…having on the BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
Paul was certainly familiar with the armor of the soldier. Rome had control over Palestine in his day. As a young Pharisee in Jerusalem, he had often taken notice of the military, since the Roman garrison was headquartered at the Antonia Fortress adjacent to the Temple area, where Paul had spent much time in his early years.
While writing the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul was a prisoner of Rome. At the very least there were several Roman armed guards on duty as he was under house arrest. He may have even been chained to them on the right hand and the left as he dictated this letter to the church at Ephesus. In any case, the Roman armor was well known to Paul, and he used it to illustrate the equipment needed for the believer to fight his constant battle in the Christian life.
There were several types of Roman breastplates. One was made of heavy linen covered with thinly sliced animal horns or hooves fastened to the linen. These overlapped for protection, but gave the wearer freedom of movement. Another type was made of molded metal that went from the base of the neck to the thighs, covering and protecting all the vital organs of the body.
No Roman soldier would ever have gone into battle without his breastplate. It protected him not only from the sword or spear in close combat, but also from arrows coming from the side or rear. Without it he would have been hard pressed to defend himself.
So, the child of God is told to put on the breastplate of righteousness as part of the total armor given to protect him from the attacks of Satan.
Righteousness is certainly a key word in the Scriptures. It, along with the words righteous and righteously, is used 644 times in the Bible. Paul used these words either 73 or 81 times, dependent upon whether or not he was the human author of the book of Hebrews. Righteousness concerns a right relationship with God.
There are three kinds of righteousness of man referred to in the Scriptures. To determine what Paul is telling us to do in Ephesians 6, we must consider these and determine to which Paul is referring when he gives the command for the believer to put on this breastplate.
Many people feel they are righteous before God. They feel that by their own good works they will eventually find favor with God. Even Paul in his youth felt this way. Recounting his life in Philippians 3, he speaks of his confidence in the flesh. He had rigorously kept the law from his youth. He was counting on his own efforts to please God. Then one day he met Christ on the Damascus Road and quickly learned that all his righteousness was useless.
The Scripture makes it very clear that all of man’s righteousness is never good enough to please God. “. . . All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags . . .” (Isa. 64:6). Paul, in Romans 3:10, tells us “. . . There is none righteous, no, not one.”
Since the righteousness of man is never even enough to save him, certainly to have it would not fulfill the command in Ephesians 6. In fact, there must be some kind of righteousness that could make him acceptable before God. There is, and it is called imputed righteousness.
To impute means simply to credit to one’s account. When a person, realizing he has no righteousness of his own, reaches out and trusts Jesus Christ as his Saviour, God’s righteousness is immediately imputed to him. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we read, “For he hath made him [Christ], who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” God credits to the account of that believer the righteousness of Christ, and from then on God sees him clothed in His righteousness. That man is no longer condemned.
Paul illustrates this from the life of Abraham in Romans 4:3-5: “. . . Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
So one can clearly see that through faith in Christ, he no longer has to try to trust in his own righteousness, but in that with which God has clothed him – Christ’s righteousness. He now can stand before God “in Christ” and be acceptable to Him.
Paul finalizes and drives home his point with his statement in 1 Corinthians 1:30, “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”
But, as marvelous as imputed righteousness is, and even though God gives it to every believer, it is not the breastplate of righteousness. We cannot put on this righteousness. God does that for us. This becomes more clear as one looks at the context of Ephesians 6. In verse 10, Paul exhorts, “. . . brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” Brethren are believers in Christ and, as such, have passed the point of propitiation. They already have imputed righteousness.
Imputed righteousness is the basis or foundation of the breastplate. It is only that which makes practical, imparted or daily righteousness possible. This third kind is what the breastplate of righteousness is all about. Paul refers to this daily righteousness in Philippians 3:13-14: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Even Paul needed to put this armor on daily to be in his personal life what God intended him to be. Putting on the armor is an unending process from the point of receiving imputed righteousness until one dies or is raptured.
