Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness. Ephesians 6:14 (ESV)
The breastplate of the ancient warrior was made is such a way that it covered from the neck to the thighs. Its purpose was to protect against arrows, spears or swords penetrating the vital organs (heart, lungs, bowels, etc.). To the ancient Jews the heart and the bowels represented the mind, will, emotions and affections; basically the center from which all of life flowed (Proverbs 4:23; Luke 6:45; Romans 7:22; Ephesians 3:16). Paul seemed to feel it was necessary for the center of life to be covered with a breastplate of righteousness so that it would be protected from the schemes of the devil. Why? Because our minds, wills, emotions and affections are key places (and maybe the most deadly) where the enemy attacks us.
What is the breastplate of righteousness? Well, first it isn’t self-righteousness. Any righteousness we can come up with on our own gives us no protection at all from the enemy. The Pharisees, other religious leaders and many of the Jews in Jesus’ day tried to use their own righteousness, but it didn’t bode well for them (Matthew 5:20, 6:1; Romans 10:3). The best righteousness we can come up on our own is still just a dirty rag (Isaiah 64:6).
Neither is Paul referring in this passage to imputed righteousness. Imputed righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus Christ credited to us by God when we believed on him for salvation. Since we had no righteousness of our own Jesus Christ became the righteousness of God for us (Romans 3:22; Philippians 3:9; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The reason Paul is not referring to imputed righteousness in this passages is, we cannot “put on” imputed righteousness; it is put on for us by God.
The righteousness that Paul exhorts us to put on is the righteousness of a holy life. It is the righteousness of being obedient to God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16) leading to righteous behavior and righteous deeds. The schemes of the enemy will be fatal to our spiritual lives if we do not flee youthful passions and pursue righteous behavior and deeds; holiness (1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22).
A certain man shot an arrow at random that found its way between the breastplate and scale of armor of the wicked King Ahab (1Kings 22:34). If an arrow shot at random hit Ahab in an almost impossible place how much more vulnerable are we of getting hit with an arrow from Satan if we have flaws in our character. Satan knows our flaws and targets the weakest places in our armor.
The imputed righteousness of Christ makes it possible for us to put on the breastplate of righteous living, but we must put it on (Romans 13:12, 14; Colossians 3:12, 14). Though we are responsible for putting on or pursuing righteousness, God is always with us to lead us in paths of righteousness (Psalm 23:3). And if we fight the good fight and finish the race, God will reward us with the crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Are you pursuing righteousness?
Scriptures for meditation:
Matthew 5:6; 6:33