Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hide NOT under filthy rags


As I write, this article turns out to be a 2-parts series. Part I has come to be more or less, a teaching, although articles I put under my blog heading of “Concerning my `little ministry’” should generally be testimonial or journal in nature. This part, centered around “That we sin, no excuse for NOT working”, is of itself NOT devoid of link with the “little ministry”, as you shall see. Part II of this article will be both reflective and journaling.

Journaling is good
More than 3 months have passed since I last wrote about my little ministry; the last article being, “Lord, what are you saying in these?” I have just re-read that article, and it is indeed good for me to go over the things the Lord had done through me, my thoughts and promises to the Lord. Christians should do some kind of journaling, so that they do NOT go through life forgetful of the workings of the Lord for them and through them, and their words given to their Lord. How many of us already forgotten this year’s resolution we made at the start of the year concerning our walk with the Lord? It is through the re-read that I have just done, of the last article, that I remember that I pledged to be abandoned to the Lord this year.

We are soldiers and servants of God
As Christians, are we clear that when we gave of our lives to the Lord, Jesus Christ, we are all enlisted into the army of God, and are part of the wider spiritual war that has been going on? We are all soldiers of the Lord; but are you functioning as a soldier? Or are you a MIA (missing in action)? Or have you mutinied? Or are you just adopting the layback attitude, and always saying, “Lord, NOT me, send him, and him, and him; just do NOT send me!”?

That we sin, no excuse for not working
Be careful NOT to adopt the attitude of saying, “But my works are like filthy rags to the Lord, and so, I should stop doing them. Anthony Chia (or any other) is different, what he does pleases the Lord, let him do it.” Yes, there is a verse in the Bible that mentioned works (NIV) being filthy rags, but we have to understand what God was driving at, there.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; (Isaiah 64:6a, NIV). 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 64:7, NIV)

During his time, Isaiah said, no one called on God’s name or strived to lay hold of God (so sad, a state), for God had hidden His face from them. The people were wasting away because of their sins. This was a time period when the people of God sinned greatly before God (see Isaiah 1:2-4), so much so, that God “put His presence far” from the people of God. God would turn away His face when the people prayed to Him; He would NOT even listen to them! – see Isaiah 1:15 {God DID hear, but did NOT listen to them – there is a difference between the two}.

The Israelites then had become like one who was unclean (like a leprous person, greatly feared and ostracized) and all their righteous acts (including good works) were like filthy rags.

First view – before salvation, unrighteous, therefore filthy rags
There are 2 ways of viewing the scenario painted by Isaiah. One is that before salvation, we are all unrighteous, and so, any good works are also unrighteous, all are like filthy rags.

Generally speaking, it is of course, right to say if one is unrighteous, nothing truly righteous can come from him. The use of leprous person as an analogy was meant to portray the pervasiveness of the “unclean-ness” of the unrighteous person. Or in terms of a rag, if the rag is already filthy, how can it be used to make clean the surface it passes over! (Actually, the KJV used “all our righteousness are as filthy rags”, and NOT “our righteous acts are like filthy rags”).

If one subscribes to this rendering, then in his view, he may think that if one has become a believer, he is righteous, and so his acts are righteous, and therefore, his good works will NOT be filthy rags. If one looks at the matter like that, no believer can hide behind the filthy rags excuse, and NOT work for the Lord (Of course, “work” here does NOT mean one has to go into full-time work for the Lord). But I do NOT like this view (that it necessarily was referring to “before salvation”, and perfection was assumed upon born-again), for it implied that I, a believer, can NEVER be unrighteous, even if I disregarded the Word of God.

