When Do We Get the Robe?
Herbert E. Douglass
Published on LastGenerationTheology.org on 2005-12-28
Why do some say that the “robe” and the “wedding garment” is God’s gift without any contribution of any kind from men and women of faith, that it “has in it not one thread of human devising?”1
The Bible talks about a “wedding garment” that the redeemed will wear (Matthew 22:1-14; Ephesians 5:26, 27). In fact, John the Revelator wrote that our Lord’s bride (the redeemed) would wear this garment—“in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:8).
Those who are troubled about “works righteousness” have difficulty with this text. The usual explanation is that this garment is really the robe of Christ’s righteousness that is imputed to all believers. They go on to say that any attempt to make this “robe” into anything that a Christian must “do” is pure legalism and not the message of grace. Further, they say, if one focuses on the “righteous deeds of the saints,” how could he have any “assurance” of salvation now?
What shall we make of these two stark differences, both looking at the same biblical texts? How do these texts relate to the Great Controversy over the loyalty of men and women and their eternal trustworthiness?
Trusted With Eternal Life
Let’s remember that the ultimate purpose of the gospel is to prepare a people who can be trusted with eternal life. When we recognize that the Good News provides both pardon and power in God’s plan to restore in us His “image,” it should seem easier to figure out how the “robe” and wedding garment is acquired. But let’s review how everything we have learned so far helps us to answer those who may be confused regarding certain biblical statements.
In Matthew 22:1-14 Jesus gave the parable of the wedding feast. The high point of the parable focuses on the king greeting the wedding guests. But the king discovers “a man who did not have on a wedding garment” (verse 11). Bad news—he was punished irrevocably!
Now, what shall we make of this parable? Jesus did not elaborate. However, there are insights in Ellen White’s exposition of this parable that parallel the Greek Testament teaching of the full gospel.
We are told that “the parable … opens before us a lesson of the highest consequence” and that “the wedding garment represents the character which all must possess who shall be accounted fit guests for the wedding.”2
How Do Men and Women Acquire This Wedding Garment?
“The fine linen, says the Scripture (Rev. 19:8) is ‘the righteousness of the saints.’ It is the righteousness of Christ, His own unblemished character that through faith is imparted to all who receive Him as their personal Savior.… Christ in His humanity wrought out a perfect character, and this character He offers to impart to us.”3
Here we have in parable form an outline of “righteousness by faith” (how righteousness is acquired by faith). Men and women of faith, from their first repenting moment, through many repenting moments thereafter, have cooperated with the Holy Spirit as He reproduces the character of Christ in them.4 Their part in character development is to cooperate with God who is willing to do His good pleasure in men and women of faith.
The developing character that is reflecting Jesus more and more is not a product of “human devising.” Any man or woman of faith knows that all too well. The most we can do is to keep our eye single, not double-minded (James 1:8), trusting in His promises that He will “complete” the good work that He began (Philippians 1:6). The new covenant experience reflects a character development void of “human devising” because it grows out of the LordŐs promise to “put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them” (Hebrews 10:16).
The New Covenant Experience
Jesus often described how others can tell if one is living in the new covenant experience. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) gives us a cameo of lives that are letting the Holy Spirit write God’s “laws into their hearts.” In His galvanizing parable of the judgment (Matthew 25) when the sheep and the goats are separated, He described the sheep as those who cared for the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger; they clothed the forsaken, helped the sick, and visited those in prison. Not especially front-page stories. But the sheep were reflecting His character, permitting the Holy Spirit to make them fit to live forever!
This kind of character transformation was not a mere poetic ideal. Early Christians caught on quickly! James wrote that ”pure and undefiled religion“ could be recognized when Christians “visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (1:27).
To put it another way, the kind of people that God is making ready to live forever are those who permit the Holy Spirit to live out the “fruit of the Spirit”: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23).
This character transformation is another way of describing, “what it means to be clothed with the garment of His righteousness.”5 Here again Ellen White puts light on the meaning of “righteousness”:
Righteousness is right-doing, and it is by their deeds that all will be judged. Our characters are revealed by what we do. The works show whether the faith is genuine.… Whatever our profession, it amounts to nothing unless Christ is revealed in works of righteousness.”6
We are dealing with metaphors when we talk about “garments” and “robes.” What we are really talking about is character transformation that is surely a gift, but a gift that is imparted, not only imputed.7
Those who reject the gift of Christ’s righteousness are rejecting the attributes of character which would constitute them the sons and daughters of God. They are rejecting that which alone could give them a fitness for a place at the marriage feast.… It is in this life that we are to put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness. This is our only opportunity to form characters for the home, which Christ has made ready for those who obey His commandments.8
Light Years Away From Perfectionism
The wedding garment parable embraces all aspects of the everlasting gospel! The Bible’s emphasis on “righteous behavior” is light-years away from an abstract perfectionism. Jesus was not an abstract perfectionistic example!
Closely linked to this wedding parable is the dramatic, full-color, preview of the real wedding for which the whole universe is waiting—the marriage of the Lamb!
When men and women of faith walk into the “marriage of the Lamb” they walk in as His bride! But notice how John carefully chose his words: the bride, the Lamb’s wife “has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).
How did she make herself “ready”? (After all, no bridegroom makes his bride ready for her wedding! The bride has preparation to do that no bridegroom can do for her.)
What was her preparation that no one else could do for her? John tells us that the bride finally comes to the altar, at last, after keeping the Bridegroom waiting at the altar for a long, long time. She comes “arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts9 of the saints” (Revelation 19:8). This picture is enough to take our breath away.
Men and women of faith, symbolized by the bride, are at the wedding because the Bridegroom “can trust them.”10 The bride has demonstrated her wholehearted appreciation for His gift of love and all that comes with it. She can offer the Bridegroom only her purity and her constantly improving track record (her “righteous acts”) for the Bridegroom to trust.
God Has Been Waiting a Long Time at the Altar
This wedding has been on God’s heart for a long, long time. This is His reward for taking the risk of making men and women as part of His plan to settle the Great Controversy. They have settled the question as to whether sinful men and women could ever freely reverse themselves by the grace of God and be restored to a life that truly reflects their Maker.
It doesn’t take long in our studies to note that “Satan had claimed that it was impossible for man to obey GodŐs commandments; and in our own strength it is true that we cannot obey them.… [But] when a soul receives Christ, he receives power to live the life of Christ.”11 And when that restored life becomes a forever habit pattern, “they have a right to join the blood-washed throng.”12
Men and women of faith will one day have the “right” (by the grace of God) to live forever! Potent words! Why? God can “trust” them! Why? “Character … decides destiny”13 and that has been the whole purpose of the gospel, of why Christ came to earth and died. Such men and women of faith help to place the universe “on an eternal basis of security.”14
John Greenleaf Whittier grasped this concept well:
The tissue of the Life to be
And what will the universe say about God’s risk and His judgment regarding the redeemed? Listen to the chorus echoing from world to world: “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments” (Revelation 19:1,2; also Revelation 15:3).
All this reality on the horizon today should give men and women of faith plenty of hope. But more—knowing that the Lord at the end of the road is the One who is walking beside them today should give us present assurance of salvation.
No mystery about who wears the robe of Christ’s righteousness! Wearing the robe today means that we are “abiding in Him” today! Wearing the robe means that we are choosing to walk today “just as He walked” (1 John 2:6). Wearing the robe means that we are saying “Yes” to whatever Light the Holy Spirit is shining on our paths today.
What a privilege! What a responsibility! How much we do owe our families and friends to make all this clearer, more exciting!