Section 8A .. A Question Of Salvation/Original Sin

003white  Index To Section 8A.. A Question of Salvation       >        Index To Articles on  Original Sin         >        Filthy Rags


Filthy Rags?

Carol Brooks

Completely oblivious to both the the textual and historical context, modern Christians apply Isaiah 64:6 to all of mankind thus making it into a 'proof text' to emphasize how totally depraved all of us are and how our good works count for absolutely nothing -so how come...

Also See Calvinism


Isaiah 64:6 includes the words "all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment". Ignoring both the the textual and historical context, many modern Christians use it as a proof text to emphasize how totally depraved all of us are and how our good works count for absolutely nothing. So how come...

The Bible Speaks of Righteous People And Several People Called on The Lord
God paid Abraham the highest compliment that can be paid to person - He called Abraham His "friend". He also spoke very highly of the character of Noah, David, Daniel and Job and even the Roman centurion Cornelius

So Was Isaiah Talking Through His Hat, Or...
Or was he referring to very a particular group of people in very specific circumstances?

Amos and Isaiah
Both prophets made it very clear that although the people were observing the physical requirements of the Law (the burnt-offerings, meal-offerings etc.), the Lord did not see any real righteousness in them ... their hearts being evil, were far from Him.

A Warning
While Isaiah's words do not have universal application, they certainly sound a warning to us modern Christians.

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6 NASB)

This verse is one of the one of the most misquoted and misapplied passages in Christianity. Completely oblivious to both the the textual and historical context it has long functioned as support for two opposite but equally erroneous doctrines.

    Calvinism uses it to establish the idea that everything the natural man does is wicked - even good deeds. This helps to set up the dogma of "total inability," the engine which drives the entire Calvinist soteriology (the doctrine of salvation)

    The Evangelical uses it to show that good works, obedience, virtue are all useless. This sets the stage for the doctrine of "accepting Christ" through a once-for-all act of faith". [01]

What both parties never seem to take into account is the fact that the Bible itself speaks of righteous people who called on the Lord.The list includes Abraham, Noah, Job, Daniel, David etc.

God Spoke Highly of Several Righteous People
Remember Jesus' words in John 15:14... "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you". An outstanding example of this is found in the Old Testament when God paid Abraham the highest compliment that can be paid to man - He called Abraham His "friend".

But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham My friend,  (Isaiah 41:8 NASB)

 Why? Simply because Abraham was a righteous man who did all God commanded him to do. God also spoke very highly of Noah, David, Daniel and Job and even the Roman centurion Cornelius. (All Emphasis Added)

    even though Noah, Daniel and Job were in its midst, as I live," declares the Lord God, "they could not deliver either their son or their daughter. They would deliver only themselves by their righteousness." (Ezekiel 14:20 NASB)

    But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. (Genesis 6:8-9 NASB)

    As an aside, there may be a little more to quote about Noah than first meets the eye. See Was Noah The Only Righteous Man?

    But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you."  (1 Samuel 13:14 NASB)

    As for you, if you will walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you and will keep My statutes and My ordinances,  (1 Kings 9:4 NASB)

    (To Jeroboam) ... I exalted you from among the people and made you leader over My people Israel, and tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you - yet you have not been like My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only that which was right in My sight; (1 Kings 14:7-8 NASB)

    He said to me, "O Daniel, man of high esteem, understand the words that I am about to tell you and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you." And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. (Daniel 10:11 NASB)

    There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. (Job 1:1 NASB)

    Very apparently God looked favorably on the Gentile Cornelius' good deeds that were certainly not seen as "filthy rags". He sent an angel to tell Cornelius that his "prayers and alms had gone up for a memorial" before Him, and instructed him to send for the apostle Peter. Long story short, Peter too was given a vision and told not to call unclean what God had cleansed. He went with the three men who had been sent to take him to Cornelius' house. Peter not ony preached the Gospel to Cornelius, his household and friends, but the Holy Spirit fell on the group and they were baptized.

      Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." (Acts 10:34, 35)

    However, this does not mean we can rely on our morality or good works for salvation. As soon as Cornelius heard the Gospel he became a follower of Christ, This differentiates him from the many moral people who hear the message of God's mercy, but pay little attention. (Acts 10:34, 35) (See Salvation)

And More Than One Person Called on The Lord
Verse 64:7 says "There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you". However this can not be a universal principle because the Bible tells us that there were many that called on the Lord. Examples from the Old Testament include. (All Emphasis Added)

"For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him?  (Deuteronomy 4:7 NASB)

"I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies. (2 Samuel 22:4 NASB)

Moses and Aaron were among His priests, And Samuel was among those who called on His name; They called upon the Lord and He answered them. He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; They kept His testimonies And the statute that He gave them. (Psalms 99:6-7 NASB)

'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 'You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:12-13 NASB)

Note although the English version of Genesis 4:26 says that at the time of the birth of Seth's son Enosh, men began to call upon the name of the Lord, this may not be an accurate rendering. In fact, there is another distinct possibility - one that paints exactly the opposite picture - that the time of Enosh was the beginning of idolatry -DETAILS

So Was Isaiah Talking Through His Hat, Or... ?So Was Isaiah Talking Through His Hat, Or... ?

