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 GOOD WORKS are as polluted rags or are they? by Leonard Alt


She said, "It doesn’t matter if GOOD WORKS are meaning just plain works or works of the law, they are all as polluted rags." 

Betty is not the only one who claims there is no difference in good works and works of the law; however, she doesn’t realize the word works is used in different ways.  There are good works, works of the Law, works of Jesus; works of evil; we are the handiwork of God.   And like many she is using Isaiah 64, to suggest that good works are filthy rags when in fact these good deeds are not GOOD WORKS. 

“Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean men, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; We have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind" (Is 64:4-5).
 
Rather than taking exception to what she and others were saying, I asked them to give me the context of Isaiah 64.  And a number of people tried answering my question, but none of the answers had anything to do with the context.  It then occurred to me that these are people of very good intention, who really don’t understand what it means to use the Bible in context, and so I gave them the context.

First of all what were these good deeds and why did God see them as filthy rags?   They must have been doing something good otherwise the text wouldn’t say “good deeds” And why were these good deeds displeasing to God?   They were following their law and they were fasting; “Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high!”   However, fasting on the one hand is good and so why would God say that these good deeds are like polluted rags?  The context is Isaiah and so Isaiah can answer it.
 
Why do we fast, and you don’t not see it, afflict our selves, and you take not note of it?  Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers.  Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw.  Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high!  Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes?  Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable the Lord? 

The reason their good deeds (fasting) were referred to as pollluted rags is because they were mistreating their laborers, carrying out their own pursuits and fighting with one another. God ignored their fasting not because they were doing good works, but because their works were evil. 
 
God does not speak against good works, but in fact speaks against evil works. “It is your sin that makes him hide his face so that he will not hear you  (59:2). Their works are evil works, and deeds of violence come from their hands.   Their feet run to do evil and they are quick to shed innocent blood.  Their thoughts are destructive thoughts; plunder and ruin are on their high ways” (Is 59:7).
 
Not only does God not speak against good works in Isaiah, He overtly speaks for good works.
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing you bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.  Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and you wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard (Is `58; 3-8).
 
The point is this, the good deeds (fasting) in Isaiah are not good works and secondly good works are never referred to as filthy rags any place in the entire Bible.   God did not speak against good works. He spoke for good works and against evil works.  Calling good works, filthy rags is not a use of Scripture, but an abuse of Scripture.
 
“So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, "You have faith and I have works." Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (Jm 2:17-18).