How to ‘Deserve’ God’s Help

Jul 8, 2024 | Christian Teaching

By: Dr Eliezer Gonzalez

It’s easy to think that God helps those people who most deserve his help.

People try to deserve God’s help and blessings in many ways, including by being good people, giving more to charities, or doing more religious things like praying and reading their Bibles more.

I once had someone tell me that God will only help you if you’ve done everything you can do to help yourself. Based on that logic, if you aren’t being blessed by God, it’s because you still haven’t done enough yourself. Is that how it works?

A Common Misunderstanding of God

The Jewish religious leaders in the time of Jesus were very interested in receiving God’s blessings, and they had some very definite views about how to deserve God’s help. We see their reasoning in the story of a Roman officer who had a sick servant, and the officer sent some Jewish leaders to ask Jesus to come and heal his servant. The story goes like this:

“At that time the highly valued slave of a Roman officerwas sick and near death. When the officer heard about Jesus, he sent some respected Jewish elders to ask him to come and heal his slave. So they earnestly begged Jesus to help the man. “If anyone deserves your help, he does,” they said,“for he loves the Jewish people and even built a synagogue for us.” (Luke 7:2-5, NLT)

This Roman officer must have been an extraordinary man! For the Jewish elders to have heaped such praise upon him would have been extremely unusual in a context in which the brutal Roman occupiers were otherwise universally hated.

The Jewish elders describe this Roman officer as someone who loves the Jewish people. In a culture in which the Jewish faith was so defining of the Jewish people, this means that the Roman officer had at least gone part of the way towards conversion to Judaism. The fact that he had built a synagogue for the Jewish people probably demonstrated his appreciation of the Jewish faith.

The Jewish people believed that the blessings of God were for the Jews, however, if any Gentile was worthy of being blessed by God, this Roman officer would surely have been among them. In their view, he deserved Jesus’ help. He had demonstrated his worthiness through his works. He had even built a synagogue for them. This was in line with what the people commonly believed back then, that you had to deserve God’s help.

The Way to Receive God’s Help is Not What We Expect

The story continues:

“So Jesus went with them. But just before they arrived at the house, the officer sent some friends to say, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor.I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.” (Luke 7:6-8)

Notice that the Roman officer sends a message to Jesus to tell him, “I’m not worthy.” He thought he needed to deserve God’s help. It’s additionally possible that the Roman officer didn’t want Jesus to enter his house because he didn’t want to make Jesus transgress the Jewish rule that Jews were not allowed into the houses of Gentiles.

Whatever the reason, the Roman officer appealed to Jesus’ authority through the power of his word. In saying this, he revealed that he understood more about Jesus and who he was than Jesus’ fellow Jews.

God Helps the Unworthy

The story continues:

“When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to the crowd that was following him, he said, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” And when the officer’s friends returned to his house, they found the slave completely healed.” (Luke 7:9–10)

Why was Jesus so amazed when he heard the message of the Roman officer? It was because this Gentile man had understood what God’s own people had not: that the way to receive God’s help is the opposite of what religion taught. Religion taught that God helped the worthy. But Jesus teaches us that God helps the unworthy.

The reason for this is straightforward: it is because there is no one who is ultimately worthy of God. No one is good enough to deserve God’s help. That’s why there is only ever one reason God helps you: because he loves you. And if you are willing to accept his love and help, you will always receive it.