Sometimes we do right things for the wrong reasons – like when we say nice things about a person publicly, (while expressing our dislike for that person privately). Now, would it surprise you to know that most of what we do is like that?
In Isaiah 64:6, Isaiah says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment…” If you’re like me, you do a double-take on that verse. You’d expect it to say “and all our sinful deeds are like a filthy garment.” But what it says is, “…and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” Now, that’s pretty bad! God is saying that even the right things we do are tainted by our sinful nature.
The word “righteous deeds” here is the normal Hebrew word for “righteousness.” It’s the word zedaka, and literally means “righteous.” It refers to things that are morally or objectively right. It’s the right thing to do. Now the point here is that God looks at all of the things that we do right, through the lens of our sinful nature, and determines that even the right things are tainted and discolored by who we are.
Suppose that a man is a pedophile, yet on one occasion he does something good for the children in the neighborhood. That good deed is tainted by who he is. In fact, every good deed he does for children is looked at with suspicion, simply because he is a pedophile. Now in like fashion, we are sinners by nature. We may do things that are right, but we ourselves are so fundamentally wrong that the very fabric of our nature cries out against us. We are sinful people; and therefore, “…all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.”
Hey — when you get right down to it, in and of ourselves, we’re a mess!