Ridiculous question, right? Of course not. The cross assumes our unworthiness. He died even for the worst of sinners. But maybe there’s a disconnect between what we say we believe and what we truly, functionally believe. According to Luther, we find out what we really believe about this question when we’re in the midst of conviction of sin:
“I have often proven by experience, and I continue to find out every day, how hard it is to believe, especially during conflicts of conscience, that Christ was given not for the holy, righteous, worthy, and those who were his friends, but for wicked sinners, for the unworthy, and for his enemies who deserved God’s wrath and everlasting death” (Luther, Galatians, 40).
“We know these things well enough as far as the words are concerned, and we can talk about them. But in practice and in the conflict…we find that we do not yet know them as well as we should” (Luther, Galatians, 42).
I suppose a good diagnostic question that Luther might ask us to find out what we really believe about the gospel is this: Do you stay discouraged and defeated after you sin, or does your conviction of sin drive you to go to Christ and rejoice in his forgiveness?
When we’re convicted we often keep our distance from God, thinking that his wrath is on us and his love is removed. Therefore, we don’t go to him in prayer, we don’t rest in the gospel, and we don’t truly believe we’re forgiven when we ask for it. Instead, we wait until we’ve been cleaned up a bit, do some good things, get our attitude in the right place, and get the failure out of our lives. Then we go to him, ask for forgiveness, and are truly able to rest in it.
What’s going on there? I’m believing that Christ only died for ‘worthy sinners’. Since I am an unworthy sinner when I grievously sin, I feel that I need to wait until I’m cleaned up. I wait until I’m a ‘worthy sinner’ in order to come back to him and ask for forgiveness and really believe it. Even in the midst of my failure, I still cling to some shred of goodness for my acceptance before God.
If this is true of my heart, then this means that even when I’m at my worst, I’m worse than I thought. Even when I’m wallowing in the aftermath of sin and conviction, I don’t even believe the gospel as much as I think I do. Our theology says that it’s heresy to think that Jesus only died for ‘worthy sinners,’ but our hearts say it’s true.
This all probably makes you feel like an unworthy sinner, huh? Then take heart! You’re the kind of person Jesus died for. Let’s not stay discouraged here. That will only repeat the cycle. Yes, we’re sinners. Yes, we’re worse than we think. Yes, we believe heresy in our hearts. Yes, we functionally believe that Jesus’ death only counts for us if we’re worthy sinners. … And Jesus died for all these sins, too.