The Breastplate of Righteousness

This story appeared in a January issue of the New York Post.  “A British soldier was saved by his body armor after being shot five times in a battle with the Taliban in Afghanistan, The Sun reported Tuesday. Bullets hit Guardsman Ben Ralph, 20, in the back and side, two more rounds lodged in his ammunition pouches and another tore through his trousers. But Ralph, of 2 Company, 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, emerged without a scratch. He said, “Someone was watching out for me that day.”

Ralph’s battalion came under fire from six Taliban gunmen who fired on them from 3 sides.  The first bullet struck kneeling Ralph from behind, knocking him over. He recalled, “It went through the water pouch on my back. Water was pouring down my legs. For one terrible second I thought it was blood.” Ralph was also hit after he pulled a wounded comrade to safety. “If it wasn’t for my body armor I would be dead. After we were ambushed we got right back at them — the Taliban didn’t win that day,” he added.

I would surmise that it would be difficult to convince Mr. Ralph to ever go into the battlefield without his body armor. Dispite an all out ambush by the enemy, he was still standing.

As we have been studying, Paul’s admonition to Christians in Ephesians 6 is a concentrated call for them to continue standing in the face of the battle. But in order to do that they need to put on the whole armor of God.

Paul’s description of the armor of the spiritual soldier was based on the attire of the Roman soldier of his day. Probably the most noticeable piece of the armor was his breastplate. It certainly identified him to everyone as a soldier. As a soldier he was the only one who would be wearing one.

What is the breastplate of the spiritual soldier?  How does it protect him from his enemies? How does he put it on?

I.  The Breastplate of Righteousness: Vs. 14 – “having put on the breastplate of righteousness” – Notice first Paul’s use of the past perfect tense verb (“having put on”) suggests that this was a piece of armor that needed to be put on before the battle began.

A.  Breastplate: The benefit of a breastplate in the battle is too obvious to need explanation. The Roman soldier of Paul’s day would never have considered fighting without one.  It was a tough, sleeveless piece of leather or heavy cloth with slices of animal hooves or horns or pieces of metal. Some were made of large pieces of metal molded or hammered to conform to the body. This breastplate was to protect the heart, lungs, and other vital organs. When it worked it usually saved the soldier’s life, because a wound to the heart or lungs was fatal.

B.  Righteousness: The Christian must cover himself with protective righteousness.  What righteousness is Paul speaking about here?

1.  The word “righteousness”  in the scriptures usually translates from the Greek word  dikaiosune, (dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay) which literally means right doing.  Vine’s Dictionary says “it is the character or quality of being right with God”.  He breaks it down in 3 ways: a) It is whatever is right or just in itself, whatever conforms to the revealed will of God… (b) whatever has been appointed by God to be acknowledged and obeyed by man, (Jesus was baptized by John “to fulfill all righteousness” –  Matthew 3:15)  c) the sum total of the requirements of God.

2.  There are two uses of this word in connection with God:

a)  Righteousness of God – It is used to denote an attribute of God, “the righteousness of God” means essentially the same as His faithfulness, or truthfulness, that which is consistent with His own nature and promises. God always does what is right and just. Ps 89:14 – Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face. The Psalmist also says God’s laws are righteous altogether.

b)  Righteousness from God – God makes us right through forgiving us of our sins. The blood of Jesus makes this possible by paying the penalty of sin.  Both of these concepts are found in Pauls words in Romans 3:24-26–  being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Thus God is shown to be righteous (just) in pronouncing us as righteous because Jesus was the propitiation (satisfaction) of the wrath of God.  Philippians 3:99  and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;

  • Our trust in God (and subsequent obedience to His will) is “reckoned unto us as righteousness”; we are accounted as approved by God because God forgives our sins through Christ.  We are justified.
  • Having been forgiven, we are protected from the accusation of Satan.  There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1-2)

C.  But probably the best interpretation here is that the breastplate of righteousness that we put on as spiritual armor against our adversary is what we might call the practical righteousness of a life lived in obedience to God’s Word. This righteousness (breastplate) is not just something that God has granted to us, but more specifically something that we are commanded to “put on”.  1 John 3:7 – 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.

1.  Thus one puts on this piece of armor through consistent obedience to the “sum total of God’s commandments”. Satan has no answer for consistent and persistent obedience.

II.  How does this breastplate of righteousness protect us?

A.  Notice what Paul states earlier in Ephesians:  Ephesians 4:24-27 – 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. 26 “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil.  Putting on the new righteous behavior God commands keeps the devil having a place to stand.  Doing the right thing robs Satan of his ability to exploit our weaknesses and expand the parameters of sin in our lives.

1.  When Joseph did the right thing in response to the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife, (fled the scene) he effectively cut off Satan’s opportunity to tempt him more and escalate the presence of sin.  In contrast, when David gave into the initial temptation, he provided a foothold for Satan to tempt him to lie and cover-up the sin, and even murder another person. David left himself unprotected by unrighteous behavior.

B.  Paul calls on Christians to protect themselves through righteous living in Rom 6:1-2 – What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? vs. 11-13 11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. Jesus died to save us from every aspect of sin, its presence as well as its power and penalty.  If we are using our physical bodies and all of our physical resources for good purposes (doing what is right) then Satan is left with nothing to work with. The instruments of unrighteousness are transformed into instruments of righteousness through obedience to God’s word.

1.   Righteous living robs Satan of his arsenal. 1 Peter 2:11 – 11 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, Satan attacks  us through fleshly lusts. The Christian engages these lusts in battle through obedience to God’s commands to seek the spiritual over the physical.

  • In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul describes this process. – By choosing to think on the right things and make the right choices we cast down Satan’ strongholds and bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
  • Romans 13:12-14 – 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
  • Consider Dan 6:4-5 –So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him.  5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God.” When Satan sought a way to destroy the influence of Daniel, he found nothing.  The only thing they could tempt Daniel to do was what he had always done – serve His God. His righteousness was his body armor.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:88 But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. Faith is the courage to do the right thing, and love is how you do it.

2.  Right living also protects us from the unhappiness of a troubled and hardened conscience. Many of the emotional and relational problems Christians experience are caused by lack of personal holiness and self control.   After David committed adultery with Bathsheba and ordered the death of her husband, Uriah, he had no peace. In his Psalm of repentance he asked God, “Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation” (Ps 51:12)

a.  A conscience that remains true and sensitive to God helps us fight against sin. 1 John 3:20-2220 For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. 22 And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.

Conclusion: We must never overlook the protective power of consistent obedience to God’s will – practical righteousness.  As Israel prepared to enter the land of Canaan, Moses spoke to them about the struggle that was ahead. On what basis could they have any confidence they would be able to defeat the enemies in the land and live peaceably?  Deut 6:17-19You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, His testimonies, and His statutes which He has commanded you.  18 And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may be well with you, and that you may go in and possess the good land of which the Lord swore to your fathers, 19 to cast out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has spoken. The heart of their defense was obedience to the word of God. To always be concerned that they were righteous (approved) before God.  Deut 6:24-25 –  And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day.  25 Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us.’

Despite our efforts toward obedience and holiness, we have failed. “There is none that are righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10).  We need the righteousness from God that comes through the forgiveness of our sins. This is made possible through the death of Jesus on the cross. Because Jesus was righteous, I can be as well.

  • Rom 5:18 –  Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. That is the message of the gospel. The blessing of Jesus sacrifice is attained through saving faith, which always demands obedience to God’s word.
  • Acts 2:38 – 38 Then Peter said to them,”Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. NKJV