You've probably been there.

You're listening to some sermon on any number of topics when the subject of our works arises in relation to God. And then comes the impassioned declaration from the pulpit, "Your works are filthy rags to God!" (There are a few variations, but it goes something like that.) Cue: other stuff about grace and mercy - so God will accept you anyway - but just remember, even the best things you ever do in life are filthy rags. They're nasty. They're disgusting. THAT is how God relates to everything you've ever done ever... Now, let's sing a final song and try to walk away thinking about how great God is.

I can't say that approach ever worked for me. It never resonated. It still doesn't now (and not because I think my works are so exceptionally great, either). It just doesn't sound like any God I'd want to know.

I don't want to know a God who's so revolted by the best expressions of his own creation that he would dismiss and demean them outright.

I'm not talking about works as a means of salvation. I'm talking about existence. I don't like the idea of a God who thinks even the best of how we exist is despicable or disgusting. Thankfully, that's nothing like the God I know - because that's nothing like Jesus - but it is precisely what I grew up hearing in church. And many people I know, and many I don't, are still utterly enslaved to this poisonous way of thinking. They believe it to be good Christian theology... But it's not. And I'm going to get into why. 

The notion itself is bizarre to me. If you take it to its logical conclusion, it's just bizarre. Consider this: If you come right out and state directly what people typically cover up with Christianese, look what you get...

Transient

"Even if you were filled with wonder and peace and love for others, and joyfully serving those around you without any selfish motivation, it's fundamentally repulsive to God. Your works are filthy, filthy rags."

Gee. Thanks, Christianity.

"Oh, but don't worry - God likes you anyway. Even though everything you do makes God gag. Like, seriously, ew."

Well this "God" fella sure sounds... strange!

Now look, I get it. If you are one who knows this saying to be taken from scripture, you might be immediately defensive at the idea of me criticizing it... But let me ask you a question the people who use this phrase in sermon after sermon never ask: Is it really "scriptural" to repeat "Your works are filthy rags" in the way we do? Are you certain? Just because the phrase is in the Bible - does that mean we're using it properly or for the same reason? Is it even a correct perspective to take in holding it over the heads of others?

You may have already guessed (you're fairly clever, after all) that I don't think the answer to any of the above questions should be "yes."

A quick browse of YouTube yielded some immediate results in regards to this popular religious saying. I've become incredibly tech-savvy for this entry of You Have Heard It Said, and by that I mean that I learned how to time-embed the following links, so they will go directly to the most pertinent portion of each video (and it shouldn't take long to get the basic idea in any given place anyway). You can check out what's being said

HEREHEREHERE or even HERE...

Now, I have more problems with much of what's presented in those links than their usage of the "filthy rags" cliche, so it's very difficult to remain focused and to not get sidetracked with other things... But I need to stay on target if this article is to ever find a conclusion. For now, let's consider those links a backdrop to just this issue. There is more than enough to deconstruct in tackling this phrase alone.  


As I said before, this phrase is derived from scripture, so it's probably best to begin by understanding it from that same vantage point.

That means we have to actually bother to find where these words came from, when, and why. We have to look not just at the phrase, but at what is going on behind it. It is no good to assume we understand something simply because of how Evangelicalism told us to see it.  

The charge of works being as "filthy rags" comes from the Old Testament. It is found in the writings of the prophet Isaiah, and near the end of that book - in what we know to be chapter 64 and verse 6. As anyone who's ever attempted a full reading knows, Isaiah is a lengthy book, and it's very easy to feel overwhelmed by it (especially once you add in the other cultures and histories mentioned, which we have even less understanding of than we do ancient Israel)... But I think that it's important to quickly take stock of Isaiah's overarching message and the flow of themes presented before zeroing in on a single phrase near the end of his life's work.

I also think that it's easier to appreciate the central aim of it when we look generally at the broad strokes. It's amazing how much simpler it is when we understand just a few parameters to prophetic writings.

Isaiah, like the other prophets, concerns himself mainly with a few things: the glory of God, what God expects of people, and the greatness of the kingdom to come. There are a lot of things wrapped up in those facets of prophecy, but they tend to frame much of it. When Isaiah wrote, he wrote specifically at a time when the Jewish people had really lost their way - spiritually, ethically, morally, etc. He wrote over a forty year span or so, as kings came and went and empires began to crumble around him... And through it all, the message of this powerful voice for true righteousness resounded. Isaiah presents a lot of God's frustration with Israel in the first 39 chapters, and a lot of the hope to come in the final 27. There's plenty of cross-pollination of those two focuses within the two sections as well, but that's the general flow. (Hey, look! Isaiah's 39/27 split happens to mirror the general flow of scripture itself in the testaments!) 

