Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Sometimes we hear that all our efforts to be righteous are as filthy rags in God’s sight. The result of this emphasis is that Christians often make little or no effort to live righteously, believing that God is concerned only with their belief in Christ, not with their behavior. This misunderstanding of Isaiah, and of the Gospel of the Kingdom, has produced moral chaos in the churches.
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
The above may be one of the most commonly quoted passages in Christianity.
“All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”
This attitude toward human behavior goes along with the current formula for salvation:
- All of us have sinned.
- No matter how we try, all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.
- We cannot save ourselves.
- Christ died and shed his blood to make an atonement for our sins.
- If by faith we receive the atonement, God will forgive all our sin and take us to Heaven when we die.
It absolutely is true that all of us have sinned.
It absolutely is true that we cannot save ourselves.
It absolutely is true that Christ died and shed his blood to make an atonement for our sins.
These three of the five statements above are scriptural and indisputable. The remaining two concepts are not as valid because one is misapplied and one is partly true.
- The one that is misapplied is: No matter how we try, all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.
- The one that is partly true is: If by faith we receive the atonement, God will forgive all our sin and take us to Heaven when we die.
It is true and scriptural that if by faith we receive the atonement, God will forgive all our sin.
It is neither true nor scriptural that the purpose of forgiving our sin is that we may be eligible to go to Heaven when we die. Rather, the purpose of forgiving our sin is that we might start on the way of righteousness, the way that leads to eternal life and to the new righteous creation.
Let’s think for a moment why the statement, no matter how we try, all our righteous acts are like filthy rags, is misapplied when directed toward every person of our day.
First, let’s consider what the passage in its context is actually stating. Then we will point out the destructive result of our misapplication.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins. (Isaiah 64:5-7)
Notice carefully the first sentence: “You come to the help of those who gladly do right; who remember your ways.” There are those people who gladly do what is right, that is, who behave righteously. There are those people who remember God’s ways.
Does God say the actions of these people are filthy rags? Does God state that these human efforts to do what is right and remember God’s ways are filthy rags? Not at all. God says, rather, that He will come to the help of the righteous. Obviously God is pleased with them and is not viewing their behavior as filthy rags.
And then: “But when we continued to sin against them (God’s righteous ways), you were angry.”
Now we are not speaking of those who gladly do right, those who remember God’s ways. We are referring to Jewish people who chose to sin against God’s ways.
Can you see that Isaiah is not saying that the behavior of everyone in the world is like filthy rags? Isaiah is speaking rather of the Jews in the days of Isaiah who were sinning against God at that time.
God was angry with those Israelites.
“How then can we be saved?” Isaiah cries. How can we be saved when we have turned away from God?
“All of us have become like one who is unclean,” that is, like a leper, or like someone who has been in the presence of a dead person.
“All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” This is to say, we attempt to keep some parts of God’s Law, but our behavior is such that God will not accept our sacrifice. We go to the Temple to pray or to offer our animal, but then we oppress those who work for us. We make a big show of praying in the street and showing off our phylacteries, and then refuse to assist the widows and orphans.
This is what the Spirit of God is testifying in Isaiah.
Can you see the condition of the Israelites at that time? “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.”
There were numerous righteous people in the Old Testament, such as Noah, Abraham, Ezra, Nehemiah, Samuel, Job, Daniel. God never said their righteous acts were like filthy rags.
When we come to people today, particularly Gentiles, and want them to accept Christ, we say “All your efforts to be righteous are like filthy rags.” Can you see that this is a misapplication of the passage from Isaiah? What is that person to think?
When the Apostle Peter came to the house of Cornelius, he did not say to Cornelius and the large gathering assembled with him that all their righteous acts were like filthy rags. This would have been nonsensical—a misapplication of a prophecy to the unrighteous Jews of the days of Isaiah.
Rather, Peter commented favorably on the righteous behavior of Cornelius:
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)
Would we of today say to the unsaved that God accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right?
