"...with the breastplate of righteousness in place..." – Ephesians 6:14 (NIV)
Isn't it odd that every time you set out to do the work of God, you seem to be pushed back, resisted, or bombarded with attacks to your mind, relationships, and perhaps even your physical body itself? It can be really daunting, disheartening, and make you feel like you are in a battle for your life! Well, I hate to tell you this, but you are, in fact, in a battle for your life! Because of Satan and the evils of this world, we as believers are in a battle for our lives and for the whole of Christianity. We are fighting for God and the fight is hard! There is however, hope since God understands our battle and our needs to fight.
Paul tells us in Ephesians that we must put on the armor of God to stand against the schemes of the devil. But, what is the armor of God anyway? Today, we are on our third part of our series all about the armor God gives us to stand against the evil one and what it means to put it on as a soldier of Christ. Last time, we learned all about how Paul used the image of the belt to symbolize our relationship with Christ and today we will discover what it means to put the Breastplate of Righteousness in place.
As a military historian by trade, I would contend that the breastplate is probably one of the more recognizable pieces of armor (especially ancient armor). When we think of a suit of armor, we don't necessarily think about what is placed on the arms and legs, but we do think about the body that the armor forms and that central component to the breastplate. There's good reason for that too! The breastplate really does cover some of the more key parts of the body that we want to protect. Whereas, we can live without an arm or leg and many people do; if we are injured, stabbed, or (in modern times) shot in the chest or the stomach, there's a fair chance that one or multiple organs that are vital to our bodies functioning correctly will be damaged in a way that will cause severe injury or even death. So, covering these areas that are most vulnerable and pose the greatest threat to our lives is crucial as we think about going out to battle.
This is where the Breastplate of Righteousness really comes into play. If we visualize the image of placing the breastplate, we can imagine securing it around our front and our back so that we have assurance that those crucial areas are safe. Once again, however, it's been made clear that we are not fighting a physical fight, rather one of the spiritual nature; so what then would the breastplate be protecting in spiritual battle if not the vitality of our organs in a physical manner? To answer this question, we must truly have an understanding of what the evil one that we are fighting against is really fighting for.
When we think of attacks from Satan, what is his end goal? Certainly, it can feel like he wants us to be in physical pain or even die (in those times that the fight gets so hard that we feel like we can't go on). Satan, however, it's not so much interested in the length of our physical life as he is in where we will spend eternity in our spiritual form. And what gets us to eternity, but our hearts? In order to spend eternity in Heaven with God, our hearts have to believe fully in sacrifice of Jesus Christ and subsequent righteousness given due to such a sacrifice.
So when Paul says to place the breastplate of righteousness, does he mean our own righteousness? Should we be boastful of how righteous we are, to overcome Satan? Certainly I could not do so because I alone I'm not righteous enough to even make up a whole breastplate of righteousness and it be successful and thwarting the evil one... and I'm sorry to say, you could not either. That is because, it is not our own righteousness that we must depend on or lean into, or even place as a breastplate; rather, it is the understanding that we as imperfect humans do not succeed by our righteousness alone but by the righteousness of Jesus Christ that He has placed upon us ( i.e. given us as a weapon against evil) through our salvation that makes us able to don the breastplate at all. And when we enter battle and Satan comes before us and seeks to steal our hearts away by reminding us just how unrighteous we are, we have to place that righteousness of Jesus Christ upon our shoulders and over our chest and say, "Yes, alone I am not righteous. Alone I cannot be righteous enough to be saved. But through Christ's sacrifice and HIS righteousness I am in right standing with God."
And the kicker here, is that we actually have to believe it. If we don't believe that Jesus' righteousness was transferred on to us, we cannot then begin to imagine a world where we can be free of our previous unrighteousness and then move forward, little by little, being sanctified ourselves to become more righteous through His power. The easiest way for Satan to win over our hearts is by making us either believe that we ourselves are righteous enough to earn salvation on our own, or by getting us to reject the righteousness Jesus has laid upon us by making us feel unworthy of such righteousness. When we place that Breastplate of Righteousness, we we are using our understanding of ourselves, where we fall short, and how Jesus has rectified that to ward off the enemy.
Next time, we will dive into another piece of the armor of God oh, and one that I think is not always something we think about when we think about armor: the shoes of peace.
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