"...and all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags."
It's sometimes difficult to listen to a Christian brother give his testimony. Not because the story is uninteresting. More so because so often our stories are so similar in content. One thing that many believers and soon-to-be believers often share is their belief that they were not able to come to Jesus because their sin was too great. It isn't uncommon for people to feel the need to "clean up their act" before they approach God for forgiveness. This misunderstanding, though common, is not even remotely connected with reality.
In Isaiah 64 the words "filthy rags" is used to describe our righteous deeds. I've been told that "filthy rags" refers to something along the lines of menstrual cloths. That's what God thinks of our attempts at righteousness apart from Jesus. That's pretty extreme on the gross factor scale in my opinion. In reality, not one of us would wrap up a nice pretty box filled with "filthy rags" and bring it to anyone, let alone God, as a peace offering. In fact, now that I think of it, just the opposite is used as a sign of surrender. A white flag seems so much more appropriate, don't you think? But God doesn't even desire a white flag from us. He wants NOTHING from us...because nothing will satisfy Him except Holiness. And the long and short of it is, we are not holy. Nothing we touch is holy. Nothing we think is holy. Nothing we can conjure is holy...ever. In light of that, it seems we are doomed, don't you think?
Think of all the people out there in the world who work so hard to do the right thing and be the right kind of person. Think of all the deals men make with their gods, all the pleading and reforming they do just to get on the good side of the "man upstairs". But it's all for naught. Because God doesn't need or want anything from us. And nothing we could bring to Him would ever satisfy. That just seems so...hopeless! And not at all like the movies, if you ask me. How misleading is that! I call "No Fair" on behalf of all those who look to Hollywood to be their moral compass. No fair indeed! They tell a good tale, but in the end it's just a futile lie that gets us nowhere.
What is a man to do? How can anyone ever approach a God who needs nothing and desires only perfection? Like I said...we're doomed! And that's exactly the point of the Law of God. It's the mirror that shows us our need for Godly mercy and grace. Do you know what that is? Godly mercy is when God does not give us what our deeds deserve. Godly grace is when God gives us what we do not deserve.
"And He saw that there was no man, And was astonished that there was no one to intercede; Then His own arm brought salvation to Him, And His righteousness upheld Him."
God knows something that every man needs to learn. There is not one man, woman or child who is holy, just, righteous or pure. Not one thing we can do will please or impress Him. That is exactly why He knew that His own arm would need to bring salvation to us. He knew that only His own holiness would be sufficient to atone for our sin. And consequently, when He created the earth, He did so with the full knowledge of how things would play out. And from the foundations of the world He knew that there would be some who would come to Him on His terms, and He wrote their names in the Lamb's book of Life. Who is this Lamb? Jesus, the Son of God.
Jesus is the one who laid down His heavenly glory in order to take on the physical body and limitations of men, so that He could become the perfect sacrifice that would satisfy His holy Father. He died in our place and rose from the grave having concurred death in the process. Now, do you really think, after hearing about this, that you could possibly add to it? Do you think that any attempt you make to get gussied up for Jesus will be of any benefit? God doesn't. He said our righteous deeds are as filthy rags to Him.
That's not bad news I hope. But if it is, then let me clarify even more. You do not need anything except Jesus to come before God the Father. Jesus is everything anyone will ever need. His own arm worked salvation for you. And it's free. And it isn't limited to the "good" people...because there aren't any! Not one. That's why He came.
If you are trying to fix things in your own way, trying to clean up your act and get all gussied up for Jesus before you come to Him, consider what God Himself says about your efforts. Filthy rags...that's what He thinks. And it's even grosser than it sounds. Instead of waiting until you get it together, just come...come as you are. He said,
"...whoever comes to me I will never cast out".