Tag Archives: Works-Righteousness

The Futility of Fig Leaves

As the blindness began to set in, the man and woman began to see most clearly.  What was formerly veiled had now become terrifyingly visible.  That which had been beautifully common became tormenting to their soul.  What had formerly been a look of acceptance turned to a gaze of accusation.  Previously they stood together open and unashamed, now they cringe, exposed by their treasonous hearts.  Having been divinely united in covenant, created one for the other, they now stand together separated by their nakedness, sin, and shame.

Just moments before, they were listening to the poisonous words of a cunning serpent.  As doubt, desire, and deception engulfed the couple, one tasted and then gave to the other.  Simultaneously, their eyes were both blinded yet beholding, their minds both darkened yet enlightened, their bodies living yet now dying, and their hearts were both sensitive yet hardening.  Everything had changed in an instant.  With lips still moist with the sweet taste of nectar, the first man and woman sent mankind forth upon a journey of which even the greatest storytellers could never tell.

After indulging their desires, the man and woman quickly attempted to fix, or better yet, cover up their problem.  Hastily reaching for the nearest means of concealment, they made themselves garments of figleaves, venturing to accomplish the first act of works-righteousness.  The man and his wife sought to clothe their sinful hearts by covering their bodies, attempting to hide their sin from God and from one another.  Yet, the couple’s efforts were futile, for God, their Creator, is He who discerns “the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:12-13).

As we read the story of Adam and Eve it is easy for us see the futility of their attempts to cover their sin, yet the “apple” has not fallen far from the tree.  From the moment sin entered into the world through the first couple, all of mankind has been striving to cover up their sinful hearts.  Take for example all the religions of the world, apart from true, biblical, gospel-centered Christianity.  All require its devotees to do something to take care of whatever problem that religion declares they have.  All are trying to cover up their sinful hearts with external attempts of works-righteousness.  We were created to be in right relationship with God and in our depraved state we seek to attain such status in our own efforts.  Works-righteousness is the religion of the natural man in sin.

Not only do we find these futile efforts out there in the religions of natural man, but they can be found within Christianity as well.  It is easy for a Christian to revert back to his or her former ways of works-righteousness, seeking to cover up a sinful heart with the clothes of external conformity to the norms of the Christian community.  It is easy to forget how amazing God’s grace is towards those who are in Christ and seek to make right our daily wrongs.  We are all susceptible to using fig leaves to cover our nakedness.  Now before you think that you might be excluded from “we all”, take a moment to think about the following fig leaves Christians often use to cover up sin lurking in their hearts (the list is not exhaustive – feel free to add your own).

Futile Fig Leaves of Christians:

  • The fig leaf of theological precision to cover up an unbelieving or disobedient heart.  It is easy to think that knowing the right information will make you acceptable before God, rather than truly resting in Him for all things and following Him in obedience (James 2:19).
  • The fig leaf of church attendance to cover up an uncommitted or rebellious heart.  Being at church some or all the time is not pleasing to God when our hearts desire to be somewhere else or we have no desire to follow those who God has put in authority over us (Heb. 13:17).
  • The fig leaf of singing or “Christian talk” to cover up a lying and corrupt heart.  Singing the songs and talking the talk with others at church cannot make up for our lips profaning the gospel during the week (Matt. 15:8-9).
  • The fig leaf of giving to cover up a selfishly hoarding heart.  Tithing or giving little or even much to others cannot make up for our desire and actions to build up treasure here for our own good (Matt. 6:21).
  • The fig leaf of serving to cover up a lazy or unloving heart.  Giving time and serving others at church or elsewhere cannot cover up our laziness during the week or even our lack of love for others (Mark 10:45).
  • The fig leaf of abstinence to cover up an immoral and adulterous heart.  Abstaining from physical, sexual sin does not cover up our immoral and adulterous thoughts and desires (Matt. 5:27-28).
  • The fig leaf of diet and exercise to cover up a gluttonous heart.  Not eating too much or exercising so as to make up for indulging will not cover up our undisciplined and dissatisfied hunger (John 6:25-35).