2nd view – we sin, we become unclean, filthy
The 2nd way of viewing is that Isaiah was NOT directly correlating the matter to salvation; all he was saying was that when we are in sins, and have become unclean, all our righteousness are like filthy rags. In fact, the KJV rendering of the verse has NO acts in it:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; (Isaiah 64:6a, KJV)

This view is superior for a number of reasons: One, the Isaiah 64 passage was NOT on righteous ACTS/WORKS of the Israelites {Now, there are those who believe the olden use of righteousness in the KJ version meant righteous acts; nevertheless, it is the heart-condition that God looks at, acts are just observable manifestations thereof [Mat 15:8, Isaiah 29:13a, Mark 7:20-23]}. Two, Old Testament (OT) scriptures did NOT generally painted the picture that all of the righteous acts of all OT people (including the likes of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, David, etc) were filthy rags, despite Jesus was NOT yet manifest in their time to grant them salvation. Three, in the New Testament (NT) we read of this, in the Book of Acts, in Acts 10:31, Cornelius, a non-believer, a Gentile, but one who was devout and God-fearing who prayed and made much gifts to the poor, his prayers were heard by God, and his gifts were remembered by God. God sent the Apostle Peter to his house and he and his household were saved as a result. Cornelius’ good works were before his salvation, and God weighed them in.

Fear of God, an important key
You have to consider for yourselves, what Jesus said in Mark 7:20-23, whether He was only saying them as applicable to non-believers or it was generally applicable to all men (NOT just unsaved), when his disciples asked concerning the “clean and unclean” parable He gave, in answering the Pharisees and Sadducees. In Mark 7:20-23, we read this:

20 He {Jesus} went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ 21 For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”

I believe Jesus was referring to ALL men, and reality bears up to that. Many believers, and that is including myself, are NOT of totally pure hearts, and it got nothing to do (almost all the time) with whether or NOT they were born again “properly” or NOT. It is a matter of our fear of the Lord or lack of it, despite us being already born again.

I believe, apart from whether or NOT one is saved, God does look at whether or NOT, one is fearing Him. In a nutshell, if one is fearing God, one takes care to subscribe to 1 Pet 1:16 (or Lev 19:2) –

For it is written, “Be holy because I am holy.”

In elaboration, David who taught on the fear of God in Ps 34, said to note the followings, on our part:

1. Keep our tongue from evil, and our lips from speaking lies (Ps 34:13).
2. Turn from evil and do good (Ps 34:14a).
3. Seek peace, and pursue it (v14b). {The peace here should be interpreted in the context of the verse of turning from evil and doing good. The Jews then, relied on the Law, but today, we, Christians, have the Word, and laws written in our hearts}.

Those interested, can read my exposition of Ps 34 here: Ps 34 – I will teach you the fear of the LORD. It is interesting that David gave the last verse of that psalm (Ps 34:22a) as this, remember now that David’s era was before Jesus’ 1st coming:

The LORD redeems his servants;

In that article on Ps 34, I said that David did NOT “out of the blue” switch to another group of people, when he was talking about the righteous (Ah! Anyone in OT ever righteous? – more, in next para.). In fact, I believe he was, by verse 22, saying that only the righteous were the true servants of God. In other words, righteous ones of God do NOT contribute nothing, do NOT do nothing, of no fruit acceptable to the LORD – righteous ones bear fruits, and so, are the servants of the LORD. What did the verse (v22) said about what the LORD would do for his servants? Yes, He would redeem His servants. So, don’t you think we should be servants of the Lord, even if you have entered into the redemptive works of the Lord, for full redemption is yet to come?

As to the argument, if salvation was NOT being pointed to, could OT children be able to serve God in any acceptable manner? I submit to you that we need to understand there are 2 dimensions of righteousness; One, being the passive or imputed righteousness, and the other, the active righteousness. The OT children of God, Israelites then, they did NOT have the passive or imputed righteousness (of Jesus), but they were expected to have the active righteousness, although too many failed God too miserably. Those interested on an exposition on the righteousness of OT people, can read my separate article - Anyone in OT ever righteous since Jesus was not yet manifest then? In the article, I stressed that, it was whether or NOT one was in agreement with God and flowed with Him that mattered, in considering whether or NOT one was righteous. This was the case for the OT people, for they, IN THEIR TIME, had NOT the means (Christ Jesus) to “buy” them out.