Textual Context
Is there any particular reason we ignore the verses immediately preceding this one (and the many other like it) that says God "meets" and champions the cause of the one who waits for Him? Not something He would do if all their righteousness were like filthy rags. (Emphasis Added)

 For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, Nor has the eye seen a God besides You, Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him. You meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness, Who remembers You in Your ways. Behold, You were angry, for we sinned, We continued in them a long time; And shall we be saved? (Isaiah 64:4-5 NASB)

Historical Context
Since Isaiah had to be aware of the numerous Scriptural references to righteous people that God was pleased with, when he said "all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment ... and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away" he had to be referring to a specific group of people. See Context is CRUCIAL

And so he was! The prophet was speaking about apostate Judah. 

This is made clear even if you just read the immediate context

    When You did awesome things which we did not expect, You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence. For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, Nor has the eye seen a God besides You, Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him. You meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness, Who remembers You in Your ways. Behold, You were angry, for we sinned, We continued in them a long time; And shall we be saved? For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on Your name, Who arouses himself to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities. (Isaiah 64:3-7 NASB)

Isaiah, was a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah and was writing at a time of great distress. His prayer, which actually begins in 63:7 cried out to God from the midst of desperate circumstances that seemed out of control. Not only had the northern kingdom of Israel been destroyed by the Assyrians but this warrior nation was threatening to wipe Judah off the face of the map as well.

Speaking on behalf of a backslidden nation, he was pleading for God to come down, all the while recognizing that they only had themselves to blame - their own iniquities had brought this judgment down on them. Isaiah even called Jerusalem a harlot (Vs. 1:21) and said they "display their sin like Sodom" (Vs. 3:9). As verse 5 points out, the people had sinned and been doing so for a very long time.

To top it all, as the next chapter makes clear, they were knee deep in idolatrous practices.

A people who continually provoke Me to My face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on bricks; Who sit among graves and spend the night in secret places; Who eat swine's flesh, And the broth of unclean meat is in their pots. (Isaiah 65:3-4 NASB)

Isaiah did mention "righteous deeds" in verse 64:6 which means all the rituals, prayers, sacrifices, praises, and alms counted for nothing because without true righteousness they were doing nothing but going through the motions - something that God detests. This He made known in no uncertain terms through the prophets Amos and Isaiah .

Amos and Isaiah
Amos and Isaiah prophesied to Israel and Judah respectively - Isaiah following Amos by some 20-30 years.

Amos 8 informs us that they were keeping the Lords festivals with their bodies not with their minds or hearts. They were anxious for the close of the Sabbath so they could not only recommence buying and selling. Sadly they were also crooks who cheated on their weights. By making the bushel smaller, and the shekel bigger they made a bigger profit for a reduced amount of grain. They also bought the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, also sold the refuse of the wheat. In doing so they aroused the ire of the Lord who swore that He would never forget what they were doing

"When will the new moon be over, So that we may sell grain, And the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market, To make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger, And to cheat with dishonest scales, So as to buy the helpless for money And the needy for a pair of sandals, And that we may sell the refuse of the wheat?" The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob, "Indeed, I will never forget any of their deeds. (Amos 8:5-7 NASB)

Through Amos the Lord told the nation of Israel,

"I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. "Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. "Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. "But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24 NASB)

Although the people were observing the physical requirements of the Law (the burnt-offerings, meal-offerings etc.) the Lord did not see any real righteousness in them ... their hearts being evil, were far from Him.

Numerous passages in Isaiah tell us that Judah followed in the footsteps of her sister Israel. For example

His watchmen are blind, All of them know nothing. All of them are mute dogs unable to bark, Dreamers lying down, who love to slumber; And the dogs are greedy, they are not satisfied. And they are shepherds who have no understanding; They have all turned to their own way, each one to his unjust gain, to the last one. (Isaiah 56:10-11 NASB)

In chapter 58, the people ask the Lord why they have fasted and He had not seen. Why they humbled themselves and He had not noticed. The Lord's answer is a well known verse.

"Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. "Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one's head like a reed And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord? "Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke? "Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? "Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58:4-8 NASB)

So the supposed 'righteousness' of traipsing down to the temple to pray and offer sacrifice while oppressing the widow and orphan at the same time, was just as prevalent in Judah as it was in Israel, and brought nothing but God's contempt and anger. The people were so deluded that they believed themselves to be righteous even though they also burned incense and offered sacrifices on strange altars. (Vs. 65:3-4)

In other words, this sham righteousness, apparently widespread in that day, is what Isaiah called "filthy rags". He was addressing the hypocrisy of the nation at the time, not making a generalized statement that applied to all people of all time.

