ARE WE PROPERLY CLOTHED?
by Elder Lawrence Nelson
This sermon is part of a series entitled Christ our Righteousness
Dearly beloved, let us begin by reading the Word of God in Revelation 3:17, 18. It says, "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see."
These startling words of Christ are spoken in love to those dwelling in Laodicea who profess to be among God's remnant. Could it be possible that some of us could be deceived as to our spiritual condition? Such an alarming description given by our Savior, who discerns the secrets of the heart, calls for some serious thinking. Listen, I'm quoting, "What is it that constitutes the nakedness and wretchedness of those that feel rich and increased with goods? It is the want of the righteousness of Christ. In their own righteousness they are represented as clothed with filthy rags, and yet in this condition they flatter themselves that they are clothed upon with Christ's righteousness. Could deception be greater?" This Day With God p. 228.
Please join me as we take this deception problem to God in prayer. Oh loving Father, in Thy holy Word, and through Thy last-day messenger, the Holy Spirit has aroused us to ask, "Lord, could you mean this deception could apply to this speaker, and to some of those listening to this sermon?" If we know our hearts, we have a desire to be ready for Thy coming. But divine inspiration reveals that some of us are clothed improperly for this great event. Some even totally naked and know it not. In Thy name we pray that Thou will reveal to each of us the garments which must be put on and worn daily if we expect to be ready for the wedding ceremony, and ready to live with Thee in heaven. This we ask in the name of Jesus, Amen.
Now to begin, first a question: What is it going to take to awaken our sleepy heads from our deception that we may comprehend how God sees most of us? In Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 84 we read, "The knowledge of our state as God views it, seems to be hidden from us. We see, but perceive not; we hear, but do not understand; we rest as unconcerned as if the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, rested upon our sanctuary. We profess to know God, and to believe the truth, but in works deny Him. Our deeds are directly adverse to the principles of truth and righteousness, by which we profess to be governed."
Sadly, rather than accepting Christ's righteousness, many within the church today have done exactly as did Adam and Eve in their disobedience - "They have sewed together fig leaves to cover the nakedness by transgression. They have worn the garments of their own devising; by works of their own they have tried to cover their sins, and make themselves acceptable with God." Christ Object Lessons p. 311.
But praise God, He is ready, if we are ready, to awaken all lukewarm believers and help them to see the necessity of changes that must be made in their lives if they will be properly clothed. This is no small matter. In fact, it is a life and death issue. Just listen to this quote, "He (God) is waiting to strip them of their garments stained and polluted with sin, and to put upon them the white robes of righteousness; He bids them live and not die." Faith I Live By p. 134.
Now, since God is just waiting to put upon us the white robes of Christ's righteousness, why are we so reluctant to accept His precious gift? The Bible has the answer. Because we are "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind and naked." Revelation 3:17.
Let me ask you, have you ever really seen such a person? I have. Let me tell you about it. On one of my visits to Africa I was scheduled to spend thirty days in the Cameroon's visiting every outpost. As we started out by Volkswagen, we had some eight flat tires in just a few miles. Our tires were absolutely useless. I suggested we return to the capital city and try to find some other used tires since new tires were unavailable. We searched for several hours through a huge pile of old, used tires until we finally found four that we hoped would do the job.
As these tires were being put on the car I decided to see the little town. Believe me, it was only a few blocks in size. As I was walking slowly, looking in the shops, the smell was anything but pleasant for beside the narrow sidewalk ran an open sewer ditch. Suddenly I smelled a stench I could hardly stand. But where was it coming from?
As I turned a corner I almost bumped into him. I hesitate to describe what I saw. There he stood, about 6'4" tall, dirty, covered with mud and filth. I could hardly stand the odor and yet there he was stark naked, not even a loincloth on, and on his stomach and sides large ulcers, some as large as six inches across and puss was oozing out. Some of his toes were missing for he was filled with leprosy. Also I noticed that half of his fingers had been eaten away. But when I looked at his face I was really shocked, for the leprosy had eaten away both eyeballs – only the sockets remained – and part of his nose was missing. What a shocking experience! I shall never forget such a man in such a hopeless condition.
