We are told in 2 Peter 1:4 KJV that we are to become “partakers of the divine nature,” or literally, we are to become partakers of the Godhead. That would be blasphemous for me to say, but this wonderful doctrine was taught by the apostle Peter and has been the subject of a great deal of theological controversy for many years. To understand it, we need the direction of the Holy Spirit. Scripture may be read a hundred times without understanding, but then, all of a sudden, the light comes on and we see the meaning clearly.
In Revelation the third chapter, it is a thrill to read of the Philadelphia church, which is one of only two of the seven churches concerning whom Jesus gives no condemnation or reproof. During the second advent movement in the 1840s, the people had an experience in brotherly love that I myself have never witnessed in Adventists in my whole life. However, this is the experience that is needed if we are going to be ready for the second coming of Jesus.
The Philadelphia church is followed by the Laodicean church. Philadelphia is a Greek word that means brotherly love. Laodicea means the judging of the people. The church of Laodicea is the church that is alive during the time of the judgment. Revelation 3:17 and 18 says, “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’— and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”
Notice that these people are spiritually naked. When you are naked you usually want to put on clothes. That was the experience of Adam and Eve after they ate from the forbidden fruit. However, the problem they faced was that the clothing they prepared for themselves was inadequate. Jesus said to the Laodicean church, “You don’t know your real condition. You are naked and you do not know it. You need clothes and only I have the clothing that you need.” A surface reader can find the book of Revelation difficult to understand because it is written in symbolic language, but the Bible itself explains all of its symbols. What does the clothing represent? Isaiah 61:10 says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
Ellen White comments on this same subject in The Review and Herald, August 7, 1894. She says, “What is it that constitutes the wretchedness, the nakedness of those who 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?”
Jesus came to offer the clothes of righteousness, His own righteousness, to all who would receive Him. This gift was not for the Jews alone. There were people who called themselves “the chosen people of God” who refused to accept Him, being satisfied with their own righteousness. Those who rejected His offer will not be in heaven. Although some of them had memorized and could quote the whole Pentateuch, it will avail them nothing in the end. Nobody can be taken to heaven from Adam down through all his descendants unless they are clothed with these pure garments which are heaven’s gift.
Yet there is more than one garment that must be put on. “He [Jesus] is waiting to strip them of their garments stained and polluted with sin, and to put upon them the white robes [plural] of righteousness; He bids them live and not die.” Steps to Christ, 53.
This is mentioned many times in the writings of Ellen G. White. Sometimes it is referred to simply as a robe, but very often it is referred to in the plural form, garments. There is a reason for that. One example is found in Revelation 16:15 where Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” Garments here is plural.
Let’s look at the first garment that is needed. It is found in Messages to Young People, 35: “The [robe of] righteousness by which we are justified is imputed.” Justified means you have been pardoned, forgiven and pronounced free of guilt. Imputed means that righteousness has been attributed or reckoned to you. This is our title to heaven. The word title means that you have a legal right to possess something.
Here is an illustration of this concept. As some of you know, I have been threatened with blindness in my life and it is by the grace of God that I can see and I am very thankful for that blessing. Suppose I was blind and that I would have enough money to go to the auto dealer to buy a new car. I choose my car, sign the papers and get the title to my car. Can I drive it? No. I may have the title, but because of blindness I am not fit to drive the car.
We need to think clearly about Bible truth. Today there are people telling others that all that is needed is a title to heaven to be able to go there. That is a delusion of the devil. No unfit person will be allowed to pollute the perfect peace of heaven. “The righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted.” This is said to be “… our fitness for heaven.” Ibid., 35.
Justified means we are pardoned. Sanctified means that we have been made holy. It is impossible to make ourselves holy, but God says in Exodus 31:12 and Ezekiel 20:12, “If you keep the Sabbath, I will make you holy.” The righteousness by which you are sanctified, made holy, is imparted. Imparted means that it is actually given to you. The people that are ready for Jesus to come not only have on the robe, but they also have on the wedding garment. The righteousness that is imparted is the wedding garment.
Revelation 19:7, 8 says, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” The word saint means holy one. Did you notice here that it does not say it is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, but that of the saints? How can this be when man has no righteousness of his own? Jesus says, “I am going to give you My righteousness.” When it is given to you it is imputed—that is justification. However, in sanctification righteousness is actually imparted; His righteousness becomes mine.
There are serious things to consider in regard to this subject. Jesus has a garment, the robe of His righteousness, that He will impute to me to give me a title to heaven. But before I can actually go there I must be made fit. I have to have on the wedding garment to be allowed into the feast. The saints actually have the righteousness. If you are given a garment it will be of no benefit to you unless you put it on.
