Growing up my grandfather was someone who was very particular about table manners. Never were we to lick our fingers or wipe our hands on something other than a napkin. He didn’t like his own hands being dirty, particularly at the dinner table. Being clean was important to him. The crazy thing is that our child who is named after him has the same tendencies about being clean and not liking “sticky fingers” and wanting things to be just right in a particular way with cleanliness at the table.
In our day and age, and in our city, cleanliness tends to be obtainable for most people. We may choose to go a day or two without getting “clean”, but for the most part, everyone around us is clean. We may have to take multiple showers in the summer around here, but we are able to be clean when we want to.
In the verse above, Isaiah is communicating to us that we are not clean—not externally, but internally. Even when we think we do things that are good, we are not clean. Our good deeds ultimately flow out of self-righteousness. Whether or not the intention behind them is pure, it doesn’t gain us favor with God. Far too many times we, like those Isaiah writes to, think that if we just do the right thing, then God will be happy with us.
In Jesus’ day, the same issue was present, particularly with those who were “clean” - the religious leaders. Like Isaiah, Jesus called them out on it. “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:25-26).
If God deems even our good acts “unclean”, what is the solution? The solution is to do what Jesus tells the Pharisees. He tells them to repent, to turn away from trying to get right with God by only doing “good” things, and believe in Jesus. It is only then that we can fully depend on Jesus to cleanse us and for his acts to be ours, thereby enabling God to be pleased with our righteous acts.
Paul understood this and says in Philippians 3, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (3:8-9)
- Why do we want to feel like our good acts are enough?
- What are you being challenged to repent of that you are depending on to be right with God?
- What is freeing about trusting Christ for your righteousness?
- Jon Rees