Isaiah 64:6

Sermon preached on August 10, 2008 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2008. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Last summer when we were on vacation in Nova Scotia we stopped at a beautiful look off near the top of Kelly's Mountain. It's called St. Ann's Look Off and is one of the most scenic places in Cape Breton. It overlooks St. Anne's Bay and you get a great view of part of the bay, part of the ocean and the beautiful sandbar at the entrance to the bay, as well as the mountains surrounding it. It's a great place to take pictures and enjoy the beauty of God's earth. The only problem with the look off is that it's off a major highway and traffic whizzes by and there is some traffic noise. But the problem that day wasn't the traffic noise. It was one particular truck that went by. It was a tractor trailer and the trailer wasn't totally enclosed, it had openings on it. Just after it zoomed by Marg and I were almost overcome by a most foul fish smell. It was like the truck was carrying rotten fish. It as unbelievable. I wouldn't have thought it was possible for a truck zooming by to stink up the air like that. But it did. And it lingered. We thought it would dissipate after a minute or so. But it didn't. The whole area stuck. The air stank. Our car stank. Marg stank. It was horrible. I don't know where we were going afterwards but we were worried about it because we wondered if people would be able to smell it off us. I think it was Joe Weilder told us that he once lived by a pig farm and that the smell was horrible—but that after awhile you got used to it and didn't notice it—but that when you went places other people did. So we weren't sure it was safe to go anywhere—because our clothes, our hair and our bodies had adsorbed the foul order.

In a way that's what sin is like. When Adam fell into sin it didn't just affect one part of his being—it affected the whole of it. It wasn't just his mind that became corrupt—but His body, His will, His affections, etc. His whole being became sinful. We see something of this in our text. It talks about the good things that we do, our righteous acts—and tells us that they are not tainted by sin a little—but that they themselves are like filthy rags. It says, (Isaiah 64:6)

"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."

The main thing I want you to see here is that

human beings are totally corrupted by sin.

Our brush with sin hasn't affected us in a superficial way but has affected us in such a way that it has gone all through us and taken us over.

Let me illustrate. A few weeks ago I was talking with Loni and some others about how sometimes you can rise above some sicknesses. Did you ever feel a little bit sick when you got up in the morning but you had something really important to do that day—like get married, or give a major presentation at work—something like that—so you will yourself to ignore the sickness and you do what you have to do. After awhile you realize that your headache, or stomachache is gone and that you got through the day okay. With some minor illnesses you can rise above them, almost will yourself to ignore them and do what you have to do.

But with other illnesses you can't do that. They are so bad that they knock you to the ground and keep you there. I remember when my brother
Paul was dying of cancer. Near the end it had him and there was no way that he could do what he wanted to do. He couldn't rise above it. Sometimes he couldn't even get out of bed. When he was well Paul was always well dressed and he always looked sharp. But when he was sick, he couldn't even take care of himself, dress himself or anything. I remember when we were taking care of him that Paul was once embarrassed that Marg saw him in his underwear. He apologized to her and said,

"Sorry, Marg, I don't even have any energy for modesty."

He couldn't control that sickness. He couldn't rise above it. He didn't control it—it controlled him.

That's what we see about sin in our text. There are three things that it tells us about our relationship to sin.

First, it says that

we have become like one who is unclean.

E. J. Young tells us that the word 'unclean' that is used here is, (Isaiah, Vol. 3, p. 4960

"a technical word to indicate a legal impurity and the people were acknowledging that they were like those whom the law required to cry out, 'Unclean!' so that other men might not be contaminated by them."

You remember the regulation. In Leviticus 13:45-46 we read,

"The person with such an infectious disease
must wear torn clothes,
let his hair be unkempt,
cover the lower part of his face and cry out,
'Unclean! Unclean!'
As long as he has the infection he remains unclean.
He must live alone;
he must live outside the camp."

That's what sin has done to us. It has rendered us as unclean.

There are a couple things we should note about this uncleanness that we naturally have as sinners.

First, note that it applies to all of us. Notice the word, '
all'. All of us have become like one who is unclean. Secondly, we should note that the context here makes it clear that this uncleanness is not superficial or temporary. Sometimes in the Old Testament people were tested for an infectious disease and they were only unclean for a little while. The initial fears of an infectious disease were proven to be incorrect. Or it was something that was very minor and got better quickly.

That's not the kind of uncleanness that is suggested by our text. Our condition is one of permanent and deep rooted uncleanness. Not only does that context make that clear but Jesus' teaching in the New Testament also shows it. In Mark 7:20-23 Jesus said,

"What comes out of a man
is what makes him 'unclean.'
For from within,
out of men's hearts,
come evil thoughts,
sexual immorality, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice,
deceit, lewdness, envy,
slander, arrogance and folly.
All these evils come from inside
and make a man unclean."

