Charles Wesley’s hymn, “And Can It Be”, contains this verse:
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him is mine!
Alive in Him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own
We are, as the fourth line states, “clothed in righteousness divine”. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul puts it like this:
It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.1 Cor.1:30 (NIV)
Any righteousness I have, comes from him.
In the old testament book of Zechariah, there is a beautiful picture that helps to illustrate this. It tells us that Joshua, the high priest, is standing before the angel of the Lord, dressed in filthy clothes.
The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.’”Zechariah 3:4 (NIV)
It is not clear from the passage exactly what clothes Joshua was wearing. Maybe he was actually wearing filthy clothes. Or perhaps he was wearing his high priestly robes that, in the sight of the angel, were as filthy clothes. Either way, they were not good enough. Joshua had to be re-clothed by the angel.
The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 contains a similar theme. A young man demands his inheritance from his father before it is due to him. Having received it, he travels far from home and, eventually, squanders it all. In order to survive he accepts work feeding pigs and is so hungry he considers eating their food himself.
Eventually, he decides to return to his father in the hope that he will accept him as a servant. He is uncertain what reception he will receive and rehearses what he will say to his father.
20 So he got up and returned to his father. The father looked off in the distance and saw the young man returning. He felt compassion for his son and ran out to him, enfolded him in an embrace, and kissed him.
21 The son said, “Father, I have done a terrible wrong in God’s sight and in your sight too. I have forfeited any right to be treated as your son.”
22 But the father turned to his servants and said, “Quick! Bring the best robe we have and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. 23 Go get the fattest calf and butcher it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate 24 because my son was dead and is alive again. He was lost and has been found.” So they had this huge party.Luke 15:20‑24 (The Voice)
I don’t doubt that this young man tried to clean himself up before presenting himself to his father. If nothing else, to try to get rid of the smell of the pigs. But his father goes beyond what he could achieve and, like Joshua, his clothes are changed.
When we ‘return to God’ our clothes are changed. As Wesley puts it, we are ‘clothed in righteousness divine’.
This story illustrates the truth that we are:
- accepted and unconditionally loved by God
- declared right with God and our relationship with Him is restored
When we understand and believe these truths, it can transform the way we live.
I wonder what happened next for this prodigal son; how did he live after this event? I like to imagine that he remained living in his father’s household, knowing that, although he was not perfect, he was loved and accepted. And because of that unconditional love and acceptance he wanted to live to please his father more than anything else, motivated by love and gratitude.
It is the same for us, we can know that we have God’s approval, not because of anything we have done, but because of his love and what Jesus has done for us. Don’t try to earn the approval of God.
Understand this and it will radically transform the way you live. Like the younger son you will want to live in a way that pleases God – because you love him.
Earlier we looked at 1 Corinthians 1:30. In the next verse Paul writes:
Therefore … ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ 1 Cor.1:31
Jesus is our righteousness. Let that be a provocation to thank, praise and worship God with all your heart. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves.