A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Chad challenging something I said in a sermon about unity from Romans 15. I made a comment in the talk mentioning people’s righteous works being like filthy rags quoting Isaiah 64:6 in the context that our works don’t save us, only the blood of Jesus. I’d like to share his carefully worded thoughts.
[Pastor Jim] “I didn’t catch if that was a reference to people before becoming Christians or after. It’s very popular for Christians to say that about our good works as believers, sighting Isaiah 64:6. I have heard it said more than once in the bible studies I lead. “
“However, when applied that way, I do believe it is a verse taken very much out of context. What I think Isaiah is coming against is the religious grandstanding of the nation of Israel. Being people who treat others in a multitude of unkind, unloving ways, and yet keeping up with the outward rituals of the Jewish temple system, thinking because they are doing those things, that they are righteous in Gods eyes. Isaiah is saying, your performing of the ritual laws is abhorrent to God because you’re neglecting the weightier matters of the law so to speak (Isaiah 1:10-17; Matthew 23:23). “
“Where I take exception to your words is, I believe the Bible teaches that the good works of Gods people are beautiful. For example, Acts 9:36 says that Tabitha was full of good works and charitable deeds. The verse would change drastically if we inserted “filthy rags” in there instead.”
“Paul talks a lot in the pastoral epistles about how good and profitable good works are. Hebrews 11:5 mentions Enoch, how he pleased God. How did he do that? Through faith. Faith isn’t just a mental belief, it’s action. Those actions that are motivated by our faith in God are very pleasing to God. The rest of Hebrews 11 catalogs all of these great things (not filthy rags) Gods people did through faith.”
“In Revelation 19:8 we read of the church being arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, which is the righteous acts of the saints. Again, far from filthy rags.”
“There are so many more verses that could be brought in here to make the same point. So again, in my mind, the righteous acts of the saints being filthy rags in Gods eyes is a total misunderstanding of Isaiah 64:6.”
“Obviously, like I said, maybe you were referring to unbelievers when you said that in your sermon, not believers. Either way, you have now just experienced the blessedness of knowing how I feel about it. 😊 “
Chad brings up a bit of a dilemma. Our works are like filthy rags if they are not done for the glory of God. This is the concept James 2:12-26 covers with the idea that faith without works is dead and works not done in faith are not done with the right motivation.
So as Christ -followers we have the privilege and the responsibility to by faith do works for the glory of God, and when we serve with this purpose, our works are beautiful, pure, and a sweet offering of praise to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.