I am surprised once in a while by one the Lord’s minor miracles. Three weeks ago, the Lord laid on my heart a review of the Christian’s armor, and today that brings us to “the breastplate of righteousness.” Next Wednesday, our on-going devotionals from Proverbs brings us to chapter 10 verse 2 – “Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death.” And a few weeks ago Brother Stewart began reading a great commentary on the Book of Romans. He pointed out to me that I should look at the word “righteousness” as found in Romans 3. Among several other verses there we read – “God hath set forth (Christ) to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” It’s as though the Lord wants me to look at a single subject from several different angles. And here in Ephesians we find it in the context of our day-to-day living. “Stand fast therefore, having your loins gift about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.”
In the Roman army, it was a commander’s responsibility to see that the soldiers who went into battle under his command were adequately equipped to meet the enemy. And as we have seen, Christians have been called as soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have a faithful Commander, the Captain of salvation, who has provided all the armament we need to stand against the enemy of our souls. Of course, the weapons with which we fight are not material, because bullets and bayonets would be useless against the unseen hosts of spiritual darkness.
After the girdle of truth, Paul makes reference to the breastplate of righteousness. Breastplate… What did the old military breastplate protect? The upper torso including the heart and lungs. It might be argued that the head is as important as the heart when it comes to a gun fight. But in the realm of things spiritual, there is no contest, the heart is the most important.
The ancient breastplate was usually made of overlapping pieces of horn or metal discs attached to a backing of linen or leather. Sometimes, the breastplate was made of metal-woven chain, interlinked with rings of metal. Or it might have been solid metal hinged in two parts so could be tied around the torso, front and back. Whichever variety, it was usually tied together with either a buckle or leather thongs. No Roman soldier would have thought of venturing into any kind of battle without a breastplate for his protection. And he would make sure that the cinches binding the front and back were solid and secure. Paul, after telling believers that they must have their waists girded with truth, instructs – “having on the breastplate of righteous.”
The Biblical Concept of Righteousness.
We know from Scripture that we are born without any personal righteousness in God’s sight. “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” In Romans 3:10-12, Paul quotes Psalm 14 – “As it is written: There is none righteous, no not one, there is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God.” From there he goes on to show that the unrighteousness which characterizes the natural man expresses itself through every member of the body and through every part of his being. Then he summarizes God’s judgment of the unsaved man by saying, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” These are only a few of the many passages emphasizing that we have no righteousness acceptable to God. Therefore the natural man, when he is attacked spiritually, has no weapons or armor to protect him. And just as the unbeliever has no protection from the attacks of Satan, neither does the Christian in himself. Apart from God’s grace, we have no ability to resist the enemy, and we have no equipment with which to defeat Satan.
But then by grace, the Christian has been given God’s imputed righteousness. The Lord sees His children as in Christ – righteous – “justified” – declared by God as righteous. After presenting the unrighteousness of the unsaved in Romans 3, Paul tells how the righteousness of God is given to those whom He saves. In Romans 3:22 he refers to “the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.” Those whom the Lord saves prove their regeneration by their faith and repentance. He then tells us that God imputes this righteousness to His chosen – “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
Again, in Romans 5: 17-19 Paul writes, “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” We who have been born again have the same standing before God that Christ has before His Father. This righteousness is God’s gift to the believer. It is, in fact, the very essence of our eternal life in Christ. It is certainly not something we earn – by works – by our faith – by our repentance. This kind of righteous is not something we can put off or put on. The righteousness of Christ is our eternal portion given by God once and for all.
But doesn’t Ephesians 6 exhort us to put on the breastplate of righteousness? “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Without implying for even a second that this righteous does not come as a gift from God, it does not appear to be the same righteous which is part and parcel with our salvation. This is something over which we seem to have some control, just as whether or not we are girt about with Truth, or if we pick up the sword of the sword of the Spirit.
When Paul was in prayer for the Philippians he specifically asked the Lord that they might be “filled with the fruits of righteous which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God.” In addition to being MADE righteous by Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God PRODUCES a related – but different – righteousness in the believer. We might refer to this as “experiential” or “practical” righteousness. When the Holy Spirit is permitted to reproduce the character of Christ in our lives, He produces in us the fruits of righteousness – Philippians 1:11. It is this practical, experiential, personal righteousness that Paul exhorts believers to put on as the breastplate which will protect us against the attacks of the Evil One. Unless we wear this personal righteousness in our daily lives, we face the enemy without protection. Our hearts may forever belong to the Lord, but what about the rest of us?
