Breastplate of Righteousness
Last week we began looking at the various pieces of what Paul called in Ephesians 6:11 the Armor of God. We looked at the first piece which Paul called the “belt of truth.” That belt represented two dimensions of our faith. Objectively it represents our commitment to God and His word. Practically, we are to put on truthfulness so that what we say and what we promise can be depended upon. The two go hand in hand.
This week we are going to look the “breastplate of righteousness.” “Righteousness” is defined biblically as being totally free from sin. Sin is anything contrary to what God desires. Righteousness is a chief characteristic of God who is totally free from sin. To sin would be inconsistent with God’s nature. God cannot sin because His righteousness will not it.
The Bible notes that God cannot be in the presence of sin. Read Habakkuk 1:13. God did design ways for sinful man to behold a part of His glory and live, appearing to the Israelites in a cloud, giving sinful man a limited and temporary view of God. Neither sin nor sinners can permanently dwell in God’s presence.
Moving forward from God’s sinless perfection, we discover that mankind is just the opposite. We are all sinners. We were not originally created that way but because Adam and Eve sinned, we have inherited a sinful nature. Read Romans 3:23. God went further to note that in our sinful state there is nothing righteous. Read Isaiah 64:6. It is because even our attempts at righteousness fall short of God’s standard that Paul wrote Ephesians 2:8-9. Read those verses. Man is totally unrighteous and the only way he can become anything but is through the gracious provision of God.
In the same passage in Romans 3 that spoke of all men being sinners, Paul noted that when we make a commitment to Jesus, God literally gives us His righteousness. Theologically we say that God’s righteousness is imputed to us. In Jesus we are viewed as perfectly righteous. It is God’s gift to us. We do not put it on. So, when Paul urged us to put on the “breastplate of righteousness” he was not talking about becoming a Christian, since he was writing to believers and, therefore, were already clothed in God’s imputed righteousness.
Paul was talking about our practice as believers. Think about the breastplate that a Roman soldier wore in Paul’s day. In Roman most wars were fought on a hand-to-hand basis with the enemy looking for any opening into which he could thrust his knife into his enemy. A Roman soldier, therefore, wore a breastplate to protect his vital organs from such an attack.
There were evidently a variety of styles of covering that were worn by the soldiers. Some primarily covered just the front chest while others apparently wrapped around a soldier to protect both his front and his back. Generally, a military battle involved face to face conflict, but it was possible for an enemy to get behind a soldier. It appears some had breastplates designed to protect against that possibility. God has provided for our complete protection if Satan attacks either directly or from behind.
The breastplate a Roman soldier put on was often a woven chain with pieces of metal attached. Others were made of leather or heavy linen, onto which they sewed overlapping slices of animal hooves or horns. Some were made of large pieces of metal molded or hammered to conform to the body. All were designed to cover the soldier’s entire upper body from the neck to the waist. The purpose of that piece of armor was to protect all the vital organs including the heart and lungs.
In prison, looking at the battle-ready Roman soldier to whom he was chained, Paul thought, “A Christian needs to wear a similar piece of equipment to protect him from Satan’s attacks.”
Paul, of course was not thinking about the imputed righteousness of God because, as we already noted, that was given to us the moment we believed. Read II Corinthians 5:21.Paul was urging us to holy living, knowing that if we are not seeking to live holy lives, we are leaving ourselves open to the attacks of Satan. The imputed righteousness God gives us what is called a positional righteousness so we can come into God’s presence in worship and prayer. Only obedience to the Lord makes practical righteousness a reality in our daily lives. We are called upon to develop a righteous character that results in righteous living. We are to reflect the righteous character of God in our everyday actions.
In Ephesians 4, beginning with verse 17 Paul decried the fact that some of the believers in that church were still living the way they did before they made a commitment to Jesus. Read Ephesians 4:22, 22 and 24. That is what Paul meant when later he wrote we are to put on the breastplate of righteousness.
The Hebrew name for the evil one, transliterated as “Satan,” means “adversary.” That means that Satan is the enemy of both God and God’s people. As the enemy of God, he is determined to keep as many as possible from making a saving commitment to Him. When that fails, his goal is to keep the believer from enjoying the multiple blessings of belonging to God.
Everyone who has asked Jesus to be their Savior is automatically made a child of God and given the Holy Spirit. But there is much more potentially available to the Christian. Read Psalm 103:2. Then in Psalm 2:3-12 note all the blessings that God gives to His people.
While those blessings are available to all believers, they do not become a reality when God imputes His righteousness. A Christian must grow in his faith via deeper commitment to God. Putting on the breastplate of righteousness is seeking to live in a moment-by-moment obedience to God.
The life we live either strengthens us against Satan’s attacks or makes it easier for him to defeat us. Satan’s tactic is to disrupt the daily blessings God wants us to enjoy. To do that he focuses on our daily living, searching for some kink in our armor that will allow him to stab us. A soldier in battle looked for a weak spot in the enemies’ armor. He looked for a spot left open when he constructed the armor. He looked for a spot not maintained so it has begun to rust and grown weak. Carefully the soldier examines the armor to see how to best attack.
Satan, who is wiser than any soldier, does the same thing. He looks at a believer to find his weak spots. He spots a Christian who dabbles in pornography and immediately he detects a weak spot that he can use to inflict greater harm. He surveys a Christian’s daily/weekly time spent with God and notices that he skips church regularly or never has time for personal Bible study. Immediately he stabs his knife designed to weaken the believer’s faith and confidence in God. Satan looks at the believer’s friends to see which ones he can use as his knife to cut the believer away from God. The reality is that our positional righteousness in Jesus, without practical day by day righteousness in life, gives Satan opportunity to attack us.
A Christian determined to live a righteous life and to confess sin when he fails is a Christian who minimizes Satan’s opportunities to attack. Satan has no place from which to operate. If there is sin, there is an opening and Satan moves in. He doesn’t need to find a hole from a major sin. All he needs is a crack because we ignore what we might call a minor sin.
Paul urges us to put on the practical breastplate of righteousness to minimize the opportunities Satan has to destroy the blessings that should be ours as believers. Paul would say, “Pursue practical righteousness for even what you think is a small sin is an opportunity for Satan to attack.”