44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.
45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.
46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.
47 “For so the Lord has commanded us:
‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'”
48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
There are days when I don’t feel as if I deserve the salvation that the Lord has brought to me. On those days, knowing how much I still struggle to throw off the old man and put on the new, I wonder why He would ever feel any of us worthy to receive eternal life through Jesus Christ. But my feelings of unworthiness are fleeting, and as I bask in the love of the Lord our God, I realize that it is because He loves me and pities me in my wretched state that He chooses to show mercy and grace. Even today, as I listen to the sounds of late summer twilight just before dawn, I feel His love and mercy flowing over me. I hear the sounds of Creation, and I am aware that He has not abandoned this world to its own pitiable fate, but He has instead sent salvation and light into the world. I am worthy in His eyes, and that is enough. Why should I fight against that? Why should I try to find some other way to make myself worthy when He has already told me I am?
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
A gift of God? I can live with that. Or, more to the point, I shall live because of that gift.
Why then did the Jews of Antioch reject this gift of God’s grace? Paul tells us that it was because they judged themselves “unworthy of everlasting life.” They remind me of myself: judging myself before I have ever been judged by God. Worse yet, the Jews of the time were so caught up in living by esoteric, manmade rules and traditions that they had lost sight of the grace and mercy of the Lord. True judgment belongs to the Lord, not to men, and yet they judged themselves and each other by how closely they cleaved unto the laws of their teachers and scribes. And because no man was truly capable of keeping all those laws, no man was ever judged truly worthy of the Lord’s salvation. They had long before broken the covenant of the Lord (Jeremiah 31:32), and so in Jesus’ day they felt they needed to make themselves righteous by, as Jesus put it, attempting to “cleanse the outside of the cup and dish.” (Matthew 23:25) The Jews had wed themselves to traditions rather than to the Word of God, bound their hearts to works rather than opening their hearts to grace.
5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.
The Jews were blinded by their own works, blinded by their traditions and manmade laws. In their blindness, they could not see their own worth in God’s eyes, could not see that they were His chosen people. They forgot that He had set them aside for Himself from all the peoples of the world. All their works amounted to nothing so long as they continued to judge themselves unworthy of the Lord.
On my worst days, that is when I have to remind myself that God loves me and chooses to save me DESPITE my seeming unworthiness. He has elected some to see His salvation, chosen many to have open eyes and open hearts. He has selected a remnant who love and fear Him even in the midst of their struggle to repent. We believe because God Himself has appointed us to believe, and we are worthy because God has made us worthy. He has made us worthy not through any laws or esoteric traditions, but through the blood of Jesus Christ. Through Christ we are sanctified and redeemed from our sinful lives, washed in the precious blood of the Lamb of God. Because of Jesus, we stand before God looking as worthy as His Son, and it is that image of the Son that we are to bear throughout the rest of our lives. Therefore, let us be glad and glorify the Word of the Lord, knowing that, because of our adoption as sons and daughters in Christ, we truly are WORTHY of everlasting life.