Preachers quote Isaiah 64:6,
“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
For the person who has not yet been born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, these words are absolutely true and applicable, just as they were for the people of Israel to whom Isaiah was prophesying. As Romans 8:8 declares, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God”.
However, I have on occasion heard these same words applied not only to the unregenerate, but also to the Christian, as though God was STILL DISGUSTED with our works even after salvation. I believe this to be at best bad theology, and at worst an insult to the finished work of Christ on the Cross. As Paul continues in Romans 8:9 (speaking to Christians), “You however, are NOT in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.”
The New Testament clearly states that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW CREATION. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.” 2Corinthians 5:17. It also states in Ephesians 2:10 that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for GOOD WORKS, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” In 2Timothy 2:21, Paul says “if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” Revelation 19:8 says “the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints”. I could go on and on, but you get the point.
I don’t know why someone would say otherwise. I suppose it could be an attempt at false humility. But what it does, perhaps unintentionally, is to diminish the work and saving power of Christ on the Cross. If there is no difference between a Christian and a non-Christian except for his ultimate destination (heaven or hell), then Christ’s death and resurrection is of no effect whatsoever in this life, and we might as well go back under the Law because that will be the best and only way to curb the power of our continuing unbridled wickedness. This of course is UTTERLY CONTRARY to the teaching of the New Testament.
If I think that my attempts at doing good as a believer are considered filthy rags by God, then it stands to reason that I wouldn’t bother making any such attempts at doing good lest I offend the Lord with an offering of filthy rags. Such a teaching would be likely to lead to the sad result that James addresses in chapter 2 of his epistle, where Christians were doing NOTHING and yet were confident of their salvation “by faith”. As James points out, this thinking is total error. God saved us for a reason — so that we could BEAR FRUIT for Him (Romans 7:4, John 15:16).
Ephesians 5:10 encourages us to “try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord”. If all our righteous deeds are STILL filthy rags even after we are born again, then NOTHING pleases the Lord and this would be a fools errand.
Satan is the father of lies. It would seem to me that he would WANT blood-bought Christians to languish under a false teaching that there is nothing they can do in their physical bodies that is pleasing to the Lord. Thus he would keep them from glorifying God by bearing fruit and from accumulating the treasures in heaven that He longs to lavish upon His children.
Yes we WERE wretches — B.C. Yes we WERE the walking dead — B.C. As Paul says in 1Corinthians 6:11 “Such WERE some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God”. The Cross changes EVERYTHING!
Of course as believers in Christ we are still CAPABLE of sinning and displeasing the Lord, and will likely continue to do so (hopefully less and less) as we go through His process of sanctification and are conformed into the image of His Son and transformed by the renewing of our minds from one degree of glory to another. And there is always forgiveness available to us as we remain by faith in His grace. But make no mistake, SIN is not plan A for the Christian and 1Corinthians 10:13 promises that God will provide the way of escape from every temptation, if we will but take it. The apostle John writes in 1John 2:1 “Little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
Let us never buy into any lie that says Jesus’ death and resurrection is insufficient to make us and our Spirit-led deeds acceptable to God. Let us never consent willingly to live beneath the standard of priestly holiness that the Lord Jesus Christ has purchased for us and bestowed upon us. Let us never make so-called scriptural excuses for our sin, but rather run to Him in repentance and receive His forgiveness. Let us remember, as Psalm 11:7 says, “The Lord is righteous; He loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold His face.”