The breastplate of righteousness
John W. Keddie
In Ephesians 6, the first buttress against Satan’s lies and deceptions is the truth of God’s Word – the truth as it is in Jesus. What’s next? It is the breastplate.
‘Having put on the breastplate of righteousness’ (Ephesians 6:14).The breastplate was a vital feature in any Roman soldier’s equipment. It covered the central organs in the chest, including the heart.
How is the Christian’s ‘heart’ to be protected? With righteousness as a ‘breastplate’. Christianity is a heart-religion, concerned with what drives the whole life – its motives, persuasion and direction.
‘Righteousness’ is not a word much used today, but there are two ways of looking at it, subjective and objective. Subjectively, it refers to a believer’s holy and consecrated life. Objectively speaking, it refers to the perfect works of Jesus put down to the account of believers (theologians speak of this as ‘imputed’ righteousness).
God sees in believers on Christ not the ‘filthy rags’ of their own righteousness, but the perfect righteousness of Jesus. This reminds us that:
There is a righteousness that avails for us
It comes from Christ. Not only did Jesus by his death on the cross pay for the sins of all who come to trust in him, but he also worked out a perfect righteousness for them. He was perfect, and his righteousness is made over to his people, so that they are treated as if this righteousness were their very own.
Christ provides the righteousness that avails for sinners. Our works are not good enough before the bar of divine judgement, but his are. But how is this a ‘breastplate’ for the child of God?
When the devil comes with his accusations and temptations, the child of God can say to him: ‘Christ is my righteousness. His righteousness avails for me – you cannot touch me, for I am resting on his perfect righteousness for acceptance with God!’
That is the objective side of this armour. Moreover:
There is a righteousness to be practised by us
Believers may feel very imperfect and unworthy, but they are to be holy as their Heavenly Father is holy. They are to walk as Christ walked.
We have the Old and New Testaments. If we fail to take the Bible seriously, little wonder that the evil one will insinuate himself to our hearts and lives to devastate. Believers must protect their hearts.
How are they best protected? By the breastplate of imputed righteousness (as already stated). But that imputed righteousness lays a profound obligation upon those trusting in Christ to live holy and virtuous lives.
Whoever is truly saved from the guilt and consequences of sin will surely desire to be freed from the power and practice of sin! But if you carry sin around, unrepented of and unmortified, you are doubly exposed to the attacks of the evil one. And there is a wider aspect:
There is a righteousness to guard the church
When the pursuit of holiness of life declines and then dies, so too does the power and influence of the church. Personal holiness is important for protecting both the heart of the believer and the church from error and impure nominality.
Holiness of life acts as a breastplate for believer and church when the heart is guarded. The motivating wellspring of spiritual life within issues forth in godly practice without. The believer sings: ‘Thy word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against thee!’ (Psalm 119:11).
William Gurnall in his treatise The Christian in complete armour explains practically what the ‘breastplate of righteousness’ means for Christians.
They must maintain the power of holiness in their contest with sin; exert the power of holiness in the duties of God’s worship; express the power of holiness in their earthly vocation; and express the power of holiness in their behaviour towards others. That is our breastplate! How vital both for ourselves and others that we wear it always!