UNDER COVER: THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
Ephesians 6:14; Hebrews 12:14
Stand therefore having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14)
Hebrews 12:14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see God…
The breastplate is part of the ceremonial garment of the high priest (Ex 25:7), and part of our armor. The Breastplate (thorax akos) went from the bottom of the neck to the upper thigh, covering the abdomen. It consisted of six or seven overlapping strips of metal that passed around the upper body, held together by leather strips on the inside and by strips and buckles or hooks on the exterior. The shoulders were covered with curved strips of metal. A scarf was worn to protect against chafing of the skin. The whole assembly weighed about twenty pounds and was constructed to provide great flexibility of movement. It was the safety provided by armor, combined with aggressive sword-thrusting that made Roman soldiers so formidable. “Righteousness” involves our right relationship toward God, and understanding that makes us fearless: “The righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).
Scripture is clear about our righteousness, whatever measure we have is based on the righteousness of Jesus and we appropriate righteousness through faith, Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). Righteousness according to the context of Ephesians 6 speaks about character and conduct. Look at Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. He was thoroughly convinced that the devil did not have anything on Him, I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me (John 14:30).
In other words, there was no sin to exploit, and no accusations to heave at Jesus that had merit. In the same way, the cleaner we are, the less ammunition the enemy has to use against us. This is why our conduct counts and why we are to care for each other. Our personal walks with the LORD and the fruit it produces as we strive to be like Jesus in our personal righteousness and holiness diminishes the enemies’ capacity to harm us. It serves as our protection from exploitation, which is why we are to be as transparent as possible (George Malone).
Paul is not speaking here of self–righteousness, which is not righteousness at all but one of the worst form of sins. It’s strange that this sort of righteousness that many Christians clothe themselves, thinking that their own character and legalistic behavior and accomplishments please God and will bring His reward.
- Self–righteousness will never protect you,
- A cloak of self–righteousness gives satan a ready–made weapon to stifle and smother our spiritual life and real, supernatural service.
- Putting on the breastplate of righteousness means we are to live in daily, moment–by–moment obedience to our heavenly Father as His sons and daughters.
Self–righteousness will keep a believer out of the power of fellowship with God just as it will keep an unbeliever out of His kingdom, For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). Self-Righteousness brings us no favor with God and no protection from satan.
Also, Paul is not speaking here of imputed righteousness (righteousness God applied the moment you believed in Christ Rom. 4:6, 11, 22–24). God made Christ, “who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
- You cannot put on what God has already clothed you with.
- We are permanently dressed in that righteousness, throughout our lives on earth and throughout all eternity.
- Imputed righteousness makes practical righteousness possible, but only obedience to the Lord makes practical righteousness a reality.
- Jesus died to save us from every aspect of sin, its presence, its power and its penalty.
Paul gloried in his imputed righteousness, but he did not presume on it as many believers throughout the history of the church have done. Christians who say that it doesn’t really matter how they think or talk or act, because all sins—past, present, and future—are covered by Christ’s blood, reflect this presumption and makes us vulnerable to the enemy. This is the irrational and unscriptural stinking thinking that Paul counters in Romans 6. “Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? … Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (vv. 1–2, 11–13). So what does this mean? It means we are to:
Hebrews 12:14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see God… This is a hard verse to interpret, and has been a problem for many Christian teachers. At first glance, it seems to be teaching salvation by works—if we successfully pursue peace and sanctification, we will be saved and will see the Lord. The truth is, however, that a person who is not saved cannot pursue either peace or sanctification. You have to know Jesus to have the ability, through Holy Spirit to live in peace and in holiness, “‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’ ” (Isa. 57:21).
- Many, if not most, of the emotional and relational problems Christians experience are caused by lack of care for personal holiness.
- After David committed adultery with Bathsheba and ordered the death of her husband, Uriah, he had no peace.
- That is why his great psalm of penitence includes the plea, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (Ps. 51:12).
- Unholy living cannot rob you of salvation, but it will rob you of salvation’s joy.
The Bible is speaking of practical peace and righteousness. In Christ, we are at peace and we are righteous, but on a practical basis we have a race to run. This means:
- Because we are at peace with God, we should be peacemakers.
- Because we are counted righteous, we should live righteously and enact Kingdom righteousness.
- Our practice (Kingdom works) should always match our position (Kingdom Children).
- Pursuing peace primarily relates to loving men, and pursuing righteousness primarily to loving God.
- If we love men, we will be at peace with them, and if we love God we will live righteously.
Peace is a two-way street. It is not possible for two persons, or two nations, to live at peace with each other if one of them is persistently belligerent. Jesus was peaceful toward all men, but all men were not peaceful toward Him. Paul clarifies the principle. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).
- We are only responsible for our side of the peace process, but we cannot use another’s belligerence as an excuse for responding in kind.
- We have an obligation to live peaceably, whether or not those around us treat us peaceably.
- If others do not live peaceably, that is their problem; but it is never our excuse.
Sanctification/righteous living has to do with our loving God. It speaks of the pure, obedient, holy life we live set apart for God’s glory, because of that love and our unconditional abandonment to it.
- When we love Him, we will want to be like Him, and when we are like Him, others will see Him in us and be attracted to Him.
- Love toward men and love toward God are inseparable.
- When we become peacemakers, others see Jesus through us. Without peace, others become blinded to Jesus.
The most difficult part of the verse to interpret is without which no one will see the Lord. I believe the reference is to unbelievers who see and observe our pursuit of peace and holiness, without which they would not be drawn to accept Christ themselves. The passage does not read, “without which you will not see the Lord,” but without which no one will see the Lord. In other words, when unbelievers see a Christian’s peacefulness and holiness, they are attracted to the Lord. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). And He prayed to His Father that 20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me (John 17:21). Our love for each other is supposed to be a testimony to the Father and to the Son. It’s how we draw people to Christ, apart from whom no one will see the Lord.
God’s imputed righteousness is the basis of our Christian life and of our Christian living. It protects us from hell, but it does not, in itself, protect us from Satan in this present life. The breastplate of righteousness that we put on as spiritual armor against our adversary is the practical righteousness of a life lived in obedience to God’s Word.
To not be armored with the breastplate of righteousness cost us our joy. John’s first epistle contains many warnings and commands to believers, and these are given—along with the other truths of the letter—“so that our joy may be made complete” (1 John 1:4). In other words, lack of obedience brings lack of joy. The only joyful Christian is the obedient Christian.
Derrick Prince said that he understood that Paul was saying that no external ceremony or ritual in itself can ever be sufficient in saving us or making us worthy. The only thing in life that is essential for success in this Christian life is faith in Jesus as our sole sufficiency. This type of faith only runs on the fuel of love. This type of faith is neither passive nor is it theoretical. Real faith only works through love, But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
Paul shows the relationship between these two forms of true righteousness in Philippians 3. His salvation, he tells us, was based solely on God’s imputed righteousness, “not having a righteousness of [his] own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (v. 9).