How correct is it, in this day & age of fulfillment, to say, especially of the Christian, 'all our righteousnesses [ are ] like filthy rags' ( Isaiah 64:6 )? Since Christ IS our righteousness, wouldn't that be a slight to Him? Now, to be sure, there are individual Christians out there ( mea culpa ) to whom this seems to apply most readily, but much of that problem is solved when we come to the full realization that our righteousness comes, not so much because of what we do or say, but because of Whom we trust, in Whom we have Communion & are in Covenant with!
Traditional, orthodox ( to whatever extent ) Christianity has at least one thing in common; they all believe the mankind has a 'sin nature'! Through the Fall, as recorded in Genesis 3, Adam & Eve are said to have passed on to their descendants some sort of fallen nature which makes it impossible to do rightly without receiving a new heart ( nature )! This is a biblical notion, by the way, for David, king of Israel wrote, in one of his Psalms ( 51 ), 'Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.'
Most Christians therefore have what may be termed a 'guilt complex', a feeling of helplessness & yearning, because of passages like 'The heart [ is ] deceitful above all [ things ], and desperately wicked; who can know it?' ( Jeremiah 17:9 ) & 'I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good' ( Romans 7:21 ). One might object at this point, pointing out that though all of these passages, in context, are referring to the sin of Israel, they are still very applicable today. Well, yes & no; we still sin, even in this day & age ( the Kingdom ), we, even within the Body of Christ still harbor resentment, hatred & all manner of evil within our very human hearts!
We are not, however, under the Law as was David, Jeremiah & even Paul; we have inherited the Promise of the New Covenant ( Jeremiah 31 )! The Law, according to Promise, has been written on our hearts & our Heavenly Father, also according to Promise ( John 14:23 ) now dwells in our midst, having made His ( Their ) Home with us!
This, again, is by no means to say that we, as part of the Body of Christ, no longer harbor our selfish human emotions! In fact, any honest Christian out there will admit to struggling daily, minute by minute, to keep their emotions in check & exhibit the Life of Christ! As part of the Body of Christ, though, we are no longer subject to those emotions. Sure, we fail every second of every minute of every day to perfectly ( according to our utopian vision ) represent Christ, but though we fail, it is not because we are children of Adam! It is simply because we are children, albeit of our Heavenly Father & as children, the wishes of our Father do not always coincide with, or parallel ours!
We are not fallen creatures, as many Christians would have us believe; we simply fail to always represent Christ to the world, whether because of our own ( individual ) selfish desires, or because we fail to listen to the gentle 'wooings' of the Spirit Within!
The Sin of Adam, the Sin of Israel to which all of the above passages refer to, was forgiven! To say that we still bear that sin ( nature? ) is, in effect, to deny the efficacious nature of Christ's sacrifice! The Nature of Sanctification, while bearing heavily on the individual, is Scripturally a corporate entity! It was His People that Jesus came to save, not just individual Jews or even individual Gentiles; it was corporately both Jew & Gentile in One, the Body of Christ!
Since we have inherited the Righteousness of Christ & are no longer under the Law of Condemnation, let us live as free; free from the guilt of bloodshed, free from the sword of Damocles that has been hung over our heads for so long, telling us that we are yet 'filthy rags'! As the Body of Christ, those Scriptures, such as named above, do not apply to us; they were spoken of the Body of Adam, or Israel! We are not ( have never been ) part of the Body of Israel!
We are 'the Israel of God' ( Galatians 6:16 ), yes, but we have been redeemed, we have been set free, we have, in essence, as Paul wrote, been made a 'new creation' ( II Corinthians 5:17 ( Revelation 21:5 )! No more can we blame our own failures on 'original sin' or 'a fallen nature'! We can only practice the Life of Christ & when we fail, which we always do & always will, we can praise our Heavenly Father that those failures do not bring eternal condemnation!
Ever failing but never falling,
Charles Haddon Shank