Series: PPE for the Christian life
Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness (Eph 6:14).
God’s breastplate of righteousness is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that cannot be simulated or manufactured. It cannot be claimed through being a ‘good’ person, showing Christian graces, or doing virtuous deeds. In the old-fashioned words of William Goudge, we must “learn what is true Righteousness, that we trust not to a counterfeit breastplate, and be pierced through, while we think ourselves safe.”
A counterfeit breastplate
Satan has always peddled counterfeit breastplates. He loves to divert sinful people from Jesus, who is our only hope of right standing before God. Instead of the real deal, Satan offers us counterfeit righteousness, like human approval, self- promotion, status and pleasure. He goes to great lengths to make us seem righteous in our own eyes, because then we’ll never come to our true Saviour, nor see any need to repent. We’ll be too busy congratulating ourselves or wagging our fingers at others to notice our own crooked hearts.
A neglected breastplate
Then again, for those who belong to Christ, Satan remains a roaring lion, ready to devour unarmed prey (1 Peter 5:8). He relishes the moment when we leave our breastplate of righteousness lying dormant in the cupboard, instead of actively wearing it by faith.
It’s like the time in mid-July, when, as a dizzy sixteen-year old, I caught an overnight bus from Pietermaritzburg to Grahamstown… dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and slops! Believing my destination was somewhere near Durban, I left my warm coat in my suitcase, packed at the bottom of the luggage hold! (In my defence, I was a boarder and it was pre-google days). Needless to say, I spent the whole night rolling myself into a little ball, wondering if I would die of frostbite or hyperthermia! Zipped up in my suitcase, the coat offered no protection against the ravages of that frozen bus. Likewise, in the Christian life, it’s not enough just to know about Christ’s righteousness. We need to actively believe and appropriate his righteousness in our daily lives, or we will be vulnerable to Satan’s attacks.
A lethal weapon
One of Satan’s most lethal weapons is accusation (Rev 12:10). Without Christ’s breastplate of righteousness to protect our hearts, Satan will denounce and accuse God’s people, making us believe that our past mistakes and sins make us unworthy to serve the Lord. Without Christ’s breastplate to protect us, we will be tormented by our own memories and anxious thoughts. We may be falsely accused by our difficult circumstances, thinking that perhaps God doesn’t care for us, or that we’ve done something to displease him. And we may be falsely accused by other people too, just as Job, David, Paul, and countless other believers have been. Without Christ’s breastplate of righteousness, these accusations are sure to lead us away from God and down a dangerous path of discouragement and defeat.
So, if this metaphorical breastplate is so vital, it begs two questions:
- What exactly does Paul mean by ‘righteousness’?
- What must I do to put the breastplate on, and keep it on?
The Puritans coined two words, which I found helpful in thinking this through for myself: imputed and imparted righteousness. The breastplate of righteousness merges the two, as one cannot exist without the other.
In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul explains what Christ’s imputed righteousness means:
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:21-24).
You’ll remember that the Lord Jesus said that he came to earth, not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32; Mark 2:17; Matt 9:13). And so, when we stop trusting in ourselves, and instead start trusting in the righteousness and death of the only perfect man that ever lived, God puts all our sin on Jesus and he transfers Christ’s righteousness to our account.
The amazing Old Testament picture behind the breastplate of righteousness is the warrior-Judge of Isaiah 59, who puts on “righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head.” Unbelievably, in this stunning prophecy, it is God himself who intercedes for sinners. He stretches out his hand to save us, by giving us his own righteousness. To those who repent of their sins, God gives the breastplate of righteousness, even though “our offenses are many in (his) sight and our sins testify against us”. He gives us his breastplate to wear, even though we have turned our backs on God and our sins have separated us from him. Even though we justly deserve his judgement, which will come on the world “like a pent-up flood.”
Warren Wiersbe explains the stunning everyday implications of that imputed righteousness:
“He (God) not only goes to the record book and erases your old record completely, but he also makes sure that nothing else is written on that page by filling it with His righteousness. Once the entry has been made, the matter is settled once and for all. Thus, when you turn to your page in the book and find your name written there, you will also find underneath it the words, ‘Righteous in Jesus Christ.’’”
What a wonderful relief to be able to rest in Christ’s imputed righteousness! No matter how we feel, no matter what true or false accusations are brought against us, no matter our circumstances, we are declared righteous. Imputed righteousness is an undeserved, objective reality that cannot be lost or changed.
On the other side of the coin is imparted righteousness, which is how the Holy Spirit changes our natural desires to make us “imitators of God” (Eph 5:1-2). It is practical, everyday godliness in our words, our walk, our motives, and in all that we do, in response to what Christ has done for us. It is impossible to have imputed righteousness without imparted righteousness, because the Holy Spirit imparts in every believer a new nature that gradually produces the fruits of righteousness.
Imparted righteousness is like the warmth that naturally emanates from a fire.
That’s why Paul urges us to put off our “old self, which belongs to our former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds…to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24). One cannot receive Christ’s righteousness without it showing itself in growing holiness in the way we live—“for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Eph 5:9).