No, we would not say this. Rather we would attempt to prove from what the Apostle Paul said in the Book of Romans that there was no man in any nation who feared God and did what is right. We would be anxious to prove that there is none righteous, no not one, so the people would accept Christ because of their fear of Hell.
We understand perfectly that an individual cannot save himself or herself by rejecting Christ and trying to live righteously. We realize we were sinful at birth, sinful from the time we were conceived. We have inherited the guilt and disposition of Adam.
It absolutely is true that only in Jesus Christ is there salvation and eternal life.
No individual is without sin. We all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God. Only Christ can give us a new righteous nature by enabling us to share His own Divine Nature.
We can tell the unsaved individual truthfully that he is not capable of meeting God’s standard of behavior without God’s help. He must come to Christ in order to receive God’s approval.
The problem arises when we leave the impression that the Christian is to make no attempt to behave in a righteous manner because all such efforts are like filthy rags. We are teaching the believers that God’s sees us as perfect in Christ. We are saved by unconditional forgiveness. Any attempt we make to keep the commandments found in the New Testament is ineffective at best, legalistic at worst. How can we add to the perfect righteousness that has been imputed to us?
Here is the monumental error in Christian thinking. The truth is, the bulk of the passages in the New Testament reveal clearly that there is no salvation apart from obedience to the commands of Christ and His Apostles. The Apostle Paul warned us several times that if we continue to follow the inclinations of our sinful nature we will not inherit the Kingdom of God; we will reap destruction in the Day of Resurrection.
The expression “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” does not apply to the Christians of today unless, like the Jews of Isaiah’s day, we have continued to sin, having turned away from God and His ways. Then we are bound with the filthiness of the flesh and spirit and our religious posturing is like filthy rags.
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (II Corinthians 7:1)
The Apostle Paul employed passages from the Old Testament to prove to the Jews that they had to turn to Christ for righteousness; that they could not please God by observing the commandments of the Law of Moses. Paul’s statements are used today to prove to Christians that they are not to regard their behavior as a critical aspect of their salvation.
Before we scrutinize Paul’s attempts to convince the Jews that they must turn to Christ if they are to be righteous, let us make some introductory comments.
It will be seen, as we review the sources which Paul was using to prove that all people are wicked, that the source passages from the Old Testament do not prove that all are wicked. In most instances the Old Testament passages are referring to the state of certain of the Jews, while also addressing the righteous of that day.
A careful reading of the Psalms will reveal that there were numerous wicked people during the reign of David, and they were a grief to him. We can notice how quickly Absalom gained followers; how quickly Israelite leaders were ready to join themselves to Adonijah when he attempted to take the place of Solomon.
On numerous occasions, the various psalmists referred to both the wicked and the righteous.
Now, why would Paul take passages from the Psalms and Isaiah that emphasized the wicked of David’s day and ignore the verses that spoke of God’s protection and favor regarding the righteous of that day?
If a doctoral candidate supported his dissertation with fragments of his sources that emphasized only his thesis, while ignoring other fragments that refuted his thesis, he would be reprimanded sharply.
So how can we account for the bias in Romans, Chapters Three and Four?
One explanation of Paul’s selecting only the part of his source that mentioned the wickedness of the people is that Paul was telling the Jews they were not as righteous as they claimed to be.
Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; If you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; If you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:17:24)
Another possible reason for Paul grasping only passages that proved his point, while ignoring those that did not, was what one might term “generalizing to the whole population.”
For example: a daughter might say to her mother: “Mother, I have to have red sport shoes to wear to school. All the girls are wearing them.”
Her mother understands that not every girl in the school is wearing red sport shoes; it is a manner of speaking. Every person on the Island of Crete is not a liar—this sort of thing. The Pharisees mourned that the whole world was following Jesus.
So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19)
Obviously the whole world was not following Jesus.
We have to look squarely at the fact that the Bible speaks of righteous people, and the Apostle Paul knew this.
