Friday, May 14, 2010

The Wedding Garment: the Robes of Christ's Righteousness

So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless.
-- Matthew 22:10-12

Recently, I've been reflecting on the rich symbolism provided by the Scriptural allusions to being "clothed in Christ" and the many exhortations for believers to put on a "garment of praise" (Isaiah 61:3). This metaphor of "putting on" virtue runs throughout the Bible, where it is compared to a robe. The image, obviously, is to envelope or encompass one's self in the attributes of God, completely in line with Paul's stated goal to the believer to be conformed to the image of Christ. Baptism, identifying with Christ in His death and Resurrection, is a vivid symbol of this total "clothing":

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." -- Galatians 3:26-27, emphasis mine

In Psalm 45:3-4, Christ is prophetically described as being clothed with splendor and majesty..."riding forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness..." (The implications of this passage are stunning - the Creator of the universe, 'clothed with splendor and majesty', rides forth with humility.) We, for our part, are likewise exhorted to clothe ourselves with humility (1 Peter 5:5); compassion (Colossians 3:12); righteousness (Job 29:14); strength and dignity (Proverbs 31:25); and with the Lord Jesus Himself (Romans 13:14). By 'clothing' ourselves in Christ, we will thus have 'put on' all of the qualities demanded - which, ultimately, are all produced by a Christ-like humility.

What does this have to do with the wedding garment of Matthew 22:11? You are probably familiar with the parable, which symbolizes God's invitation to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. This summons reaches out freely and impartially to all, although God sovereignly knows that only the elect will respond to His overtures. The host of the wedding banquet provided the guests with wedding garnments, so the man who refused to put it on was without excuse -- no one was to "clothe" him or herself according to whim.

Christ's invitation to follow Him is on His terms. HE sends HIs Spirit, regenerates the soul, provides the payment for our sin, the grace we need to be called God's children, and His imputed righteousness. Scripture is clear that our best 'righteousness' is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and that He Himself will put a rich garnment on us (Zech. 3:4). It was never, ever of our own design or making. His calling is truly "effectual", and His grace truly does provide all that we need to be righteous before Him - if, indeed, we are found in Him.

Why, then, did the would-be wedding guest refuse the generous offer of robes? The only possible explanation I can think of is pride. Natural man hates the idea that he can produce nothing on his own. The biblical truth that nothing good dwells in us apart from Jesus Christ is repugnant to humanist sensibilities. Remember the Prodigal Son of Luke 15? When his father ran out to meet him and clothed him with the best robe - to cover his shame and filth - he would have resisted -- but only for a moment.

While Christ makes it abundantly clear that those the Father has called can only come to Him on His terms - surrendering any notion that we are good enough for heaven at the door - this doesn't stop the proud from offering self-styled worship and thinking they can gain heaven on their own merit. Falling into the trap of thinking, "I can stand before God if I just try harder...surely my religious activity, ritualistic observances and 'good works' will not go unnoticed by the Almighty!" leads only to spiritual bondage. There is something in man that recoils at accepting something for nothing (which is the essence of grace). Humility accepts the King's robe of righteousness with gratitude and desire to obey. Pride says, "I'll do it on my own. You'll be so impressed with my piety that you'll want me in your Kingdom."

Until a would-be follower of Christ discards any notion that he is acceptable before God in robes of his own, he is still wallowing in the rags of self-righteousness. Once we put on the free wedding garnment that the King has graciously offered, we are truly children in His Kingdom and guests at His table. The love, joy, and comfort that flows from being united in His Spirit is all-encompassing and affects every area of life. Is it possible to not fall at the feet of such a gentle King and Savior in thanksgiving and adoration?

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