Breastplate of Righteousness

3nd of 8 messages delivered at the ERCS Family Camp, 19-22 Jun 2006 

"Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness" (Ephesians 6:14).

 We are standing inside the armoury of the army of Christ.

Earlier on, we have been reminded to be brave; to take courage and to draw equipment and strength from the Lord as we enter into the fight.

We have also been briefed on what kind of war we are fighting and the strategy that we must adopt in the battle. It is a spiritual war. The enemies are invisible spiritual terrorists. We must fight a defensive battle. Christ our King has already conquered. We must stand and withstand as Satan the Prince of the enemy army schemes and plots to regain lost ground.

In order to fight this battle effectively, we must put on the full armour that God has provided for us.

But now we must begin to learn about various parts of the armour that is available to us. We have considered the belt or girdle of truth. We saw that this belt symbolises everything to do with the truth.

Objectively it refers to the truth of the Gospel which we must hold on tenaciously. Subjectively, we must gird ourselves with honesty, faithfulness, and integrity. Unless we know the truth and are truthful, we shall easily fall prey to the temptation of the devil to fight on his side. For Satan is the father of lies.

So we must put on the belt of truth. We must girt our loins with truth. But having put on the belt of truth, we must next put on the breastplate of righteousness.

Paul says:

Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.

Let us study this piece of equipment by asking: What is a Breastplate? What does this breastplate represent? How to put on this breastplate?

1. What is a Breastplate?

There are essentially two kinds of breastplates referred to in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, the high priest wore a breastplate which held the Urim and Thummim as well as the names of the twelve tribes engraved on precious stones fixed on it (Ex 28:15-30; 39:8-21).

This breastplate and the twelve precious stones are symbolic of the love and care of Jehovah for His people… for the high priest is representing the Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus when he performs his duties of worship in the Temple. It is clear, however, that this is not the breastplate in the armoury of the apostle Paul. The breastplate that Paul wants us to put on is one that is to be used in actual battle rather than in temple ceremonies.

The breastplate in the panoply of the Christian army is like the kind used in the Roman army. Each Roman soldier was issued with a breastplate to protect his most vital organs from enemy weapons.

The word translated breastplate is actually a Greek word (qwvrax) from which we get the English word ‘thorax.’ Our thorax is the part of our body between our neck and our navel where the ribs end. Within the thorax are our most vital organs including our heart and lungs.

The Roman breastplate is known as thorax as it is to protect the vital organs in the thorax.

It consists of two parts. One part protects the front of the body, while the other part protects the back. Each part is made of shiny strips of iron (cf. Rev 9:9, 17) laid in an overlapping fashion, and secured by leather straps.

When the strips of iron are attached in such a fashion, it makes for an extremely strong, yet flexible defence against enemy swords and stabbing weapons. The soldier wearing this breastplate could move freely and use his shield and sword without it getting in his way.

It is true that the breastplate did not protect the Roman soldier’s entire body. But no thinking Roman soldier would ever go into battle without his breastplate.

Therefore Paul wants us to put on our breastplate too as we enter into the Spiritual battle.


2. What does the Breastplate Represent?

It is a breastplate of righteousness. So it represents righteousness.

But the Scripture speaks of righteousness both in the objective and subjective sense just as it speaks of truth in the objective and subjective sense.

Objectively, righteousness is purchased by Christ and imputed to believers in justification. Subjectively, righteousness is earned by Christ and imparted to believers in sanctification.

What kind of righteousness is Paul referring to? Some commentators say it is either this or that. Calvin insists that it is the subjective sense. That Paul is speaking about "a devout and holy life," he says. Charles Hodge disagrees:

Many say it is our own righteousness, integrity, or rectitude of mind. But this is no protection. It cannot resist the accusations of conscience, the whispers of despondency, the power of temptation, much less the severity of the law, or the assaults of Satan.

What do we say? Well, I agree with Matthew Henry it must refer to both.

Righteousness, both objective and subjective must be our breastplate.

The righteousness of Christ imputed to us is not only our breastplate against the arrows of divine wrath, but our breast-plate against the arrows of Satanic accusation and condemnation. Satan is known as the accuser of the brethren (Rv 12:10). But "who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died" for us (Rom 8:34).

