The Dirty Shirt

This is a retelling of a story I heard Jack Miller (founder of  Serge) tell in the late 80’s:

Once upon a time, there was a young boy who wanted to impress his father. So one day, while his father was at work, he decided to wash his Dad’s favorite white shirt by hand.  It was one of those fancy shirts which couldn’t go into the washing machine. He worked hard on it with soap and water and then laid it outside to dry.

Only one problem – the boy laid the white shirt on the family’s old, rusty wheelbarrow.

When the father came home, the boy rushed to grab the shirt and show him. “Look, Dad, I washed your favorite white shirt!” And it did look good on the front. But the back was another matter.

It was covered in rust stains. The boy had tried hard and the shirt even looked good in his eyes, but the father knew that the shirt was worthless. The father took the boy into his arms and said, “Thank you for your work, you are my son and I will love you anyways and always.”

We are often like this child presenting God with our efforts to please him. “Look, God, I’m following all your rules – I’m going to church; I’m giving some money; I’m helping my neighbor who’s in need.” But the reality is that our efforts are like the child who has just ruined his father’s favorite shirt. They don’t move God to love us more.

“So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:16b

At the end of verse 16 – “by works of the law no one will be justified” – that is – “by doing good work no one will earn God’s love” The boy didn’t earn his father’s love by doing the laundry – his washing efforts were actually worthless. No – the father loved his son anyways and always.

The Heavenly Father loves his children anyways and always. Despite the mess we make of our lives, God will love you anyways and always if you are his child. And that is the key – being a child of God

And we become children of God by faith in the finished work of Jesus, as Paul writes in Galatians:

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Gal 2:26-27

Children want to please their father not to earn the father’s love but to express gratitude for the love he has already shown them.  Quit trying to earn the love of the Father.  In Christ, we have that completely.



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Chris Hatch

Seeking to love God and neighbor