But as for our snapshot... 

Here is the quick progression of what ultimately brings Isaiah to the "works are filthy rags" declaration. I compiled the following points by starting at the beginning and reading along until God had a problem with Israel, which I then summarized. Pretty simple. It's all surrounded with much poetry and rumination, but this is the thematic drive of what God has to say to the people of Israel:

Context is a delicate dance and a real balancing act. 

Context is a delicate dance and a real balancing act. 

  • God is tired of Israel's religious observances, services, prayers, rites and rituals. They have ceased to mean anything. Israel's hands are full of blood due to violent ways and warmongering. Israel has not sought social justice or rescue for the oppressed, the orphans or the widows of society. God wants to have a time of reckoning, and to call Israel out. (1:10-26)
  • Israel has become arrogant in its status as a people - even as it adopted the worst ways of other nations - and has become ruthless in its pursuit of the machines of war, the storing up of wealth and treasure, and the idolizing of the civilization it has built. (2:5-11)
  • Confused and mislead by its leadership, Israel has built itself up on the backs of the poor. It has sought prosperity above all else, crushing the weak and dishonoring those who are easiest to take advantage of. (3:13-23)
  • Israel has corrupted from within, and is celebrating economic exploitation and excessive self-indulgence. (5:8-12)
  • There is an abusive union of religion and government which serves to undermine care for the poor and alone. This fusion has enabled corrupt lawmakers of the land to write laws which bring misfortune to the most vulnerable of society. (10:1, 2) 
  • Those entrusted with civil stewardship of the people are instead seeking their own advancement. (22:15, 16)
  • Those entrusted with spiritual care of the people are drunk on the same excesses of society as everyone else, and have lost sight of the vision God put forth for them. They are as confused as anyone, and their judgment is no longer sound. (28:7, 8)
  • The people have a pretense of honoring God while their hearts are actually far from God. They justify and sanction all their own evil ideas and practices by wrapping them in phony theology, so despite the evil they embrace and encourage, they remain very much a "religious" people. (29:13) 
  • Israel has embraced hypocrisy, and is allowing fear to motivate their decisions. They profit from the oppression of others, their leaders take bribes, and they delight in hearing of violence and bloodshed. They relish looking upon the evil being done by them and around them, justifying and sanctioning it. In all matters of business, commerce, and foreign and civic policy, they are an unethical and immoral people. (33:14, 15)

...Are we seeing a trend yet? There is more of the same elsewhere in Isaiah - and not just concerning Israel, but other nations as well. Then the focus of the book shifts to hope, comfort, redemption, peace and the life God intends. But after a long section on those subjects, Isaiah returns once more to the current state of his people.

In chapter 58, perhaps the most definitive statement of diagnosis within the entire book, the voice of God echoes from Isaiah's pages, asserting what God wants "religion" to mean...


The Lord says,
      Shout as loud as you can! Tell my people Israel about their sins! They worship me every day, claiming that they are eager to know my ways and obey my laws. They say they want me to give them just laws and that they take pleasure in worshiping me.
The people ask,
      Why should we fast if the Lord never notices? Why should we go without food if he pays no attention?
The Lord says to them,
     The truth is that at the same time you fast, you pursue your own interests and oppress your workers. Your fasting makes you violent, and you quarrel and fight. Do you think this kind of fasting will make me listen to your prayers? When you fast, you make yourselves suffer; you bow your heads low like a blade of grass and spread out sackcloth and ashes to lie on. Is that what you call fasting? Do you think I will be pleased with that?
The kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless and poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives. Then my favor will shine on you like the morning sun, and your wounds will be quickly healed. I will always be with you to save you; my presence will protect you on every side. When you pray, I will answer you. When you call to me, I will respond.
If you put an end to oppression, to every gesture of contempt, and to every evil word; if you give food to the hungry and satisfy those who are in need, then the darkness around you will turn to the brightness of noon. And I will always guide you and satisfy you with good things. I will keep you strong and well. You will be like a garden that has plenty of water, like a spring of water that never goes dry. Your people will rebuild what has long been in ruins, building again on the old foundations. You will be known as the people who rebuilt the walls, who restored the ruined houses.

