The Armor of God: Part 3 - The Breastplate of Righteousness
by Aneel Aranha
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:11-18)
Continued from Part 2: The Belt of Truth
Merriam-Webster defines righteousness as acting in accordance with divine or moral law. Going by this definition, a breastplate of righteousness would mean living a law-fulfilling life according to both divine rules and moral ones.
The breastplate was made from strips of iron laid in an overlapping fashion, secured by leather straps. When these strips are attached in such a fashion, it makes for an extremely strong, yet flexible defence against enemy swords and stabbing weapons. With this flexibility the soldier could move freely and use his shield and sword without the breastplate getting in his way.
I wore such a breastplate for a few months last year and got skewered halfway to death before I realized that although I was wearing a breastplate of righteousness, it was not the one prescribed by God as part of his armor. That breastplate I had on was based on my own righteousness, not God's!
A breastplate of our own righteousness is strong to look at, but is inherently weak because it is based largely on our own verdict of ourselves, or the verdict of others, and both are fickle. As long as we judge ourselves (or are judged) favorably, the breastplate we wear appears strong and fills us with confidence. The moment this changes, the breastplate splinters and we become vulnerable to attack from the enemy.
Paul realized this early in his Christian life. In his days as a Pharisee, Paul had it all. He was brought up in Jerusalem as a disciple of Gamaliel and was a very highly respected member of the elite Sanhedrin. He was fanatical about the law, and even among the Pharisees who were renowned for their strict adherance to it, Paul was in a league of his own. He was about as righteous as they came. Yet, when he discovered the righteousness that comes from God, he considered everything else "rubbish".
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)
What made Paul realize that he was foolish in his estimation of own worth was a sudden glimpse that he had of himself through God's eyes. If you were to examine yourself through God's eyes, even for a few minutes, you will undoubtedly come to some equally illuminating conclusions about your own sense of righteousness. The only righteousness that matters is God's, but what is it and how do we obtain it?
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Jesus became sin for us, which he then nailed to the cross with his death, and proceeded to give us eternal life with his resurrection — and the automatic righteousness of God! To obtain it, all we have to do is have faith in Jesus! And then, with this righteousness, we don't have to worry anymore about whether we are good enough for God or if our past sins will be an obstacle in receiving God's blessings; we are simply made righteous!
It is sometimes hard for us to comprehend that our sins are all forgiven and that none of our unrighteous deeds are held against us, but it is true. We can go boldly to God as if we had done nothing wrong and know that God will make us right with him simply because we believe and accept the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. Do take a minute to absorb this because it is a fundamental — and extremely powerful — precept of the Christian faith that not all are aware of!
But the story does not end here. There is double sided protection available in God's righteousness. Not only does it defend our conscience from all the wounds inflicted by past sin and failtures, it keeps us safe from wounds that might be inflicted in future! God's righteousness imparts something of God in us, something which gives us the power to put sin away. This is his Holy Spirit. To wear the breastplate of righteousness with any degree of efficacy, we need to be obedient to the Holy Spirit and keep the power of holiness and righteousness in our life and conduct. Only to the extent that we live in union and fellowship with Christ do we become the righteousness of God!
There is another element of the breastplate of righteousness in addition to faith and that is love.
But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate ... (1 Thes. 5:8)
The breastplate of righteousness is also a breastplate of faith and love. While faith is the essential element of the breastplate, it is a faith that works only through love. Paul speaks about this in yet another letter, this one to the Galatians.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)
If we wear our breastplate of righteousness without love, like a lot of people do, it leaves open many chinks in the armor. If we are able to coat our breastplate with love, however, we are practically impregnable. Love, as Paul says in his beautiful letter to the Corinthians, always protects. It also never fails. [see Lessons in Love]
May the Spirit be with you.
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Copyright © 2004 Aneel Aranha. All rights reserved. Image of The Breastplate courtesy DK Clip Art © Dorling Kindersley; related text courtesy The Romans in Britain. All rights reserved.