The Robe of Righteousness

Please read Isaiah 61: 10-11 and 2 Corinthians 5: 11-21 and then pray; Gracious God, open my eyes to the truths of your Word, truths which will set me free to worship and serve you forever. Amen!

Please allow me to invite you back into the classroom and to the study of the 3R’s. You will no doubt remember what they are. Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. The fact that two of those three areas of study do not begin with letter R is apparently irrelevant and somewhat amusing. They are the basics of the school classroom. The basics are very important and foundational to the building blocks of life and learning. If you want to update the 3R’s, you can move into the area of the environment and conservation. The 3R’s are now; Reduce, Re-use and Re-cycle. These have become fundamentals of our modern-day approach to the care and stewardship of our planet, and they are propagated through most 21st century political manifestos.

But then there are also the 3R’s of the new covenant, or the 3R’s of basic Christianity – and these 3R’s are all highlighted by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 and in many other parts of the bible. They are; Regeneration, Reconciliation and Righteousness. My focus today will be mainly on righteousness, the gift of righteousness which is offered through the good news of Jesus Christ. But let me to say a brief word about regeneration and reconciliation. They are crucial to Christian understanding and living, and they leap out of Paul’s message in 2 Corinthians 5.

Firstly – regeneration – and this really does leap off the page through a magnificent statement of fact which Paul revels in.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.

That is regeneration in a nutshell! A new creation! Regeneration in the teaching of the bible and especially as we come to its full exposition in the NT, concerns the impartation of new life – new spiritual life. Regeneration relates to the gift of newly created divine life within the human heart and soul so that the person receiving this new life from God becomes a new creature – a new creation. Jesus used the language of new birth – being born anew or born of the Spirit. (John 3:3-8)

This new birth or new creation comes about as the sovereign Holy Spirit breathes new life into the human heart and soul and creates a whole new person who now possesses a new heart (of flesh not stone, Ezekiel 36:26), a new mind and a new nature which longs to please and glorify God. The new birth enables a person to step into another kingdom, the kingdom of God, and embrace a brand-new way of living through the power of the Spirit which seeks to please God above all else. Those in Christ are endued with a new nature which aspires to love, obey, and honour God.

Regeneration will often happen suddenly and quietly as God imparts this new life into our souls. In the words of a Christmas Carol; How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So, God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven. Regeneration is also perfectly expressed in the words of Charles Wesley; Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and natures night; Thine eye diffused a quickening ray – I woke, the dungeon flamed with light. Regeneration is then, the divine gift of new life to the imprisoned soul which brings about salvation. To use Paul’s words once again – and translate them literally; Anyone in Christ – new creation!

Secondly, and leading on from regeneration, we have the beautiful gift of reconciliation. This is reconciliation with God – or friendship and peace with God, which is re-established and totally renewed. This is Paul’s main theme in 2 Corinthians 5 because he sees his work as an ambassador who brings to the world the message and hope of reconciliation to God (5:18-20). This is such a fundamental and basic truth of Christianity. We are reconciled to God – through Jesus Christ – and especially through all that his death achieved on the cross. God is the author of reconciliation. He sent His Son into the world. Christ is the agent of reconciliation who dies for the world on the cross. Our relationship to God can be fully restored because Jesus removed the barrier which destroys our relationship with God. Jesus removes our sin as he dies for it in our place. As Paul states; Through Christ’s death “God was reconciling the world to himself” – not counting men’s sins against them. As we place our whole trust in Jesus and his death for us, God removes the barrier of sin; God forgives it through Christ and it is no longer counted against us. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us! This is amazing grace and it results in our reconciliation to God – our renewed friendship and closeness to the Father – our new joy and peace with God – our new standing as children of God. (Romans 5: 1-2, Ephesians 2:14-18) This is one of the most precious and blessed truths of the Christian faith and experience – we now walk, as Adam and Eve once did, in harmony and in friendship with our Creator. Beautiful and complete reconciliation!

And as part of that real and intimate reconciliation through Jesus, we are mercifully given yet another gift from heaven – and this is the free gift of righteousness. This matters to us and matters to a righteous and holy God! This is what I want to really emphasise today. Right alongside the gift of regeneration and reconciliation with God, we have the glorious gift of a robe of righteousness.

Let me carefully explain. At the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ is the free gift of salvation or eternal life. But there are many gifts which come with this bumper gift of salvation, and one of these is the gift of Christ’s righteousness to those who place their trust in him. This is a most precious gift and enables the Christian, the one “in Christ,” to approach the throne of God’s mercy and grace, and ultimately heaven itself – with confidence and boldness. As the hymn writer puts it;

No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in him are mine! Alive in Him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine; bold I approach the eternal throne and claim the crown through Christ, my own.