This may be one of the most important - and yet most overlooked and ignored - passages of scripture.

On from there Isaiah continues - speaking of salvation and the whole world sharing in it... And, finally, we reach the place in which we find the phrase that got us started down this path in the first place! Isaiah, looking forward to a more ideal time, a place of fulfillment and justice and peace (and nearing the end of this written work), speaks personally - taking his place as a child of Israel, and numbering himself as one of them - despite having no part in Israel's sickness himself. He says with a broken heart,

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags...
Transient

If ever there were implied quotation marks at some point in a Biblical verse, they would be most at home surrounding "righteous acts" in Isaiah 64:6. As Isaiah has exhaustively shown, those "righteous acts," or "works," are not so righteous at all. They're dead works, in fact - the works of those only masquerading as a spiritual people who walk in the light.

Now it should be crystal clear at this point: Isaiah is not saying anything he hasn't been saying all along - the phony religiosity of Israel is not of any value to God or to people. It's hypocrisy. It's contrary to the heart of God.

No amount of religious observance, sacrifice, prayer or ritual can make up for the fact that they've neglected the more important things: conscience, love, justice, and mercy. 

Having that as a backdrop to any further discussion on this topic is important because, before we can raise our expectations for spiritual formation, we must first challenge the preconceptions which so often hold us down.

Just a few months ago, I had the experience of mentioning this primary thematic drive of Isaiah (and other prophets I'd been reading) when talking with a group of friends over lunch. One of them, sort of uncomfortably, said, "Oh, now we're getting political," to which I replied, "No, we're not just getting political, we're getting theological." 

And if we claim to follow God, we'd better get used to that - regardless of what our religious culture says.

Perhaps the most unfortunate part of hearing this response when discussing Isaiah was that I honestly don't think this is the way my friend truly believed in the integrity of her conscience. And though I can't ultimately speak for her, I can speak for me, and I've certainly been down this same path. I believe now that all this evasive stuff has been so thoroughly drilled into so many of us, and has blanketed us for so long... we tend to just regurgitate it. Tragically, it's like a pat answer we dutifully deliver on cue, quickly dispelling the tension as we walk on eggshells to not disrupt the status quo. It's the way a frightened, abused kid behaves in order to avoid upsetting a ruthless parent - a child ridden with guilt for no good reason at all...

How exhaustively we have been trained to nullify the voices of the prophets (and Jesus himself) in regards to social justice! How insane it is, that we give such credence to pastors, politicians and TV personalities who make us fear challenging their dogmas. These people talk up their "old time values" and "morality" one second... and then sweep the vast majority of biblical teachings on morality straight under the rug. They exercise hate toward their brothers and sisters all over the world in refusing to see any "neighbor" beyond their own little tribes and kingdoms. It's as though they think justice and equity for the 'least of these' is some arcane and impractical thing not to be confused with the "essential" faith they're selling. The section of the Old Testament that Jesus most identified his own voice with goes ignored because it makes them uncomfortable. 

What's the matter? Jesus isn't "conservative" enough for you? You may want to reconsider following him then.  

And you may be surprised by who Jesus considers to be "Right" and "Left."

Now, in regard to the way we hear this verse used by Christians and in church services, one thing I notice immediately is that the verse is taken INTENSELY out of context. If you think back to the links I posted at the start of this entry, it's pretty staggering how biblically-illiterate the Bible-quoting tends to be. That's par for the course with a lot of Christian thought, but still should be pointed out. Remembering the thematic progression of Isaiah, and then remembering our own religious familiarity with this "filthy rags" phrase, something becomes very clear: 

Typically, people today apply it to A) those outside of the "religious fold" attempting to do good in order to please God or be better people... but the scripture is actually directed at B) those within the religious fold who already think they please God and have all the right practices and positions and perspectives on things.

There is a huge difference in those two applications.

Even those who apply it to themselves within the church do so from a mentality which says, "I was a Christian, but I was never really a part of the group until I realized my works were filthy rags and properly re-affiliated." Their take on the whole thing is that they stopped thinking their works mattered and then found true faith. But that's absolutely the opposite of what Isaiah (or any truly spiritual person) would suggest. The point of Isaiah was not to demote the role of works in general in the life of faith, but to call out the wrong works and steer people back toward the right ones.


