The Biology of Our Own Works

Disclaimer: Sometimes in our efforts to be “proper” we inadvertently avoid or water down some of the great truths of the Bible. Let’s face it, the Bible is not what modern culture would call a G-rated book. It’s not even PG, or even PG-13 in spots. To fully understand the beautiful spiritual truth in today’s essay, we’re going to have to just accept the fact that sometimes things on the surface may appear crass, but the depth of meaning revealed once we understand what is really being said is amazingly powerful.

Having said that…

Isaiah 64 is a chapter calling on God in repentance, admitting that we are nothing without Him, and that there is no God like Him. There are several good points in this chapter, and several truths that most people would wholeheartedly agree to. From verse 8 – “we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”And from verse 5 – “You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.” Verse 6 is commonly quoted:

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

In the King James, this is translated, “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.”

I have several visual memories of preachers talking about how our very best – our righteousness – is as filthy rags. Often greasy auto shop rags are described, or dirty kitchen rags are spoken of to give the listener a visual comparison for our best efforts without God. And while these comparisons are valid and true, and even Biblical, what this verse says goes way beyond a simple illustration of our cleanness being “dirty” compared to God’s cleanness. However, in order to see the full truth of this verse, we need to be willing to admit what verbiage the Bible used when describing our righteousness. The Hebrew word translated filthy in the King James was only used used once in all of the Old Testament. It is the word `iddah, and it means menstruation. I don’t know about the average reader, but I see a big difference between a greasy auto shop rag or a dirty dishcloth and a menstrual rag. I see a difference not only in the “gross” factor, but by avoiding the true comparison the scripture gives, I see a difference that causes most to miss the fullness of what this scripture is really saying.

The Bible states that the Church is the Bride of Christ. God’s relationship with us is compared to that of a husband and wife (See Ephesians 5:22-25). This relationship must be realized in understanding Isaiah 64:6. Just as a husband should love and support his wife, so God wants to work with us, and support us as we allow Him to work in and through us to bring about His Kingdom to the lost of this world.

Too many of us have the dichotomy wrong. We see things as either righteous in God, bringing forth the works of God, or righteous in our own works, bringing forth their own good, separate from God. A revival meeting can bring forth God’s righteousness, and people can find salvation, or an unsaved person who gives thousands of dollars to the poor can bring forth another form of righteousness separate from that of God. But is this correct scripturally? While I am in no way discounting the benefit of giving to the poor, we must always remember to look at things from God’s perspective. No matter how much money is given away, and no matter how rich in material wealth the poor become, they are still poor spiritually. Their journey without God has simply been made more comfortable and they are still lost without the good news of Jesus Christ. We like to believe there is a nice big neutral ground of good that we can accomplish on our own, but Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23). Read that again. If we are not gathering into the Kingdom, then we are scattering. Strong words, and I know for myself, an uncomfortable truth. In God’s Kingdom, there is no neutral ground. Those who appear to the world as “neutral” are most likely neither hot nor cold in their passion for Christ. And of those, Jesus warns that he is about to spew them out of his mouth (See Revelations 3:16).

So, what does Isaiah 64:6 say our own righteousness is? Let’s look at the anatomy of a “menstrual rag.” For those who do not recall Jr. High sex ed. let me give a quick reminder of what the menstrual cycle actually is. Every month, a mature woman prepares for pregnancy. The uterine lining is prepared for the reception of a fertilized egg, and an egg is released so that it can be fertilized. If all goes as designed, a life will be created. However, if not, the woman’s body will shed everything that was prepared, and the cycle will start again. The woman was created in honor, and has the capacity to bring life into the world, but no matter how hard a woman tries, or how sincere and loving she is in her attempts, she can not bring life into this world on her own. The woman needs to work in partnership with her husband – and so it is with us and God. No matter how hard we try, and no matter how sincere or loving our attempts are, our works can not bring life on their own. Much like the wife needs her husband to create life, we need to work in partnership with God in order to create works of any lasting value. And when we try to create good on our own, the result is equated to being no different than the result of a woman’s body preparing for life, but not joining with her husband to make that life come into existence.

Let that sink in.

