Friday, October 17, 2014

Removing Filthiness

Jam 1:21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.


Our lesson states that this verse concludes all that has been said so far about faith and salvation. It is an appeal to put away all impurity and separate ourselves from wickedness. The command put away (RSV) is used seven out of nine times in the New Testament for detaching oneself from the evil habits that have no place in a life submitted to Christ (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 4:22, 25; Col. 3:8; Heb. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:1). It can also refer to the taking off of clothing (Acts 7:58), so that the taking off of our filthy rags of sin (compare Isa. 64:6) may also be implied. Indeed, the word filthiness (RSV) occurs in James for the filthy clothes of the poor in contrast to the sparkling clean clothing of the rich (James 2:2, NKJV).

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word filthy (ryparos) is used in only one passage: Zechariah 3:3-4, where Joshua, the high priest, represents sinful Israel. God takes away the high priest's filthy garments and clothes him with a clean robe, symbolizing Israel's forgiveness and cleansing.

This scene is very different from the popular Christian image we sometimes see of Jesus putting a clean white robe over the sinner's dingy, soiled garments. Who would do this in real life? Nobody puts clean clothes over dirty ones. Likewise in Zechariah, the filthy garments are removed before the clean robe is put on.

The following commentary - originally published on May 27, 2011 – elaborates on this subject of removal of filthy clothes and putting on new ones.  I hope it is helpful.

Is Christ an enabler?

Enabling is a term with a double meaning.  As a positive term, it references patterns of interaction which allow individuals to develop and grow. These may be on any scale, for example within the family, or in wider society as "Enabling acts" designed to empower some group, or create a new authority for a (usually governmental) body.  In a negative sense, enabling is also used in the context of problematic behavior, to signify dysfunctional approaches that are intended to help but in fact may perpetuate a problem.  A common theme of enabling in this latter sense is that third parties take responsibility, blame, or make accommodations for a person's harmful conduct (often with the best of intentions, or from fear or insecurity which inhibits action). The practical effect is that the person themselves does not have to do so, and is shielded from awareness of the harm it may do, and the need or pressure to change. It is a major environmental cause of addiction.

A common example of enabling can be observed in the relationship between the alcoholic/addict and a codependent spouse. The spouse believes incorrectly that he or she is helping the alcoholic by calling into work for them, making excuses that prevent others from holding them accountable, and generally cleaning up the mess that occurs in the wake of their impaired judgment.  In reality what the spouse is doing is hurting, not helping. Enabling prevents psychological growth in the person being enabled and can contribute to negative symptoms in the enabler.  Generally, individuals who enable others have weak boundaries, low self-esteem, and have difficulty being assertive when they communicate with others. (Please bear with me as I tie this concept with our lesson)

The cover of our lesson shows a man – presumably Jesus – putting on a robe over another man's old dirty clothes.  To an outsider, after the new clothes are on, the old clothes under the new ones will probably not be visible.  However, you may be able so smell them after a while.  Since these garments are about character, it would mean that Jesus is just covering the surface.  The old, ugly, dirty character still exists.  The man just looks righteous.  However the "smell" of the old character will be evident after a while.  This concept – which also recurs throughout our lesson – runs contrary to what we read in Zechariah 3.  Let us read,

             Zechariah 3

1 Then he showed me Joshua[a] the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.

 2 The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?"

 3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.

4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes."  Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you."

 5 Then I said, "Put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.


 It is evident in this passage that that the old character is removed to put on the new one.  That is the Father's plan.  It is Jesus' work through the Holy Spirit.  All three persons of the Trinity are involved.  The Father is not looking to be appeased.  He is looking to appease us with Him.  Paul says in Romans 5: 10, "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life."  The Father's wrath is not against us, but against Sin. Many believe the opposite.  They believe that the Father has not poured His wrath – to them the ultimate consequence of Sin of which we are all guilty - because Jesus intercedes.  If the Father's wrath is the ultimate consequence of Sin, and if Christ is a covering shield that prevents the Father's wrath - the consequence of Sin - then Christ is an enabler.  In this view Christ takes our responsibility, guilt or blame for our Sin and hides it from the Father to spare us from the Father's anger.  Sadly, in this view we remain shielded from awareness of the harm we may do, and the need or pressure to change.  In other words, we remain in Sin. 


But, if death is the ultimate consequence of Sin (Romans 6:23) - a harmful condition that will kill us and others unless it is treated - and the Father sends Christ to be that treatment, then Christ is not an enabler.  This paints a different picture of the Father since the Father sent the Son (1 john 4:14).  The idea of covering us with the cloak of righteousness is not to hide our Sin but to take it away, to remove it.  And, this shows that the forgiveness of sins is something more than a mere form, something more than a mere entry in the books of record in heaven, to the effect that the sin has been canceled.  The forgiveness of sins is a reality; it is something tangible, something that vitally affects the individual. It actually clears him from the fault that makes him guilty.  Thus the sinner is cleared from the guilt, and if he is cleared from guilt, is justified, made righteous, he has certainly undergone a radical change.  He is, indeed, another person, for he obtained this righteousness for the remission of sins, in Christ. 


If Christ is to be an enabler, then let Him be in a positive sense.  Christ enables us to repent and be converted.  Jesus enables us to be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Raul Diaz

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