He's not saying their works will always and forever be filthy rags.
He's saying they are now, and they shouldn't be.


And yet people use "filthy rags" in this ongoing and general sense, rather than understanding that the phrase depicts a people who think they are a part of God's momentum, and who think they have it all together even as they're confronted with the scam of their false religion. It should be obvious to us that how we aim these words is crucial. It's fundamental to how we frame them and apply them, and how we ultimately imply ourselves by them.

This point cannot be overstated.

People are using this concept to build up walls in front of those deemed "outside", rather than to hold up mirrors to those assumed to be "inside".

It's a fundamental abuse of the intent of the context of Isaiah to use this verse in the manner Christians tend to use it. The people spoken of in Isaiah were not trying to earn favor or standing with God... They believed they had all that. They were "chosen." They were "correct." They took pride in their ritual observances and religious distinctions and moral positions. They already believed that they had arrived.

But let's set aside HOW these words are used in our time, and peer instead into WHY they are used. Typically, you hear the phrase when a Christian is trying to prove that works do not earn God's favor or merit salvation (fair enough). You hear it when a Christian is assuming someone is trying to "get to heaven" by their works (slow down). You hear it when a Christian is trying to assert the ongoing place of God's grace alone in validating their Christian life (hold on, where did they get that?)... The intent of those who use the imagery is to say that what we do is scum to God - that even our best works are scum to God, that there's nothing we can do that will impress God or be of any real value... But God loves us anyway, and will save us despite our utter worthlessness and inability to ever be of any value ever. (Even though something is only "redeemed" if it has redemptive value and can be restored to purpose or use...

Why is it that we talk about "redemption" as though it means "God saves my butt so I can wait around for God to save my butt some more?"

Redemption is about rejoining the mission of God, and living as God intended. It's salvation for restoration, not complacency. It's healing so you can be well. Rescue so you can live free.  

SHOULD BE OBVIOUS: The fact that these are "redeemable" implies that they not only have value, but can be reclaimed, remade and re-purposed.

SHOULD BE OBVIOUS: The fact that these are "redeemable" implies that they not only have value, but can be reclaimed, remade and re-purposed.

I fully understand that people say wrong things with the utmost sincerity and passion... So I never want to come across as too sarcastic or dismissive of people who genuinely believe in the ideas I'm confronting... But in mangling this "filthy rags" idea to drive home their point in the short term, they fail to see how far and wide the ramifications of it can be to the future of the lives they pour their dogmas into. And we should not sit idly by when that pervasive damage is being done, nor as it continues to spread and gain a foothold in the lives of others.

At the end of the day, it's difficult to see how the typical usage of this phrase has anything to do with what Isaiah was talking about. And it becomes all the more absurd when you consider that the way people use it - however popular it may be within Christianese - doesn't remotely fit in with any of the REST of the scriptures anyway... The reason why it cannot fit is simple:

Because it is impossible
to consider something
filthy and repulsive
and yet
necessary and essential
at the same time.

Even so, this is precisely the position Christians attempt to maintain.

While the scriptures proclaim that something is beautiful, Christians cling to the idea that the very same thing is ugly. (And, like Jesus said, no one can serve two masters. Something will have to give.) To put it another way: How can "filthy rags" be the diagnosis for all works, and yet works still be something expected and desired of us?

Let's consider just some of the key mentions of "works" in the New Testament... But let's replace "works" with "filthy rags," and see if the scriptures can remain at all intelligible:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your filthy rags and glorify your Father in heaven... (Mt. 5:16)
For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to filthy rags... (Mt. 16:27)
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the filthy rags that I do he will do also; and greater filthy rags than these he will do, because I go to My Father... (Jn. 14:12)
At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of filthy rags and charitable deeds which she did... (Ac. 9:36)
But in every nation whoever fears God and does filthy rags-righteousness is accepted by God... (Ac. 10:35)
...but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do filthy rags befitting repentance... (Ac. 19:20)
For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for filthy rags, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them... (Eph. 2:10)
Let them do good, that they be rich in filthy rags, ready to give, willing to share... (1 Tim. 6:18)
...in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of filthy rags; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility... (Tit. 2:7)
This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain filthy rags. These things are good and profitable to all people... (Tit. 3:8)
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and filthy rags... (Heb. 10:24)
...they may, by your filthy rags which they observe, glorify God... (1 Pet. 2:12b)
I know your filthy rags, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your filthy rags, the last are more than the first... (Rev. 2:19)