We are created for good works, but we are created for good works in Christ (see Ephesians 2:10). On our own, our works are without value. The enemy has used the false dichotomy of various types of righteousness to deceive both believers and non believers. For those who don’t follow Christ, the world has been deceived into believing that their own good works are enough. How often do we hear it said, “I’m a good person, so I believe I’ll go to heaven”? As nice as it would be if this were true, our own goodness is never good enough. If it were, then Christ died in vain, for we could have been able to find our way to heaven on our own. But no matter how good we are – even if we make every effort to follow the law of God perfectly, we still fall short. Galatians 2:16 says “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ… because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If you have never accepted Christ, know that salvation is a free gift, paid for by someone else, because we can not pay for it ourselves, no matter how hard we try.

Another deception of righteousness plagues believers and unbelievers as well. It is so easy for Christians to forget that it is by grace that we are saved, and not by our own works (or our own righteousness). (see Ephesians 2:8-9). How many Christians have failed God, or slowly fallen away, and refuse to believe that they can come back to Him until they have “cleaned themselves up.” Or how many non-Christians who know they need salvation want to “clean themselves up” before they are willing to come to Christ? It simply won’t work. Our efforts to clean ourselves up – to make us righteous – no matter how much we want to bring forth life in our lives, will fail. This deception is used by the enemy to delay our turning to (or back to) Christ, and he will do everything he can to destroy us in that time. We need simply to come to Him, as we are, knowing that He will gladly accept us. It was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us (see Romans 5:8). If we ever need to come to Him or come back to Him, we simply need to confess our sins, as He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (see 1 John 1:9).

We live in a very gray world, but as Christians, we follow a very black and white King. Our righteousness, or our own good works aren’t simply an alternate path to goodness. Our goodness isn’t something we need to develop on our own before we can come into the presence of God. Our own works and efforts to be righteous are simply us trying to give birth on our own to what can only be done in cooperation with our Creator. Like the woman trying to have a baby by herself, our works for righteousness will never result in anything viable. We must, must, work in cooperation with our Creator. To not do so, no matter how great our work is in our own eyes, will result in something that could have been life, but isn’t.

Hobby Lobby and the Abortion Debate

I ask that you read the entirety of this essay before passing judgement.

I have been closely following the Hobby Lobby debate regarding the demands of Obamacare and the idea that Hobby Lobby does not want to be forced to pay for abortions under the Obamacare mandate. I agree with Hobby Lobby’s stance on religious freedom. Losing liberties is a slippery slope, and history tells us that most people don’t realize what has been taken until the freedoms are long gone.

Before I continue, I need to state a few things. I am pro-life. I believe that life starts at conception and abortion is the murder of a life that if allowed to grow, would be a fully real human being. This does not mean I don’t support women. I have never understood why this argument seems to have these two sides – you are either pro life and anti-women or pro-choice and pro-women. I know not everyone is so narrow minded on the two sides of this issue, but far too many people are.  I realize that abortion is a tough decision, and I realize there are going to be exceptions to the rules, so to speak. But in general in this country, abortion is used as a convenience, and as a form of birth control, and that is what deeply saddens me. For the instances of rape or incest, I can hold a much better understanding to the reasoning of going through with an abortion, but I must also point out that I have heard several stories of people who decided to keep the baby in these types of situations (even if it was to give up the child for adoption after birth) and feel that they made the only right decision, because in the end, they did not kill an innocent life because of circumstances that were beyond the baby’s doing or control. But I’m not here to pass judgement on those who make the opposite decision in such cases, either. I can’t imagine being in similar circumstances, and I have no stones to throw. I will further say that if it were a choice between my wife or my child, I can only imagine that I would release my unborn child into God’s hands in order to save my wife.

Having said that, I need to point out a few things that I feel many in the Christian community think. It’s not that everyone thinks these things, but many do, and I believe false information may be the reason for these beliefs.

First: Many people see the “morning after pill” as nothing less than an abortion causing pill. This is a big part of the Hobby Lobby debate.

Second: When does conception occur? I have always held to the belief that conception occurs when the sperm fertilizes the egg. It was surprised to find out recently that this is not when textbooks, medical societies (the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Family Physicians), the National Institutes of Health and the federal government (FDA)  see pregnancy as occurring. Pregnancy is defined as the successful implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine wall. As I continue to write out my thoughts, this difference in definition becomes important.

