As Filthy Rags…

What mental-images does “filthy-rags” bring to mind? Perhaps we think of those nasty shop-rags hanging out in our garage. For those who are parents, maybe it is dirty-diapers. And then there is…

In 1993, I worked in a welding shop, and most of the work we did was on trucks – BIG trucks – semis. The nastiest of the nasty were the car-haulers…the “portable-parking-lots“. Because they were built low to the ground, they collected road-grime like there was no tomorrow, and because the ones we worked on were older and typically hauled used vehicles, they were slathered with all the drips and leaks from hundreds of vehicles. There was no way we could stay clean and work on those critters, but thankfully our boss provided shop-rags and coveralls through a uniform-service. Some days it looked like we had swam in all that crud. I would have hated to take my filthy clothes home for my wife to wash, because nothing short of a commercial laundry could ever get those clothes clean.

As a parent, I changed quite a few dirty diapers, and even though disposable diapers were available, we couldn’t afford them. We had a pile of cloth diapers, and particularly when we had two babies in diapers, we washed a LOT of diapers. By the time the diaper-pail got full, and my wife did laundry, they were rank, even though she had rinsed them out.

And then there is…
The image of “filthy-rags” used in scripture is that of menstrual-rags. Women didn’t just start having menstrual periods when Kotex sanitary napkins were invented. Eve started that “tradition“. Is it any wonder that when a man notices that his wife is a bit cranky, he says “She is on-the-rag“? Menstrual rags were hand-made, one at a time, so they had to be washed-out…cleaned, before they could be used again. Can you imagine a bucket full of those nasty things?

That IS the image…
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 “way”…
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; (Phillipians 2:2)

How many people are working FOR their salvation? Are you, am I, working for our salvation? We don’t seem to be confident that God can get the job done without our help. We can’t get ourselves (self) out of the way of God, and we each have our own way of going about it.

Muslims pray five times a day towards Mecca, and go on pilgrimages. They also believe that if the die a martyr, they will be rewarded in heaven with 70 virgins, and even though they keep their women covered head-to-toe in cloth, it is easy to tell what is really on their minds… What do the women get who die as a martyr?

Mormons are required to be missionaries as part of the progression to adulthood. So that their marriage will last even into heaven, they get married in the temple.

Jehovah’s Witnesses put in “service” to make sure they are part of the “chosenfew“.

Many Christians believe that they must “contribute” to their salvation, or that they must help “keep themselves saved“. That is blatantly false.

I knew that “Jesus loves me” from a young age, but I wasn’t so sure about God, to I tried to “keep the rules” so that I could keep from incurring God’s wrath and anger, but it didn’t work… I felt the sting of His belt quite regularly.

The common denominator is that all of us really think that God needs our help, and that our salvation is really “earned“, not a truly free gift. One of the problems is that we always fall far short of the mark…

As filthy rags…
The problem is that we are practicing an empty religion… Our “new-legalism” is really just reborn Pharisaism. As we can tell from Isaiah 64:6, the Israelites were practicing legalism in his day as well. They were practicing empty religion…keeping the rules, but not loving God and giving Him true worship.

If we are trying to earn our way into heaven, all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. If it were up to us to merit our salvation, we could not earn one nano-second in heaven, nor could be get ourselves one nano-meter closer to heaven. For those who are not scientifically-inclined, a nano-second is one billionth of a second, and a nano-meter is a billionth of a meter…very small measurements.

A more excellent way…
We must accept that we are naked and polluted…spiritually-bankrupt, before Almighty God, and that the ONLY was we will ever gain entrance into heaven is through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) We have to take ourselves out of the salvation process, and accept what He has done for us.

What about “working out our salvation”?
Our “good-works” and “righteous-acts” should give evidence of our salvation…of the grace and mercy of God in our lives. For a person to “claim” to be saved, but show no evidence of it, their claim should be seen as shallow at best. It is not that we are going to become dynamos of good-deeds and righteous-acts as soon as we are saved, but those things should grow and become a greater part of our lives as we mature in Christ.

Righteous acts of the saints…
7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” 8 And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Revelation 19:7-8)

While we WILL be rewarded in heaven for our acts of service to our Lord, that reward should NOT be our motivation. We should respond with gratitude for what the Lord has done for us, not for the self-serving desire to gain a “greater-reward“. We should “give Him glory” in everything we do.

From my own testimony…
While I knew that Jesus loves me, God was distant, scowling, rule-enforcing, and completely unlike our Heavenly Father. It seemed that His belt was always handy, and I felt its sting often. I accepted Jesus as my Savior at an early age, but measuring up to God’s impossible standards was a nightmare. I knew nothing about salvation by grace through faith, and even after I accepted it as theological fact, it took many years to start to sink in, and I am not sure it will completely this side of heaven. I was always striving, striving, striving, but never getting there. Life seemed more downs than ups.

Outwardly I seemed to do okay, but inwardly I was a mess. At each low-point in my life, God picked me up, dusted me off, and helped me get back on my feet…for a while. Every time I said “ I am going to make it this time“, I failed again. It seemed to be a never-ending cycle…up, then down, up, then down. “It” was still dependent on me, and I couldn’t get “it” done. Of course that was exactly what God wanted me to realize all along…that I couldn’t do it on my own, but I had to keep trying, because that was all I knew. His grace was there, but I couldn’t see it. Maybe I couldn’t even trust it. Maybe I couldn’t even trust Him…

I pray that my own testimony is NOT yours also, that you DON’T and HAVEN’T struggled to do it on your own, but if you have…give it up, and let God do it ALL. You will have a lot more peace in your heart.

If God hadn’t held me up, I would have gone down in flames long ago.

God bless!

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