Conclusion on Isaiah 64:6a
It is really NOT necessary to say that “the filthy rag” condition in Isaiah 64:6a was referring to the fallen state of men (from Original sin), although we can apply a similar analogy to the fallen state of men. The Isaiah’s scenario could stand (and I believe it is the correct position to take), as giving us a picture that, the Israelites then had so greatly sinned, that God described their condition (due to their doings, NOT as inherited) as filthy rags, nothing to do with the Original sin, as such. Isaiah made it very clear, in verse 7 (Isaiah 64:7), that God hid His face from them, and “made them waste away” because of THEIR sins. In other words, the Israelites then sinned and they did NOT address their sins, and had NOT yet receive the forgiveness from God (please, forgiveness did NOT always have to do with Jesus; He was NOT yet made manifest then). Throughout the OT, we read that God used men and women (with Original sin unaddressed; none had his Original sin addressed) (Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, David, and many ordinary men and women), and they served God. Yes, the thrust of those few verses of Isaiah 64 was that people of God then had sinned greatly and were NOT repentant.

Salvation a MUST, but works is part thereof
Sure, salvation through Jesus is a MUST for all, who want to have eternal life, but serving the Lord is part of that salvation, and one cannot say that he is saved, but He is saved, NOT to serve the Lord or to do good works. Ephesians 2:10 (KJV) said this: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” The Apostle James posed you this question: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?”(James 2:14) You are redeemed, imputed righteousness, NOT to just bask in grace, but to be servant and soldier of the Lord.

I sin and therefore, NOT righteous, so I cannot serve, right? Wrong. Even the OT people of God could be forgiven by God and served Him, why can’t you and I repent and ask to be forgiven by God and serve Him? Isn’t it just a lame excuse to say that since I sin, I am unrighteous, a filthy rag, and so, my service or works cannot be acceptable to God, and so, why bother? Be careful now, if we are NOT forgiven, as we would like to claim (to avoid serving), how are we to get to Heaven? We cannot say we are forgiven (enough) to go to Heaven, but we are NOT, for works! We cannot argue we are righteous enough to go to Heaven and at the same time argue that we are NOT, to work for God! Ah! Do NOT be nonchalant about going to Heaven. If you love God, you should want to get to Heaven. Do you NOT know that you pain the heart of God that you want to “perish” in Hell?

Can God say our works are like filthy rags?
Sure, God indeed can; we have read that He did just that, in Isaiah 64:6, and like I implied, filthy rags can be applied to believers, like you and I. When God said it to me, an individual, it is one thing, but when it is said that God said it to a church, it is a BIG thing, especially if it is said that ALL the works of a church are like filthy rags. Such a word of prophecy is either NOT from God or the church concerned had become like the leprous person.

There are really only 2 options for such a church, one, to note that the prophecy was mis-delivered by the “prophet”, or two, go do “soul-searching” before God. Even as an individual needs to journal his walk with the Lord, the church must maintain a journal of sort, and it is the church leadership’s responsibility to review such a record of what God had been doing for the church, through the church (through her many ministries), saying to the church, and what the church had done for the Lord, and her words or promises given to the Lord, to access the credibility of such a prophecy is from the Lord.

In assessing the credibility, the leadership should take into account, if the church has been committing grave sins (idolatry, sexual impropriety, injustices, oppression, stumbling people, dishonesty), for a start, in regard to her clergymen; has been doing things without going before the Lord to see if they were in line with the wishes of the Lord. A point to note is that one of the redemptive works of the Lord is “works redemption”, and so, generally speaking, the lack of works is more prevalent than God’s complaining about too much works from His people. Of course, of the many things we do, the pertinent question is whether we regarded them unto the Lord (Romans 14:6); if they were NOT, they counted NOT.

Are you doing your own things? Are you doing sinful things? All of them, you camouflage under the guise of works of the Lord? Unless, it is really bad, I do NOT think that God would say to a church that ALL her works are like filthy rags. It is more likely that God will specify particular areas or sets of works rather than ALL works. The basis of my saying that, is that, I believe in a God who primarily wants to encourage his children towards the right direction (and to do good works, is in the right direction), and it is inconsistent with that spirit of encouragement and the redemptive works of our Lord, to, on a blanket basis, thumb down ALL good works, unless indeed the leaven has worked too pervasively through the “bread”. If the church has indeed reached this stage, then she better be on her knees, day and night, pleading for mercy and restoration from the Lord.

