What would it be like to have a closet full of NobleWear? Imagine having slacks and shirts that made us morally bulletproof—so that when we wear our selected items everything we do would be pure and blameless. Think of Nathanael, for instance, when Jesus spotted him and, without having ever met him, said, “Look, a true Israelite in whom there isn’t any dishonesty!” (John 1:47).
Okay, let’s state the obvious: we’ll never find a store stocked with NobleWear. But it can be found. We just need to know where to look. And I encourage all of us to give up everything we own in order to get a suit for ourselves.
To start our search we can turn to Zechariah 2 where we find a scene that might be in heaven or on earth—we’re not sure—but it involves a real person: Joshua, the high priest of Israel. His character apparently left something to be desired. We know because God’s angelic opponent, Satan, was also in the scene standing before the LORD ready to accuse Joshua for his flaws and failures. God responded by ordering up some NobleWear for Joshua.
“And the angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’ And to him he said, ‘Look, I’ve taken your sin away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.’”
Wow! Order up a set for me, please!
Thankfully that’s exactly what Jesus does for us in the moment we are united to him in faith. We began to wear Christ’s own irreproachable righteousness. He, in turn, took our former clothing—our own “filthy garments”—and used them to qualify for his own entry into death on our behalf.
This is a point where we need to ask, “but how does he do that?” Is it a legal transaction? Does God say, in effect, that all who believe in Jesus receive a “get out of hell free” card? In Joshua’s case that could be taken as the point. But by reading the New Testament we find that salvation isn’t a legal quid pro quo of “you must choose to believe and Jesus then saves you.”
Let’s recall that even in the case of Joshua it was the LORD—arguably a Christophany/pre-appearance of Christ—who initiated the high priest’s change of status. And it was Jesus who called each of the apostles, and who called Saul on his trip to Damascus. Yet the calling came in stages.
For instance, in John 3 Jesus explained that the Father’s love is offered to all, but no one responds unless it has “been carried out by God.” Why not? Because sin is rooted in self-love and a person under the rule of self-love never sees that rule as sin. That’s why it’s called blindness and slavery. A blind person doesn’t “choose” to see, nor does a slave say, “I now choose to be free.” Especially when the enslavement is in the heart so that the fallen soul doesn’t even want a change of status. In summary, no one ever seeks after God: “There is none righteous, not even one.”
A quick caveat is needed here. No one wants the fruit of sin—death and corruption—so there is always a professed desire for nobility even among persistent sinners. It’s the ugly outcomes of self-love we hate, not the ambition itself.
Jesus pressed the point in his parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22. The king invited guests to a wedding for his son, but “they would not come.” No one? That’s right: no one.
Next the king sent his servants to “gather” the least likely folks—“both good and bad”—so the wedding could go forward. It was time for the king’s agents to go out and open some blind eyes. As in the Samaritan woman at the well; or Zachaeus; or the man born blind; or Ron Frost.
An odd element in the parable then follows: “there [was] a man who had no wedding garment” who was then ousted from the wedding. The text doesn’t explain the particulars but the context of the Bible helps us: we presume the man points to all who are religious but not united to Christ, so instead of Christ’s NobleWear—the righteousness of Christ—the man was still living in his self-reliance. He was not fit to be there.
Here’s the lesson. God invites us to respond to his Son but he never forces a response. And it is also true that with our hard hearts we would never come to him apart from him first pursuing us to win us and to change our hearts. Listen, now, to how the parable concludes:
“For many are called, but few are chosen.”
So ultimately it’s our response, not our initiative, that leads to our wearing a NobleWear suit from Christ. And once we have the new suit we begin to live accordingly because our changed hearts are the basis for what we wear.