Our Righteous Deeds: Polluted Garments or Fine Linen?
“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.” – Isaiah 64:6
For as along as I have known and been taught this passage, I have accepted and believed that all our good works (“righteous deeds”) are like filthy rags (or “polluted garments”) before God. We could never amount to anything since God is so holy and everything we do is tainted with an imperfect heart. This made sense to me to believe that our good works count for nothing for our salvation or anything else. While I still hold fast to the fact that our good works cannot earn us our salvation or justification before God I have come to realize that what I have been taught all my Christian life about how God sees our righteousness has been false.
We’ll come back to Isaiah but for now let’s consider what John says (technically the heavenly hosts say it) about our righteous deeds—the righteous works of the Church, the Bride of Christ.
“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” – Revelation 19:7-8
So, imagine for a second the Bridegroom awaiting and watching His bride walk down the aisle towards Him. Ought we to suppose that she is clothed with filthy, bloody rags or with “fine linen, bright and pure” when presented to her Bridegroom? Yes, she is adorned with fine linen, and John says the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
So let’s look back to Isaiah to see if it offers any clues to help us interpret it so that it does not contradict John’s plain teaching on righteousness. I believe verse five is very telling of who Isaiah is referring to and why he referred it:
“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?” – Isaiah 64:5
The key phrase here is “we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time.” So you see, the righteous works of Israel were filthy because they were living in sin. Thus, Isaiah is speaking specifically about Israel at that moment in time, and he is not making a universal statement about every person at all times. However, this concept could be applied to anyone living in sin—inside or outside the walls of church. God is not pleased with any works from those who are living an unrepentant life—living in habitual sin. Their sins stain and pollute their acts of righteousness making all that they do, good or bad, worthless and despised by God. We first must be cleansed of all our unrighteousness by the blood of Jesus Christ through the repentance of all known sin (recall the rich, young ruler who “lacked one thing”).
Once we are made clean through the redemption of His blood by faith, our righteous deeds are pleasing and are a soothing aroma to God. He delights in us and He saved us for the purpose of good works that we might bring Him glory. The death of Christ was the means to this end—to reconcile us to God by counting us righteous and causing us to walk in righteousness making us worthy to be called His bride. It was said in Revelation that the bride had “made herself ready” by adorning herself in righteousness. Have you made yourself ready for the bridegroom? How do you see your righteous deeds? Perhaps now you might be compelled all the more to seek after righteousness and to forsake your sin. Adorn yourself as the bride of Christ and make yourself beautiful and presentable to Jesus Christ your Bridegroom.