Deception Regarding: "All Our Righteousness is As Filthy Rags"

There is a verse used frequently in church by pastors to justify sin and uphold the false doctrine of OSAS (Once Saved Always Saved) and the false idea of "Imputed Righteousness".  Most Christians have heard this verse often, but they have no idea the context of this verse.  If you are interested to find out the real significance and how it has been misused, please check out this message that was originally presented as a Powerpoint, by a brother some years ago at a church gathering, to debunk and expose the hypocrisy of this enormous false doctrine...

Keep it in Context Isaiah 64:6 

Test things with Scripture When Uncertain 

• “In all things, be Bereans” (Acts 17:11-12) 

 • “A text without a context is a pretext.”

 Isaiah 64:6

 • Teaching it today in context 

• One of the most misused (i.e. used out of context) verses in the Bible. 

Isaiah 64:6 


 • 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.


 • But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

 Isaiah 64:4-12

 4 For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him. 5 Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved. 6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. 7 And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. 8 But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. 9 Be not wroth very sore, O LORD, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. 10 Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. 11Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste. 12Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O LORD? wilt thou hold thy peace, and afflict us very sore?

 Use of Passage out of Context 

• In commentaries

 • As a proof text for most theologies making it Universal and Theological rather than Specific and Historical

 • In preaching, study guides, Sunday schools

 • In Confessions of Faith or Creeds

 • In Universalizing the passage in an attempt to apply it to our daily Christian walk (or to dismiss the lack thereof) Use of Passage out of Context

 • As an excuse for not doing good works, claiming that they have no value in God’s eyes. Context shows that this is not meant as a Universal Principle 

• Isaiah is making a supplication to God on behalf of a backslidden people in that specific historical context

 • This was a time when they were making sacrifices to other gods; a time when anything that could be construed to be an attempt at righteousness was an utter abomination to God. Isaiah is pleading on behalf of Judah. He knows they deserve for God to turn from them but, makes a plea to God for intervention even though the wretched behavior of the people didn’t merit it. They had abandoned the one true God and were deserving of their fate. 

Looking at the Actual Context

 • Isaiah 1 compares the worsened state of God’s people at that time to Sodom and Gomorrah Isaiah 1 4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. … 8 And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. 9 Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah. 10 Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. 11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats

 Isaiah 1 

- Righteousness Prevailed Before this Onslaught of Wickedness 

• 21 How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers. Verse Prior to “Filthy Rags” advocates those that work righteousness The verse immediately prior to the “filthy rags” verse indicates God’s pleasure at those that work righteousness: Isaiah 64:5 Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved.

 God Admires Righteousness

 • To universally conclude that any righteousness of any men for all time is filth to God ignores the Bible. God Admires Righteousness Genesis 6:8-9 (ESV) 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. 9 These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. Genesis 6:8-9 (KJV) 8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. 9 These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. 

New Testament Example

 • Cornelius’ works were admired by God and an angel was dispatched to him. Peter commented favorably on his righteous behavior.

 • Acts 10:34-35 34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

 • Of course, Cornelius’ good deeds did not save him, just as they do not save us but, the Bible makes it clear that God looks favorably on good deeds. Cornelius obviously had previous sin in his life just as all of us have (Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God) and was in need of a Saviour. 

Paul Advocates Good Works

 • Good works cannot be filthy in God’s eyes if Paul advocates them: • Col 1:10 That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God

 Isaiah 3 Also Compares the State of Judah at That Time to Sodom

 • Isaiah 3:8-11 8 For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory. 9 The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves. 10 Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. 11 Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him.

 Chapter after “filthy rags” expands on Judah’s Abomination at the Time

 • Isaiah 65:3-4 3 A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick; 4 Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine's flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels;

 Collective “we” Does not Indicate Universality to all Mankind for all Time

 • The “we” used by Isaiah in the “filthy rags” passage (“we are all as an unclean thing”) does not indicate that this passage applies to all men for all times.

 • The use of the collective “we” was common for prophets in the Old Testament not excusing themselves for the culpability of the people.

 • Daniel was considered a righteous man but, says in Daniel 9:5 “We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments.” 

“None that calleth upon thy name” also Shows Passage is not Universal 

• The “none that calleth upon thy name” portion of this passage also proves that this passage does not refer to mankind in general and that this text has a specific historical reference. Many times in the Bible, people call upon God’s name. 

• 2 Sam 22:4 (David) I will call on the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.

 • Psalms 99:6 Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among them that call upon his name; they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.

 Misuse Disparages Good Works 

• Confusion in the Christian faith is introduced if we construe good works as “filthy” and also as something desirable at the same time.

 • Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. 

• Would we say “faith without filthy rags is dead” as a misstatement of James 2:20? 


• This historical passage is in the Old Testament

 • It is a stretch to say that it applies to us in the Church Age under the New Covenant “Imputed Righteousness” is Beyond this Discussion 

• The concept of “imputed righteousness” is mentioned often in theological writings by men. In this teaching today, we are not addressing that concept. It is too big of a topic. 

• Suffice it to say, for the purpose of this teaching about an oft misused passage, that righteousness is looked upon favorably by God and that everything good is from God and is authored by God (James 1:17; Isaiah 45:7). Our righteous actions are God working in us.

 • We may struggle with sin but, we should not impugn righteousness. Good is not Evil

 • To finish up, here are two verses, from the same book of Isaiah that clarify this point better than anything I’ve just said: 

• Isaiah 5:20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 

• Isaiah 5:23 Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!