Without the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, we will have no defense against the attacks of the devil whenever we fall under temptation. The devil, you can be sure, will try to cast doubts in your mind. He may make you doubt, for example, that God will still receive you though you fall into sin.

Sometimes, only the knowledge that God accepts us not on account of our imperfect righteousness, but on account of the perfect righteousness of Christ will lift us up and bring us to the throne of grace to seek pardon.

But the righteousness of Christ imputed forms only one half of the breastplate. It is providential that the Roman breastplate comprises of two pieces just as our spiritual breastplate has two parts.

The other part of the breastplate we must put on is the righteousness of Christ imparted to us. What is the righteousness of Christ imparted to us? It is essentially all the Christian graces that enable us to live a holy life. Paul speaks of putting on the breast-plate of faith and love in 1 Thessalonians 5:8. Faith and love include all Christian graces. By faith we are united to Christ and by love we are united to our brethren.

By the righteousness of Christ imparted we are enabled to observe diligently all our duties to God, and to cultivate a righteous deportment towards men.

The righteousness of Christ implanted in us is our breastplate to fortify our heart against the attacks of Satan. This righteousness of Christ implanted manifests itself in a holy life. Unless we have a holy life, we shall easily fall prey to the temptations of the devil.

Sin always begets sin. If you do not have the breastplate of a righteous life, you will be bound to sink deeper and deeper into unrighteousness. For Satan will make every attempt to sink you with the weight of his arrows of temptation.

So then the two parts of the breastplate of righteousness are Christ’s imputed righteousness on the one hand and Christ’s imparted righteousness on the other hand.

But now, let us ask the question:

3. How to Put On the Breastplate?

Well, the two parts of the breastplate of righteousness are: Christ’s imputed righteousness on the one hand and Christ’s imparted righteousness on the other hand. So to put on the breastplate of righteousness is to have, on the one hand, the knowledge and assurance of the justification of Christ, and on the other hand, a godly response in our lives to the work of sanctification of the Spirit of Christ.

Let me elaborate what I am saying in three directives.

a. First, to put on the breastplate of righteousness, you must understand and believe the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. You must understand that salvation is all of Christ. Therefore you must be determined to fix your eyes on the Lord. You must constantly remind yourself that your salvation is of the Lord, not of yourself.

You are accepted by the Father not on account of your own righteousness, for all our righteousness is as filthy rags, says the prophet Isaiah.

It is the righteousness of Christ that alone is acceptable to God. You must ensure that this truth is lodged firmly in your mind, or should I say on your breast.

Unless your relationship with God is founded upon the righteousness of Christ imputed to you, you will easily fall under the temptations of the devil in hours of discouragements due to your own failures.

Therefore, at times when you fall into sin, and come under the assault of the devil, remember to go to the Lord acknowledging that you are a sinner and thanking Him that He came for sinners and not for the righteous. Do not allow Satan to tempt you to give up because you are not good enough. It is not about you! You are accepted not because you are good enough, but because of the righteousness of Christ.

b. But secondly, to put on the breastplate of righteousness, you must examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith and make your calling and election sure (2 Cor 13:5; 1 Pet 1:10).

We will see more of this, when we examine the helmet of salvation, but for now, understand that unless you are sure that you are a child of God, you are not going to be helped by the knowledge of the righteousness of Christ when you come under the assault of the wicked one.

Therefore, remind yourself constantly that you are a child of God not because of any good in you, but because of the grace of God in Christ. Look to the Lord and remember what He has done for you despite your failures.

c. But thirdly, to put on the breastplate of righteousness, you must work out your salvation with fear and trembling. It is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies, but you have a responsibility too (Phil 2:12).

Resolve always to keep God’s commandments.

Resolve to make use of the means of grace appointed by the Lord.

Resolve to read the Scriptures daily and pray without ceasing.

Resolve to have family worship if you have a family.

Seek always to do good to others and to glorify God in all that you do.

In this way, you can have the assurance that your breastplate of righteousness is still protecting your heart against the assaults of the Wicked One.

Beloved brethren and children, put on your breastplate of righteousness that you may withstand the assaults of the devil. Amen.