(un)worthy chapter one: a faith approved by Jesus

Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.

Matthew 8:8

If I could tell you how to gain the approval of Jesus, would you be interested in hearing about it? Maybe all sort of flags are going up in your mind, warning you that we cannot earn the approval of Jesus. If that is the case, good. I do not want to suggest that we can earn a spot in heaven. However, I do want to show that Jesus did commend certain people for their faith. It is not about earning anything. It is about responding appropriately to the gospel.

It is risky to state that there is a criterion for determining whether or not Jesus approves of your faith. The proposal I am making is not the only criterion for making an evaluation of your faith. However, it may be a way of discovering a leak in your faith bucket. If you are struggling with daily and repetitive sin, or if you feel like your faith is not growing as the weeks and months go by, you may be helped by discovering the sort of faith Jesus approved of.

First, we need to establish the importance of seeking approval from God rather than from other sources. We do not seek the approval of God automatically. Our faith begins with recognizing that our identity formation has moved from being shaped by the world to being shaped by Jesus.

Let’s start by looking at the centrepiece of Jesus’ preaching ministry, the Sermon on the Mount, and more specifically, the Beatitudes. This introductory section of the Sermon on the Mount presents to the original audience an unfamiliar experience of life in the kingdom of heaven. Life in the kingdom, from the perspective of Jesus, contradicts much of what the first-century Jews, and much of the 21st-century Western world, believes is valuable in life.

Not unlike the first-century Jewish leaders, we place a strong emphasis on personal success. We praise those who accomplish their goals and who win in life. We admire those who we consider successful, those who have made a way to the top.

Jesus turns things around and says that the truly blessed are those who are poor and humble, those who are merciful, and those who seek justice. The truly blessed are those who are persecuted for doing what is right.

As indicated by D.A. Carson in his exegesis on the Sermon on the Mount, the word blessing in Scripture fundamentally means to be approved or to seek approval. We bless God and approve of His worth and majesty. God blesses us and approves of our acceptance by Him through Jesus. We bless others and approve of their place in our life.

When we think about the word bless in this way, we can read the beatitudes in a different light, and understand that the normal experience for those who belong to the kingdom of heaven results in the approval of God:

God approves those who are poor and realize their need for him…God approves those who are humble…God approves those who hunger and thirst for justice…God approves those who are merciful…God approves those whose hearts are pure…God approves those who work for peace…God approves those who are persecuted for doing right. (Matthew 5:3-11, with author’s revisions)

We need to consider, then, who it is we are approved by. Do we seek blessing, or approval, from God, or from the people in our lives? “If God’s blessing means more to us than the approval of loved ones no matter how cherished…then the beatitudes will speak to us very personally and deeply.”

When we cherish the words of Jesus in the Beatitudes, when we sit and meditate on the teachings of Jesus, we will begin to experience an approval—a blessing—unlike any other. We drench ourselves in the teachings of Jesus and our lives are transformed.

Oh, how we are lost when we get our approval from the world. We are like children wandering a crowded market, lost until we find our parents. The hopelessness we feel can begin to set in and become a normal state. We slowly forget that we are lost, and we become slaves to a life of homelessness. But when we get a glimpse of our Father at a distance, there is a hope and a joy that cannot be contained. All other experiences become dim, and all the things we were seeking before seem meaningless. We see our Father and we run toward Him, knowing that in His arms we have complete approval, complete safety.

The beatitudes are there to stir the hearts of those who truly seek God. For those who seek approval from the world and from their own accomplishments, these words will seem foolish. But for those who know their need of God, for those who long for His approval, these words are sweet and satisfying.

We read in Matthew 8:5–13 about a Roman military commander who asked Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus said He would go to his house and heal the servant. But the commander responded that he is not worthy to have Jesus in his own house. Do you know how Jesus responded? He said, “With no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

How does this story inform us about the sort of faith Jesus approves of? As you read through the gospels, how many times do you see Jesus saying this about people’s faith? We will discuss a few other examples in the following chapters, but I can tell you that Jesus remarked approvingly about the faith of very few individuals—and even fewer remarks included such profoundly affirming language.

Jesus seems to be surprised at the faith of this man—as though He cannot believe it took a member of the Roman military to find such incredible faith. What was it in particular that surprised Jesus? What did the Centurion say to impress Jesus?

Think about the process of inviting others to follow Jesus. Or, maybe think about your own response to someone else inviting you to follow Jesus. What is a common response? My experience has been that most people do not understand why they would need to follow Jesus. By default, we do not consider that we need to change anything about who or what we follow. We might have some idea that things are not right in our lives. But normally, we believe that with a little more discipline, more time, more money, more power, and so forth, we may be able to make some improvements in our lives—trying to make right what does not feel right.

We do not think that following Jesus will help us to accomplish any goals in our lives. Who is this Jesus person, anyway, and why is He so great? What’s in it for me? What does Jesus have to offer that I actually want or need?

We think this way because we do not understand the value of Jesus. We have not learned how precious Jesus is, and how badly we need Him. But, this Centurion did. Somehow, the Centurion was told, and he believed, that Jesus was infinitely more valuable and worthy than he was. I am not worthy to have you in my home.

Jesus wants us to consider ourselves to be not worthy of Him. He wants us to see how we are unworthy and how He is worthy. Why?

It is not merely because the Centurion had a low view of himself, but because he had a high view of Jesus. This is not about self-deprecation, or a false humility. This is about forgetting ourselves as we gaze into the glory of Jesus. This is about knowing just how much we need the approval—the blessing—of Jesus.

We need to start with this view of ourselves and of Jesus, because without it, we cannot follow Him. When we think we can do without Jesus, even subconsciously, we follow our own wisdom and we reject Jesus.

Jesus approved of the faith of this Centurion because he considered himself unworthy of having Jesus in his home. We can see from this example what sort of faith Jesus wants us to have. What I will seek to show you in the following chapters is how to begin the process of expanding your view of Jesus, so that you will be able to treasure him more highly.

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