bible magnifying glassStudy and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth.

                                                                                       2 Timothy 2:15 (AMPLIFIED VERSION)

Today we shall continue our series on 5 commonly misquoted and misapplied scripture passages by looking at the 2nd and 3rd commonly misquoted passages in our study.

In case you missed it, you can catch up with the previous study here.

Isaiah 64:6

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. Isaiah 64:6 (KJV) (Emphasis mine)

This is another rather commonly misquoted passage of the bible. The especially quoted segment is that which says, “…our rightousnesses are as filthy rags”. It’s quoted by different people to achieve different things:

  • In congregations where they practice communal confessions of sins.
  • Preachers sometimes when they seek to show how much we all need the mercy of God
  • When someone is seeking to underline the hopelessness of anyone trying to be “righteous”.

In all this cases (and probably the many more I have not captured), an undesirable end-result is many believers having an enduring caricature-perception of their “righteousness”.

Right Application

Once again, let’s subject the passage to the questions of who, when, and whom.

  • Who wrote it? Prophet Isaiah (speaking prophetically as a voice for the children of Israel)
  • When was it written? Not going into details of actual dating, it suffices to say it was written under the dispensation of the Law during a period of apostasy and disobedience by the children of Israel.
  • To whom was it written? It was a prayer uttered by Isaiah to God on behalf of the sinning Children of Israel. The state of the children of Israel is revealed in the preceding  verses and the verses that follow:

“You welcome those who cheerfully do good, who follow godly ways. But we are not godly. We are constant sinners, so your anger is heavy on us. How can people like us be saved? We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall. And our sins, like the wind, sweep us away. Yet no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy. Therefore, you have turned away from us and turned us over to our sins.Isaiah 64:5-7 (New Living Translation) Emphasis mine

We can see at least three things in this passage:

  • The Israelites recognized they were constantly sinning and had become objects of God’s anger
  • In the light of their fallen state, they recognized any good acts they were doing were utterly worthless.
  • In spite of all these, the writer stated that God recognizes and welcomes people who do good and follow godly ways (vs 5a), i.e. there were righteous people with righteous acts acceptable to God. The Israelites were just not those people.

It is hence obvious that the statement “righteousness being like filthy rags” was not a reference to the good acts of bible studya believer but that of a people or persons mired in sin.

1 John 1:8

To further their arguments,Some may throw our 3rd commonly misquoted passage of scripture which says: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”. Rather this passage sheds more light on the subject of righteousness and how we attain it.

What is Righteousness?

Simply put, righteousness is the attribute of being right with God. This attribute has 2 components:

  • Right Standing with God.

We obtain this not by anything we can do. It is a gift of God which we receive at salvation.

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 (KJV)


“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:21-24 (NIV)

The above passages show us that righteousness in Christ Jesus is first and foremost a gift. A gift needed by everyone seeing that “all have sinned” and no one can say “I have no sin”. God freely gives us “right standing” with him if we accept Jesus Christ as Saviour. 1Jn 1:8 is referring to this our common need for salvation from sin rather than our perpetual state in Christ Jesus.

 “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours”

                                                                                                 I Corinthians 1:2 (KJV) Emphasis mine

By virtue of Christ’s completed work, I am a saint! God christened and called me a saint even before I did anything.  That is simply awesome!

  • Right Doing

This is the second side of the coin. Our right standing will not be complete without “right doing”.

“Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.”                                                       1 John 3:7 (New International Version)

Preacher at PulpitOur right-standing with God through Christ gives us a platform to do right things. Without this right-standing, Isaiah 64: 6 will be the reality of anyone trying to do “right things”: all his righteousness will be as filthy rags. He is like a person putting the cart before the horse, he is going nowhere.

In Christ Jesus however, our righteous acts have powerful and tremendous consequences both now and in the world to come.

“And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”                                         Revelation 19:8 (NKJV)

The righteous acts we are weaving in time, we will wear in eternity. So the next time tells you all your righteous acts are like filthy garments, just say to yourself, “…not me! I do right things like my Father in Heaven and I am weaving a pretty garment to wear in eternity”.

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments.

…to be continued