As much as I would love to wear white linen pants topped with a chambray shirt in the warm summer months, I know I would never be able to handle the responsibility of keeping white pants clean. Black leggings do a much better job of hiding coffee stains. I'm simply not careful enough to have white pants remain stain-free for a whole day.
And when it comes to spiritual matters, I used to think I had a similar problem. As I sat in the passenger seat of my fiance's pickup on the way to premarital counseling, I wondered if I should wear white on our wedding day. Surely I didn't deserve to, but I had a decent cleanup plan. My argument was this: I may have had a one-night indiscretion, but I was going to be the best wife and mother imaginable; all my work would redeem me. Fortunately, during premarital counseling at my childhood church, my pastor did not hear a well-thought-out plan for redemption. He had the wisdom to know that the things I set out to do were good things but would do nothing to either keep me clean or remove my stains. His ears were tuned to hear a confession. In the church office, he looked at me and replied, "Katie, you do know you are forgiven. And if you do not, hear me now, you are forgiven."
I could do nothing to earn the right to wear white at my wedding. There was nothing I could do to redeem myself. It didn't matter how many times I put a meal on the table at just the right time. It didn't matter how patient I was. It didn't matter how in shape I stayed. I had careened into the curb of premarital relations. The law was broken. But in that church office, I was reminded with the sweet words of forgiveness that while I had broken God's law, I had not broken my relationship with Christ.
I wore white at my wedding, but not because my virginity was restored. Just like every other bride in the history of creation, I wore white as a symbol that I was a forgiven bride. Recognizing that my future husband and I were both saints and sinners was the only way our marriage would survive. We each came into the relationship as sinners for a myriad of reasons, and yet we were also both sinners clothed in Christ.
This reality also informs how I view my current shortcomings and sins because I repeatedly break them regardless of how hard I work to follow the rules. My metaphorical white pants continue to get stains: I balance too many things in my hands. I don't pay attention to my surroundings and brush up against dusty vehicles. I do one more quick chore before I leave, and I end up with the evidence on my clothes.
My shortcomings may not be as apparent to a passerby as a black coffee stain on white linen pants, but they are there, and they are many. Those closest to me could give detailed descriptions of the stains I carry each and every day.
Yet I continue to don my white linen pants because I trust that Christ's righteousness frees me to confess my shortcomings. My identity as a saint now gives me hope as I look forward to what the book of Revelation speaks of:
I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14).
While we wait in tribulation for our white robes (or pants) to be washed in the blood of the Lamb, we confess to one another our seen and unseen stains. We hear the sweet words, "On account of Christ, you are forgiven," and we look with hopeful joy for what is in store when we gather before the throne of God without hunger, thirst, or scorching heat. And instead, when our Heavenly Father leads us to the springs of living water and wipes every tear from our eyes.