“The work of preparation is an individual work. We are not saved in groups. … Though all nations are to pass in judgment before God, yet He will examine the case of each individual with as close and searching scrutiny as if there were not another being upon the earth. Everyone must be tested and found without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” The Great Controversy, 490.
The wedding garment is described as follows:
The “garment was a gift from the king.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 309. It is not something that I can generate by myself. It is a gift.
“… the wedding garment represents the character.” Ibid., 307.
“Christ in His humanity wrought out a perfect character, and this character He offers to impart to us.” Ibid., 311.
“By the wedding garment in the parable is represented the pure, spotless character which Christ’s true followers will possess.” Ibid., 310.
“In order that we may have the righteousness of Christ, we need daily to be transformed by the influence of the Spirit, to be a partaker of the divine nature.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 374. Unless you are a partaker of the divine nature, you are not going to have this experience. My dear friend, one of our problems in Laodicea is that we do not realize how much is actually involved in salvation. It involves much more than we as human beings think. It is common for us as human beings to think that if we could just overcome certain things, then we would be ready to go to heaven.
The Lord sees what you and I do not. We need much more than we think to be ready to go to heaven. “He [Christ] makes an end of the controlling power of sin in the heart … for it is necessary that every believer should be delivered from pollution, as well as from the curse and condemnation of the law. … for Christ works within us, and His righteousness is upon us. Without this, no soul will be entitled to heaven.” Ibid., 395.
If I am not delivered, not only from law-breaking but from all pollution, I will not be going to heaven. That is exactly what the Lord wants to do for me, through the Holy Spirit—clean me up. The following quote is worth repeating: “Christ’s humanity was united with divinity, and in this strength He would bear all the temptations that Satan could bring against Him, and yet keep His soul untainted by sin. And this power to overcome He would give to every son and daughter of Adam who would accept by faith the righteous attributes of His character.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 223.
This offer is just for you. Even if you are the weakest and most sinful person, it is still for you but, remember, you have to put it on. You have to do your part and sometimes that seems to be exceedingly hard. In the book Christ’s Object Lessons, 331, Ellen White wrote that becoming like Christ and developing the perfect character is through “… hard, stern battles with self.” First, we must put on the robe and be justified. Then we will be enabled to put on the wedding garment. “Through the merits of Christ, through His righteousness, which by faith is imputed unto us, we are to attain to the perfection of Christian character.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 744. Is this the experience you desire?
“Let no one despair of gaining the victory. Victory is sure when self is surrendered to God.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 1, 1095. Everyone may be saved if self is surrendered to God.
Every heresy that had to be opposed in the past will have to be dealt with again, including perfectionism. The Bible does not teach holy flesh but does teach that you can receive power from Christ and develop a holy character. “The Christian will feel the promptings of sin, but he will maintain a constant warfare against it.” The Great Controversy, 470. Do not be discouraged and think you are lost if you feel promptings of sin. We live in a temple of fallen human nature. Therefore we will feel the temptations and promptings of sin. Paul says, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5:16, 17). It is not safe to simply do whatever comes naturally but by diligence, control the carnal nature.
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18). Notice, many of our Protestant friends are very confused about this and they say, “Oh, we are not under the law.” People that say they are not under the law are actually under it, because whoever breaks the law is under it. Romans 3:19 states: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” The whole world is under the law. Everybody that breaks the law is under it and under the condemnation of eternal death.
Many years ago when I was in interdenominational jail ministry in Fort Worth, Texas, a friend and I would sometimes car pool while driving up there weekly. One day he asked me, “Have you ever thought what it would feel like if there were no plan of salvation?” This was a question I had never thought about, for I had grown up in a Seventh-day Adventist Christian home where my parents understood and taught me the three angels’ messages.
If there were no plan of salvation, not one of the descendants of Adam and Eve would be able to experience eternal life. Everyone would have to die. When our first parents sinned, the angels were very troubled because they understood well that Adam and Eve and all of their posterity would have to die.
“Throughout the heavenly courts there was mourning for the ruin that sin had wrought.
“The Son of God, heaven’s glorious Commander, was touched with pity for the fallen race. His heart was moved with infinite compassion as the woes of the lost world rose up before Him. But divine love had conceived a plan whereby man might be redeemed. …
“Before the Father He [Jesus] pleaded on the sinner’s behalf, while the host of heaven awaited the result with an intensity of interest that words cannot express. Long continued was that mysterious communing—‘the counsel of peace’ (Zechariah 6:13) for the fallen sons of men. The plan of salvation had been laid before the creation of the earth; for Christ is ‘the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’ (Revelation 13:8); yet it was a struggle, even with the King of the universe, to yield up His Son to die for the guilty race. But ‘God so loved the world, that He gave up His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16). Oh, the mystery of redemption!” Patriarchs and Prophets, 63, 64.