Jesus taught that the reason we sin is because our hearts are evil. Our hearts have been thoroughly corrupted and that's why we sin. Unregenerate people sin because that's their nature.

So when Isaiah tells us that we're unclean—he's talking about the very core of our being. We are rotten at the core.

This doctrine has great implications for our evangelism.

One of the great messages that we need to tell the world is that they are sinners and they are lost unless they go to Jesus Christ.

Romans 3:23 says,

"for all have sinned
and fall short of the glory of God,"

The world today denies this. They deny both parts. They deny that they are unclean. They will tell you that when children are born they are born good and innocent. They will tell you that people are basically good. They may have a few bad habits and make a few mistakes, but basically people are good. They deny that homosexuality is a sin. Some deny that adultery is a sin. Some deny that lying is a sin. They deny that abortion is a sin. The result is that they don't see their need of a Savior. Most people seem to believe in what R. C. Sproul calls, 'justification by death'. All you have to do to get into heaven is die.

But the Bible teaches us that people are unclean and that it's a dreadful thing for a sinner to stand before a holy God. Remember Isaiah's reaction when he saw God on His throne. In
Isaiah 6:1-5 we read,

"In the year that King Uzziah died,
I saw the Lord seated on a throne,
high and exalted,
and the train of his robe filled the temple.
Above him were seraphs,
each with six wings:
With two wings they covered their faces,
with two they covered their feet,
and with two they were flying.
And they were calling to one another:
'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.'
At the sound of their voices the doorposts
and thresholds shook
and the temple was filled with smoke."

And what was Isaiah's reaction? He reacted as someone who was unclean. He cried out,

"Woe to me!
I am ruined!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
and I live among a people of unclean lips,
and my eyes have seen the King,
the LORD Almighty."

God is holy. We are unclean. We are not fit to dwell with Him. Sin has polluted us.

The second thing we see here also shows the depth to which sin has penetrated our being. For it tells us that

all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.

If you look at the different English translations here you'll find a variety of renderings for this phrase. The HCSB and the ESV render it,

"and all our righteous acts
are like a polluted garment;"

A literal rendering would be, "like a garment of times". The NET gives the exact meaning when it says,

"all our so-called righteous acts
are like a menstrual rag in your sight."

What we are taught here is that your very best righteous acts are filthy and disgusting. They're not pure. They're not innocent. They're not righteous. Sin has so polluted and corrupted you, so incorporated you into its grasp that even the very best things that you do are polluted.

The apostle Paul understood this well and told us that after he became a Christian and saw the pure righteousness that was His in Jesus Christ—a righteousness from God, apart from the law—he saw that his own works were not only worthless, but worse than that—that they were trash, something to be discarded because it was odious. He wrote, (Philippians 3:8-9)

"I consider everything a loss
compared to the surpassing greatness
of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,
for whose sake I have lost all things.
I consider them rubbish,
that I may gain Christ and be found in him,
not having a righteousness
of my own that comes from the law,
but that which is through faith in Christ—
the righteousness that comes from God
and is by faith."

Paul consider his own works 'rubbish'. The Greek word that he used there referred to any, (BDAG)

"useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal, refuse, garbage (in var. senses, 'excrement, manure, garbage, kitchen scraps')"

Now getting back to Isaiah's words—I want you to think about what the Holy Spirit is telling us there. Think about some of the best things that you have ever done in your life. Think of the things that you are most proud of in your life. Think of your most virtuous deeds, your most unselfish moments. What are they in reality? God tells you that they're filthy rags. They were not pure. They were not praiseworthy. They will not stand you in good stead with God. No. They are as disgusting and filthy. They are thoroughly polluted by sin.

Now think about this—if your best works are like filthy rags—what are your normal actions like? What are your worst actions like?

You see, sin hasn't penetrated us superficially. It has gone to the very core of our being and made it so that everything we do, even our best works—that come from the best we have—are polluted and vile.

The third thing that we see from our text is that

our sins have overpowered us.

Isaiah wrote,

"we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away."

Shriveling up like a leaf means that sin has so taken over us that we lose all strength of life then like the wind our sins sweep us away.

In other words, we are powerless to withstand the attack of sin in us. We don't control it—it overcomes us, makes us its slaves and then destroys us.

In Romans 6 Paul referred to the slavery to sin that engulfs those who are not in Jesus Christ and how it leads to death. In Ephesians 2:1f he told the Ephesian Christians that before God made them alive they were 'dead in transgressions and sins' and that they followed the 'ruler of the kingdom of the air'. In 2 Timothy 2:25-26 Paul said about the Christian teacher,

"Those who oppose him he must gently instruct,
in the hope that God will grant them
repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,
and that they will come to their senses
and escape from the trap of the devil,
who has taken them captive to do his will."