Whether Paul is saying that the Jews had the Law but were not keeping it, or whether he was saying “everybody’s wicked,” like “all the girls are wearing red sport shoes,” the fact remains that in the deepest, fullest sense, Paul is absolutely correct.
The heart of the most righteous person is incurably deceitful and wicked.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
God is not attempting to reform the human personality. It is beyond redemption.
God knew the Law of Moses would not and could not make man in God’s image. The Law was added to keep sin under some kind of control until the Seed of promise came, the Seed who would restore the Spirit of God to the creation.
There is only one truly righteous Human Being, only one Person in God’s image, and that is Jesus Christ. Compared with Him, all of us—the best of us; the most righteous of us—are wicked. Only God’s Nature is always perfectly righteous.
So Paul is correct in quoting “there is none righteous, no not one,” even though he left out the rest of the Psalm.
God’s plan is not to correct us by any set of laws. God is forming new righteous creations by creating Christ in them—the eternal law of God inscribed eternally in the mind and heart.
God’s salvation goes so far beyond the moral behavior of the most righteous human who ever lived that no comparison is possible.
And, as Paul strove to explain, the key is faith.
Godly faith is not the same as what we mean by faith today. What we mean by faith today is another form of religious works that perpetuates the adversarial relationship man has with God.
We say “Believe only and you will go to Heaven when you die.” What an abomination! How lacking in love for God! How lacking in a desire to please God or to perform His will in the earth!
The Jews with their Law; the Catholics with their works of penance; the Protestants with their “state of grace”—all miss God’s intention. We do always err in our heart.
God has one purpose for man, and that is that he live uprightly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
The Jews missed God’s purpose when they placed their trust in the Law of Moses, which they kept as a set of works apart from faith in God Himself.
The Catholics miss God’s purpose when they place their trust in works of penance, which they may do without faith in God Himself, their only purpose being to propitiate their adversary—God.
The Protestants miss God’s purpose when they trust in their “state of grace,” a device by which one can live unrighteously, act unmercifully, and live arrogantly apart from God, and still escape Hell when he or she dies.
Even though the Apostle Paul supported his argument with passages taken out of context we might say, he saw and felt the truth—that the best of the Jews, as well as the best of the Gentiles, were essentially unrighteous. No moral code could save them. They must receive the gift of righteousness and life God is offering through the Lord Jesus Christ.
What immense harm has been done to the Church, and the world through the Church, by our insistence that all our attempts at righteous behavior are like filthy rags. And worse—that if a Christian endeavors to keep the commandments of Christ and His Apostles he is a legalist, a Pharisee, a misguided wretch who is attempting to supplement the perfect righteousness that has been assigned to him!
Because we have no heart for God we have settled on Chapters Three through Five of Romans and have cast away the remainder of Paul’s writings. Paul always showed that apart from righteous conduct we shall never inherit the Kingdom of God; we shall reap destruction. The Kingdom of God is and forever shall be, first, righteousness. Then the peace that comes from righteousness. Then the joy that is impossible apart from righteousness and peace.
I know by personal revelation that God is upset because of the unrighteousness being practiced in the Christians churches and in the world. God is demanding that people behave righteously. Because we are not, our world is entering a period of physical and moral horrors.
The only possible solution is for the leaders of the Christian churches to interpret Paul accurately, to place Paul’s remarks in Chapters Three through Five of Romans in perspective, and inform the Christians that we have been deceived and must return to stern, cross-carrying obedience. The danger is not the great tribulation, it is the hour of moral temptation. It is wickedness, not tribulation, that will cause the love of the majority to grow cold.
We have been deceived. The sooner we admit it and get on with the job of learning to walk with God, the quicker the Lord will command the death angel to sheathe his sword.
Now let’s examine Paul’s argument that we may understand what I have written previously.
What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:9-12)
Paul’s purpose in speaking like this was to prove that God considers all people to be sinners. He was emphasizing to the Jews that even though they had the Law of Moses and were seeking to obey it, they yet were sinners and must come to Christ for forgiveness and eternal life.