I snicker, when I see the star of the police show, putting on his bullet-proof vest before he goes into the dark building to catch the bad guy. All the others around him have full body armor, shields and helmets, but the star only protects his torso. Of course, he is never hurt, but what is to keep the bad guy from attacking his head? Apparently it’s only his bad shooting ability. For us – it is not enough to rejoice that we have righteous hearts because of our position in Christ. If the Spirit of God is not reproducing Christ’s righteousness in our daily lives, we are incomplete – an essential ingredient in our defense – in our lives – is missing.
Paul referred to this personal righteousness in Romans 6:13 when he wrote, “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” Again in verse 19 Paul wrote, ” I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”
Romans 3, 4, and 5 teach us that God has credited to our account the righteousness of Christ. We have been clothed in the righteousness of His Son, and that we stand before God as accepted in the Beloved. But as we move on, we find that Romans 6, 7 and 8 deal with personal, practical righteousness. We who have by faith received the righteousness of Christ, must now present ourselves to the Holy Spirit as instruments through which He may produce that which characterizes the life of Christ in us. As this is accomplished in us, we shall have an impenetrable piece of armor, the breastplate righteousness.
The Armor of Personal Righteousness
Obviously, a breastplate was of great importance to a soldier when he was engaged in combat. Often, two adversaries, each with a short dagger in his right hand, would duel with their left hands joined together. In such close proximity, each would attempt to pierce the breastplate of the other to kill him. The Christian also stands in hand-to-hand combat with a dangerous, unseen, adversary. The enemy is searching for any small break in the breastplates through which he may thrust his dagger. But if our breastplate is complete and sound, we will be able to stand with confidence.
We can imagine how a soldier may have felt if he neglected to care for his breastplate, or if he had gone into battle without checking the thongs or clasps which held it together. When he suddenly felt the enemy take hold of him and saw that dagger, he might have thought with remorse, “If only I had repaired that broken place in my armor! If only I had been more careful! Now I am vulnerable, and it may cost me my life.” If we let sin fester in our lives unjudged and unconfessed, it is like a defect in our protective armor. Sin leaves unrepaired openings through which the Enemy can destroy our lives. Satan’s weapons do not need much of an opening to be able to enter and do their destructive work. Therefore, if we are to have assurance of being able to withstand the enemy in combat, we must be sure we have unbroken breastplates of righteousness.
Have you ever gone through the Bible looking for specific references to Satanic attack? I don’t mean general, New Testament references to Satanic hatred; I mean specifics. You might think that you’d find reference to violent, dead-dealing struggles, but you’d be surprised. In II Corinthians 2 Paul speaks about Satan getting an advantage against us. Verse 9 – “For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” Do you mean to tell me that an unforgiving spirit leaves a gap in our armor which Satan can exploit to his advantage? That is what Paul says. Another area where Satan might gain an advantage is mentioned quite specifically in I Timothy 5:14 – “I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some are already turned aside after Satan.” Neglecting home responsibilities gives Christ’s enemy an opportunity to accuse and slander Christians. I mention these two only to point out that Satan uses things which we might not expect to attack us.
Any departure from the righteousness of Christ gives Satan an opportunity to establish a beachhead from which he may fan out his attack and bring about the defeat of a believer. We may exercise great care about big sins, refraining from flagrant violations of scripture, yet we become lax about what we consider little things – the little sins, the secret sins. But those secrets can be as devastating in our lives as the most flagrant open violations of holiness and righteousness. They give Satan a toehold which can ultimately lead to utter defeat.
Thank God we can stand clothed in the righteous of Christ. Satan cannot rob us of our glorious position of righteousness before the Father. But what if we neglect the armor of personal righteousness? And when the enemy has taken hold of us and has drawn his dagger to destroy our testimony, it is too late to repair a break in the breastplate of righteousness. Yes, I know I John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But the effects of some sins simply cannot be repaired no matter how equipped the modern trauma center might be. The time to repair our armor is before the attack. We must maintain and use the equipment God has provided for those who have been made righteous in Jesus Christ. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.”