 James, in particular, becomes the most bizarre thing contained in the New Testament:

Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have filthy rags, is dead... (Jas. 2:17)
Show me your faith without your filthy rags, and I will show you my faith by my filthy rags... (Jas. 2:18b)
Do you see that faith was working together with his filthy rags, and by filthy rags faith was made perfect... (Jas. 2:22)
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his filthy rags are done in the meekness of wisdom... (Jas. 3:13)

It's plain to see why Isaiah's phrase cannot have been intended to be binding or definitive always and to everyone.

Even Cornelius (Ac. 10) did works which were pleasing to God BEFORE being brought into the Way of Jesus by Peter... But with so great a biblical record of the place works hold in the life of a person, why do people want to camp so hard on this false ideology that all works - even the best ones - are always and ultimately filthy rags? If I had to guess, I'd say it's because it sanctions their lack of growth. It sanctions false humility. It makes them feel justified in forever groveling before a Lord who says to get up and walk with him... Why else would they diminish the value of works so much? Looming behind all the deceptively grand attempts at theology on this issue is the subtle, nagging truth of the matter:

If we utterly downplay and devalue works generally (and under the guise of championing God's salvation by grace alone), we then provide ourselves an evasive platform on which to stand comfortably when confronted with our own lack of transformation.

When people question why we stagnate ourselves, resting smugly in who we already were or always have been, satisfied with ourselves despite not taking on more and more of God's character, we can reply, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven." (Which is a cliché that is nearly as bad as this one.)

...And all because some guy at a pulpit said our works were filthy rags?


To illustrate the ferocity with which this point is often made... Many of us can recall hearing pastors who are all-too-excited to detail the implication of "filthy rags" in the original Hebrew language. (I'm sure that some, reading the previous sentence, already know where I'm going with this. Buckle up, and hold on to your tampons, folks.) ...The understanding of culture in Isaiah's time would have been that these "filthy rags" are associated with menstrual cloths.

And perhaps if you've been in church for any number of years (depending on the church), you've heard teachers use this little tidbit to (supposedly) really drive home their grand notion that "nothing we do is worth anything to God."

As we've already looked at why that interpretation of the verse is suspect at best, we don't really need to trot all that out again. But what I can't take on this subject without discussing is their clear misogyny along the lines of this cultural point of reference. I've heard more than a few in my time bring up the "menstrual cloths" angle in a way that I can only describe as befitting of an elementary school kid's belief in cooties. Never do they ask the key question of WHY Isaiah might evoke the feminine cycle in depicting the works of his people. They just assume they already know why - independent of any rationale, and without the context of the Hebrew covenant.

The WHY is actually a fairly poetic thing. For Isaiah to say Israel's works are like menstrual cloths... what he's saying is that they have the pretense of bearing fruit, but they're really just leftovers. Waste. Death expelled from the body. They have an association with new life, but they're really just indicative of the lack of it taking place. Ancient Judaism had a strong sense of poetic connection with things. Such a physical reality was deemed as a "defilement" because of what it might poetically represent. In the Jewish temple, a woman experiencing her period was considered unfit for temple ritual and worship... So again, Isaiah is saying the works of Israel are like "filthy rags" in that they are unfit, defiled, rendered unclean for the task at hand. 

While none of that is necessarily of my own viewpoint or contextual experience with things, it remains distinct from the current obscene usage of "menstrual cloths" by so many who posture themselves as spiritual leaders. Isaiah's point was absolutely NOT to say, "The works are so filthy, it's like a GIRL! LOL OMG EWW!" It's sad how many men stand in places of authority while making that their point. And little assuming biases like this show just how far our still-often-patriarchal religious society has to come regarding women. We should call all that stuff what it is - sexism. It's the devaluation of one sex masquerading as a Biblical ideology...

But in Christ, there is no nationality, no social status, and certainly no sexual divide that in any way distinguishes people as having different levels of value or validity. 

So when "Christianity" continues to make women second class citizens in the kingdom it builds up for itself, that is no kingdom Jesus would call his church.