This is true. However, Christian people have been led to believe that no righteous individual has ever lived. This is an unbalanced view of the Bible and the world.
The Bible speaks of numerous righteous people. God commanded Abraham to walk before Him and be perfect. God spoke highly of Noah, Daniel, and Job, for example. Paul knew this. He knew that the Bible speaks of righteous people. He knew the Scriptures reveal that God blessed the Israelites when they behaved righteously and chastised them severely when they turned from Him.
So how could Paul mean that no righteous person has ever lived, or that it is of no profit for men to live righteously?
As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, they could save neither son nor daughter. They would save only themselves by their righteousness. (Ezekiel 14:20)
Obviously God regarded Noah, Daniel, and Job as being righteous in behavior.
Let’s look at the context of “There is none righteous, not even one.” Where did Paul draw this from? How could Paul stress this point when the Bible speaks of righteous people?
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalms 14:1-3)
The above has a universal sweep to it. But again, we find it is limited to the wicked in Israel—at least, that is its main thrust:
Will evildoers never learn—those who devour my people as men eat bread and who do not call on the LORD? There they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous. You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge. (Psalms 14:4-6)
Now we see that the first three verses of the fourteenth Psalm are somewhat moderated by the last three verses. The last three verses are telling us that the wicked are “overwhelmed with dread,” because “God is present in the company of the righteous.”
If such is the case, was the Apostle Paul misapplying Psalms 14 in his effort to prove to the Jews that they must turn to Christ? Not at all. When compared with the righteousness we receive when we place our faith in Jesus Christ, the most righteous efforts of the most righteous person is not adequate. He who is least in the Kingdom is greater than the greatest of the Prophets.
However, we do present an unbalanced view of the Bible and of the people of the world, and make ourselves appear unreasonable and silly, when we go about proclaiming that there is no righteous person in the world.
It is true that compared with Jesus Christ there is no righteous person in the world. But by human standards, the standard God would have applied when judging Noah, Daniel, and Job as righteous, there have been numerous people in the world who have lived righteous lives.
So we should take the approach of the Apostle Peter when speaking to Cornelius and the large group of people assembled in his home. All people in the world who behave uprightly are accepted of God. It remains, however, that there is salvation only in the name of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes we may note there are people in the world who are more honorable than many Christians of our acquaintance. We recognize this and so does God.
But God has called the unrighteous Christian to be a member of the royal priesthood. God will deal with His elected person night and day until he partakes of the righteousness of Christ. Then the individual’s honorable, upright behavior will surpass the most upright of the people of the world.
The problem today is that Christian people are not aware the Spirit of God wants to transform them from their sinful nature to the Nature of Christ. Thus they go through life waiting to die and go to Heaven to walk on streets of gold, completely missing the plan of salvation that would have made them more righteous in behavior than the most righteous of the scribes and Pharisees.
Another passage used by Paul is as follows:
Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. (Romans 3:13)
Paul here is quoting from Psalms 5:9 and Psalms 140:3. But notice other verses in these two Psalms.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield. (Psalms 5:11,12)
Can you see that in Psalms 5, David is not speaking of all the Israelites, only of the wicked, when he says “Their tongue is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit.” There were righteous people in Israel, and God surrounded them with His favor.
The same is true of “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” Elsewhere in Psalms 140 David says: “Surely the righteous will praise your name and the upright will live before you.”
Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. (Romans 3:14)
This is taken from Psalms 10:7. What else did the psalmist say in the tenth Psalm:
Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out. (Psalms 10:15)
You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, Defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more. (Psalms 10:17,18)
Can you see in the tenth Psalm that the writer is not saying all were wicked? The Lord was defending the fatherless and the oppressed. They were not wicked but were being harmed by the wicked.
Their feet are swift to shed blood; Ruin and misery mark their ways, And the way of peace they do not know. (Romans 3:15-17)
Paul is quoting from Isaiah.
Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks in them will know peace. (Isaiah 59:7,8)
Of whom is Isaiah speaking, of everyone in the world?
Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1,2)
Isaiah is speaking of the Jews who were wicked at that time.
Did Isaiah ever speak of righteous Jews?
Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done. (Isaiah 3:10,11)
Can you see from the above that there were both righteous people and wicked people in Israel? It could not be said of them: “There is none righteous, no, not one.”
There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Romans 3:18)
Paul is quoting from Psalms 36.
An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. (Psalms 36:1)
Could we prove from the thirty-sixth Psalm that there were no righteous people in Israel? I don’t think so.
Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart. (Psalms 36:10)
I think you will agree with me that Paul does not prove from the Scriptures that there never has been a righteous person in the world. Rather he either is commenting on the fact that the Jews, who boasted of having the Law, were breaking the Law. Or else, Paul was generalizing to an entire population that which was true only of a part of the population.
We find also that Paul stressed we are saved by faith apart from works. We Gentiles have interpreted this to mean godly behavior is not an integral part of the new covenant. Yet we find in Paul’s epistles many statements that prove Paul knew and taught that godly behavior is an integral part of the new covenant and that apart from godly behavior there is no Kingdom of God.
The following verse is used to prove that all we have to do is believe:
What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3)
Yes, the Scripture does say that in Genesis. But the Scripture in Genesis states also, speaking to Isaac:
I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, Because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws. (Genesis 26:4,5)
Why was Isaac blessed? Because Abraham believed the promise? Not only that, but because Abraham:
- Obeyed God.
- Kept God’s requirements, commands, decrees, and laws.
Since there was no Law of Moses during the days of Abraham, it must have been true that God was speaking of requirements, commands, decrees, and laws, that God spoke to him personally.
In any case, it is clear that Abraham was righteous, not only because he believed a fantastic promise, but because he obeyed God in all matters—even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his son.
Yet the Apostle Paul wrote:
It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. (Romans 4:13)
Now, let us compare the two passages:
I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, Because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws. (Genesis 26:4,5)
It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. (Romans 4:13)
Here we have one of several apparent inconsistencies in the Scriptures. However, since the Scriptures were inspired by the Spirit of God, who does not present inconsistencies, we must look beneath the surface.
“Because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”
“It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise.”
If we can understand why there is no inconsistency here we can grasp what Paul was seeking to establish. It has to do with the meaning of “faith.”
The actual issue is not whether we are obeying the Law of Moses or any other moral code. The issue is that of faith.
In actuality, there is no problem at all with the Law of Moses, except that it does not contain the authority and power to destroy our sinful nature. The problem was the Jews. God found fault with them, not with His Law.
What was the problem with the Jews under the Law? The problem was, they did not approach the Law through faith.
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; But Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” (Romans 9:30-32)
The Jews often did not approach the Law through faith.
The Catholics often do not approach their rituals and penances through faith.
The Protestants often do not approach grace and the Kingdom of God through faith.
What is the difference between approaching our religion through faith and not approaching our religion through faith? The difference is in the heart. The person without faith is essentially in an adversarial relationship with God. He is seeking to “buy God off.” Or he or she may be endeavoring to accumulate merit in which he or she can take pride.
“If I keep every point of the Law of Moses I will be esteemed by my peers and God will count me righteous. God owes me this. I have earned the approval of God and man by my observance of the Law. I will go to Abraham’s bosom when I die.”
“If I attend Mass every morning and give heavily to the Church I will be esteemed by my peers. God will count me righteous. God owes me this. I will go to Heaven when I die.”
The Protestant says: “I am in a state of grace. The righteous live by holding fast to their belief in the Christ. It is not important how I behave; it is my profession of faith that will enable me to escape Hell and gain my mansion in Heaven when I die.”
The Jew is being saved by the works of the Law. The Catholic is being saved by the works ordained by his religion. The Protestant is being saved by the work of believing whatever doctrines his group espouses.