It would appear the apostle had an Old Testament passage in mind as he wrote of the breastplate. “And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore, his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness sustained him. For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak” (Isa. 59:16-17).
The Old Testament writer speaks of the Messiah who put on righteousness as a breastplate. He always was, is and will be righteous before God, but since He came into the world as a man, He put on righteousness as a breastplate. Now we are called to imitate Him by doing the same.
The Position of Righteousness
The key to understanding the real identity of the breastplate of righteousness lies in the very heart and essence of the book of Ephesians. It is the word “union”. The believer in Christ is “in Him”. He is said to be “accepted in the Beloved” (1:6). He also shares Christ’s eternal inheritance (1:14). Both Jewish and Gentile believers are made one in Christ. They are also declared to be “. . . members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (5:30).
Putting on the breastplate of righteousness is the believer simply applying to his own life the very character of Christ, made available to him by virtue of his being in union with Christ, and living that life. Since a believer has no righteousness of his own, he must rely on that provided by the Lord Jesus Christ. He is only wearing the breastplate of righteousness when the righteousness of Christ is able to be manifested through his life.
The Power of Righteousness
The first step for the believer to put on the breastplate of righteousness is found in the context. In Ephesians 5, Paul gives us an extensive passage about the walk of the believer. New life in Christ means a new way of daily living. His life is to be different, the activities new, the desires new.
But, how can this be? The old man is still living within. Paul faced this battle in Romans 7, and it brought him to the point of admitting he was a wretched man.
Then, in Ephesians 5:18, Paul gives the answer. A believer must “. . . be filled with the Spirit.” This simply means he must allow the Spirit of God, now dwelling within him, to take control of his very life. This, then, is the first step in putting on the breastplate of righteousness. In Galatians 5:16, Paul tells us to “. . . Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” As the believer allows the Holy Spirit to control his life, He will lead him to paths of righteousness.
To put on the breastplate of righteousness is a little like getting dressed in the morning. There is more than one step involved. The starting point is to be under the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit, who will begin to produce the fruit of the Spirit and the righteousness of Christ in our lives.
The Path of Righteousness
When we are filled with the Spirit, all systems are “GO”. We are ready to produce righteousness, but we must go further in putting on the breastplate.
The second step is to be living daily in the Word of God. This gives direction to the Spirit-filled life. Without this, we soon would flounder and go nowhere.
In 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17 we read, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, That the man of God may be perfect [mature], thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
To be filled with the Spirit and not to be daily in the Word of God for direction would be like an airplane, fueled, with its engines running, sitting at the end of the runway ready to go, but with no flight plan. It might take off, but would have no flight path. It would only circle the field, accomplishing nothing. So the believer who is filled with the Spirit, but not living in the Word, would soon be led by his emotions and whims. This would never please God.
To wear the breastplate of righteousness in the spiritual battle with Satan is to be filled with the Spirit and to have our instructions from the Word of God.
The Process of Righteousness
The third and final step for the believer to put on the breastplate of righteousness comes when he yields his members to the Lord.
What is a member? It is a limb or part of the body. It is the mind, emotions, will, thought patterns, arms, legs, feet, eyes, mouth, or whatever portion of the body one might wish to name.
Paul tells the child of God in Romans 6:13 and 18, “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but yield yourselves unto God . . . and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God . . . Being, then, made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.”
What, then, is this final step in putting on the breastplate? It is simply giving every part of our bodies over to the Lord, so that He can produce the righteousness of Christ through us.
Satan does not want us filled with the Spirit. He does not want us in the Word. He desires to control our members, so that we will live on emotional experience and be caught up with selfish wants, having a desire to fulfill the lusts of the flesh. We then easily fall prey to any attack of Satan.
The child of God, controlled by the Spirit, living in the Word, and with his members yielded to the Lord, has on the breastplate of righteousness.
When this is done, in conjunction with putting on the remainder of the armament described in Ephesians 6, the believer can live a life of victory, and his life will count for Christ no matter what attack Satan can muster.