The breastplate of righteousness is the second element listed in the armour of God. What is this piece of spiritual armour, and how are we to put it on?
The apostle Paul listed several pieces of armour worn by the Roman soldiers of his day and made an analogy about the spiritual armour needed by Christians. The second piece of armour, the breastplate, is likened to righteousness: “Having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:14).
Soldiers of that time had another piece of protective armour to ward off enemy blows—the shield. But during the heat of battle, those blows could come from unexpected directions, or there could be too many to ward off with just a shield. The breastplate provided protection against the unexpected and against overwhelming numbers.
The breastplate worn by Roman soldiers was generally made of iron, though some wealthier soldiers may have worn a bronze breastplate. It consisted of overlapping pieces of metal with connecting front and back sections. There were rounded pieces protecting the shoulders and the breastplate usually rested on the soldier’s hips so the entire weight wasn’t carried on the shoulders. The overlapping pieces allowed for more flexibility of movement. This piece of armour protected the vital organs of the soldier during the battle.
Adam Clarke’s Commentary says the following: “As the breast-plate defends the heart and lungs, and all those vital functionaries that are contained in what is called the region of the thorax; so this righteousness defends everything on which the man’s spiritual existence depends.”
How does this apply to a Christian?
The apostle Paul makes another comparison between the Christian life and warfare in one of his letters to the Corinthians: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
The enemies of the Christian described in these verses are numerous and could come at us unexpectedly. Paul lists “arguments,” “every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” and the need for “bringing every thought into captivity.” These are things we can encounter in everyday life. The breastplate of righteousness is one of our primary defences against these unexpected and dangerous intrusions.
How important is the breastplate of righteousness? God promises great rewards to those who follow the path of righteousness: “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. The righteousness of the blameless will direct his way aright, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the unfaithful will be caught by their lust” (Proverbs 11:4-6).
What is righteousness?
Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Obviously, then, righteousness doesn’t mean that someone must be perfect. So, if we are to put on the breastplate of righteousness as an important part of our armour, what are we to do?
Notice the account of Abraham as it is recorded in Romans 4: “He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness’” (Romans 4:20-22).
Abraham began with an unwavering belief (faith) that God would do what He said. But he didn’t stop at a simple belief. Abraham based his actions in life on that faith in God!
Hebrews 11 gives a further account of the relationship between Abraham’s faith and his actions: “By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would afterwards receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise” (Hebrews 11:8-9).
We also have a very clear statement of what righteousness is in the book of Psalms: “My tongue shall speak of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness” (Psalm 119:172). Abraham backed up his faith with obedience to the commands he received from God.
We also have a very clear statement of what righteousness is in the book of Psalms: “My tongue shall speak of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness” (Psalm 119:172). God’s commands are righteousness, and if we follow them, it will be “accounted for righteousness,” as it was for Abraham.
Another example of righteousness
It isn’t surprising that Abraham was listed in the Bible as an example of righteousness. His faith and willingness to obey God in whatever he was commanded are well documented. Let’s look at another man who was called righteous in the Bible—whose righteousness isn’t obvious at first glance. Let’s consider Abraham’s nephew Lot, who is listed as another righteous man.
Lot’s story is recorded in Genesis 19. He lived with his family in a city named Sodom—one of the cities later destroyed by God for the great wickedness that took place there. In the first part of the chapter, two angels (appearing in the form of men) came to visit Lot. He fed them and gave them a night’s lodging in his house (Genesis 19:1-3). When men of the city came to the house and demanded that he send the men out to them to be sexually abused, Lot actually offered to send his daughters out instead!
The angels struck the men of the city blind to protect Lot and told him he needed to take his family and flee the city immediately. Lot initially lingered, but when the angels took him by the hand and told him to flee without looking back, he did so (Genesis 19:4-16).
How is it that Lot came to be called a righteous man? Notice 2 Peter 2:6-7: “And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterwards would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed with the filthy conduct of the wicked.”
Though Lot had his shortcomings and human failings (as we all do!), God considered him to be a righteous man. Verse 8 sheds a little more light on why he was righteous: “For that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds.”
Rather than adopting the sinful ways of those around him, Lot continued to obey God and was deeply disturbed by the lawlessness and sin going on around him. And when God commanded him to flee the city at a moment’s notice, leaving behind his life as he knew it, Lot did so without looking back. His obedience to God’s commands and his desire to follow God’s way of life made Lot a righteous man. And that “breastplate of righteousness” saved Lot from destruction!
How do we put on this breastplate?
God’s commandments are righteousness (Psalm 119:172), and we can put on this breastplate by obeying God in our lives. How can we begin such a large task?
There is an ancient proverb that says the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In a similar way, the journey to put on the breastplate of righteousness begins with a single choice. Life involves a series of choices; and we can work on this one day at a time, choosing, with God’s help, to make our next choice a righteous one.
Notice again Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
Every action begins with a thought, and our thoughts need to be brought in line with God’s words and commands. Correct (righteous) choices in life flow from a mind dwelling on God’s Word. The time to start this process is now!
What will your next choice be?