what I am so God will love me.”
What I have described here is Kathy’s true functional theology.
Granted, she has an intellectual theology that says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
That is what she knows, but that is not what she is practically trusting in when it matters most. It is hard sometimes for people to distinguish between what they know (Bible truth) and what they are authentically trusting–their functional theology.
I’m okay. You’re okay.
A couple of months ago I was talking with a friend [Shari], a drug addict. She tried her best to convince me she was a good person. She actually said, “I am a good person.” Her hope was when we ended our conversation I would walk away thinking she was a good person.
People like this are needy. She needs other people to agree with her self-imposed high self-estimation of herself. This is also called high self-esteem. In order to maintain her delusion, she needs me to agree with her. It could go like this:
Please love me the way I love me so I can maintain this love I have for myself. If you love me, then I will feel good. If you don’t love me, I will feel bad. I need you to love me. Will you love me? If you don’t, I will be forced to find someone else to love me because I need people to love me in order for me to feel good about myself.
I chose not to tell her what I was thinking in the moment. It did not seem appropriate to me or helpful for Shari to begin teaching her sound theology, especially the Doctrine of Salvation, Man and Sin. She was not ready to receive the testimony of Scripture:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. – 1 Timothy 1:15 (ESV)
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. – Romans 3:10-12 (ESV)
Shari does not want to wrestle with the realities of her wretchedness. In her mind she wants to think of herself as better than what the testimony of Scriptures says she is and what Christians throughout church history have believed.
If only she could convince me of her goodness, then it would be okay–she would feel better about herself. My acceptance of her goodness would doubly affirm her delusional I’m okay, you’re okay fixation. This is the damnableness of our culture’s self-esteem teaching.
Read my article Loving Me–the hidden agenda of self-esteem
The culture teaches nobody can be wrong. Nobody can lose. They say it is damaging to our self-esteem if we think we are bad people. It is bad to our high self-esteem to think less of ourselves. And the Bible appeals to us to think less of ourselves, which is the only way to be truly free.
The Savior is looking for bad people
Both Kathy and Shari do not want to think this way. They do not want to be unworthy. One (Kathy) is a Christian and one (Shari) is not a Christian, but they both struggle similarly. They are self-righteousness–a greater than/better than wannabe attitude.
In order for them to change, it will be important for them to accept the fact they are wretchedly unworthy of God’s favor. There is no other way for them to receive His unearned, unmerited grace for their lives.
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. – Mark 2:17 (ESV)
The problem with Kathy and Shari is they have a high view of themselves (self-righteousness) and it discourages them to think they are not as good as they try to deceive themselves (and others) into believing.
Have you ever expected to get a good grade, only to get a bad one? In a sense, that is what Kathy and Shari fear. They so badly want to get a good grade, but they keep failing and their unwillingness to embrace the reality of being an utter failure distresses them.
Thus, they have removed themselves from the testimony of Scriptures, while developing a functional theology that holds them to a higher standing than what the Bible does. They persist in convincing themselves of their higher grade of worthiness, though the reality of their lives is not cooperating.
They also will try to convince you they are “good” people and deserve better than what they are getting. This is a trap you will need to walk them through if they are to have any hope of being free from themselves and free from needing others.
Kathy thinks she would feel better if she could make herself not so bad. However, when she sees who she really is, she is discouraged. Shari is similar to Kathy. When she surveys the landscape of her life, she becomes discouraged too.
Rather than wallowing in the grips of depression, she turns to drugs as a “pick me up” or as a way of elevating herself in her mind. Because Kathy is a Christian, she can’t turn to such “ungodly” escapes.
Therefore, she puts herself through the cycles of self-pity and despair. In the end, both of them are addicts. One is addicted to illegal drugs and the other is “addicted” to self-pity. Neither one of them are able to lift themselves by their own boot straps, so they turn to their drugs of choice.
The cure for unworthiness is to embrace your unworthiness
Both of these ladies need to come to terms with their unworthiness before God. They are putrid through and through. They are the worst of the worst, the lowest of the low.
When you read the paragraph above, does your mind begin to think about the victory you have in Christ or how horrible and damaging that kind of thinking must be? The Gospel-centered person reads the paragraph above and quickly indexes forward to the victory he has in Christ.
