Friday, March 14, 2008

Filthy Rags?

I was asked by someone what I meant by this phrase:

I'm thrilled, and awed, and crushed, to think of bearing the name of YHWH/Yeshua. It's such an honor, and yet such a burden because I know my best right-ness (which I seldom attain to) is as filthy rags.

And so I answer with the following:

It's an honor to wear the name YHWH/Yeshua (Yeshua = Hebrew for Joshua --> Ancient Greek = Iesous --> Olde Englishe = Jesus), like it might be an honor for a bride, very much in love with her husband, to take on her husband's name. (Ten years later she might not feel the same, but for the first few weeks at least ....) It's exciting to adopt the name "Yeshua" as part of my own.

But on the other hand, I know I'm not worthy of wearing the name.

The Message" version of the Bible puts it this way, in Isaiah 64:6:

We're all sin-infected, sin-contaminated.
Our best efforts are grease-stained rags.

The King James Version puts it a little more literally:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags....

The point is that even if I'm going to church every time the door is open, and even if I'm giving 50% of my income to the church and/or the poor/needy, and even if I'm preaching on every street corner and converting 50 people a day, and even if I know the Bible so well I can quote the entire thing from memory, and even if I pray better and more effectively than Elijah, and even if I perform great miracles in the name of God, and even if every word out of my mouth glorifies God --- no matter how good I am, it's nothing compared to the goodness of God.

And the fact of the matter is, my best goodness doesn't come up anywhere near to what I just described in the previous paragraph. If that kind of goodness is as filthy rags before God, how much less my feeble attempts at righteousness must be.

In my church culture, I grew up being taught that we are saved because we teach and live righteousness. And yes, that is and should be the goal. But what I was never taught, and what many Christians never learn, is that no matter how good and clean and righteous we might appear on the outside, down deep inside, in our darkest depths, in the places we've forgotten exist inside of us because we'd be horrified if we ever actually looked at them, we are "full of dead men's bones and everything unclean" (Matt. 23:27). My church culture has always dismissed this statement of Jesus as applying to those "horrible, hypocritical Pharisees", and to "denominationalists", but never to ourselves, because "we love The Truth".

I was in my forties before I realized that sin dwells in me. Oh sure, I knew I sometimes sinned, but that was an action or inaction. It was something I did or did not do; it was not something I was or was not. But sin is not just an action/inaction; it is a condition, a state of being. Paul writes about this in Romans 7:

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do -- this I keep on doing.... For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!

My church culture has always preached against "inherited sin". It's only been recently that I've realized that there are basically two definitions of "sin" as used in the Bible.

1. Action/Inaction. This is "sin" as I grew up knowing it. It incurs guilt. This type of sin is, indeed, not inherited. Every person is guilty for his own sin.

2. The "condition" of sin. It's another word for "imperfection", or better, "corruption". This type of sin was introduced into the cosmos when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Our "very good" bodies, and indeed, the cosmos itself (Rom. 8:18ff), were corrupted at that time. This type of sin is indeed inherited, and is why death has spread to all people, as Romans 5:12 says:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned....

Babies are innocent of the first type of sin; they incur no guilt for action/inaction. But they do die sometimes (or are deformed, etc), because they have inherited the second definition of sin.

Both definitions fit in with the classical definition of "falling short, missing the mark", as an arrow on the archery field falling short and missing the target, as many of us were taught in Sunday School; the first definition of sin is a falling short because of our failure to do or not do; the second is a falling short of the perfection we were originally created with.

My church culture has totally ignored/denied the second definition, and has only defined "sin" as something we do or don't do, not as something we are or are not.

As mentioned, I was in my forties before I realized that the second definition applies: not only might I be guilty of sin because of things I do or don't do; I'm also full of sin because it's in my genetic make-up. I first started suspecting this when I'd have disturbing dreams, doing things in those dreams that I thought I was incapable of doing. It really made me question myself, and I wondered if doing something inconceivable in a dream meant that I'm capable of doing such a thing in real life. And over the next few years, the Lord allowed me to learn that yes, there's a core of sin deep within me that would take over my life if I would just let it. That's what Paul was writing about in that quote above.

No matter how good a life I live; that core of sin is still within me. There's nothing, not a single thing, that I can do to purge that out of me. I can no more scoop out that rotten spot from my inner being than a mis-firing car can replace its own spark-plugs. The best I can do is constantly fight it.

Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord, who has already purchased the surgery that will separate me from this rotten core. He's made the purchase; the deal is done; we're just now waiting for the actual surgery. In the meantime, it's an honor to wear the name of Yeshua, who has purchased my surgery, but it's also a burden, because I know that at base, I'm fundamentally flawed, and not worth the purchase price. The old car is not worth buying and giving a tune-up, but the car buyer loves it enough to buy it and fix it anyway. Thanks be to Jesus who loved me more than my worth!

No comments: