I’m sorry to say that many Christians today think that the very best efforts of humanity, to do good, appear as ‘filthy rags’ (Is 64:6) in God’s sight. I have written on the subject before, but I’d like to say that I’m not the only modern thinker that believes that this idea is utter rubbish.
In this piece, Christian writer and theologian Jeff Turner tackles this issue with his usual clarity and insight. Over to Jeff:
“Are all of your “righteous works” *really as filthy rags?
“In short, no.
“To insult a person for poor decisions or immoral actions is one thing. But to insult them for actions that are admirable is an entirely different thing. If even your best attempts are met with mockery and derision, your soul will quickly shrivel and die.
“Today’s popular form of Christianity is a belief system that comes with a message of scorn and derision, not simply to the morally bankrupt sorts, but even to those whose hearts and souls yearn only to do good. It assures them that their best attempts at being kind, upright, decent humans appear as disgusting, filthy rags in the sight of God. It humiliates, denigrates, dehumanizes, and demoralizes, even the best among us.
“If one makes a careful read of these “filthy rags” type of passages in scripture itself, though, one won’t find the God who rubs our faces even in our successes, as though they were indistinguishable from our messes. Rather, one will find that the people being rebuked in such instances have sunk to depraved lows in their behavior, and become morally bankrupt. It’s not that even their good has become bad, but that there is no good to be had, or when there is, it’s merely an attempt at hiding greater evil. Scripture does not teach that *your every attempt at being a decent human appears as filthy rags in God’s sight, but that Israel, at particular times in her history, had embraced a mode of being in which the good was almost utterly absent. This is not the same as claiming that, from birth, even the smallest of babies is counted as a sinner, and that even the most kind, decent, loving of humans is a filthy sinner in the eyes of God!
“How awful and destructive a doctrine we spread when we make these claims!
“Listen, that people believe in anything *at all is a major accomplishment in a world like ours. That people can get themselves out of bed most mornings is an act of God. That the whole lot of us aren’t tearing one another to bloody ribbons, what with the chaos and tumult our world is in, is miraculous. Let’s be honest, that most of you are still even breathing is a feat you deserve to be commended for. To look then, upon suffering people, who are simply doing the best they can to live and get by, and tell them instead that their best attempts are vile in the sight of God, is reprehensible, and so outside the character of Christ that I think it could rightly be called satanic.
“We have our issues, to be sure, but Jesus does not come to assure us that even our struggling through life just to smile and raise our families is a disgrace in God’s sight. No. That message is a disgrace. Not you. God is near the broken-hearted and present with the suffering, struggling one. And he’s present in the form of one who is for you and on your side.
Brilliant piece. I have to admit that, once upon a time, I was a judgemental Christian like that too. I believed that any good that non-Christians did was worthless. It makes me feel sick to remember that I once felt like that… but thank God He gave me the chance to change. Every good deed has value, irrespective of its source. The value of the deed is to the recipient. The homeless man doesn’t care whether the hot meal comes from a believer or a non-believer; the main thing is he gets his meal. All good things come from God. What about when Jesus said ‘if anyone gives you a cup of water because you are My disciple, he will certainly not lose his reward’? He didn’t specify any required belief structure!
No, all good deeds are good; they are not filthy rags. The context in Isaiah 64:6, where the ‘filthy rags’ comes from, is about thoe who put on righteous acts for their own sake; for show. That’s what it’s about, not about secular people’s deeds being worthless. They are indeed not worthless.
This is yet another example of how the Spirit is using modern-day prophets like Jeff, to put out there these ideas that so many other believers are hearing at the same time! Truly the Holy Spirit is at work in these days 🙂