In my work as a therapist and relationship coach I consistently encounter one fundamental issue that creates so many problems and so much pain for so many persons. From the day we are born each of us asks a life-determining question: Am I valuable enough that you will be there for me and that you care? If we are fortunate to have loving parents committed to our wellbeing, we experience the security of knowing we are highly valued. No parent will do this perfectly, and many will fall far short of consistently communicating this essential message. Some parents will send the opposite message that we are not valuable, as they were not there for us at crucial moments, and we came to believe they really didn’t care. Some of us lost our parents to death, divorce or a variety of disabilities so that they were physically present, but not emotionally there for us. Most of us, to some degree, question just how much worth and value we have.
This is compounded in that we live in a world at war with God. We are sinners in a fallen world. One definition of sin is falling short of the mark. God has a standard (Be perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect, Matthew 5:48) we cannot attain, and instinctively we know this and struggle with feeling inadequate. Sinful choices break relationships (seen from the moment our first parents sinned in the Garden and out of shame ended up hiding from God and accusing each other), and we struggle with feeling unlovable. These insecurities cause us to question our value or worth, and too often this world answers that question – no, we have no value or worth. The pain of feeling devalued drives just about every poor choice and hurtful act we do.
In recent years a number of orphans from other countries were adopted by American families. Some of these orphans grew up in a world that considered them throw-away kids. They never once heard that fundamental question: Will you be there for me and do you care? answered, yes. Their life experience tells them they can count on no one and no one can be trusted. Many develop Reactive Attachment Disorder, a very difficult and hard to treat disorder. Such children are angry, resentful and mistrusting with lots of acting out behaviors. Parenting a RAD kid is extremely challenging and not always successful. RAD kids can represent severe consequences of living in a devaluing world.
These RAD kids highlight that many people operate similarly. They function in this uncertain life as if they are orphans. They received inadequate validation of their value and worth, and they spend their lives looking for it. They believe their worth and value has to be validated by what they accomplish and by others acknowledging how important they are. Massive insecurities accompany such a view of self. Such a person’s sense of value and wellbeing, therefore, is externally determined. I feel good about myself when circumstances are favorable, my efforts are rewarded with expected outcomes, and affirming people . When I run into adverse circumstances, less than expected outcomes and uncaring people, my wellbeing and sense of worth plummets. I struggle with feeling inadequate and unlovable.
As a result, resentments build. This world and its people treat us in ways that cause us to feel devalued. Resentments build because deep down we know we are valuable enough to be treated better. This instinctive resentment flares up in angry protests because we know we deserve to be treated as people with worth and value. Strong emotions, such as anger, function as the guardians of our deepest values. When our sense of value and worth is threatened we strongly respond, usually in anger. The anger is understandable. The actions motivated by that anger are often hurtful, to others and to ourselves. Those closest to us tend to be the objects of our anger. They need us to consistently communicate in words and deeds that we are there for them and that we care. Tripped up by these emotions, we send the opposite message: I am not there for you, because what I care about most is my hurt, not yours. Those who count on us most can’t, at least not all of the time. They need a faithful partner and we often fall short.
In a devaluing world filled with insecure people, we need a source from which we can be secure in our worth and value, no matter how adverse the outcomes or how hurtful others can be. In Malachi 3 God indicts Israel for not trusting him with their wealth and becoming cynical about living in God honoring ways. They hold back from giving God and his priests the full tithe. They are more concerned in possessing treasure, thinking wealth will give them worth and value. In contrast, God speaks to those that feared the Lord and honored his name and calls them his treasured possession. “They shall be mine,” says the Lord of Hosts, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.” The antidote to the insecurity of wondering about our worth and value comes from not possessing this world’s treasure. The antidote comes from knowing and embracing the truth that we are God’s treasured possession. Value comes not from what we accomplish or acquire, or the acclaim we receive – not what we have, but from whose we are. It’s knowing we are not orphans, but that we are greatly valued sons and daughters.
These themes are echoed in Ephesians 1: 1-14. This letter is written to Christians that Paul describes as saints who are…faithful in Christ Jesus. Saints means set apart for God – his possession. Faithful here can mean dependable, those who consistently are there for Jesus and each other. One way of looking at the book of Ephesians is as insights and instructions as how to live faithful in Christ Jesus. The initial truth here is that we can be faithful when we understand that we are God’s treasured possession. We are valued by God, not because we are faithful, we can be faithful once we know we are valued. Paul goes on to elaborate this when he next speaks of God blessing us with every spiritual blessing, verse 3. In the verses that follow the heart of that blessing is recognizing how much God values us based on how much he has done for us and wants to do in us.