In regards to the first, I recently discovered the following video via  some related links on YouTube:

I was surprised by the video’s statement that the morning after pill  does not cause abortion, but instead prevents a pregnancy from occurring in the first place. I asked a trusted friend and medical doctor about the accuracy of the video and was told that the video is accurate and given some sources of research that backed up the claim. The truth of the matter is, that in most cases, the “morning after pill” in America (note there are true first trimester abortion pills used in a small number of other countries) works first to prevent an egg from being released, as well as to prevent sperm from reaching an egg that has previously been released. In rarer cases, some research states that these pills can also prevent a fertilized egg from successfully implanting, but this is the minority of cases. I was further told that in addition to the pills the video refers to, the Paraguard IUD form of after-sex birth control may stop a pregnancy by preventing a fertilized egg from being successfully implanted. However, in no cases are these forms of birth control used interfere with an egg that has already been successfully implanted in the uterine wall.

As to the rare cases regarding preventing implantation, I would have said, “Ah-Ha, while the pill doesn’t generally cause an abortion, it can in rare cases, because it prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg in the endometrium!”

And this is where it begins to get interesting. My “Ah-Ha!” statement is based on the assumption that pregnancy is defined as the successful fertilization of an egg, and no medical or government body accepts this definition. Pregnancy is defined as the successful implantation of the fertilized egg. But, I thought to myself, “what if everyone is wrong? What if God would say that life starts at fertilization, and in rare cases, by preventing that egg from implanting, we are causing abortions?”

Well, the truth is, the Bible does not specify the biological moment that would constitute a pregnancy. We only know that we were formed in the mother’s womb (see Psalm 139:13).

And now the truly interesting part. Breastfeeding. Many people know that breastfeeding, done on a regular day and night schedule, is a great form of birth control. But does everyone know why? Typically, breastfeeding prevents ovulation, so there is no egg present to fertilize. This is also the first method of prevention with the morning after medications. But, there is a short period of time as the woman is becoming fertile again when she may release an egg, but, because of breastfeeding and the hormones created with the act, is not preparing for that egg to be accepted. In these cases, an egg which is released could be fertilized, yet not find successful implantation. This is a rare case, but certainly possible, just as it is rare that a morning after pill stops a pregnancy by preventing successful implantation. The reality that hit me was this: If the morning after pill causes abortions, it does so rarely, because I believe in a non-medically sound definition of pregnancy – and, breastfeeding can also cause abortions in the exact same way.

This made me think. Did God design us to accidentally cause abortions simply because we breastfeed our children (which He also designed for us to do)? Or is our concept of what constitutes pregnancy based on a misconceived definition and is our belief about what a morning after pill actually does faulty? I came to realize that if I believed that the morning after pill caused abortion, I had to accept that breastfeeding did the same thing, and I can’t make this right in my mind because the Bible clearly never condemns breastfeeding one’s child.  I will leave you to decide for yourself the implications of the science on what you believe. I simply felt the facts needed to be stated, so that we can all make an informed choice based on the truth of the science and our faith, rather than on our faith and false medical assumptions. History has made it clear that combining faith and ignorance can lead to some fairly horrible situations.

One final thought. This essay is about abortion, and whether or not the morning after pill is really an abortion pill as seems so popular amongst Christians and other religious groups. This is not a commentary on medical rights, women’s rights, or what is acceptable sexually. Please do not assume I am condoning having all the sex you want and then popping a pill the next morning because that is not the statement or purpose of this writing. In my ideal world, the m0rning after form of contraception would be only used when a married couple realized they may have made a mistake and wanted to take appropriate precautions – a rarity, and not a rule of regular use. There are also the understandable uncontrollable circumstances of rape, molestation, etc. But this essay is not about that either.

Each Other

What if we had this attitude towards our brothers and sisters in the faith:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:9-12 ESV)

Paul, in writing to the Colossians, says he prays this for them, without ceasing, and has done so ever since he heard of their faith. How different might our churches and friendships be if we ALL prayed this way, without ceasing, for each other. Imagine how much stronger we would be in battling our own vices and demons. Imagine how much better we might appear as a people to the world. Imagine how much less hypocrisy there might be in the Church if we all prayed earnestly for each other to walk in a manner worthy of The Lord, bearing good fruit.

After several months of being separated in an important Christian friendship, God has been gracious enough to work restoration and understanding. In the process of all of this, I have begun to see the importance of our prayerful attitude towards others, and the importance of being a solid support for those we know who share our faith.

Proverbs 27:17 says that as iron sharpens iron, so one man is to sharpen another. But how often do we do this, and how often do we instead stab our siblings in the faith, with our iron swords of self-righteousness and bitterness. I know I have been guilty. And I know God is gracious with second chances. So I pray, for my friends, for myself, and for everyone who may read this, that we would earnestly pray for and support each other with the attitude Paul demonstrated in his letter to the Colossians.

