The Breastplate of Righteousness
The Armor of God:
This is the third in our series on the "Armor of God,"1 in the hopes of getting better prepared to endure our present "Age of Deceit."
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God... Having put on the breastplate of right-eousness...
Eph 6:10, 11, 14
Most of us don't wear battle armor today. Yet here is a command in God's Word to appropriate for ourselves the weaponry to protect ourselves, or else we are sitting ducks in conflicts which we cannot avoid. What is the "breastplate of right-eousness?"
The Roman Model
The Roman breastplate was typically made of bronze, backed with leather. It was designed to protect the vital area. A blow through this was usually fatal.
What is your most dangerous vulnerability? Or, alternatively, What is your most important stewardship? There are many good answers: your family, etc. However, I suggest that your most critical area is your heart. The breastplate covered the heart. (A concordance search on "heart" can be very instructive.)2
Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are (all) the issues of life.
Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famed analysis of America, summarized, "America is great because she is good. If she ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great."
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.
During Israel's conquest of the Land of Canaan, personal sins resulted in national defeats. Joshua's tragic defeat at Ai is but one example.3
When asked, "What is the biggest problem in America?" General Norman Schwarzkopf replied, "Lack of integrity." When asked the same question, author Larry Abraham answered, "Lack of justice." And he subsequently relocated himself outside the United States.
The increasing evidence of corruption in government, in business, and in personal lives continues to propel us toward God's judgment on our land.
Walking in righteousness means that you actively tell the truth and do what is right. David was heavily concerned with integrity and uprightness in his personal life.4
Our own commitment to personal integrity needs to extend to a fiduciary loyalty to our employer,5 staying current on our payables, and maintaining the sanctity of all of our commitments. But rather than dwell on our own inept pursuit of personal righteousness, I believe that there is an even larger issue involved here.
People have different ideas about righteousness. We must understand that righteousness is something we are, not something we do. Righteousness within us affects what we do, but what we do does not make us righteous.
Jesus said, "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."6
What a blow for the Jew! They looked up to their professional law-keepers-men who dedicated themselves to keeping every yot and tittle of the law! And even that wasn't good enough! [They have been much maligned in modern NT viewpoints, but they were, indeed, a dedicated lot. They fasted at least one day a week and gave their savings to the poor, etc.]
"Pharisee" means "separated." Separation from the world does not mean salvation as far as God is concerned.7 Jesus called them liars, vipers, and hypocrites.
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead [men's] bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity."8
What a stinging rebuke to the religiously righteous individuals of that day. (Jesus, whenever encountering sinners of almost every kind, was kind, caring, and forgiving. There was only one group that invariably encountered His ire: the religionists pandering their own ritualistic righteousness.)
These were not the last group of individuals to develop a destructive system of self-righteousness in the name of God. There are many "very righteous" religions. They always include steps to entering the kingdom. There are sacraments to be kept. Certain prayers prescribed to be offered regularly. Special forms of communion and confession which are mandatory. There often is a specific dress code and other expectations of social and dietetic performance.
This all started when Adam and Eve attempted to cover themselves with aprons of fig leaves.9 God replaced them with coats of animal skins,10 teaching them that by the shedding of innocent blood they would be covered. This was, of course, already pointing to the Cross.
Religious righteousness can save no one. God says that this type of righteousness is as filthy rags.11 External forms of righteousness have always competed with the true faith in Christ as the means of salvation and security.
The self-righteousness of religion will defile you. It will lead to a false sense of security and a deadly form of pride.
When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as [his] eyes unto heav-en, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified [rather] than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
(Here was a self-righteous religious hypocrite. Note the frequent word, "I"; as he prays "with himself.")
The flesh can never be trusted to walk in the love of God.
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
1 Corinthians 10:12
Putting on His breastplate of righteousness is not "putting on" your own good works, integrity, or honesty. It is not "putting on" Bible reading and prayer. It is not "putting on" church attendance. When we put on the cloak of His righteousness, it contrasts with our righteousness.
And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.
But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise...
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Romans 10:6, 9-10
Our awesome righteousness is in Him:
For he hath made him [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
2 Corinthians 5:21
When the Accuser comes to condemn me, I will be standing in God's very own breastplate! Remember, it is only the Bridegroom that can provide adequate wedding garments.12
How do we do this?
That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
For a practical study of "renewing your mind," see Be Ye Transformed.
* * *
Armor for the Age of Deceit briefing package, Expositional Commentary on Ephesians.