"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."
How can you hope to approach the throne of a holy God on the basis of your own merit? If, as the Scripture affirms, your BEST is filthy rags before God, how can you even enter a plea of self-righteousness? All the good you have done - and it IS good, in a human sense - is not acceptable to God. The same sentence is passed upon all of humanity: hear this verse - "There is none righteous, no not one." and this one: "There is none that doeth good, no not one," and one more: "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."
The filthy rags are not simply dirt-stained rags. The word "filthy" carries the idea of that which is absolutely repulsive and disgusting; something that, were someone to hand it to you, would cause you to immediately cast it as far from you as possible. Since all of us can think of things like that on our own, it is not necessary to speak of that revolting thing that some have declared is the meaning of those words "filthy rags." The point is, this disgusting thing that could make you violently ill to touch or even to look upon is a picture of your righteousness which you are trying to offer God, desiring to be accepted upon your own merit. Now, if your good works are so disgusting to God, what about those things that you call sin?
Why are our good works so distasteful to God? "We are all as an unclean thing." Being sinners, everything we touch is stained by our sin. That stain doesn't seem to bother us, as a rule, because it is part of who we are, and we love it. To a holy God, however, our sin appears utterly vile. When we see that great distance between His holiness and ourselves, we can begin to understand how awful it is to try to present those "filthy rags" of our own supposed righteousness to God. So, do you see why God won't accept you on your own merit?
Where is acceptance with God then? Since all have sinned, none have, in themselves, that "holiness without which no man shall see the Lord." Acceptance with God is not in us, but the Scripture declares that those who are accepted are "accepted in the Beloved," that is, in Christ. We are only accepted through Christ's substitionary sacrifice for our sin on the cross of Calvary, and on the basis of His righteousness.
"He became sin for us, Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."
"Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us."
"CHRIST died for OUR sins, according to the Scriptures."
"HE was wounded for OUR transgressions."
"Who HIS OWN SELF bare OUR sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by Whose stripes ye were healed."
"Who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification."
So, Christ died for His people to make them righteous in Himself: "He shall save His people from their sins." and "Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it."
God's righteousness is satisfied by Christ's obedience in suffering God's wrath in the stead of all who will believe on Him:
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
Therefore, you are not good at all before God, unless you are in Christ. But, being in Christ, you stand in His righteousness, accepted with the Father.
If you have been looking to your filthy rags to make you acceptable, lay them aside. God commands you to "repent and believe the Gospel" which Gospel says that "Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again, according to the Scriptures."
God must punish sin. In His justice He has done so in Christ, for all who ever will believe:
"That He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus."
"I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man cometh unto the Father but by Me."