God’s Breastplate of Righteousness
Few of us have engaged in hand-to-hand combat with deadly weapons, so we do not appreciate the importance of a breastplate. If someone is coming at you with a knife or sword, you will be very thankful for chest protection. It gives confidence to parry blows and take the fight to the enemy. If vital organs are unprotected, a soldier cannot feel secure in battle and will be in constant danger.
Satan is coming at you, believer, scheming and stalking (1 Pet. 5:7). He is filled with malice against you because you are filled with love for Jesus (Rev. 12:17). He wants you to trust your strength and underestimate his. He hides himself behind the evil men who are at work in the world so that we do not actively arm ourselves against him. Yet, he is the true and deadly enemy, not the human slaves whom he leads captive to do his will (2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Tim. 2:26).
Another way he attacks is by making your sins seem small in comparison to those of others, almost justified because of the sins of others. Yes, I did not respond well to my wife, but did you hear the way she spoke to me? Do you see the way my parents are trying to control me? Yes, the fifth commandment and all that, but one can only take so much. The moment he convinces us that our sins are justified, he has won. When we blame our sins upon others, he has us down on the mat.
To defeat him, God gives us a breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness is obedience to God. It is defined by God’s word and law. Were you and I more committed to obeying God, we would not use the sins of others to justify our own, but instead those sins would deepen our resolve to obey God (Ps. 119:126-127). It is clarifying to think that God’s righteous commands are our impenetrable breastplate. If you are committed to obey God and actually walk obediently to God, Satan may stalk and attack, but you can turn back his most deadly assaults. Why? God’s breastplate of righteousness turns back the poison darts of sin.
Our Lord is the supreme example of this. Satan fired the temptation of doubt and despair at him – your Father does not take care of you. Our Lord fought back with Scripture, showing that it is not only a sword but a breastplate. Satan suggested: “distrust your Father – look how pathetic you are; make your own bread.” Jesus responded: “No, I will live the bread of my Father’s word; I will trust him.” Satan attacked again: “Throw yourself down from the temple pinnacle – show yourself to be the Son of God, not this pathetic worm, this ridiculous suffering Servant.” Our Lord strapped himself more firmly to his Father’s will: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” All his life, even upon the cross, his breastplate was righteousness (Isa. 59:17). I will obey my Father unto death, and by his obedience he crushed Satan.
It is our lack of obedience to our Father that explains much of our weakness. Sin wounds the conscience. Even if we know God’s mercy and have tasted his grace, sin disrupts our fellowship with the Lord, veils his love and favor, and makes us unable to resist sin. Sin burdens us with guilt, a conviction that we have offended our Lord, not honored him, and not maintained our confession. Sin punches us in the gut and leaves us spiritually winded. It is impossible to exaggerate the defeat and despair that sin brings into our life. It is equally impossible to exaggerate the strength and stability that righteousness restores.
From where do we obtain this breastplate of righteousness? It is Jesus Christ alone. He is our righteousness, first, in that he has obtained forgiveness of sins for us. This is proclaimed to us in the gospel of “repentance and the remission of sins” (Luke 24:47). The first light and power of righteousness is when we know our transgressions are forgiven, blotted out, swallowed up in the abyss of God’s mercy. Our Savior has purchased our pardon, and we must continue coming to him for cleansing, not once or occasionally, but all our lives (1 John 1:9-2:2). When we know that our sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, we begin fighting the devil from a position of confidence – in God’s mercy and faithfulness.
Our breastplate of righteousness also consists of Christ’s righteousness, his actual obedience to God’s law. We receive this as a free gift through imputation. It is not Christ’s righteousness by virtue of his eternal sonship that is our righteousness, but his righteousness as our obedient mediator. “For as by one man’s disobedience, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). Adam disobeyed God’s command and brought sin and death to us. Christ’s obedience to God’s command brought righteousness to us. One vital aspect of our breastplate is the full obedience of Jesus Christ to every command of God. He obeyed the whole law of God – every command, in its proper place and time, personally, perfectly.
Think about this – when the devil comes accusing you, or your conscience is grieved by your sins, strap more tightly about you the obedience of Jesus Christ. Yes, I have disobeyed God more than I can know but Jesus Christ has obeyed fully for me. Look away from yourself and to the obedient Lamb of God. Then, Satan can hurl his worst at you, and even the old man of sin can make fun of you, and you have an answer: the obedience of Jesus Christ. Hold fast to this. Learn what it means that “he was obedient unto death,” “always did those things that pleased his Father,” and “delights to do the law of God.” Know that he did this for you, so that you can have righteousness before God to resist the foulest attacks and accusations of the evil one. Jesus’ obedience fully settles our conscience and strengthens us to fight for holiness not from guilt but from faith, love, and wonder.
This is the other aspect of our breastplate – our obedience. We are not only justified by the grace of Jesus Christ (Acts 15:11), but we are also sanctified by his Spirit working the fruits of righteousness in us (Phil. 1:11). This is not meritorious righteousness but confirmatory righteousness – confirmation that we are united to Jesus Christ (1 John 2:4-6), that he indwells us by his Spirit (Rom. 6:15-22; 8:1), and that we are being conformed to his lovely image (Rom. 8:29). Our obedience empowered by union with our Lord is an important part of our breastplate, for it is we who must obey on the battlefield. The whole world, our particular nation, is one casualty to disobedience – Sabbath breaking, immorality, sodomy, feminism, denial of God’s creation order for home, church, and society, drunkenness, disobedience to parents, self-fornication, bitterness, covetousness, living for self. Where sin slays men, Satan triumphs. Where Christ Jesus raises men to new life, he gives them his Spirit and works obedience in them. Satan falls back. He must always fall back before obedience to God, for our obedience is nothing but Christ’s obedience lived out in his members by the Spirit indwelling (Rom. 8:1). It is never perfect in this life, but we can grow in the fruits of righteousness. The more we walk in the Spirit, we shall not fulfill the various lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:17).
Take honest inventory of your obedience. What are your words and attitudes revealing about your heart? Are you contented in your circumstances? Trying to serve God joyfully in them? Have you slipped into sexual sins, daydreams, fantasies? Are you walking humbly and thankfully with the Lord? Repent of all known sins and seek forgiveness. Probe deeply. Enter into careful communication with Jesus Christ about your sins. Take his blood for your cleansing and ask for his righteousness. Being “clothed with Christ” is not “one and done” but a lifelong seeking of him. Learn to see that most victories over Satan have nothing to do with how you feel at the end of the day but whether or not depending upon Christ’s strength you persevered in obeying God, even if you had to cry to God constantly and felt like a soldier on the battlefield.
Righteousness has fallen upon hard times, for it is very God-referring and self-diminishing. It is exactly the kind of thing Satan wants to see hidden, despised, turned into man-made rituals, or misunderstood as legalism. The last thing he wants us to aspire to be is like our dusty Savior in the wilderness, quoting Deuteronomy, and refusing to be moved from obedience to our blessed Father. But this is what overcomes and crushes the devil. Obedience to God. I delight to do your will, Father. Your law is within my heart. I hunger and thirst for righteousness. I want to obey you more than anything else, for you are wonderful, gracious, loving, the best and most gracious Father. We draw all these graces from our Lord Jesus. He continues conquering the evil one through us as we walk in his strength and fellowship, as we imitate his obedience.