Now the scriptures describe what God sees in many of us as believers today. I am reading Isaiah 1:5,6, "Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment."
Yet there is hope. While we have failed to grasp God's grace and strength provided through Christ, none are so sinful that they cannot find strength, purity and righteousness in Jesus who died for us. The True Witness not only points out our Laodicean spiritual disease, but He offers the remedy. We are invited to come to Him and buy the white raiment of His righteousness, that we might be clothed with the robes of His righteousness so that the shame of our nakedness will not appear.
How do we buy Christ's white raiment? - "When the work of repentance is earnest and deep, the individual member of the church will buy the rich goods of heaven. Oh, how many behold things in a perverted light, in the light which Satan would have them see." Bible Commentaries, Volume 7, p. 961.
If only we could see ourselves as God sees us, not as Satan wishes us to see ourselves, then through earnest repentance we could buy the remedy for the Laodicean condition. The True Witness exhorts us to "be zealous and therefore repent." Revelation 3:19. The white raiment of Christ's righteousness is often referred to in inspired writings as a robe or as robes in the plural. In truth, Christ has only one righteousness, but His righteousness is applied to man in two different ways – imputed and imparted. These are given to man for two different purposes.
Messages to Young People p. 35 states, "The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted. The first is our title to heaven, the second is our fitness for heaven." Thus the robes of righteousness that Christ provides for repentant man consists of 1) justifying righteousness and 2) sanctifying grace.
Inspiration often uses the plural noun when speaking of Christ's robes of righteousness. I will refer to a few. Great Controversy p. 415 tells us, "Christ could stoop to raise unnumbered multitudes from the abyss of ruin and clothe them with the spotless garments of His righteousness." Revelation 16:15 says, "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame." In Sons and Daughters of God p. 368 we read, "Only those who are clothed in the garments of His righteousness will be able to endure the glory of His presence when He shall appear with power and great glory."
You notice from these quotations that "garments" is in the plural. We might think of the imputed robe of Christ's righteousness as being the foundation garment, for we must receive it first. This robe signifies that the believer has confessed, repented of, and forsaken his sins; that he has been forgiven or justified. Christ has entered his heart to dwell there by faith.
Immediately after we are clothed with this robe, Christ places upon man His imparted robe of righteousness. Christ's imparted righteousness signifies that the believer is being sanctified; that his character is being fitted for heaven. Christ, with man's cooperation, is living out His life within. This outer garment of sanctifying righteousness is often referred to in Inspired writings as "the wedding garment." All who attain to these two robes of divine righteousness are properly clothed and ready for the coming of the bridegroom to the wedding. Without these two divine garments no man can see God and live.
Our next Bible verse introduces to us a different part of God's truth as mentioned before. It declares that man has a part to act in wearing the robes of Christ's righteousness. In Revelation 7:14 we are told, "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
Now the question arises, "What robes does man wash? And how does he wash them?" We need not wash the imputed robe of Christ's righteousness for it is spotless. "It is the righteousness of Christ that makes the penitent sinner acceptable to God and works his justification. However sinful has been his life, if he believes in Jesus as his personal Saviour, he stands before God in the spotless robes of Christ's imputed righteousness." Signs of the Times, July 4, 1892.
Neither do men wash Christ's robes of imparted righteousness for it too is spotless. When it comes to sanctification, we find that during sanctification the imparted righteousness of Christ is to become part of man's very own character for it is the character of man that must be fitted for heaven. This is not done instantaneously. Verily, it is the work of a lifetime, be it long or short.