Verses 4 and 5, he chose us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. We are God’s possession because he chose us. We are his sons because he adopted us. Adoption is always a free choice. The orphan has no claim on the couple that wants to adopt him or her. Without the free choice of the adopting couple, this child will never have a family, never belong. The same is true with the Heavenly Father. We have no claim on his love, nothing praiseworthy that would motivate him to choose us. Indeed, in our sinful choices we choose to reject him, want nothing to do with him. Isaiah 53: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; a phrase later this is called iniquity. What is so exceptional about God’s choice of us is that it was made before the foundation of the world, before we were created, before we had any chance to do anything to warrant his choice, or anything to disqualify us. Another way of looking at this is that God knew exactly who we would be and all the good and bad choices we would make in this life, and he still chose us. Adoption works like that. The couple decides to adopt, step one, and then as opportunity permits chose a child without knowing who that child will become. God in eternity decided to choose for himself a people to be his treasured possession. He chose knowing everything sinful we would do, but not concerned, because he trusted his ability to work with us to make us holy and blameless in his sight. Just as the parents of an adopted child greatly value that child and delight to have that baby in their family, so God greatly values us and delights to have us in his family. His choice to adopt can mean nothing less.
Second, we know we are of infinite value to God because he was willing to pay an infinitely high cost so that we could be adopted. Foreign adoptions are quite costly. Couples will pay tens of thousands of dollars to secure a child to adopt. They must believe that their child is worth this cost. We are profoundly and powerfully blessed in Christ, here called the Father’s Beloved, verse 6; verse 7, because in Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. To redeem something is to pay a price for it. That price was the death of Jesus on the Cross. God himself paid the cost of our adoption, and no higher price could be paid. I have frequently said, that if we have any doubt about our value to our Heavenly Father, look at the Cross of Christ. We can be forgiven from turning away from him, rejecting his love because the Father gave up the Son he supremely loves. His Son died the death we deserved. That price is never clearer than when Jesus cried in anguish from his Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The higher the cost, the higher the value of the thing purchased. Does our Heavenly Father care? Are we important to him? How greatly does he want us to be with him in loving, intimate connection? Look at the Cross and the One dying there. Any doubts we may have as to our value to God are once and for all time, stilled.
Third, we know we are highly valued when we see we have a unique place by the will of God aligned with the purposes of God. Verses 9 and 10 indicate that it is God’s purpose in Christ to bring all things (including us) together under Christ’s headship. We are predestined and chosen, verse 11 states, to conform us to the purpose of his will. This is repeatedly described as us able to praise his glory. God values us through creating us in his image. He values us by adopting us into his family. He values us seen in the price of our redemption. And he values the place we uniquely play in his eternal purposes.
2 Thessalonians 11, 12 declare that we can, by God’s power in us, fulfill these purposes in this earthly life by which he is glorified in us and we in him. This practically works itself out by each of us, in our earthly walk (Ephesians 2:10), becoming all he created us to be, or at least as close to his divine design as we can. My conviction is that we can praise God no better, nor glorify him more powerfully, than becoming all he created us to be, from which we can do all that he has called us to do. What is so incredible about this is that we can fulfill God’s purposes, uniquely, and in ways no one else ever created could. That is why each of us is a carefully crafted masterpiece of a divine artist, different from every other carefully crafted masterpiece.
- S. Lewis (The Problem of Pain) comments on this with a focus on God’s ultimate goal in crafting each of us unique and distinct from every other person ever created. Lewis writes:
But it is also said (in Revelation) To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. What can be more a man’s own than this new name which even in eternity remains a secret between God and him? And what shall we take this secrecy to mean? Surely, that each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the Divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that God loving all infinitely, should love each differently? And this difference, so far from impairing, floods with meaning the love of all blessed creatures for one another. If all experienced God in the same way and returned Him an identical worship, the song of the Church triumphant would have no symphony, it would be like an orchestra in which all the instruments played the same note…. Heaven is a city, and a body, because the blessed remain eternally different: a society, because each has something to tell all the others – fresh and ever fresh news of the “My God” whom each finds in Him whom all praise as “Our God”. For doubtless the continually successful, yet never complete, attempt by each soul to communicate its unique vision to all others (and by that means whereof earthly art and philosophy are but clumsy imitations) is also among the ends for which the individual was created.
