Isaiah 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;

2 Timothy 2:16-18 But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.

My wife, Tori, came up to me the other day and shared with me that these verses had been on her mind and in her thoughts lately. She was meditating on the differences between these verses and why two very different words were used instead of similar words. Because in Isaiah, it could make almost as much sense to put in the word “canker” and have it make sense. It would read similar to this: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as a canker or gangrenes.” But, when we look at it closer, it wouldn’t have the same impact nor the same meaning. In 2 Timothy, the topic is a false teaching that is spreading and eats up the hope of believers as doth a “canker” which means “gangrene”. Gangrene is a disease that causes death and decay of bodily tissue due to failure of blood supply, injury or disease. If any part of the body is suffering from inflammation of the disease, unless a remedy be quickly applied, the evil will continually spreads, and will attack other parts, and at last eat away at the bones. It is not something to wink at and put on the shelf to deal with later. In context of the verse, it is a false teaching that has the same impact on the “church” as does gangrene on the body. If it is not dealt with by shunning this teaching as this verse tells us. But, it is something from without trying and attempting to get in. It is a falsehood taken in as truth.

In our verse in Isaiah though, it is something from within. It is something that we are trying to muster up within ourselves. The words “filthy rags” really means “menstrual rags”. To me it has a double message. Number one it shows the vileness of our so-called righteousness. There really is nothing more vile and filthy than menstrual rags. In the law, one was not to go near a woman on her monthly or he would be considered unclean. The second message here is the deadness of our righteousnesses. Please forgive the graphic nature of this comment, but I don’t know how to say it any better. When a woman is menstruating, it is only because no life has been formed in the womb inside of her. The menstruation is to clean the deadness out of her. There is also a definite stench to it because of the deadness. Now if we equate that with our righteousness, it means that our righteousnesses or a better way to put it is our ‘righteous acts’ that are self motivated are dead and vile in the sight of God.

I do want to clarify that the righteousness here is not the same righteousness imputed to Christ’s children. Christ clothes his children with the white robe of righteousness and by no means can it be classified as rags. The righteousness that Christ imputes is pure, holy, undefiled. The ’righteousness’ that sinful flesh can muster up is just that, full of sin, unholy, very much defiled. The “filthy rags” referred to are works of the law and trying to muster up our own righteousness. Paul in his letter to the Philippians proclaims very boldly that his desire is to be found clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and “not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” (Phil. 3:9) What I think of is for instance, the modern “missionaries”. The so-called ’christian’ world lifts them up as being so righteous for giving up everything and going out and doing the work. Not to mention, the Sunday Schools, Theological Schools, Bible Societies, ’christian’ bands, etc. But, these so-called righteous acts are as filthy rags and are a stench in God’s nostrils.

Two other times, Isaiah talks about his uncleanness. In chapter 6 verse 5 he says: “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” And then in chapter 53 verse 6 he says: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Only by God’s grace and His work in us can we see ourselves as unclean. Job saw it: “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.” (Job 40:4) David knew it: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalms 51:5) Paul knew it as well: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.... wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:18, 24)

The righteous acts that are not as filthy rags are those that God has caused to happen by His Sovereign will. I firmly believe that they are the ones that we don’t even realize that we are doing. In Ephesians, Paul says: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10) All of the works that we do, were ordained for us to walk in from before the foundation of the world. We will walk in them whether we know we are or not, and like I said, I believe that most of the time we are not aware of it. Look at Matthew chapter 25. In verses 31 thru 46 we have the separating of the sheep from the goats.

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

So, we see here that the “righteous” had no clue that what they were doing were the works that were ordained for them to walk in. It is those spur of the moment things that come along that we do and don’t give a second thought to.

The so-called righteous acts that man can muster up are as menstrual rags. They are filled with deadness, they have a stench about them and it is called “flesh.” We are called to ‘good works’ but those &lquo;good works’ were ordained for us to walk in. So, who gets the glory? Only God!!!

One in hope,
Tom Adams
Feb. 2004