At the new birth, Christ imputes and imparts His righteousness to the believer. Both are spotless robes. The repentant one is now ready for Christ to come just as was the thief on the cross. But then, during sanctification, man's character is to be developed to recognize and resist sin and temptation in its many forms, and to become more and more Christ-like every day. This requires cooperation between Christ and man, for Christ does not furnish a man with a ready-made, spotless character. God furnishes the talents and His imparted righteous building-blocks. But we build the character. For further study I suggest you read Christ Object Lessons p. 331.
Let me illustrate. For some years now I have been wearing one suit for preaching engagements. The other day, my wife, Dean, told me it was time to get a new suit. We went shopping for a new one. Fortunately we found a department store that had a sale on men's clothing. Surprisingly, the first suit that the salesman showed me was exactly what I wanted.
As I put the suit on I felt there was a problem, and probably the need for an alteration, for the suit felt slightly snug. But the tailor, after careful examination said, "No, it doesn't need to be altered. The suit is a perfect fit exactly as it is, but you must lose about 10 pounds." I agreed and purchased the suit, and I am cooperating by reducing my weight and then the suit will fit properly.
This is a striking illustration of how we are to cooperate with God. He does not alter His character requirements, we must develop characters that fit His divine pattern. In our human, defective, stained and polluted robes of character we are to wash in the blood of the Lamb every day. As we continue to wash, God accounts our character as perfect in Christ. So, washing our garments is a very important work.
Listen as I read from Testimonies for the Church, Volume 3, p. 183, "The provision has been made for us to wash. The fountain has been prepared at infinite expense, and the burden of washing rests upon us, who are imperfect before God. The Lord does not propose to remove these spots of defilement without our doing anything on our part. We must wash our robes in the blood of the Lamb. We may lay hold of the merits of the blood of Christ by faith, and through His grace and power we may have strength to overcome our errors, our sins, our imperfections of character, and come off victorious, having washed our robes in the blood of the Lamb."
In this process there is a work for ministers and others to do. "We should teach those who are filthy how to cast away their old, sin-stained garments of character, and how to put on Christ's righteousness." The Southern Work p. 27. We should also teach men that if they cooperate with the divine, the divine will cooperate with them and they will come off victoriously. "The whole purpose in giving His Son for the sins of the world is that man may be saved, not in transgression and unrighteousness but in forsaking sin, washing his robes of character, and making them white in the blood of the Lamb. He proposes to remove from man the offensive thing that He hates, but man must cooperate with him in the work. Sin must be given up, hated, and the righteousness of Christ must be accepted by faith. Thus will the divine cooperate with the human." Testimonies for the Church, Volume 4, p. 632.
Repentant sinners also need to be informed that God has given detailed instructions to them as to how to wash their robes. In Signs of the Times, August 1, 1878 Ellen White declares, "Here is a work for man to do. He must face the mirror of God's law, discern the defects in his moral character and put away his sins, washing his robes of character in the blood of the Lamb. Envy, pride, malice, deceit, strife, crime will be cleansed from the heart that is recipient of the love of Christ, and cherishes the hope of being made like him when we shall see him as he is."
Review and Herald, August 5, 1897 tells us, "The Lord would have us wash our robes of character now, remove every stain in the blood of the Lamb…. We need to have higher and more distinct views of the character of Christ, to lead us to copy his example. We need to better understand what constitutes a pure religious life. We must learn to be Christ-like in disposition and character." In these quotations which I have read, we are told how to wash our robes, for God would have us 1) to face the mirror of God's law, 2) identify our sins 3) put our sins away and 4) learn to be Christ-like in character.
When must this be done? - Now. Now. Day by day. "A probation is granted us in which to wash our robes of character and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. Who is doing this work? Who is separating himself from sin and selfishness?" Bible Commentaries, Volume 7, p. 960. Again we read, "Now we have the precious opportunity of washing our robes of character in the blood of the Lamb till they are spotless in his purity." Signs of the Times, December 22, 1887.