In complete opposition to the traditional interpretation of Isaiah 64:6, "good works" are pleasing to the Father, provided they are accompanied by a righteous heart and are not done with selfish or self serving intent.

And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward." (Matthew 10:42 NASB)

Was Isaiah Including Himself?
Which leaves the question of why Isaiah included himself in his confession, i.e. "all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment"?

The simple answer is that the prophet was not specifically referring to the sins or failings of any particular individual, but was speaking of Israel's guilt as a nation. This was not uncommon in the Old Testament. Although a righteous man Daniel,confessed the sins of Israel as if he himself was guilty of those sins. His confession of sin, plea for grace, and deliverance from exile begins with the words

we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. (Daniel 9:5 NASB)

The Pharisees
Unfortunately, the pretense of having a virtuous character by observing the physical requirements of the law continued up to the time of Christ.

There is no doubt that at one time the Pharisees were respected religious leaders. Over time, they rather than the priests became the  authority on the law and rigid defenders of Jewish traditions. They were also known for bragging that they were not sinners like other men. The problem was that they were distinguished by scrupulous outward obedience to the written law in order to merit God's blessing, which is why Jesus openly accused them of numerous transgressions including pride and hypocrisy.

"They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. "But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. "They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. (Matthew 23:4-7 NASB)

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye tithe mint and anise and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith: but these ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone.... Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. (Matthew 23: 23-24, 27 NASB)

 See Jesus and The Law

A Warning
While Isaiah's words do not have universal application, they certainly sound a warning to us modern Christians.

All too many people consider 'serving the Lord' as doing something related to religion and church... attendance at weekly church services, the giving of tithes and offerings and generally being nice people who haven't actually murdered anyone. Simply professing Christ as Lord, going to church, reading the latest "Christian" book, attending the never ending "Christian" conferences (whatever those are), or drinking your coffee from a mug marked with a Bible verse, will do nothing for us.

We can come to church and sing our hearts out. We can praise Him to the high heavens and our "Amens" and "Hallelujahs"can shake the rafters. However, music, verbal praise, and the many "amens" and "Hallelujahs", all of which may appear as very successful worship to us, may not even be considered worship by the Lord, simply because because He looks much deeper than what might be surface expressions. See Why The Fire Hasn't Fallen?

Contrary to what we seem to believe, God will not accept anything we happen to offer... even if we happen to think it is fitting and good. Our religious ceremonies are worthless to Him unless accompanied by godliness. On more than one occasion He made it very clear that the offerings, the feasts and festivals, solemn assemblies, music, and even prayer had become a burden to Him. In fact, He may consider some of our worship meaningless and even despicable. (Amos 5:21-24)

    To obey is all important, and takes precedence over everything else.

    Unless we are obedient to His commandments, all we have done is waste our time... and His.

    Unless we are obedient to His commandments any good works we may do will simply be, in Isaiah's words, "like filthy rags".


Myth of Faith Alone
I dread to think what would happen if someone in a modern church were to preach that you have to attain a certain level of righteousness to be saved. The hue and cry would be deafening, with the preacher soundly denounced, from one end of the Christian world to the other, as a false teacher who is teaching salvation by works. But, consider for a moment Jesus' words in the sermon on the mount.... ""For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven". (Matthew 5:20)

The Christian and Worship
Worship is not something we do, such as praying, singing, kneeling, at certain select times, but consists of who we are, and what our attitude is towards God at all times. True worship remains with us all through the day, and colors every aspect of our daily lives. So, what does it take to ensure that our worship is not rejected and the Lord takes pleasure in it?

Are We Also Pharisees?
Do we regard some of our traditions with as much authority as Scripture? Tradition exerts an enormous pull on our emotions because it provides sameness, security, stability, and it feels right. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were proud of their traditions for they believed they were given to them by God Himself. This is barely different from some in today’s churches who measure righteousness by loyalty to ‘sacred’ tradition. If you doubt the power of traditions, try to change something in your church from the way that it has been done in the past.

Why it Isn't Enough To Just Acknowledge Jesus as Savior
If you have not enthroned Christ as Lord, and do not defer to Him as King, you cannot possibly attain salvation. Why Jesus would want anyone in His kingdom when they show no allegiance to Him as King and do not bother to obey Him, which means they have, in effect, rejected His Sovereign authority. The Biblical way to salvation is to see Jesus Christ as not only savior, but also as Lord. To pledge to obey Him as best you can the rest of your life.


End Note
[01] Filthy Rags? by Steve Jones. http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/openhse/rags.html (Link is no longer active)


Index To Articles on Original Sin