This unique purpose contained in our distinctive crafting by our Divine Artist/Creator elevates our value far beyond the measures of this earthly life. No other person can replicate our unique value, as a distinct instrument to eternally praise our God. The sum total of the praise eternally given to our God would be lessened without each of our unique worship contribution. In this life and the next each of us have a unique place in the eternal purposes of God.
The incredible truth here is that we create value. We are not only valued by God, but God purposes us to add value to his creation. This only stands to reason. Our God is a creative God. We are fashioned in his image, so we share his ability to be creative. In doing so, we add value to life. Lewis spoke of this when he mentioned each soul communicating its unique vision to all others, in this life through artistic media, and in eternity through heavenly worship. We add value to our lives in each relationship in which we invest ourselves, be it a conversation with a stranger on an airline flight, or with the person we choose to share our lives with and build a family. We add value when we use our God-given talents, gifts and training in our vocations and in the ministries to which he calls us. God chose to create us, to adopt us into his forever family through his Son because he highly values us, and he values our ability to add value to his creation. God’s goal in all of this is that we might be for the praise of his glory.
Finally, we know we are highly valued in that our God promises us a guaranteed inheritance, verses 13 and 14. The final goal of parenting is to leave a good inheritance to their children. These inheritances are the fruit of all those parents invested in and accomplished in their lives that they want to pass on to their children. An inheritance can be in the form of wealth, but it also can be godly character, wisdom, and skills passed to that child as the parent shapes the child’s life over the years. The major and final goal in all the striving we do in our lives is to leave something of ourselves to our children.
This is also God’s goal in all his strivings to accomplish our salvation. In his case we actually become like him. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in this life to make us more and more like Jesus. That work will be imperfectly done in this life. It will be perfectly completed when, after death, we are glorified in his presence. 1 John 3: 2 declares: Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Our inheritance in Christ is to finally become like Christ. Ephesians 1 tells us we can believe this is true because we are (verse 13) marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. The present ministry of the Holy Spirit in each Christian now, assures us that our ultimate glorification will happen.
Do you see how highly we are valued by our Heavenly Father? He values us so much that he wants to pass on to us and reproduce in us the very best of who he is, his moral character. Everything God did from the moment Adam and Eve fell in that garden. All his careful, long suffering work over Israel as chronicled in the Old Testament preparing for Jesus Christ had this as the goal. His final act of redemption in Christ, all his work by his Spirit in his church since Pentecost has the goal of glorifying us so that we become like Jesus. A few verses later in Ephesians Paul speaks of the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, we he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead as seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms (1: 18-20). Why did God do this? Verse 1: 22, for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Even more astounding is where our inheritance locates us. Ephesians 2: 6, 7: And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 1: 10 tells us that God’s purpose in Christ, put into effect when the times have reached their fulfillment, is to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In the fulfillment of the ages, we are like Christ, seated with Christ (verse 1: 21) far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. In this respect our value is tied to our destiny. No greater destiny exists, no greater value can be given.
In this devaluing world, we can easily lose sight of these glorious truths of how much value God sees in us and gives to us. That value is all summed up in 1: 14 in the redemption of those who are God’s possession. Contained in these few words are God’s choice to adopt us into his family, God’s act of saving us – redeeming us by Christ’s shed blood on the Cross, the purposes of his will to make us to be to praise his glory, and our guaranteed inheritance whereby we become like Jesus seated in the heavenly realms with Jesus. Our value comes not from possessing treasure, but by knowing we are God’s treasured possession. What counts is not what we have, but whose we are.
Our job is not to lose sight of all this. Verse 1: 13 says: And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. We have heard the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation. Our job is to get up each morning in a devaluing world, and believe how much we are valued by our Heavenly Father. For that to happen we need to imprint in our memory God’s truths as contained in the Scriptures. There is no substitute for time spent each day in God’s Word. Every time we read a passage from the Bible we are re-patterning our brains, creating new neural pathways that go immediately to our God-given core value, and not to a place of guilt and shame activated by our fears of being inadequate and unlovable. Romans 12 calls this being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Our job is to stop playing the demeaning tapes this devaluing world gave us, and replace them with God’s tapes, the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation.
Copyright 2014 G. Brenton Mock