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 64:6)
Evangelicals believe that humans, Christian or not, are incapable of good works; that all goodness comes from the Christian God; that works apart from God that “seem” good are actually done for the wrong motivations and reasons. According to Isaiah 64:6, our works are as filthy rags, the rags, according to many Evangelical preachers, that lepers wrapped around their putrefying flesh. In other words, our good works, apart from Jesus working in and through us, are puss-filled, awful-smelling bandages. One reader told me that she heard one pastor say that the filthy rags in Isaiah 64:6 were the rags used by menstruating women. Gross right? That’s the whole point — to make people see and believe that “their” good works are filthy and vile before the thrice-holy God.
This kind of thinking, of course, causes great psychological damage to people who, with good intentions, try to be loving, kind, and help to everyone. Be overheard “bragging” about your good works and Sanctified Sally or Pastor Blowhard will most certainly rebuke you for taking credit for what Jesus did. Evangelicals are beaten coming and going when it comes to good works. They are reminded of the fact that the Bible says, faith without works is dead and work while it is yet day, for the night is coming when no man can work. Congregants are cajoled over their lack of devotion and commitment to Jesus and their lack of shining-in-the-light-of-day good works. And what happens when they change their ways and start working day and night in Jesus’ vineyard? They are warned about taking credit for their works or finding satisfaction in helping others. Pastor Blowhard thunders from the pulpit, Jesus alone deserves all the praise, honor, and glory for our good works. Without him, our works are but filthy rags.
Is it any wonder so many Evangelicals are downright discouraged and depressed? Being told over and over that one is a worthless piece of shit and that one’s life is n-o-t-h-i-n-g without Jesus is sure to ruin any thoughts of self-esteem. Pastors frequently remind congregants that the Bible commands them to deny self, to take up their crosses and follow Jesus. It is this notion of denying self that lies at the root of so much of the damage done by Evangelical preachers. Self is viewed as something that must be crucified, put to death. The Apostle Paul repeatedly told first century Christians of the importance of crucifying the flesh. Paul also talked about Christians presenting their bodies as living sacrifices to God. This thinking has led countless Evangelicals to deny themselves not only material gain, but normal, healthy human emotions.
Somewhere along my life as a Christian, I died. My life was swallowed up by God, Jesus, the church, and the ministry. I lost all sense of who was Bruce Gerencser. It took me several years after walking away from Christianity to reconnect with self, with my emotions. I was shocked to find how buried my life had become under the weight of living for and serving the divine taskmaster, the Christian God; the deity who demanded everything from me and gave me little in return. No matter how hard I worked in Jesus’ coal mine, I still felt vile and dirty. How could it be any other way, right? I was a sinner, and my only saving grace was Jesus, not any of the good that I had done. I remained, as Isaiah 64:6 says, a dirty, vile, puss-filled rag.
Did your pastor or other church leaders use Isaiah 64:6 as a weapon to destroy your self-worth and good works? If so, please share your thoughts in the comment section.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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