He does not see the testimony of unworthiness as depressing, but a necessary step in getting to Christ. The self-righteous person will spurn the thought of being unworthy, while touting their personal strengths and accolades.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. – Isaiah 64:6 (ESV)
For Kathy and Shari, the real and biblical way up is not to climb out of their human depravity by their own strength, in order to feel better about themselves. Their answer is to shout, Amen, I am a bad person and I cannot fix myself.
And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood… – Ezekiel 16:6 (ESV)
Without question, you and I were pitifully guilty. We were standing in God’s courtroom condemned and awaiting sentencing. There was no doubt we were responsible for the greatest crime ever committed. We sinned against God.
The evidence was irrefutable. Our mouths were stopped before God and there was not a thing we could do to extricate ourselves from what we were accused of doing. Though we may have wanted to think better about ourselves, so we could feel better about ourselves, there was no argument we could proffer.
God, the Prosecuting Attorney, made the evidence plain, convincing, and beyond any shadow of doubt. We were guilty before our Maker and we were at His mercy. Self-salvation was not an option.
God the Justifier
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus… – Romans 3:21-24 (ESV)
In the depths of our despair and unworthiness, we learned about the most incredible news ever told. The Gospel story came into our view. We saw Calvary. There is only one answer for unworthy people: we are appealed to embrace the worthiness of Another. The sick and helpless cry out to the Physician.
Kathy is a believer who needs to reacquaint herself with the Gospel. She needs to understand what the Doctrine of Justification really means. God, the Judge, slammed His gavel down and said, “Not guilty!”
That was it. It was finished. She was legally declared not guilty by the Judge of the universe. She was a free woman when Christ took her unrighteousness and gave her His righteousness.
There was nothing else for Kathy to do and there never will be anything else for her to do. She has been declared innocent by God Almighty, not because she conjured up some kind of merit that won God over to her side. To the contrary. Christ “won the Father over” through His sacrificial death on Kathy’s behalf.
It was the works of Christ that persuaded the Father to accept Kathy as His dear daughter.
Shari needs to be acquainted with the Gospel in a salvific way. She must be born again (John 3:7). She needs to hear and embrace the good news about the Savior’s atoning death.
She needs to believe His death was for her and she can only be the good person she currently deceives herself to be through Christ alone. Her goodness must be found in the works of Christ rather than her own.
When justification and sanctification are flipped
Both Kathy and Shari have flipped justification and sanctification in their thinking and practice. According to sound theological teaching, justification always precedes sanctification and is not dependent on sanctification.
According to Kathy’s and Shari’s functional theology, they believe that sanctification precedes justification and their sanctification (good works and behaviors) is what makes them right with God. In short, if they can work enough or do the right things, then they will be acceptable, or justified.
They would say it this way: “I would feel better about myself.”
Kathy will try to argue with you because she is a Christian and she understands, to a degree, Ephesians 2:8-9. You will have to carefully walk her through how she functionally practices her theology, which is contrary to the Bible and what she may know intellectually.
She embraces a form of legalism: a person who feels good about herself because of what she does. Your goal would be to help her see three things:
- Her on-going self-pity about her badness is wrongheaded.
- She must accept her badness in order to see her true need for the One who is perfectly good.
- Once she can repent of her self-imposed-righteousness (or high self-esteem), she will be able to receive God’s unearned mercy.
…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy… – 1 Timothy 1:15-16 (ESV)
Some people believe if you talk about your badness, you are sin-centered and there is no grace in your life. That is true if you only talk about your sin. I would agree: you are sin-centered and strictly sin-centered thinking and talking mocks Calvary.
In the text above, Paul had no qualms about announcing to the world, at the end of his life, he was the chief of sinners. But he did not stop at this badness. Yes, he was the worst of the worst and bad to the bone, but he also tells us God showed mercy to him.
Jerry Bridges said in one of his books, and I paraphrase, a diamond is most magnificent when placed against a black, velvet backdrop. So true. The more you are aware of your badness and hopeless ability to repair your wretchedness, the more you will be strengthened by the grace of God.
If you are unwilling to accept the testimony of Scripture regarding your badness, you will then limit and truncate the powerful grace God offers to humble, broken, and unworthy people.
- Are you able to understand and embrace your badness?
- Does this propel you to create your own style of goodness or does it propel you to accept the righteousness of Christ alone?
- When you do bad things, are you tempted to “balance the scales” by doing good things?
- Or, when you do bad things, do you run to the only good Person who is able to make it right?
- Did you know your good works do not make you any more saved? And your bad works do not make you any less saved?
You may also want to read The Danger of Trying to Please God