None of the above is faith. It is a case of man seeking to gain favor by his religious efforts. He cares nothing about God, only about escaping Hell and going to Heaven when he dies.
The individual who has faith loves God for who He is. He is in the relationship of son to Father. He is God’s friend.
The Jew who had faith under the Law of Moses, such as Daniel, loved God with all his heart. He prayed several times a day because he knew this was pleasing to God, and Daniel wanted to please God because he loved God. He was not seeking to please people, as we see in the incident of the lions’ den. He lived righteously, loved mercy, and walked humbly with God.
The Catholic who has genuine faith in God may attend Mass every day because he is thrilled to be in the presence of God. He will observe all the rituals and give liberally of his means because he seeks fellowship with God. He lives uprightly, loves mercy, and walks humbly with God.
The Protestant who is saved by grace loves God. He is not attempting to trick God by professing belief in Christ and then living according to his sinful nature. He is in a day to day interaction with the living Jesus. He looks to Jesus for every decision he makes. As a result he lives righteously, loves mercy, and walks humbly with God.
The individual who has faith will look past the tenets of his religion and perceive the heart of God. The religious person who does not have faith performs the works of his religion, but he is not the friend of God. He will follow the guidelines of his particular religious group; but like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, he is not a godly person in many respects.
If we understand the above we can see why Genesis states that Abraham received the inheritance by obeying God’s commands, while Paul claims Abraham did not receive the promise through the Law of Moses.
Because Abraham loved God, and was the friend of God, God issued commands to Him: “Walk before Me and be perfect.” “Offer up your son to Me.”
Abraham was not following a particular set of rules. He was walking with God in righteousness, mercy, and humility. He obeyed his Friend because he loved God. Abraham did not turn his face away from God and practice a series of rituals in the hope of placating God or earning His favor.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for. Abraham was looking for a city, and he obeyed God with the hope of entering the city that has foundations.
It is a question of attitude and motivation. Either we love and fear God and want to please Him and have fellowship with Him, or else our attention is directed toward a set of rules that we follow so we will not suffer in the future.
Let us say a Jew, in observance of the Sabbath, refuses to turn the lights on in his house. He believes the act of throwing the switch is work and thus violates the Sabbath.
Is his heart lifted up toward God? No, it is not. He is obeying the rules in hope of profiting from his religion somehow. He desires to be regarded as righteous, but he doesn’t know the mind of God. If he did he would realize that turning on the lights or not turning on the lights has nothing to do with the Sabbath commandment. He is not looking in faith toward God, nor is he responding in obedience to a direction from the Lord. His mind is occupied with the statutes of his religion.
The Lord Jesus, the Word of God, healed people on the Sabbath. The fact that the leaders of the Jews ignored the benefit received by the afflicted person who was delivered, and fastened on the idea that Jesus had healed someone on the Sabbath day, reveals that these leaders had no concept of God, no true faith in God. They were esteemed among the religious Jews, but they were not esteemed by the Lord. They did not live uprightly. They did not show mercy. They were not walking humbly with God and had no idea God was with them. Their “righteous” attempts to “keep the Sabbath” indeed was filthy rags.
Let us say that a Catholic person has told a lie. He goes to the confessional. The priest hears the confession and assigns twenty “Our Fathers” as a penance. The one who has confessed may not look up to God or truly turn away from his lying. He is paying his dues, so to speak, in the hope of avoiding punishment and entering joy when he dies. This is not faith, but works. He is blindly seeking to atone for his sin when the atonement already has been made on the cross. He is a fine, religious person but he is not living in the Presence of Jesus Christ.
The Protestant has made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. He may not, as did the Apostle Paul, seek God at all times with all his might. He may not press forward in order to grasp that for which he has been grasped. He may not seek to live in resurrection life and to share the sufferings of Christ. He trusts that if he continues in his confession of belief in the accepted theology he will go to Heaven when he dies. This is not faith, it is religious works.
