Righteousness

Putting on the Breastplate
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Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.—Ephesians 6:14 {1}

Dan Wesol

The apostle Paul was familiar with the uniform of a Roman soldier having traveled through many cities under the dominion of the Roman Empire. He would have seen Roman soldiers in Tarsus, the capital city of Cilicia, where he was born. Paul was put in chains by a Roman commander and his soldiers when he was falsely accused of preaching against the Law, his own people, and defiling the temple by bringing a Greek into it while he was in Jerusalem (Acts 21:27-33). When the chief priests and the leading men of the Jewish people brought charges against Paul before Festus, Paul appealed to Caesar. Because of this appeal, King Agrippa could not set him free after hearing his defense. Paul was put in the custody of Julius, a Roman centurion of the Augustan cohort, who would take Paul to Rome to appear before Caesar.

While under house arrest in Rome, Paul used the analogy of a soldier’s armor, something the Ephesian brethren were familiar with. He wrote to them to put on the full armor of God including “the breastplate of righteousness.”

“Under the Roman republic all the legionaries wore a bronze cuirass consisting of a breast and back plate with a border of pendent leather straps defending the lower part of the body.” (The Encyclopedia Americana, 1903)

The Greek word used for “breastplate” is thorax, Strong’s #2382.

“Primarily, ‘the breast,’ denotes ‘a breastplate or corselet,’ consisting of two parts and protecting the body on both sides, from the neck to the middle. It is used metaphorically of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14); of faith and love (1 Thessalonians 5:8), with perhaps a suggestion of the two parts, front and back, which formed the coat of mail (an alternative term for the word in the New Testament sense); else-where in Revelation 9:9,17.”—Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words

The breastplate was designed to prevent a blow from an enemy’s sword or other weapon from reaching a soldier’s vital organs, particularly, the heart. It would be difficult to apply a death blow to the torso of a soldier wearing this type of body armor. A Roman soldier’s breastplate is described by Polybius (vi.23) as “a bronze plate, measuring a span every way, which they wear on their breasts and call a heart-guard (kardiophulax).”

The Breastplate of Righteousness

The breastplate or heart-guard that Paul was recommending was not made of hard metal, but of something much stronger. It is made of righteousness. The Greek word used for righteousness is dikaiosune, Strong’s #1343, defined as “equity (of character or act); specially (Christian) justification.” Vine’s defines the word as “the character or quality of being right or just”; it was formerly spelled ‘rightwiseness,’ which clearly expresses the meaning.”

This justification or quality of being right or just comes from the just, loving, wise and powerful God who reveals himself in the holy Scriptures: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” (Psalm 89:14).

God’s standard of justice had to be met to redeem his human creation from the power of death. He asked his only begotten son, Jesus, who knew no sin, to die for Adam, who did sin, as a corresponding price, a perfect man for a perfect man. This would enable all who had gone into the grave to live again. Jesus’ response, as the Logos, before he was made flesh, is recorded in Isaiah’s prophecy: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8,9). Jesus courageously and enthusiastically volunteered for the mission. He was not drafted, coerced, or threatened with death.

Death, and a very ignominious one at that, was part of the mission to redeem the world. “As a result of the anguish of his soul, he will see it and be satisfied; by his knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as he will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot him a portion with the great, and he will divide the booty with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:11,12). Jesus was zealous to do his part in fulfilling all righteousness, as he said to John the Baptist when he came to be baptized.

When Jesus fights for Israel as Jehovah’s right arm during Jacob’s trouble, he will put on his own “righteousness like a breastplate” (Isaiah 59:16-20).