The gift of righteousness given to us by Christ, (for it is his righteousness) is part of the great announcement of the good news of the gospel which Paul magnificently outlines in his letter to the Romans which is a theological masterpiece. This is what the whole of the Protestant Reformation was based upon and it starts in Romans 1: 16-17. Please read. It is further explained in Romans 3: 21-24 with reference to Jesus’s atoning death. Please read. Notice the emphasis on “a righteousness from God being revealed.” What is this righteousness at the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ?

In Jesus, and through the total obedience of Jesus to God and to God’s law, we see a perfect righteousness lived out in this dark world. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, they were killing a man without sin – a perfectly righteous man in God’s eyes. All our attempts at righteousness have failed. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. This was not true of Jesus. He lived a perfectly righteous life. Our “righteous acts” are always marred by sin and defiled by pride. We cannot hope to come to God and we cannot hope to enter heaven through our compromised, tardy, and inadequate righteousness. In fact, the prophet Isaiah says that all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6) In order to enter God’s holy presence, we need a pure righteousness, and this is what Jesus provides and kindly gives to us as we trust in him.

On the cross, Jesus takes our sin upon himself. (Read Isaiah 53: 4-6) He bears the wrath of God against sin by taking our sins in himself (5:21) But the good news continues. Jesus not only takes away something horrible and repulsive to God, he gives us something beautiful. His righteousness is imputed and imparted to us. He puts upon our shoulders his robe of righteousness which he has achieved. Through the cross there is what is known as the Great Exchange. He takes on our rags of sin and at the same time gives us his pure white robe of righteousness. On the cross he swaps clothes with us. The prince becomes the pauper, and the pauper becomes the prince – all by grace! (5:21)

Christianity – the gospel of salvation in Jesus – with the goal of heaven and eternal life – is not about our righteousness – or good deeds – IT IS ABOUT HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS. If anyone thinks they are going to heaven because of their righteous acts, they are sadly and grievously mistaken. You need righteousness to get into heaven, but it is not your compromised righteousness which counts – it is Christ’s. And so, the vital question is this. Whose righteousness are you trusting in – yours of Christ’s? Do you wear your filthy rags or have you received the gift of Christ’s perfect righteousness – the righteousness which has been revealed by God – and is imparted to us through the gospel of grace? This is where so many go wrong including the Jews of Paul’s day. Most religions with the exception of Christianity place all the emphasis on man’s righteousness not God’s. The gospel uniquely reveals a righteous solution from God. Listen to his words in Romans 10: 1-4.

The question is this. Have we submitted to God’s righteousness or are we still clinging to our own – hoping that it will take us to heaven. From the cross Jesus offers us forgiveness of all our sins and a robe of righteousness. But have we and do we continue to put our whole trust and hope in Jesus and what he has achieved both through his sinless life and sacrificial death? In the great parable of the marriage feast which speaks about the eternal kingdom, one guest is asked to leave because he is not dressed correctly. The inference is that he not wearing the garments of salvation, the robe of righteousness. (Matthew 22:12f)

This was Paul’s own testimony. Paul came to see that what mattered was not his righteousness but Christ’s. Read Philippians 3: 4-9. The Christian is one who can sing aloud with great joy the prophecy found in Isaiah 61: 10-11. In the parable of the lost son, the wayward and rebellious son returns home to his father and expects a poor reception after his treachery, but instead his father runs to greet him and kiss him. He places a ring upon his finger and his best robe around him. (Luke 15:22) Jesus placed his robe around me over 40 years ago and I will wear it forever. For the Christian, Jesus becomes their righteousness, holiness, and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30) He is all my righteousness and I stand complete in Him! Alive in Him my living head and clothed in righteousness divine. Bold, I approach the eternal throne and claim the crown through Christ my own.

All this inspires and empowers me to now live righteously and for righteousness’ sake, to God’s great glory in power of the Holy Spirit. What I am now clothed in from head to foot, I aspire to honour and live for. Righteous living becomes even more important to me.

How good it is to be reminded and to be blessed once again by the 3R’s of gospel truths – all gifts from the gracious hand of God. In Christ alone we experience new creation, new birth; we have full reconciliation with God; and we have a robe of righteousness which enables us to rest secure in the knowledge that our place at the marriage banquet in heaven is assured. We are dressed ready for heaven and inspired and empowered to live for God whilst on earth

In 2 Corinthians 5:21, the apostle Paul, under the supreme guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit penned what is surely one of the greatest summations of the gospel: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

And unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – we ascribe all glory, honour, and praise. Amen.

(Revd Peter J Clarkson 16.6.24)