The Whole Armour of God: The Breastplate Of Righteousness
In our last post, we saw that the first thing a soldier needs is the support and protection of the truth. He needs a foundation upon which to base his risk taking. We noted that this comes from a truthful declaration of the purpose of the warfare. Now we're going to consider the breastplate of righteousness and apply it to our own warfare.
A typical breastplate was made of brass and used to protect the vital organs. The chest is where the centre of life resides–the heart. Thus it was essential that a soldier in battle had proper protection. The application is straightforward–the heart is the centre of spiritual life. We must protect it. Whatever this righteousness is (more of that in a moment), it must defend us from the attack of the enemy.
Where the word righteousness occurs in the Bible, there is a debate about how we should interpret it. The common use is positional righteousness or the justification of the sinner by God. But here we can make a case for practical righteousness–righteousness on display in the believer's life. For the sake of argument, let's assume that both are correct and examine what each would mean.
Positional, or Objective Righteousness
If the breastplate is our justification by God, then the analogy is simple. Whatever may befall us, our ultimate welfare is untouchable. We are secure for eternity. Our destination remains unchanged, even while passing through the most difficult of circumstances. Some lose their health and some their wealth. Others lose their peace of mind, while all at some point lose their family or friends. But our soul remains untouched. I love that verse that Paul writes to the Romans;
If God be for us, who can be against us?
Let that sink in! We are in a battle. In our first article, we considered the identity of the enemy and why he is on the attack. Trials are certain, but God guarantees our protection. This does not mean that we will have no problems. The opposite is true: Scripture guarantees trials and tribulations (1 Pe. 4:12; Heb. 12:6-8). But it does mean, that whatever we pass through, our ultimate salvation is secure. Paul continues;
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
How reassuring to know the in the middle of the battle our ultimate protection is secure. This is the breastplate provided by God's justification of the sinner. Paul says; 'Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth' (Rom. 8:30).
So the question becomes, how are we to put on the breastplate of righteousness if it is God who makes us righteous? The question hints at something important: we cannot do anything to justify ourselves. But the point here is not that we put on the act of justification, but rather we reckon it to be true. Some have lost their joy because they have forgotten their true position–justified. We put it on by considering it to be true and living in the good of it.
Practical, or Subjective Righteousness
While I interpret the passage as above, let's consider an alternative view. What would it mean if the breastplate were our righteous Christian life? First, it would mean that living a righteous Christian life is a form of protection. The verbal form of 'put on' is sometimes cited as support for this–the idea being that we put it on ourselves. We cannot underestimate the importance of this. A righteous life does not save, but a saved person will live a righteous life. Thus, practical Christianity saves us from a life of sin. When practising righteousness, we are not yielding our members as instruments of unrighteousness. Instead, we are living as God intended every Christian to live. We are in His will. When we are in God's will, the Devil does not get his will.
Second, it also means that 'putting on' the breastplate of righteousness has the same meaning as 'putting on the new man.' This is another Ephesian truth (4:24), and carries the idea of 'adorning oneself.' In this case, we are to make our positional reality a practical reality.
In summary, there is little to choose between the two possible interpretations. The former includes the latter: you can't claim to be righteous if you don't live righteously. But the latter is founded upon the former. Subjective righteousness without objective righteousness is mere self-righteousness. May God give us help to put on the breastplate of righteousness.