Abraham obeyed God and kept God’s requirements and commands. He did not obey God as a means of earning righteousness. God made the overtures, and Abraham responded faithfully and obediently.
Perhaps this is where the difference is between faith and works. The life of faith is one in which God speaks to the individual and the individual obeys what is spoken to him. This pattern is repeated several times in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the “faith chapter.”
The person who works is the one to whom God has not spoken, who is adhering to some kind of law apart from seeking to know God and have fellowship with Him.
So there is no conflict between the two passages. Abraham and his heirs received the inheritance because of the faith of Abraham, a faith that was demonstrated and confirmed as Abraham obeyed all that God required of him, whether it was just to believe, or whether it was to perfect his walk before God.
Abraham revealed the depths of his faith when he obeyed God in the matter of sacrificing Isaac. Abraham did not set out to offer Isaac in order to gain the approval of God. Abraham obeyed God. His faith resulted in stern obedience to all that God commanded him to do.
I have wondered at times what drives Christians to emphasize shallow formulas for salvation. Make a statement of faith in Christ, be baptized in water perhaps, and now you are on your way to Heaven.
The truth is, the Kingdom of God is as a seed that is planted in our heart. When the seed comes to maturity it is part of the great Mountain that fills the whole earth. What a different concept this is from the traditional formula.
What prompts people to take what actually is the planting of a seed and change it into a philosophy, into a religious system like the other religions of the world?
I think that on some occasions the Lord Jesus directs people to do what we call “personal work.” Many an individual has come to know Christ through the ministry of a personal worker who was being guided by the Lord.
I think on other occasions the attempt to gain members for our set of beliefs is not coming from the Lord but from someone’s desire to build a kingdom. It is the spirit of Babylon. It is not being directed by the Spirit of the Lord.
Religious work that is not directed by the Spirit of the Lord is babylon; it is confusion; it is the attempt of humans to build something that reaches to Heaven (they hope!). It will murder Christ wherever He appears.
The Apostle Paul had heard from the Lord. He realized that the Jews, in many instances, were not hearing from God. They were blindly attempting to obey the Torah. That their hearts were not right is revealed in their treatment of the Lord Jesus.
Paul used different passages of the Scriptures to emphasize that we cannot earn righteousness by following the Law of Moses. Now that God has given the Lord Jesus, we must enter into a daily relationship with Him so we know what He wants of us. Once we are certain of His will we obey it. In the meanwhile, as a young Christian who is not skilled in hearing the voice of God, we are to obey the commandments of Christ and His Apostles.
We do not obey the commandments of Christ and His Apostles because we are seeking to earn righteousness. Rather we obey them for they are our salvation. Meanwhile the Spirit of God is leading us to put to death the actions of our sinful nature.
Because of our sinful nature we are unable to achieve righteousness by obeying the commandments of the Law of Moses. So we turn away from the Law and fix our eyes on the Lord Jesus. As we follow Him each day, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the righteousness of the One who obeyed the Law perfectly is assigned to us. We have the righteousness of Christ because we are following Him at all times. This is the true Christian Gospel and eternal life.
The Apostle Paul uses a statement of David’s to prove we can be accounted righteous even though we have not kept the Law of Moses.
We must hold firmly in mind that when Paul referred to works he was speaking of the works of the Law of Moses, not of what we Gentiles would consider righteous behavior. This is an area of tremendous confusion in Christian teaching and preaching. Many of us are under the impression that Paul meant it does not matter how we behave just as long as we believe in Christ. Our conscience tells us better than this!
David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” (Romans 4:6-8)
Let’s look at the source:
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalms 32:1,2)
What else does David say in this Psalm?
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”—and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah (Psalms 32:5)
It is clear that David was referring to specific sins he had committed. This hardly is a basis for proving that God ignores our behavior and counts us righteous by faith.
That God blesses those of godly behavior is found in this Psalm:
Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. (Psalms 32:6)
Everyone who is godly! This is referring to those of godly behavior, not to those who were counting on God to hold them guiltless while they continued to act in an ungodly manner.
