For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Remember Your mercies and compassion; and that the mind of man inclines toward evil from his youth; that no one is without sin upon the earth, for You alone are without sin. You came and saved the human race, and set us free from the bondage of the enemy. For if You enter into judgment with Your servants, none will be found clean from stain; but every mouth shall be sealed, not having any defense; for as discarded rags is all our righteousness before You. (from the 5th Prayer)
No one is perfect. That is a fact. It is a consequence of the Fall of mankind. None of us is perfect. Even the most righteous person is going to be found lacking in the eyes of God.
Many of us are obsessed with recognition. We love to receive accolades for achievements. And many of these awards are well-deserved. We should recognize people for academic excellence. Those who do well in their jobs should be rewarded with pay increases or bonuses. Those who do well in school are recognized with good grades and awards. Recognition is motivation in many parts of life.
Spiritual recognition is something different. The Fifth Prayer of Holy Unction reminds us that no matter how righteous we are, that our righteousness is like discarded rags before God.
Years ago, my family participated in a fundraiser to beautify a church. The church was improving their landscaping, resurfacing their parking lot, and putting up a fence around the property. I can’t remember how much we donated but one of the church members asked which 1.5 sections of the fence did we want to donate, since our donation was enough for 1.5 sections of fence, and where did we want our names. We said we were just donating to the project. We didn’t really care if our money went to the fence or the parking lot or to the landscaping, but that it should go where it would serve the best good. And we didn’t want our name on anything. We weren’t giving for recognition either. We just wanted to give.
There has long been this understanding in many churches that if a person isn’t recognized with their name somewhere, they won’t be motivated to give. To give for one’s name to be displayed somewhere is really exchanging, it’s not really giving. To truly give is to expect nothing in return.
This is important because we can’t donate our way into the Kingdom of God. We reach our salvation by what we give of our lives. We reach our salvation through faith, continual repentance, and humility that doesn’t emphasize what we have done, but what we still have to do.
In Galatians 6:15, St. Paul writes “for neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” During the time that Saint Paul wrote this Epistle, during the early years of the fledgling Christian Church, there was a controversy over whether one had to become circumcised in order to be a Christian. The Jews were circumcised as a sign of being God’s chosen people, based on a covenant that the Lord made with Abraham in Genesis 17. Would the Gentile Christians be allowed to join the church without the sign of the Old Covenant on them? Saint Paul put the matter to rest when he wrote that was important was a new creation, a circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29), where a person’s heart was dedicated to the Lord.
God knows our intentions. We can’t hide anything from Him. He knows whether we give hoping for recognition or whether we give in humility. He knows whether our righteousness is to get the accolades of others, or whether it is the desire of our hearts to live for God.
If the Lord were to mark our iniquities, they would most likely outweigh our accomplishments. Therefore, accomplishments cannot be the central goal. Repentance has to be the primary objective. And looking righteous in the eyes of God is much more important than looking good in the eyes of others.
If a person has a car that everyone loves and compliments, he will feel good. However, when he goes home and looks in the mirror, and knows in his heart that he stole the car, his lack of righteousness, and guilt over it, will eventually hide the happiness he gets from the accolades of others. On the other side, if a person is honest and hardworking, even if no one likes his car, he will know that he acquired the car through honest and noble means. His righteousness will give him cause to rejoice and he won’t be as saddened by the lack of accolades from others.
Focus on what is righteous in the eyes of God, rather than what is seen as “accomplished” in the eyes of others. Because whatever “righteousness” we flaunt to others is like discarded rags to God. However, when we see ourselves as discarded rags and are motivated to repent and change, we will be rewarded with the greatest of accolades: We will be saved and rewarded by God.
You, who are the purest palace of the King, O greatly-praised, I implore you; cleanse my mind, stained with all manner of sin, and make it the pleasant abode of the exceedingly Divine Trinity; that I, your wicked suppliant, being saved, may magnify your power, and your boundless mercy. (From the praises)
Focus on repentance over accolades!