It is not that any of these “fig leaves” are sinful in and of themselves, in fact they are all good when done from a heart drawing near to God, but they can become repulsive to Him when done in an attempt to cover a sinful heart.  You see, we may be deceiving others and even ourselves but we are not fooling God – we are merely putting on a show.  All throughout Scripture we see God rejecting and repulsed by the fig leaves of His people.  In 1 Samuel 15:22 Samuel tells Saul:

Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, 

  as in obeying the voice of the LORD?

Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,

and to listen than the fat of rams. 

Saul had put on the fig leaves of animal sacrifice to cover up a rebellious and prideful heart, and God was disgusted with him.  Repeatedly in the prophets God delivers a message to His people, saying, “Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them” (Isaiah 1:14), “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24), and Jesus echoes Isaiah saying:

This people honors me with their lips,

but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

teaching as doctrines the commandments of men (Matt. 15:8-9).

God’s people were putting on a show, covering up their sinful hearts with the rituals of worship and conformity to religious expectations and He rejected it all.  We are no different.  When we revert to covering up our sinful hearts with the wrappings of fig leaves, we mock God, His faithfulness, His grace, and His provision – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So, what is the answer?  How do we keep from covering ourselves with futile fig leaves?   How do we stop mocking the grace of God in Jesus Christ?

Some will choose to continue on covering up their sinfulness with the trappings of the fig leaves they wear, but they will not experience the rest Christ came to give us (Heb. 3:7-4:13).  Others will think that they should quit striving to obey God for fear that they are doing it from sinful hearts or with wrong motives, and will keep themselves from experience the abiding presence, joy, and peace of God (John 15:5-16).

Instead, we must rest in the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  To do this we must look back to the beginning to see what God did with Adam and Eve’s fig leaves.  After God declares the curse of sin upon all creation, Genesis 3:21 says, “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”  The couple’s attempt to cover themselves was futile.  They could not fix the problem of their sin with fig leaves.  It was God who had to provide a covering for their sin.  We are no different.  Before we were given new life in Christ all our attempts to cover or make up for our transgressions were futile fig leaves.  God in His grace and wisdom provided a covering in the person and work of His Son for all who would repent and believe.   Christ lived the life of perfect righteousness that we should have lived, He died the death, enduring the Father’s wrath, that we deserved as a penalty for sin , and defeated death by His innocence and power, accomplishing salvation for His people.

Once in Christ, our circumstances do not change.  The same grace we needed to cover our sin, we need to keep us until Christ returns or we go home to be with Him.  Paul asked the believers in Galatia, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (3:3).  We are not brought into the new covenant with Christ by grace only for God to leave the rest up to us.  It is by the grace of God in Christ that we are saved and by that grace we are kept (1 Cor. 15:1-11).  We mock this grace when we revert back to our former fig leaves trying to cover up our sinful hearts.  Jerry Bridges, in his book The Disciplines of Grace, writes, “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace.  And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”  When we realize this gospel truth, our lives will be radically transformed.  You are and will forever be acceptable to God not because of your efforts but because of Jesus Christ.

So what’s the answer to your futile efforts to cover sin?  Rest in Christ who is your righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).  Run to Christ in confession of your sinful heart that you may find peace in His cleansing blood (1 John 1:9).  Cling to Christ who is your great sympathizing High Priest who lives to make intercession on your behalf (Heb. 4:12-13, 7:25).  Arise in praise of God’s glorious grace for which you were saved and are being saved (Eph. 1:3-14).  Forsake your futile fig leaves for the beautiful and imperishable garments of white provided by your Lord’s sacrifice (Rev. 7:9-12).  Put off the fleeting pleasures of sin from which Christ set you free and live unto righteousness (Rom. 6).  And lastly – Behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and be transformed into that same image (2 Cor. 3:18).


Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Christology, God, Grace, Sin, Theology