Together, both imputed and imparted righteousness make up the ‘breastplate of righteousness’ that Paul refers to in Ephesians 6. We daren’t leave home without putting it on!
In closing, here are 3 practical tips for dressing for battle:
- Know the difference between accusation and conviction.
- Pursue the good life.
- Call righteousness to mind.
1. Know the difference between accusation and conviction
The Holy Spirit mercifully convicts us of the truth of who God is and who we are. Godly conviction leads us to turn to Jesus and to change. It was the Spirit’s conviction that cut Peter’s hearers to the heart in Acts 2:36-38, and the same conviction that led David to repent when Nathan the prophet confronted him in 2 Samuel 12. David rightly responded to this conviction, “Have mercy on me, O God…Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 51). This is godly conviction for real sin that has not been dealt with.
But Satan apes the Holy Spirit’s conviction. He accuses Christians “day and night before our God,” even when we’ve repented of our sins (Rev 12:10). And unlike conviction, accusation leads to a false sense of condemnation. Satan reminds us of our many past sins, making us forget that we have already been forgiven. He uses other people to bring false charges and lies against us. And if you’re prone to perpetual introspection, as I am, the devil will use false guilt to condemn you, even for sins that you haven’t committed in thought, word or deed.
A few years ago, a good friend was so relentlessly tormented over a past sin (for which she had already been forgiven), that she eventually took her own life. I’ve seen firsthand how subtle and dangerous it is to entertain Satan’s accusations.
Today’s society encourages people to think of themselves as God, able to know another’s motives and thoughts. Consequently, the world of 2020 is like a giant nursery school, with many overgrown toddlers tale-telling, name-calling, blaming and accusing other people of gross sin, while blissfully ignorant of their own. A Christian needs to discern between godly conviction and Satanically-inspired accusation. The former, we must welcome and meet with genuine repentance. But the latter, we must firmly resist by wearing the breastplate of Christ’s righteousness, not giving an inch to the vicious liar, murderer and accuser of our souls.* (see Christian’s meeting with Apollyon below).
2. Pursue the good life
Meditate on the ‘good life’ David describes in Psalm 34. Ask yourself what it looks like to “love life and see many good days”; to “keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies”; to “turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it” (Ps 34:13-14). Be assured that personal godliness, not good fortune or privilege, epitomizes the good life, because we have been hardwired to imitate God’s holy character. Living a life of ease and indulgence are not the good life. But a life lived in faithfulness to God is the good life, no matter how difficult our circumstances of life may be.
3. Call righteousness to mind.
Every day, we need to reaffirm our position in Christ Jesus. That is how we ‘put on’ the breastplate of righteousness. Just as Jeremiah said,
“Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:21-23).
Every day, we must remind ourselves that only His righteousness makes us accepted in the One God loves (Eph 1:6). Every day, we must trust that all God’s promises to the righteous are ours in Christ.
Christ’s breastplate is of no use lying in the suitcase of our intellects, unless it’s worn on the battlefield of daily life. And this same breastplate is the only effective PPE on the day of God’s judgement, when Jesus will welcome his family to his heavenly home. A home “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
Let’s pray: (based on Psalm 34)
Father, thank you for saving me from your own righteous anger against sin. Thank you that I am righteous through faith in your Son. I will boast only in what you have done! When I seek you, you always answer me, and deliver me from all my fears. Your eyes are always on the righteous and you are attentive to our cries. Although the righteous may have many troubles, you deliver us from them all. You are close to the brokenhearted and save those who are crushed in spirit. Help me to believe that those who fear you lack no good thing. Help me to live the good life, in Jesus’ name, and for his sake. Amen.
- Stand, by Warren Wiersbe.
- The whole armour of God: or A Christian’s spiritual furniture, to keep him safe from all the assaults of Satan, William Goudge (1578-1653).
- Isaiah 59.
- Rediscovering Holiness: Know the fullness of life with God, J.I Packer.
- *The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan: chapter on Christian’s meeting with Apollyon, excerpt below:
APOLLYON: “You have already been unfaithful in your service to Him—so why do you think that you will receive His wages?”
CHRISTIAN: “In what, O Apollyon, have I been unfaithful to Him?”
APOLLYON: “You were discouraged at first setting out, when you were almost choked in the Swamp of Despond! You attempted wrong ways to be rid of your burden—whereas you should have waited until your King had taken it off! You sinfully slept and lost your scroll! At the sight of the lions, you were almost persuaded to go back! And when you talked of your journey, and of what you have heard and seen, you were secretly proud of all that you said and did!”
CHRISTIAN: “All this is true, and much more which you have left out! But the King whom I serve and honor, is merciful, and ready to forgive. Besides, I acquired these infirmities in your country—and I have groaned under them, been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon from my King.”
Then Apollyon broke out into a furious rage, saying, “I am an enemy to this King! I hate His person, His laws, and His people! I have come out on purpose to destroy you!”
CHRISTIAN: “Apollyon, beware what you do! I am on the King’s highway, the way of holiness—therefore take heed!”
Then Apollyon straddled over the whole road, and said, “I am not afraid. Prepare yourself to die! I swear by my infernal den, that you shall go no further. Here I will spill your blood!”