Concerning the wedding garment, we will quickly note that the wedding garment and our robes of character are one and the same thing. "The wedding garment in the parable is represented as a pure, spotless character which Christ's true followers will possess." Christ Object Lessons p. 310. The wedding garment represents the character which all must possess who shall be accounted fit guests for the wedding. "The parable of the wedding garments open before us a lesson of the highest consequence." Christ Object Lessons p. 307.
What happens to the man who comes to the wedding feast without a wedding garment? These are "they who would not put off the garment of earth in order to be clothed with the robe of heaven." Christ Object Lessons p. 318. In Matthew 23:13 we read of the king who declares of these, "Bind him hand and foot and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
How different the experience will be for those that have put on the wedding garment. Revelation 19:7, 8 says, "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." These are qualified to become the bride of Christ. "Clothed in the glorious apparel of Christ's righteousness, they have a place at the King's feast. They have a right to join the blood-washed throng." Christ Object Lessons p. 315. Why? Because they have washed their robes of character; their wedding garments. They are a blood-washed throng.
So we see that this parable of the wedding garment, as told by Jesus, contains a lesson of the highest consequence. "The wedding garment represents the character which all must possess who shall be accounted fit guests for the wedding." Christ Object Lessons p. 307. After the marriage, these fit guests will have a home with their King forever and ever. "If we now wash our robes of character at this fountain, God will give us a place in the mansions that are being prepared for those who love Him." Signs of the Times, November 22, 1905.
Now Inspiration asks some very serious questions which we must all, sooner or later, be prepared to answer. Are you keeping your garments unspotted from the world as you read in James 1:27? "Have you been washing your robes of character and making them white in the blood of the Lamb; or are you defiling your robes of character with moral pollution?" Testimonies to Ministers p. 442.
Now we will turn back to the topic of our preparation for the glorious coming of our King to the wedding. The prophet Malachi brings to light a time of special preparation for God's people who are to face the exceedingly turbulent times of the end. God will give them special help for this special time. As they are washing their garments of character in the blood of the Lamb, God will come to their aid even as a refiner's fire and as fuller's soap.
Listen as I read this glorious promise recorded in Malachi 3:1-3 , "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness."
Most of us seem to understand what is meant by the refiner's fire; the process whereby gold and silver are refined and purified. But just what is the significance of the fuller's soap? In Bible times, a fuller was a person who laundered, or whitened cloth or clothing. Webster's Dictionary states that fuller's soap is extracted from a certain type of clay. "Fuller's earth is a highly absorbent substance composed of clay and silica material, either natural or artificial, used for taking grease out of cloth. Fuller's herb," says Webster's "is a plant formerly used for taking stains out of cloth."
In several places in the scriptures a fuller's field is said to be located at the end of a conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field. See Isaiah 7:3. The field was located in a place where the fuller could get not only the necessary detergent, clay substance and needed bleach and herbs, but also an abundance of pure water. It was thus he was able to achieve fantastically white, bright, spotless cloth and clothing.
We can readily appreciate what a great help fuller's soap, God's special cleansing grace, would be in the washing of our garments and character. Listen as Mark vividly describes the garment of Jesus on the Mount when He was transfigured before some of his disciples in Mark 9:3, "And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them."
We can scarcely imagine the whiteness of Christ's garment. However Jesus has opened an abundant fountain of His blood for us in which to wash our garments of character. He promises to supply fuller's soap in abundance. Praise His name! His provisions are complete. We need only to cooperate. We are now in the time of the judgement. In Review and Herald, May 9, 1893 after penning these three verses in Malachi, Ellen White explains: "The coming of Christ which is here referred to is not his second advent to this earth, but his coming to the investigative judgment in the most holy place of the sanctuary in heaven. Thus the message is especially to us, who are living in the time of the judgment."
For emphasis permit me to repeat that last phrase, "The message of Malachi is especially to us who are living in the time of the judgment." That time is now! The time of the judgment spoken here, that began in 1844, had a two-fold purpose: 1) To accomplish the investigative judgment 2) Through a special work of putting away sin, to prepare a people to be able to stand when He appeareth.