Transient

"Little things" like the menstrual cloth stuff add up. They really do. You get enough of those little cliches, and mix them up in a pot of poor interpretation concerning "gender roles" and such, and it's no wonder many women feel like the inferior half within Christianity. Tragically, they're completely justified in feeling that way. There's a constant stream of devaluation washing over them. A constant roar of "the Bible says" and a whole bunch of bad interpretation (and a major lack of reading comprehension) held over their heads. 

And if I don't care about that because I can't personally relate as a man... well that's just selfish. As my friend Gaylord Enns says, apathy is the birthplace of all hate and division, because love begins at the place of "equal concern" for one another. There's that whole "love your neighbor as you love yourself" thing too. Empathy is a spiritual practice and a manifestation of love. 

Of course, ignoring the damage and injustice done to others is par for the course amongst the false religiosity of many. Whether we're talking about the Jews of Isaiah's time or the church today, it's the same thing. 

And on that note... It's funny to me - when I set out to confront this cliche in how it's misunderstood and misapplied, my abiding purpose was to say, "This 'filthy rags' thing does not have to apply to us." But while that's true, I may have been naive in thinking I could just leave it at that in a time such as this.


The full truth is, this "filthy rags" thing doesn't apply to us... Well, unless it does.


The great misuse of it keeps people aiming it in the wrong direction, which prevents the right direction from being exposed, implied or scrutinized as it should be. Some of our trusted voices (many of whom love to be called "teacher" or "pastor") use cliches like this generally - to hover over the people a debilitating idea of something they are helpless to control... But they are wrong to do so. The phrase used by Isaiah is actually one that only fits specifically and contextually, and which details aspects of life that we do have control over. Isaiah's expectation was that people should wake up and use that control to change the nature of their works. And he looked forward to what God was going to accomplish for the people as well. Something New. 

Give those filthy rags the pretense of cleanliness with new Rinso Blue!

Give those filthy rags the pretense of cleanliness with new Rinso Blue!

But contrary to the real Isaiah... 

Today, there are people living in a constant state of awareness and fear in regards to their "filthy rags." They see this notion of their "pathetic righteousness" as some unchanging reality, which they believe will always hang over them and define the quality of their actions... And those people? They need freedom from such fictitious and paralyzing garbage.

But this proves difficult, because there are also those who routinely deceive and ensnare and enslave others to this mindset, yelling this verse from the pulpit, and indoctrinating those who listen with their poison...

Those who, in their own error, use Isaiah's words to smother and suffocate and choke out the work of God in a human life - to stop a seed from growing too big before it has even taken root...

Those who downplay the role of works even as they expect God's blessing...

Those who support all the same societal and political injustices Isaiah cried out against...

Those who, in their dead and ritualistic religiosity, and in their utter lack of compassion and concern for brothers, sisters, and even strangers, are likely to be some of those who most embody the ugly truth of what "filthy rags" can entail... And who - like the ancient Jews in their own worst moment - refuse to understand how or why. They just keep going through the motions, making a big show of prayer and sacrifice and groveling before God.

And God isn't interested in all that mess.  

So may we hear Isaiah for what he's actually saying, rather than how we've been told to hear him. 

 

 

 

*Note: In speaking with a "churchgoing" friend about this entry a couple days ago, I found out that he is one who has never heard this phrase repeated regularly in religious gatherings... I was surprised to hear this, but I'm sure this could be the case for others as well. In fact, that may happen from time to time with ANY phrase I might choose to highlight when it comes to any particular reader. My hunch in this case is that those of Conservative Evangelical, Non-denominational, Reformed, Baptist (etc.) backgrounds are probably more likely to have heard "Your works are like filthy rags!" repeatedly from the pulpit than, say, those of more Mainline, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Catholic or Orthodox (etc.) backgrounds... I'd love especially to hear anyone's thoughts on this, and what your experience with any one of the phrases we peer into might be.

One question I'd pose as well would be this:

Why is it that the simplest elements of "prophecy" (which are so exhaustively repeated) go so ignored within Christianity? Why are the simplest commands along the lines of love and justice treated like they are esoteric and hard to understand? And what might it cost Christians - in regards to their notion of "gospel" - to embrace the prophetic voice of the ancients (and Jesus himself)? What might it cost personally, corporately, ethically, politically, and in all other ways?

 

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