Why this subject
The reason I wrote at some length on the above subject is because such a word of prophecy had been released against a church, and I was present in the church. It set me to think, to consider, and to assess, for I am part of that church (member only). It would be a shame if the church leadership does NOT take a serious view of that word of prophecy, but I am NOT here saying that she does NOT. Because of what I do in church, I count myself as being covered in the prophecy; and on my own part I must assess the truth of the prophecy, especially against sets of words released in past few years concerning the church, and that which I believed the Lord had impressed upon me concerning the church for the last few years. I have to ask myself if what I have been doing in church, a filthy rag to God. Then I think about what went through the minds of the few thousand members of the congregation on hearing or knowing about the prophecy. Many of them were serving, one way or another; did they just brush it off? No, they could NOT do that, for 1 Thess 5:19-22 said this:

19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.

For those who did NOT (brush it off), how have their hearts sunk? The Lord was purportedly said, to have despised their good works. While I do NOT agree with the interpretation of 1 Cor 14:3-4 to mean New Testament prophecies cannot admonish or rebuke, the word released that “all the works of the church are like filthy rags” surely did NOT edify, rather it was so discouraging, unless the church has indeed become leprous.

Harvest is plentiful, workers are few
On the contrary, the more universal lack in the current age was the desire of fellow believers to engage in good works for the Lord (The harvest is plentiful but the labors are few, is always true; with greater world population, greater is the labor required).

One reason, the lie of good works pleases God NOT
There are a number of reasons for scarcity of workers, but I will only touch on one; and that is, that we think we can please God NOT, with good works.

I am NOT talking about those who think that God is already pleased with us, and nothing we do can please Him any more than He already is; this category of believers encourage just basking in grace, and they have to answer to God themselves.

I am referring to believers who feel we can please God NOT, with good works, because we feel we are NOT “fit” enough. Just look at how God grants salvation to people, all kinds of people; how God enlisted people into His army (you are enlisted the moment you are born again), all kinds of people. Do you think God is trying to fight the massive spiritual war with a few elite marksmen? I do NOT believe the word of God tells us that if you are NOT that sharp shooter, you are NOT to join in the battle. Sure, if you are a lousy shooter, you may NOT want to be a sniper, but maybe you have brute strength, and you can dig a few trenches; then go dig trenches in the battle. Sure, if it is war, we just cannot do our own things, but I am NOT saying you are to do your own things; in fact, you can’t, in war, you and I have to obey the Commander of Host. There is a place for snipers and there is a place for trench diggers.

But we are talking about a spiritual warfare and godly matters, sins or sinfulness matter, right? Yes, but who does NOT sin at all? If the Lord, now, says, “Those who did NOT sin and will NOT sin, come with me to the battlefront”, do you think any can step forward? The Lord knows, but it does NOT means He is saying it is ok to sin. But He nevertheless enlists His people to be His soldiers. Jesus is NOT going to have any active soldiers if everyone hides behind or under a filthy rag. At the same time, as we serve, we adopt this attitude in 1 Cor 10:31 (KJV) – “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” We go into active service, and in our service, we do all to the glory of God. We try NOT to sin, and we try NOT to shame God, but to glorify Him; but we can only try (make the choice and effort in it), we are NOT the Commander of Host, He is. We may fail to glorify God in our trying, but we sure are NOT glorifying God without trying.

My take, He uses them as He cleans them
Sure, wisdom must be called into play in execution, but it is my belief that all believers can serve; the sick can serve (it is wrong teaching that the sick should NOT pray for another sick, mind you there are believers believing that!), the afflicted can serve, the ones with struggles can serve, the poor can serve, and so can the rich, all can serve, and should serve. Few know my affliction, and I serve in my affliction, and the Lord sustains. In this era of the Lord’s favor, God is cleaning filthy rags, NOT discarding them; He can clean them, and He uses them as He cleans them. The question is only one of whether or NOT you are willing to make the choice and effort in it. [Added 1 June 2011: I am NOT saying that we should all just ignore the need to be holy or be complacent that we have a holy God. In fact, we need to cleanse ourselves of ignoble to serve God - Please read my separate article, "You must choose to cleanse yourself from ignoble"]

Anthony Chia, high.expressions - And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds {works} (Heb 10:24). For Jesus has given himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works (Titus 2:14).

[Added 05 July 2012: For part II, go here: Hide NOT under filthy rags Part II]

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