In Deuteronomy 20:5-8, when Israel’s army was about to engage in battle with its enemies, the officers of Israel’s army instructed those who had just built a new house, planted a new vineyard, or were engaged to be married to return to their homes lest they die and another take their place. All of these were earthly blessings. The officers of Israel’s army were also instructed to let those soldiers that were afraid to return home, so that they would not cause their brothers’ hearts to melt. In contrast, the followers of Christ are a small company of volunteer soldiers whose mission to follow him is unto death. Christ is the captain of their salvation (Hebrews 2:10). They have the privilege and honor to be called to be part of his church, which will receive a heavenly reward (1 Corinthians 15:42-57). They will have given up the things of the earth and they will faithfully and courageously lay down their lives for their brethren. If faithful, their spoil of the battle will be a part in the first resurrection and the blessing of all the families of the earth.

It is on the basis of the believer’s full, voluntary and unreserved consecration to God through faith in the blood of Christ’s sacrifice as a propitiation (satisfaction) for sin, that the believer is justified (made right) in God’s eyes through the imputed righteousness of Christ (Romans 3:21-26; 4:22 to 5:2). God, showing his acceptance of the believer’s sacrifice, begets him with his holy spirit. Thus, the believer becomes a son of God, a new creature in Christ, a soldier of the cross (John 1:12,13; Romans 12:1,2; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; 1 John 2:1,2; 5:18).

So, to the believer, the two parts of the breastplate are put on by: 1) the imputed righteousness of Christ which provides their justification, and with that justification they put on Christ, developing 2) the same righteous character from God. “But by his doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Because Christians have this justification (being reckoned right with God) by faith in the blood of Christ, they must continue in that faith and endeavor to do God’s righteous will in what they think, say, and do to keep the breastplate on (maintaining their justification). They fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12). As the apostle James confirms, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20, KJV). In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, the apostle Paul uses “faith and love” for the Christian soldier’s breastplate, for these combined form the substance of righteousness.

Being active in God’s service demonstrates faith, keeps the armor in constant use, and does not allow it to rust from lack of use. When soldiers are not in battle, they are in training and preparation for battle.

“The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4,5).

There is no need to look for a battle. The battle always finds those who are living righteously (2 Timothy 3:12). The believers’ battle is not against their fellow fallen human beings although darkness covers the earth and gross darkness the people (Isaiah 60:2). The world needs the disciples’ encouragement, love, and sometimes pity, even though the world opposes those living godly lives and the good news of Christ’s righteous kingdom that will ultimately bless them. Take courage, for “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).

The enemies that every Christian soldier must face in proving (the act of testing the truth of) his armor are the world and its spirit (James 4:4), the fallen human nature (the flesh) (Romans 7:23; Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 8:12, 13), and the devil, “your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). These are the Christian’s spiritual foes under the power of Satan, the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2; John 14:30).

Soldiers are responsible for keeping their armor on, just as Gideon’s elect band of three-hundred remained alert as they put their hands to the water to drink and did not let their knees touch the ground. The Christian soldier’s armor is never to be removed, even when drinking (studying and assimilating the spirit) from the still waters of truth (God’s holy word). The soldier’s mind is set on things above (the mission—the doing of God’s will) and not on the things of earth (Colossians 3:2). The mission is not completed until death.

Putting on the Character of Christ

After putting on the armor of light, Paul instructs believers to lay aside the works of darkness (of evil), carousing, drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, sensuality, strife and jealousy (Romans 13:13,14). None of these works of darkness are to be found among the children of light. Instead, they are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, the same righteous character that Christ had. As he loved righteousness and hated iniquity (Hebrews 1:9), they are to do the same. Paul’s guidance to the Philippians on developing a righteous and Christ-like character provides an effective contrast to the works of darkness.

“If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:1-5).

