“Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,” (Ephesians 6:14, NASB95)
The second piece of armor that we read of in verse 14 is the “breastplate of righteousness.” Similar to the belt of truth, this piece was to be worn at all times by the Roman soldier, whether he was engaged in battle or not. It was part of his on-duty dress, and he would not be properly attired without it. This breastplate was probably the most vital piece of the Roman soldier’s armor because it covered the most vulnerable parts of his body. It was behind this breastplate that the soldier’s vital organs rested. It was from behind its protection that his heart continued to beat and his kidneys and liver performed their most necessary functions. For the soldier who went out into battle without this protection he left himself exposed and susceptible to being easily defeated.
We read that we are to have put on the breastplate of righteousness. This is something that is done in the past with a present awareness of what it accomplishes in the present. It speaks of a truth which is to be constantly on our mind. In the same way that the breastplate protected the core of the soldier, so it is figuratively that this breastplate of righteousness protects the core of who we are in Christ. The Bible speaks poetically of the bowels, or this inward region, as that part of us from which all of our emotions, thinking and even life flows. We might know that our thinking occurs in the brain, but there is this very real aspect of who we are rising from deep within. We use terms like “gut feeling” or “in my soul” or “heart” to speak of this, and remind us that we are more than processors of facts. The breastplate is used to speak of protecting who we are at our deepest level.
But what does it really mean to have the breastplate of righteousness firmly in place and to know its power to make us to stand firm in the face of spiritual attack? Well, just as there is the knowledge of who we are in Christ because of His being absolutely truthful and we are then to live according to that truth, so it is that there are multiple facets to the breastplate as well. We are told that it is a breastplate of righteousness. This does not mean first and foremost that we are made to be victorious because we live righteous or right lives. Though this is an intended response as to how we live, it primarily points us to an even more basic and fundamental truth. Apart from Christ not one of us is righteous. This is made clear in Scripture, “as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one;” (Romans 3:10, NASB95)
The righteousness that we have is because Christ has imputed to us (or put to our account or on us) His righteousness. We are made irrevocably righteous by the righteousness of Christ. This means that we can stand before God without fear of being condemned. We have been made fully acceptable by Jesus and we can stand worthy before Him. Where once we were enemies of God, we who are saved have now been made fully right with Him. And, not one bit of this was because of anything we did or could have done. It was done 100% by Jesus who is the righteous Son of God who took on the form of man to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins and to give us life. We stand as righteous because the Righteous One makes us so, and continues to affirm it in us every day as we seek and follow after Him.
It is important for us to be constantly mindful of this second piece of armor because it serves first as a reminder of what Christ has done for us, but also secondarily as security in which we are made to stand when we act, think, or others might accuse us otherwise. This does not mean that we do not stumble and need to admit such before our loving God and that others might see us tarnished. What it does mean is that we have the constant truth on which to stand that our righteousness never depended on us, but on Christ. It is in His righteousness that we are made and it is to a standard of His righteousness that we return as soon as we realize the transgression. The enemy might want to bombard us with accusations, but we need to remember that it is also Christ who is our advocate before the Father. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;” (1 John 2:1, NASB95)
Returning to the class of Spiritual Warfare referenced in a previous post, we read, “It was always about the righteousness of Christ. All we had to do was to put our trust in Jesus as our savior and master or Lord of our lives, and then His righteousness is imputed or put to our account. God transfers Jesus Christ’s righteousness, Jesus Christ’s acceptability and integrity, to us as believers. This is what the Bible teaches and the term used to describe this is “imputed righteousness”. This doctrine of imputed righteous is so important that Paul, in the book of Romans, spent from 3:21-5:21 explaining it to us. When a person has had Christ’s righteous imputed to his or her account, this is what the scriptures calls being justified by faith. You were not just declared righteous, but you were made permanently righteous before God.”
Jesus, the belt of truth, won’t lie to us. When He says that we are righteous when we abide in Him as our savior and Lord, we are. Believe it. Renounce the accusations of the wicked one that knock at your door when you seem to fail. Should you fail, confess or agree with God that those actions were wrong, and thank Him for Christ’s cleansing work and imputed righteousness and move on.
Thinking backward on these first two pieces of armor for a moment, imagine trying to support or devise your own sense of righteousness without any verifiable standard. How you or others felt about you would be your foundation, and a foundation like this can be shaky at best. We see this lived out every day as we hear about people buried in deep depression even leading to suicide, and we see it as we hear stories of large scale fraud played out on others by someone tooting his own horn or padding his own pocket. But in their proper order we can see that the righteousness that protects all that we are stems from a foundation of truth which is unshakable, given to us by our God who cannot lie.
We are made righteous because God declares us so. As a result, we are to live with this certain knowledge, unshaken in the truth of God’s Word which we wrap ourselves in day and night.