The plan of salvation does not just involve forgiving people for what they have done wrong. From its very inception, it involved restoring everything that had been lost by sin. In fact, it would be more than restored. We are told that as a result of the incarnation—the life and the death of Jesus Christ—that we are going to be more closely united to Christ than if we had never fallen. We are told in 2 Peter 1:4 literal translation: “… exceeding great and precious promises, that we might become partakers of the Godhead.” I cannot comprehend that, but that is what has to happen in order for me to be ready to go to heaven.
Putting on the wedding garment means that the character of Christ becomes my character; the way He thinks becomes the way I think; the way He talks becomes the way I talk; the way He acts becomes the way I act. Until that happens I am not ready and it would not be safe to take me to heaven because I have not yet put on the wedding garment.
When we talk about being a perfect reflection of the character of Christ, we are not in any sense implying that we will ever be equal with Him. Let me explain it this way. Suppose that you have a mirror and the mirror is perfect. You hold up the mirror to the sun and it gives a perfect reflection from the sunlight. Is the mirror equal to the sun? No, it just gives a reflection of the sun. Our character must reflect the character of Christ. We are never equal to Him but we may perfectly reflect His character. “As he advances toward perfection, he experiences a conversion to God every day; and this conversion is not completed until he attains to perfection of Christian character, a full preparation for the finishing touch of immortality.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 505.
The following is a ten-point summary that may help some people to be able to follow this line of reasoning:
- Laodicea is naked and cannot go to the wedding supper unless she becomes clothed.
- The nakedness of Laodicea is the lack of the righteousness of Christ.
- There are two garments. The first garment is the robe of righteousness, imputed to us, by which we are justified. It is attributed to us and we are declared righteous at conversion. But that is not enough; there is another step.
- We are to put on the garments of Christ’s righteousness by which we are sanctified. This is imparted, given to us, so that His righteousness becomes mine.
- I begin to think the way He thinks; talk the way He talks; act the way He would act in my place. To be sanctified means to be made holy.
- Individually we must first put on the robe of righteousness. The merits of Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us so that we may then become perfect reflections of His character and be ready to put on the wedding garment. The wedding garment representing character is imparted righteousness.
- As we accept by faith the righteous attributes of His character, the Holy Spirit gives us power to keep untainted by sin and thereby put on the wedding garment which represents the character of Christ that has now become ours. This also involves stern, hard battles with self. Very often we see that self is our worst enemy.
- The Holy Spirit is to deliver every saint from all pollution. This deliverance is not just from breaking the law, but from all pollution. “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Revelation 21:27).
- Developing a Christ-like character, a perfect character, can only be done by a union of divinity and humanity. Jesus Christ came to this world, not as an angel but as a human being, uniting divinity with humanity.
- This is possible for all of us if self is surrendered fully to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, everybody who claims title to heaven will not be seen as fit. Matthew 22:14 describes the man who tried to go to the wedding feast without the wedding garment. Jesus said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Ellen White writes this: “This is a true statement of the final outcome.” The Review and Herald, May 8, 1900.
Many are called. These are the people that have accepted the gospel. However, few are chosen. Few submit to the working of the Holy Spirit to perfect a Christ-like character. We can look around and see a multitude calling Christ their Saviour, but do they all want Him as their Lord? There are so many who know the truth. They have heard it preached; they know the gospel. Yet many will lose their soul because they have neglected to put on the wedding garment.
“ ‘Many are called but few are chosen.’ This is a true statement of the final outcome. Man is very dear to the heart of God, and all are invited to this feast. But many come not having on the wedding garment. They do not accept Christ’s righteousness. They have not repented and made peace with God. They have not received His free gift.
“Christ must be all and in all to every soul. Those who try in their own strength to solve the mystery of the creation of man, the mystery of redemption, the mystery of eternity, will be baffled. But those who put on the garment provided for them at an infinite cost, find an abundant entrance to the rich feast of spiritual blessings.” The Review and Herald, May 8, 1900.
There is much time today being spent in useless theological controversy. However, even if you have all the right theology you cannot attain heaven without the wedding garment. We are not saved in groups. I cannot put the wedding garment on you and you cannot put the wedding garment on me. Each one must go to the Lord in prayer and say, “Lord, help me to put on the wedding garment. I am making a decision to change my garments. Help me, Lord, to do it.” We cannot do this in our own strength. We need the help of the Holy Spirit.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.