Like most people I volley between having a ridiculously high opinion of myself and low self-esteem. It depends on the day, and sometimes this back and forth happens all in the same day.
Mainly I focus on my actions to determine my worth. Did I do enough of “X” to warrant feeling good about myself? Did I do too much of “Y” and should I feel bad? I also do a lot of comparing myself to others. Did I do more of “X” than she did? Did I do less of “Y”?
I assume incorrectly that God values me in the same way. Books like James in the Bible resonate with me — a lot of focus on how important my activity is. For example, James 2:14 says, “What good is it brothers, and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” And the story of the rich young ruler in the book of Mark gives me some hope (albeit false) because it tells me what I can do to inherit eternal life.
I try to make sure I do more of the good stuff and less of the bad, hoping that God will give me a pass for at least trying..
Then I read a verse like John 6:28-29 and I kind of hesitate:
Then they asked him, What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered, The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
Someone is asking “what do I have to do?” And Jesus says “believe.” But even that I can turn into an action: “How do I prove to you, God, that I believe enough?
The good works we do are supposed to be out of an overflow of the Holy Spirit. But I think many of mine are self-generated, trying to demonstrate (to myself, God, or others) that I have enough belief.
So much of our lives is measured on a scale: accomplishing a certain outcome at work, making a specific amount of money, achieving a particular weight. And we start to assume that God measures our faith in the same way – outcomes, achievements, earnings.
And I’m not the only person who is noticing this. Mark Galli of Christianity Today wrote:
It is understandable why we're tempted to shift the message of grace to a form of works. The radical grace outlined in Romans
and Galatians seems too good to be true. It's hard to fathom that while we were sinners Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8), or that, before we had done anything, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Before we had created the doctrine of salvation to believe in. Before we had enjoyed any religious experience. Before we had reformed our lives.
I’m not sure how to believe in the grace of Christ enough to just believe, without having to add all my own actions to prove my belief. Is this a struggle we can ever be free from?