Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Psalm 51:10-12
David prayed this prayer after he sinned with Bathsheba, and Nathan the prophet confronted him. We hear a yearning for the new birth between the lines of this prayer, even though it was neither known nor possible in his day. The struggle with our carnal flesh continues to this day, even in those who became new beings in Christ Jesus. The apostle Paul, the most eminent of all the apostles, and the one who delivered to us the magnificent revelations of the new life in Christ, knew some struggles of his own:
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:24-25
Turning sinners into saints was the very reason why Jesus became a man like us, died for our sin, and rose again on the third day. It is a revelation that still needs to travel from our heads to our hearts, for if the global church should come to fully realize the potential of this new being, we will shake the world. While we are so aware of our own shortcomings, God is pointing to the work that He wants to do in and through us:
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 1 Corinthians 2:12
Although the new creation being (2 Corinthians 5:17) is equipped with a powerful spiritual arsenal, we live mostly natural lives simply because we don’t know who we are in Christ. It is hard to step into the fulness of our new identity while living in a sin-plagued flesh, so we cry out with the apostle, “Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” Our heat’s desire, as disciples of the Lord, is to become like Him, and do the works that He did, only to be constantly reminded of our failures that we wear like a filthy rag.
The good news is that although God knows what material we are made of, He chose to adopt us as His children, and called us to represent Him on earth. Not moved by the weakness of our flesh, He sees Jesus when He looks at us — a truth that is hard to grasp, and even sounds sacrilegious, but Scripture declares:
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21
The Son of God took our place to receive the death penalty for our sin, so that we may stand in His place before God as sons and daughters. We find ourselves under an open heaven, in the presence of the Father, clothed in a righteousness that we didn’t earn. There is an Old Testament shadow that helps us better understand this unequal exchange that took place at the cross:
Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armour, even to his sword and his bow and his belt. 1 Samuel 18:3,4
Jonathan withheld nothing from David; he gave him what he had. Wherever David went, people saw Jonathan’s robe, his armour, sword, bow and belt. Since Jonathan was the king’s son, David was recognized as his representative. And they respected him as such, because he not only wore Jonathan’s robe, but also his weapons – a very powerful position for a young man with no royal credentials.
We have become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus! Like David we didn’t earn it — it is a gift of love. We wear His robe that is unstained by sin, and we bear every part of His armour: we have His name, His word, and His blood that cleanses us. This is why Jesus said we would do the works that He did; (John 14:12) we are His representatives on earth. Not only that, we have a standing invitation into the Throne Room:
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16
Righteousness is right standing before God: there is no barrier of sin, weakness, or failure that hampers our relationship with Him. We come with the full understanding that sin cannot stand in the presence of our holy God, but we also know that the blood of Jesus cleansed us, even our very conscience from sin:
…how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? Hebrews 9:14
Righteousness stirs boldness in the heart of the believer, as Solomon also said:
The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion. Proverbs 28:1
We face our accuser with the boldness of Christ; the one who loves to remind us of our failings has no choice but to look at us dressed in the righteousness of the Risen One. The same word that sent the devil packing (Matthew 4:1-11) lives in us. Every accusation that he brings against us, is turned into a painful reminder of his defeat by the One who disarmed him. (Colossians 2:13-15)
Together with the apostle Paul we now confidently confess: when I am weak, I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10) God’s grace is enough for us, and fills up where fall short; we can do what He called us to do.
There is one final, glorious truth that we need to mention about this robe of righteousness, one that we will only fully grasp when when we stand before the Judgment seat. I cannot do better than Edward Mote, an old saint, who understood the grace of God that welcomes frail human beings into His presence. In 1834 he penned the timeless hymn that we still sing today:
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before the Throne!
The righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, given to sinners on their way to hell, because they bowed the knee before the Lord of all. It is like the best robe in the house that was handed to the prodigal son upon his return to his father, and the multi-coloured one of Joseph, handmade by his father, that became the envy of his brothers. The best of all is this: we had nothing to do with it — it is God’s gift of love to His own.
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