Also, from the same Psalm:
Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him. Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart! (Psalms 32:10.11)
David had confessed his sin and was rejoicing over the fact that God had forgiven him. This assuredly does not mean we can live as we please and God will keep on ascribing righteousness to us. When David sinned He was chastened severely!
When the Scriptures speak of those who trust in Him, and of the righteous, it is not referring to those of today who say they believe in Christ and then continue to behave according to their sinful nature.
When ministers of the Gospel proclaim that all our attempts at righteousness are like filthy rags, and that there is no righteous person on the earth, they are seeking to convince us that we cannot save ourselves but must come to Christ for salvation and righteousness.
In this they are correct.
The Apostle Paul used several references from the Scriptures to prove to the Jews that the Law could not give them the righteousness they so ardently sought. They must come to Christ for forgiveness and righteousness.
Paul presented his case so forcefully that even in his day there were those who were claiming we are saved by faith and not by works, meaning by this we are not required to obey the commandments of Christ and His Apostles. We know this is true from the reaction of the Book of James and also from the emphasis in First John on keeping God’s commandments.
We understand from the epistles written by Paul that if we do not turn away from our sinful nature and keep the commandments of Christ and His Apostles, it will do us no good to say we believe in Christ. If we really believe in Christ we will keep His commandments.
Sometimes I think God has written the Bible in such a manner that if we want to sin we can find passages of Scripture to support our unrighteousness. In this manner God tests our heart, to see if we love Him or not.
Those of today who are saying God does not see our behavior but regards us as righteous while we are sinning, are deceived. In fact, God has deceived them. They do not love God. They are trying to find a formula that will enable them to walk in their own paths and still escape Hell. Yet their behavior is worthy of Hell and is found among the inhabitants of Hell.
There are the sons of God who obey the Bible and are led by the Spirit of God. Then there is the religious crowd who study the Bible and are led by their self-will. The day is coming in America when we will be able to see who truly is serving God.
Yes, we have misunderstood Paul grievously. We should have known that our God demands obedience. If the truth be known, Christ is challenging us today in a stricter manner than one would believe from listening to current preaching.
Christ is loving. Yet He is very stern and strict! We do not find Him by casually taking His Name and speaking Christian phrases. We have to dig, dig, dig, fight, fight, fight. We have to press forward, straining every nerve, to cut through the deceptions abounding in America at this time.
I think there are amateur Christians and professional Christians.
Sometimes the American householder will go out and plant some shrubbery or some grass. He thinks he is a farmer. He is an amateur farmer. A professional farmer is one who works his fingers to the bone from dark to dark, trying to survive economically. Farming is one of the most difficult vocations.
There are amateur Christians who talk about Christ and lead their casual church lives. Then there are professional Christians, so to speak, who are struggling upward in the night as they seek Christ; seek Christ; seek Christ.
Both groups are in the churches of our day. The hour of testing is coming. Then we will be able to distinguish between those who are serving God and those who are not.
If we really want to please God we have to come out of the ungodly American culture and become serious about prayer and Bible reading. We have to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow the Lord Jesus. We are in the world but not of the world. God has called us out of the world to be saints, holy ones.
Because we are saints we do not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or use profanity. Yet our holiness goes much deeper than this as the Holy Spirit brings to our attention aspects of our life that are not pleasing to Christ. It is a vicious struggle as we are confronted with our worldliness, our lusts, and our self-will. It takes all the determination we posses if we are to keep up with the Holy Spirit as He prepares us to be joined to Christ.
There are believers who are waiting to be caught up to meet Christ in the air. They had better pray this does not happen, for it will be out of the frying pan into the fire for them. They think they are going to rule nations but they have never gained mastery over their own sinful nature.
The Christian churches in America are living in a delusion, in many instances.
It is time to become serious about serving the Lord. We have been deceived!
(“Filthy Rags?”, 3655-1)