Nor are the disciples to boast in pride or be self-righteous before or during the battles God gives them to fight. They are to be humble and not to think more highly of themselves than they ought to think. Believers are to think so as to have sound judgment (Romans 12:3). When Aram’s King Ben-hadad besieged Samaria, he boasted that he would carry everything away, even the sand on which the city stands. Israel’s troubled King Ahab responded with perhaps the best advice of his reign: “Tell him, Let not him who girds on his armor boast like him who takes it off” (1 Kings 20:11). King Ahab may have had Proverbs 27:1 in mind: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” The next day God delivered Ben-hadad’s great army into King Ahab’s hand. Because God provided Christ as the believers’ righteousness, they are not to boast in their own accomplishments, but “let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

By God’s grace, Christians are not judged concerning thinking, saying, and doing God’s will perfectly, but they are judged according to their heart intentions, their will: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). As the Scripture states, “man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Just as the breastplate is a metaphor for righteousness, the heart which it covers is a metaphor for a believer’s new will, all that the believer is, the new creature. A heart-guard is a fitting description of what Christ’s imputed righteousness does to cover the weaknesses of the flesh, so that the new creature (the new will) may continue to put on Christ’s righteous character. When a Christian soldier is striving against sin or temptation and one of Satan’s darts of doubt, fear, hate, bitterness, lust, jealousy, envy, or discouragement gets past the shield of faith, it hits the breastplate of righteousness. The dart may hit the armor with such force that the soldier falls backward, but his spiritual life has not been extinguished. He is stunned because he didn’t see it coming. He is on the ground, wondering how he ended up there, but he’s looking up. He doesn’t want to be there, he is still zealous for Christ’s righteous character.

Humbled by the experience, he gets to his knees and can come boldly to the throne of grace in prayer (Hebrews 4:16). He asks forgiveness in the name and merit of Christ, his captain and advocate, and requests greater resolve to overcome when the tempter is permitted to engage him in battle again (1 John 2:1, 2). Our merciful father in heaven, forgiving the sin (1 John 1:9,10), brings him to his feet again, providing a word of encouragement for him and through that experience he may help his brethren to stand in similar battles: “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again” (Proverbs 24:16).

Fighting the Battle Today

The apostle Paul exhorted disciples to “take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). That day is here. The same apostle described the times and attitudes believers are experiencing in this day of genocide, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, pursuit of monetary wealth, consumerism, overwhelming debt, materialism, the worship of youth and television religionists: “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

Soldiers of the cross are to resist these behaviors and temptations, and avoid those that practice them, keeping the breastplate of righteousness buckled firmly on. Instead, they assemble with those who believe and love God, his son Jesus, and his principles of righteousness from a pure heart. This small band of brothers and sisters all have the same rank; “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Though they are of one rank, they appreciate the veterans in their number who have fought far more battles for righteousness’ sake and have gladly shared their wealth of Christian experiences.

These veterans want all of the disciples to be better spiritually, to pray more, exercise faith more, to serve more, to love more and encourage more. Many times, they have carried their spiritually-wounded comrades to safety and given the thirsty the word of life, that their spiritual life would be revived. At times they have performed these selfless acts, though wounded themselves and in the thick of their own spiritual battles. They have helped other believers to be God-centered, not self-centered and to follow our captain by demonstrating their love in laying down their lives for their friends.

There is much we as disciples can learn from these brethren to help in our upcoming battles. They have already been through them. Perhaps God has put them in our midst for that very reason. Some are in the Americas, in India, Europe, Nigeria, Ghana, Australia, and other corners of the earth. With today’s Internet technology taking us “to and fro,” our brethren are only a click away (Daniel 12:4).

We study the Bible, for all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16,17), we study our captain’s words and life, and we study our own conduct to insure that the transforming power of God’s Word and spirit is changing our characters to the godly character of Christ also pictured in the breastplate of righteousness (Philippians 3:15,16). As we seek to live the Scriptural principles of righteousness, we make the effort to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Since we are still in our fallen flesh and trespass against one another at times, we must also forgive one another from the heart (Matthew 18:35,21,22).

We are in the army of God to serve one another and love one another following the example of Jesus, our captain. We encourage each other to stand humbly before God in full spiritual armor, shoulder to shoulder, not one soldier flinching, resisting the enemies as they charge against our small company. If we are faithful, these spiritual enemies will flee (James 4:7). Once the army of Israel approached a battle, the priest spoke these words to the people: “Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (Deuteronomy 20:3,4).

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1.  Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture citations are from the New American Standard translation.