The Armor of God, part 3, The Breastplate of Righteousness
Sometimes we forget that the conflicts we face in life are primarily spiritual. People are not our real enemies, neither are the hardships of life. The real people and events that trouble us can actually be for our benefit — if we win the true inner battle!
God has freely given us His love and grace in order that we can fully live today and also live eternally with Him. At the same time He allows our faith and love to be tested and refined in the same way heat refines and purifies gold and silver. During these times of testing and attacks from the enemy we are learning how to put on the armor that He has provided in order for us to stand in His love and grace, resisting the temptation to become bitter, resentful, and hard of heart.
In the soldier’s armor, the breastplate protects the vital organs, and most importantly the heart. While the brain is responsible for direction, it cannot survive without the heart which sends nourishment to every part of the entire body. Getting back to the spiritual analogy, we understand that in the Bible God has much to say about our hearts and minds in reference to our feelings, motives, thoughts and actions.
In fact, the heart has long been the word we use to describe the deepest part of who we are. Our hearts can determine our path in ways that our minds cannot. One can be very well educated and intelligent and use their abilities to hurt and destroy others. On the other hand, a person with a pure heart at any age and level of intelligence can be a great source of blessing and encouragement!
Soloman advised his son in the Proverbs to 4:23 to “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. ” NASU
So today we are looking at the means of protecting our hearts with the breastplate of righteousness. From the Scriptures we learn that people have often worked hard to obey God’s laws, but with impure motives. They even denied themselves food and other pleasures, giving away large sums of money to the temple, while inwardly they were without compassion and humility. Their greater desire was to appear holier than others. Instead they failed to truly honor God as He desired.
(Isaiah 58:1-6, Luke 21:1-4, Matthew 23:25-28, Luke 11:39-44)
Once Jesus confronted this attitude with the message God gave through the prophet Isaiah:
And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS,
BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. “
(Mark 7:6 NASU)
(Isaiah 29:13, Mark 7:6-8, Matthew 15:7-9)
When Jesus the Jewish Messiah appeared on the scene, He revealed a better way. Not only His teaching, but also His actions proved what the prophets, the Proverb and Psalm writers had said all along: we are not to trust in ourselves, but in God. The key to life and righteousness was to humble ourselves under God’s love and grace, believe in His righteousness and willingness to save us from ourselves.
The apostle Paul later explained in detail how Jesus died on the Cross for the sins of the whole world, and rose from the dead for our justification. Our part is to respond to what He has done for us.
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” — that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
If anyone who happens to be reading this desires a powerful and rewarding relationship with God in Christ, please consider these words. Think about your situation, the Spirit of God can take this moment of reflection and give you insight into this wonderful truth. You can be given the faith to believe in Him and the ability to surrender your heart to the one Who loves you the most! Your heart can be changed so that your desires become pure. Instead of trying to be good, right and fair on the outside, your inward desire can be filled with love for God and others. You truly want to please Him and to bless others!
Then you will be counted before God as innocent of all guilt and righteous as Christ is righteous, because you will be in Christ and Christ will be in you!
So now we see that the breastplate that covers our hearts is in fact the righteousness of Christ Himself. First of all His righteousness is imputed to us, that is we are counted righteous before God and in agreement with Him. We are justified freely by His grace! Secondly, because of the new heart and attitude we have been given we begin to demonstrate right living. On the one hand, we become the prime targets of Satan, but on the other hand, he has no power to accuse us before God.
Since Paul has given this directive to “put on” the whole armor of God, it can not be seen as a passive position. It is true that God has done all the work in providing the perfect sacrifice for us, in calling us to Himself, and giving the message of the Gospel to deliver us. There is nothing I can do to justify myself before Him. In His grace I stand. Yet I am told to put on His armor and to stand in His power. We do not participate in the work of justification, but we do participate in our sanctification. Our relationship with Christ will grow as we continually love, worship and follow Him.
The Breastplate of Righteousness is a picture of how our hearts are protected from evil desires and motives. The Lord Jesus Christ is our shining example of truth and righteousness. As we focus on Him, we become more and more like Him every day! When tempted with hatred, jealousy, resentment towards others, we remember Christ Who is our righteousness! In our submission to Him, we are empowered to resist all temptation. (James 4:7).
Another metaphor in scripture is the clothing of righteousness. In Revelation 19:7-8 we find a picture of the Church, the Bride of Christ, dressed in fine, clean, white linen which we are told is the Righteousness of Christ!
Isn’t it wonderful that we no longer have to live to impress others? Now that we live to please God, He covers us with His righteousness, and knows when our intentions are to please Him!
I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. NASB
When we value the right things, our hearts and lives will be toward the right things. Listen to the values of a great believer, Paul, an apostle of Christ:
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.