To the members of God's church, I will say, "We are the modern sons of Levi, brought to life in Malachi. If we are to abide the day of His coming, our garments of character must be refined, purified, and purged. Why? - So that we may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness."
Listen as we read from Great Controversy p. 425. In this first paragraph Ellen White first quotes Malachi 3:1-3, then she follows with this vivid description, "Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God, and their own diligent effort, they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God's people upon earth. This work is more clearly presented in the messages of Revelation 14.
"When this work shall have been accomplished, the followers of Christ will be ready for His appearing. 'Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord as in the days of old as in former years.' Malachi 3:4 Then the church which our Lord at His coming is to receive unto Himself will be a 'glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.' Ephesians 5:27. 'Then, she will look forth as the morning, fair as the noon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.' Song of Solomon 6:10." What a solemn time in which to live.
A time when a whole group from among God's professed people, through the grace of God and their own diligent efforts, must be conquerors in the battle with evil. For it will be necessary for them to stand before God during the time of final trouble without a mediator in the heavenly sanctuary. This means that if they were to sin, there would be no forgiveness available. No other people will have lived under such condition as this, but we need not be discouraged, however, for God is our Helper. What a Savior, our Lord!
What a glorious future we have to look forward to! A few words of warning and admonition from Inspiration would be appropriate before we leave the call for a special preparation. Proceeding each of the following passages, Ellen White first quotes Malachi 3:1-3, "Soon every man will be judged according to his deeds. Wake up, my brethren, before Christ comes to your name in the record books of heaven, and passes judgment upon every unchristlike word and deed." Kress Collection p. 95.
In Review and Herald, December 1, 1896 in connections with these verses, Ellen White declares, "A message which is as a two-edged sword must be given to the people, to clear away the evils that are seen among them. A living testimony that will awaken the paralyzed conscience is to be borne." But alas, at such a time when Jesus wants to come to take unto Himself a glorious church not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing as we read in Ephesians 5:27, what is the condition of this people? - He finds them in a condition of self-deception thinking that they are properly clothed when they are actually wretched, miserable, poor, and blind, and naked. Rather than being among those who are deceived and spiritually paralyzed, let us determine to be one of God's messengers to bear His special awakening message though it may be unflattering as the Laodicean message and as piercing as a two-edged sword.
With Ellen White let us sound the alarm, "Wake up, my brethren, get ready! get ready! get ready! In a view given June 27, 1850, my accompanying angel said, 'Time is almost finished. Do you reflect the lovely image of Jesus as you should?' Then I was pointed to the earth and saw that there would have to be a getting ready among those who have of late embraced the third angel's message. Said the angel, Get ready, get ready, get ready. Ye will have to die a greater death to the world than ye have ever died. I saw that there was a great work to do for them and but a little time in which to do it." Early Writings p. 64.
Now before we close, permit me to give one more important point. All need to understand the answer to the question, "What does it actually mean to be clothed in the garments of Christ's righteousness; to be clothed in the white raiment that is offered in Revelation 3?" I will let Inspiration answer: "When we submit ourselves to Christ the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged to His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life. This is what it means to be clothed with the garments of His righteousness. Then as the Lord looks upon us He sees, not the fig-leaf garment, nor the nakedness and the deformity of sin, but His own robe of righteousness, which is perfect obedience to the law of Jehovah." Christ Object Lessons p. 312.
When the Lord dwells in our hearts we think the thoughts of God and do the works of God. After reading these Inspired messages let us ask ourselves, "Am I properly clothed?" If we are not, we need to heed the words of the angel, "Get ready, get ready, get ready."
Let us pray. Oh God, Today may we hear Thy knocking loud and clear at the door of our hearts. And by Thy grace may we open the door to personal communion with Thee. We pray that we may so live that Thou canst place Thy divine apparel upon each of us so that we can overcome and be fit to live with Thee here, and in Thy kingdom. For we ask this in the precious name of Jesus, Amen.