In part one I suggested that a deeper layer of meaning than that suggested by Francis Chan was that we could consider our ‘good works’ as ‘unfulfilled potential’ as opposed to disgustingly useless.
Here I want to take yet a further step back and consider that Francis might have missed the point entirely. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising Francis, heck the guy is one of my all-time heroes, I’m just wondering if he might have got it a bit wrong this time.
Lets have a look at the verse within its immediate context.
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.
It seems to me that this verse is referring to people who have “continued to sin against” God’s ways, and then tried to ‘do good works’, as it follows on after, in verse 7: “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you”.
To me, that speaks of a people that have rejected God and are therefore doing ‘good works’ insincerely.
It’s the kind of life that Jesus lambasts the Pharisees for in Matthew 23:13-36. A short excerpt:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
It’s easy to criticise the Pharisees, in fact they are generally good christian ‘cannon-fodder’ but lets not be naïve or conceited, we are just as guilty of not having our motives correct when we do things.
Our encouragement comes from Romans 12:2
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Only then, when we have transformed and renewed minds will we be constantly correctly motivated to do our ‘good works’ by our Love for God, which will then be pleasing to him and not like ‘filthy rags’.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
(Thanks @rsgaston for inspiration and input. Credit where credit is due!!)