Effective Prayer

James 5:13-16

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

Note the first sentence… If you are suffering, pray. If you are happy, sing psalms. No matter our state, our communication is to be with God.  With verse 14, we see that prayer isn’t always prayed alone, either. We can call for others (not always required to be elders, as exampled in this verse) to pray with us.  As Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, ” For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”  Ecclesiastes  4:12 says “And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” However, we must remember that the power of the prayer is not ours, it is God’s. It is the Lord who raises him up (in this example of the sick man). Our only job is to pray, believing that He is, and that He rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

The requirement, we’ll note, is not the oil or the elders, but faith. It is the prayer of faith that will save (the sick). This prayer comes from the righteous man. Without a relationship with Jesus, we are not righteous, and while God will hear prayers for salvation, that is only the first step of surrender which is necessary for us to be righteous, and for us to have faith (which is given by God:  See Romans 12:3) for our prayers to be effectual. If we have sins which are “blocking” our prayers, those can be forgiven. Remember, we do not have to earn our own righteousness and be perfectly pure for our prayers to be effective. Jesus earned our righteousness for us at the Cross, and with that, the prayer of faith is of Him because of the righteousness He gives. James 5:17-18 speaks of Elijah, who was a man just like us, who because of the righteousness given him by God had effectual prayer to stop and again start rains upon the earth.  The Greek for the NKJV’s “prayer of faith” is “the prayer of the faith” – the faith that God gives. The depth of the faith that we need is simply to believe that He exists and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.

However, for many, it often appears that prayers are not answered. It seems too simple to believe that with mere faith we can become warriors in prayer. In all cases, though, we must let God be true and every man a liar (see Romans 3:4). Some reasons for apparent unanswered prayers:

1: Wavering.  James 1:6-7 says that when we ask (in this example, for wisdom), we must ask in faith, without wavering. If we waver, we will not receive what we ask for. In all cases, we should ask for Wisdom to know God’s will. God’s will will always conform to His Word.

2: God is waiting on us (see A Midnight Friend and an Unjust Judge). He is waiting on us to address whatever it is in us that He is bearing long with before He can respond quickly to our prayers. He wants our hearts pure before He moves to action.

3: Asking amiss. See James 4:1-3. What is our heart’s attitude towards what we are asking for? Two people in the same circumstance could ask for the same thing, and because of differences in attitudes, one may receive, and one may wait, as God “bears long” waiting for the second person to come to a better attitude. Are we asking in desperation, simply wanting to be relieved of dire circumstances so that we can feel better? Maybe God is waiting for us to ask for the same deliverance, but with an attitude of basking in His love for us and protection of us in dire circumstances.

4: The prayer may simply “appear” unanswered. God, however, may have answered our prayer according to His wisdom, and we simply do not see it. We need to pray for His will. How that comes to affect in our world may not be how we think it will come to affect. God will ultimately answer prayers for His glory, even if that glory does reveal His love for us. See Jeremiah 33:3; John 14:13, John 15:7, James 4:3.

5: Not delighting in God. Psalm 37:4 says “Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” This verse is two-fold. First, in our delighting in the Lord, He will give us His desires, and then after we have received His desires into our heart, He will then give us those desires. If our delight is not in the Lord, but rather in ourselves, there is no promise that He will give us those desires.

Sleep

Sleep has always been an issue for me, but God’s Word gives promises regarding His children having restful sleep.

Psalm 3:5 says “I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me.”

Psalm 4:8 says “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Psalm 127:1-2 says “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep.”

If we are not sleeping because we are focused on anything going on in our lives, it reveals our vanity – our attempting to figure things out on our own, and not trusting int he Lord who would give us rest. Remember Matthew 6:26-32, which shows us that God provides for our needs, and we need not worry about our day to day (or anything else).

Proverbs 3:24 says that when we seek the wisdom of the Lord, “when you lie down, you will not be afraid; yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet.”

Ecclesiastes 5:12 says “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep.”

Are we trying to make our own way? To gather riches? We need to be content with what we have, realizing that the more we have, the more we have to worry about.

It is interesting to note that when God made Eve, he put Adam to sleep. When God made the covenant with Abram, Abram was put in a deep sleep. We may be asleep, but God is awake, and is able to do needful things for us in our time of sleep (see Genesis 2:21 and 15:12).  God spoke to Jacob in his sleep (see Genesis 28:11-16). Daniel also often heard from the Lord while asleep.