I had it all figured out. I had a small card with an encouraging bible verse written on it. Before the end of my doctor’s appointment I would hand it to her. As I got closer to my appointment time a thought crossed my mind… “Wait a minute Lord… is this my idea or yours?” I honestly wasn’t sure. I kept the card in my pocket and prayed. “Lord, if this isn’t your idea then take away my opportunity to give it to her.” I got through the doctor’s appointment and pulled the card out of my pocket. She had three things to give me before I left. My plan was when she gave me that third piece of paper… then I would hand her the card.
It was the funniest thing! She handed me the third piece of paper with one hand as her other hand opened the door to the examining room. She was past me and out the door before I could even say thank you. She wasn’t being rude by any stretch. It was just quick and physically impossible, short of hopping off the table and running down the hall after her, to give her that card. It was a very clear answer to my prayer.
By contrast, and what gave me the idea in the first place was something that had happened about a week earlier. I had to make a trip to the grocery store and the Lord told me very clearly before I left that I was to hand one of those Bible verse cards to the clerk. He even put in my mind a picture of the clerk it was to go to. I’d love to tell you I rushed right over there and couldn’t wait to give it to her…but that was not the case. I was nervous and almost dreading it. I spent the drive over there trying to rationalize my way out of it with no success. So after finishing my shopping I slowly made my way to the front of the store to check out. I got in line at the only check stand that was open and who was the checker? …precisely the woman who’s picture He put in my head. I knew I had no alternative. After I received my receipt I handed her the card. “Have a great day!” I said through the tears of humility and love that had gathered in my throat.
I reluctantly share both of these somewhat embarrassing stories of faith (?) as an example of the same contrast we can see in the Bible. In Isaiah 64:6, Isaiah says, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Then, in Revelation 19:8 as John talks about the praise in heaven that he hears for the bride of Christ he says, “Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)” The parentheses, by the way, are included in that verse. So which is it? Filthy rags or bright clean linen.
On the surface I think one could argue that my desire to bless my doctor with a Bible verse seems sort of righteous… doesn’t it? And, if I had slipped it into her hand before her hurried exit, I don’t think it would have initiated the battle of Armageddon. But what I believe the Lord was showing me is that when those “righteous” acts are done separate from Him there is no comparison to what is done in partnership with Him. My righteous acts are filthy rags… but united with Him in obedience and submission… bright, clean linen. The difference is HIM!
So what is the key? How can I be sure that what I do is in line with His will? …that I am truly being “the glove” and not the hand inside it? Jesus gave us the answer in John 15… ABIDE IN ME AND I IN YOU. He used the picture of the grape vine. If a branch breaks away from the vine there is no way it’s going to produce one grape no matter how hard it tries. We too, have got to be in constant connection with Him if we hope to produce any fruit. That means in His Word daily, speaking to Him constantly, sharing our thoughts and feelings with Him, worshiping Him, LISTENING to Him. (That emphasis was for me.) HE is the difference between filthy rags, and pristine, clean linen!
Lastly, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture here. It is not just our “acts” that become righteous when we are united with Jesus Christ. We as people, no matter how “good” we think we are, we are like filthy rags to the perfect and holy God of this universe. Unless…we believe that He loved us so much that He sent His only Son to live life on earth. (And that Son came willingly, trading the glorious perfection of heaven for 1st Century Israel.) While He was here He lived a perfect life. When He was falsely accused and sentenced to death, He went willingly, knowing that His death would pay for every sin ever committed by us. He was God… He didn’t have to suffer, but He did for us. Three days later, he rose from the dead to show his love conquers even what seems to be the finality of death. It is because of His perfect life that we are seen as truly righteous – clean, bright linen – in the eyes of our most holy God. We can’t be in His presence without Jesus. He allows us to trade in our filthy rags for HIS righteousness.
May we all abide in the free gift of righteousness that Jesus gave us so that all we do is for Him and His glory! Thank you God, for your great and saving love for us!