We are not Strong

How do you evaluate humanity? How do you and I evaluate our own goodness? By what standard do we measure ourselves? I fear that our measure of our goodness or badness, our strength or our weakness, is not the same as the measure of the Lord.

 

Isaiah wrote to the people of Israel, reminding them that they were not as strong as they thought themselves to be. His words are part of a prayer of confession as he asks for the mercy of the Lord.

 

Isaiah 64:5-6

 

5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,

those who remember you in your ways.

Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;

in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?

6 We have all become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.

We all fade like a leaf,

and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

 

The word that is most terrifying in Isaiah’s prayer of confession is “righteous.” In verse 6, one line says, “and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”  We have to get this to see our great need for the mercy of the Lord. It is not our badness that looks like a filthy garment in the sight of the Lord. It is the best we can do that still amounts to something nasty in God’s sight.

 

Do not misunderstand me or the word of God here. The Lord is not saying that it is bad for people to do right things. When we donate to relieve those who have suffered an earthquake, a hurricane, or an evil attack, what we do is good. It is so wonderful to see cities come together, help the needy, and give of their time, their money, and even their blood to aid others. This is not a bad thing.

 

But, and this is vital for our souls to grasp, when compared to the absolute perfection of the Lord, we cannot let ourselves think that we have made ourselves good by our own strength. When held up against the holiness of God, even our best work, our most righteous deeds, still look dirty. The point is to convince us of our helplessness before the Lord. WE have never been good on our own. We can never be good on our own. We are too stained by the sin of the world and the evil in our own hearts. We must have a Savior.

 

This is where the gospel is good news. Whereas every other world religion tells us to do good in order to earn the favor of the deity, biblical Christianity says to us that there is no good that we can perform to earn God’s favor. But Christianity also tells us that Jesus has done the work, all of the work, necessary to cleanse us from our sin and to make us righteous in the sight of the Lord. Jesus has taken the punishment for sin we all deserve. Jesus has performed perfect acts of righteousness to actually be able to donate to us, to credit to our accounts, acts of righteousness that are not filthy garments in the sight of the Lord. Jesus has covered the negative and freely given the positive that is required for us to be forgiven our sin and welcomed into God’s family.

 

Friends, we are not good. We are not strong. We do not bring good to the table, even when we do great things in this world. Our only hope is that God-sized good and God-sized grace are given to us. And those God-sized things are done by the Son of god, the only one who really could do them in the first place. And this is wherein our hope lies. WE trust in the finished work of Jesus and ask him to apply it to us. We bow to him in humility, and we receive his mercy as a gift. We are strong, never in ourselves, but only in the almighty strength and perfect righteousness of the Son of God.