Sinners are captives of Satan. The devil has trapped them. They have lost all reasoning power about it. What they need is for God to grant them repentance.

As God said to His sinful people in Jeremiah 13:23,

"Can the Ethiopian change his skin
or the leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good
who are accustomed to doing evil."

Sin has overpowered fallen human beings. Human beings, without God's help—are helpless—they are doomed to destruction. Sin has them and they cannot escape.

Now what does all this mean?

First of all, it means that

we are totally depraved.

Man's nature is corrupt, perverse, and thoroughly sinful. Without Christ and His grace we are lost and in a hopeless condition.

Many Christians today will tell you with
Pelagius and Jacobus Arminius that man is merely sick—that without God's help he can choose God, he can do good and noteworthy acts that are acceptable in God's sight.

But that is not so. The whole of man's being has been affected and dominated by sin. Sin has us. It's not like it has got our body and not our mind. It's not like it has got our heart but not our mind. No. It has us completely and totally. We are unclean. Even the best in us is polluted by sin. Sin has us and has overpowered us.

Secondly this means that

you need a righteousness that comes from God.

You need Christ and His righteousness.

Sin has made you unclean. It has thoroughly polluted you. It has overpowered you and has you in its grasp so thoroughly that you cannot escape on your own. Even your best works cannot get you into heaven.

What do you need? You need Christ. You need the forgiveness of sins that only comes through His work. He died for sinners. He paid the price—the curse of sin. You need that.

But you need more. In order to stand before God you need Christ's perfect righteousness. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:21-22

"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."

You need the wedding garment that only Christ can supply. You need Christ's righteousness given to you—so that when God looks on you He does not see your personal lack of righteousness—but He sees the perfect righteousness of His son. Nothing else will do.

Many people today think they're going to be all right even though they aren't trusting in Christ. They follow their conscience. I remember reading about how a young lady name Shelia was once asked what her religion was. She replied, 'Sheliaism'. She made up her own religion. She followed her conscience, what she thought was right.

This is so common today. I was reading someone's Facebook profile recently and under the question about what they religion was they had written, 'Original'. People believe what they want to believe.

But that's not going to save anyone. People need Christ. Even your conscience has been affected by sin. Don't let Satan use it to destroy you. You need Christ and the salvation that He provides.


this teaching is very useful in guarding against temptation.

Where does the devil attack you? Often he attacks us at our weakest point. We have to guard against that.

But we also have to guard our strongest points. In the 1759 Quebec City fell to the English because the French never guarded the strongest natural fortification that they had. There were cliffs to the west of Quebec that they felt were too steep for the English to climb. So they never defended them. But under the cover of night the English General Wolfe sent his men up the cliff to the Plains of Abraham and once they were there the fate of Quebec was all be decided.

Sometimes Satan can attack you at your strongest point. Christians, don't think that you don't have to watch every area of your life. Don't think that you can give the devil a foothold anywhere. Don't think that you're invulnerable to certain sins.

Your mind, your heart, your will, your body have all been affected by sin. Guard every area of your life.

Fifthly, this doctrine has implications for how you treat those who have sinned.

When other people sin and you don't—why is that? There are many reasons. Perhaps they weren't as vigilant as you in watching against temptation. Perhaps Satan targeted them and not you. Or perhaps it was another person who specifically targeted them and laid a trap for them. There are many, many reasons. But behind them all is the issue of grace. You all know the old saying,

"There but for the grace of God go I."

You're no better than others in your natural state. The reason you haven't fallen into sin has nothing to do with your natural abilities. If it wasn't for God's grace your natural self would have lead you into all manner of horrific sin. As we read in 1 Corinthians 4:7,

"For who makes you
different from anyone else?
What do you have that you did not receive?
And if you did receive it,
why do you boast as though you did not?"

So don't look down on sinners. Don't be like the Pharisees.

When other people sin, yes, they're inexcusable. But they're really just following their nature—the same nature that is in you—the sinful nature. What they need is not rejection, not alienation—what they need is the grace of God. What they need is for you to show them part of that grace—by forgiving, helping and accepting them.

Lastly, this means that you Christians

should be extremely thankful for Jesus and His work, for His saving you, for His gifts to you, for the gifts that He gives to others.

Where would we be without Him and His work and His gifts to us? We'd be lost. Before Jesus saved us and made us alive we were by nature objects of God's wrath. (Ephesians 2) But God has not treated us as we deserve. He has given us His Son who died for your sins and has given you His Spirit to lead you in righteousness. Give all praise and glory to God for your salvation.