Breastplate of Righteousness
The second piece of armor described in Ephesians 6:10-20 is the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate was made of leather or heavy linen with slices of animal hooves or horns, or large pieces of metal hammered to conform to the body. No soldier would go into battle without his breastplate, for it protected his heart and other vital organs. So I think we all have an accu- rate picture of the breastplate, but where does the righteousness part of it come in?
First, we must understand that Paul is not speaking of self righteousness. This type of so-called righteousness is generated out of a legalistic, works-based, merit-earning righteousness and places trust in oneself rather than in Christ. This, no doubt, will not be any protection from the attack of the enemy. Rather, it is a dangerous self-made tool that will stifle fellowship with the Spirit or it is a self-elevated mask of unbelief in the saving work of the gospel.
Secondly, is Paul speaking of the imputed righteousness of Christ given to every believer the moment he believes in Christ? I would say no. This righteousness cannot be taken off or put back on. At the moment of salvation, our past, present and future sin was replaced with the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). This righteousness is every believer’s position in Christ. So, what is the righteousness that Paul has in mind when describing the spiritual breastplate? I believe it is our practical righteousness. John MacArthur states, “imputed righteousness makes practical righteousness possible, but only obedience to the Lord makes practical righteous- ness a reality.”
Lastly, what does putting on the breastplate of righteousness look like? It is the daily, moment by moment, obedience to God and His holy Word. It is saying no to the flesh and yes to God and then actually doing what you know is right. All of this with a complete dependence upon the Spirit knowing that it is God who works in you, “both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Obedience guards our heart against the enemy. It is not the weak and false armor of good advice, techniques, methods or programs that guard our hearts and bring true joy, it is holy living. While we are faced with the small and large decisions of our daily lives, we must ask, For what does the Scripture say? This is the Christian life.
“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).