There are many in the Body of Christ totally confused on what our duties are as ambassadors to this lost and dying world - a role we immediately assume upon rebirth into The Kingdom of Heaven.
For most this is a perplexing question because it places us firmly between two juxtaposed doctrines - one stating that (according to James) "faith without works is useless" - and the other (according the to Isaiah) that "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags." So after accepting Christ's free gift of grace and salvation, how do we reconcile all that is come come thereafter? Life is just beginning for the believer at salvation, and clearly there is much work to be done, provided we are doing as we are directed... So where is truth to be found between these two sentiments?
There is an definitive answer to this perplexing question, and the answer is far simpler than any would imagine at first-blush. Like most things that have come under the scrutiny of Biblical study in recent years, we once again find that "it takes a good theologian to make the simple complicated and thoroughly mess things up". This has become one of the enemy's favorite tactics within the Body of Christ since his crushing defeat at Calvary.
But first to set the record straight on the scripture from Isaiah 64:6 (listed above). Here we read:
"All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away."
This scripture clearly conveys a people who are in a lost condition, parted from God through wickedness. This scripture was written to express the need of the coming Messiah and thereby give light to the pointless exercise of "good works" within the confines of that need. But once one meets Messiah and (even more) takes Him into their hearts as Lord and Savior (being utterly transformed into children of God) does one really think anything in that scripture could apply to them thereafter? The statement in Isaiah was written to express the condition in order to highlight the need - but surely the need and condition are radically changed once the remedy is found through the cleansing blood of Christ Jesus our Lord. We are new creations - are any of our works "filthy rags" in Christ?
But even this fails to answer our question, "what is our primary task as Christians in this world?" What is our assignment as ambassadors of The King of Glory? Is it to "bust our humps" in heavy labor in an effort to please Him and prove ourselves through good works? Is it to be the one to "win many souls" for Christ so that we do not come to The Throne empty-handed? I'm sure the religious training within you would answer, "no - nothing through works!" - and yet I would challenge you to question yourself honestly on the matter. Are we (with this answer) calling James a liar for all that he wrote about adding such works to faith in order to make one's faith meaningful? James, Paul, and Peter (among many others) clearly articulate that our faith must be supported through good works - but in this we still do not find our answer to this quintessential question.
Our primary function as children of God is far more basic than this - and overlooking it has resulted in perilous ruin for many who have wished to be righteous before God since man first began seeking His face.
And it comes to this...
In the end - when we stand before Jesus as He is seated on the Judgment Seat of Christ (and our lives are exposed before Him in grueling detail), we will not be known for what we did for Him - but how much we became LIKE Him while living on this Earth.
That is our primary function - our seminal task. As children of God our essential reason to exist is to become more and more like our Heavenly Father. To be daily transformed through obedience and love; and through the process of submissive refinement (sanctification), become a whole new creation. To become like Jesus - but not through mimicry or pretense (religious works), but to allow Jesus to live through us so completely that we are gradually transformed into His image.
As Christ grows within us we naturally take on His greater characteristics - and as we become more like Him, His good deeds and good works will naturally follow. Only now, such works do not emerge because we are trying to somehow obtain His approval, but because we are manifesting who we are in Him. We are no longer doing things in order to be like Him, but because Christ within us is merely manifesting who He naturally is, which always results in His greater works.
It was with this in mind that Paul wrote the following warning in his first letter to the Corinthians:
"For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved — even though only as one escaping through the flames." (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
Turns out - the works are vital, but motive is everything.
So you see, our works are NOT filthy rags before our God as long as our God is living IN us directing these works. Through submissive obedience we prove ourselves to be His good ambassadors in this lost and dying world, even if it seems to this world that we have accomplished little by way of mighty acts and deeds among them. Remember that Jesus did not list great exploits when characterizing the actions that would grant His beloved admittance into Heaven (in Matthew 25:34) - but he mentioned food for the hungry - water for the thirsty...
In short, love and compassion for His little ones.
Rest assured, some among us are called to do great things, and through Christ will astonish the world in the great outpouring to come. But even these must never forget that it is Christ within them accomplishing all that He needs to see done for the reclamation of every soul who will turn to Him and be saved.
The Kingdom of God is at hand. He is coming. And if He is already living within you, you will see greater things than you ever imagined, and do greater things than you ever wished. So drop the "honey-do" list of religion and tend to your true calling - of getting to know your Beloved so well - of falling so deeply in love with Him - that you will be transformed into His very image and thus shine His radiance into the lives of everyone you meet.
Your brother and servant in Christ Jesus our Lord,
Mark Scott Grimmett