We must Stand as those who have put on
the Breastplate of Righteousness
Text: Ephesians 6:14b
Sermon by Rev. Alan Camarigg
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington, 2003
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 19, No. 3
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Congregation, beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Let’s suppose, for a moment, that we were drafted into the United States Marine Corps. I trust that we would be willing to honor that call to duty. But that doesn’t mean that we would throw all caution to the wind. We would, without question, accept with gratitude any piece of equipment issued to us that is designed for our protection. In fact, can you imagine your relief if a vest were issued to you which has been demonstrated, beyond all question, to protect the one wearing it from all harm — that it has been demonstrated beyond all question that the enemy does not have a single weapon capable of penetrating this vest and inflicting a mortal wound! That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it! We wouldn’t be careless as we go into battle, of course, but knowing that the vest we have put on is impenetrable would certainly give us a great deal of confidence and boldness as we enter into battle.
And I trust that the point I’m driving at here is clear to all of you by now. We are engaged in a spiritual struggle that is a matter of life and death, but, amazingly and to our inexpressible relief, God has issued a piece of armor that is, in fact, impenetrable! What is this piece of armor? It is the breastplate of righteousness. Now perhaps there are those who are a bit skeptical about the claim that this breastplate is impenetrable. Is that really the case? Is that, perhaps, a bit of an overstatement? What about those times that we feel as though we’ve been wounded in this spiritual battle? And perhaps more significantly, what about those who professed to be true Christians who were mortally wounded: fell away from Christ and His church and were never recovered? It would appear, at first glance, that this breastplate is not without its weaknesses. But I would argue that the person who, in the end, falls away and perishes is someone who was never in possession of this breastplate to start with.
It cannot and does not fail even if we may feel slightly wounded at times. Yes, our enemy may still wound us, but if we really understand this breastplate and how it functions, then we understand that he can no longer inflict a mortal wound. The wound is not to death. It is not fatal. We will not perish as a result of that wound, but recover and go on to serve as soldiers of Christ in this spiritual warfare.
With that in mind, I proclaim the Word of God to you today which reminds us that “We must stand as those who have put on the breastplate of righteousness.”
1. What causes us to fall?
2. How are we protected?
3. Is your armor in place?
It is quite obvious to us that the breastplate, as a piece of defensive equipment, covers the vital organs. In fact, the word in the Greek is “qwraka,” which is related to our word thorax. But our task, this morning, is to think of the breastplate, and the vital organs it protects, from a spiritual point of view. What are the spiritual “vital organs” that are protected by the breastplate? Martin Lloyd Jones, who was a doctor before becoming a minister, notes that the vital organs were viewed, in ancient times, as the centers or seat of the emotions and affections. This is certainly true. The Bible sometimes speaks, for example, of the “bowels of mercy.” And we can certainly understand these expressions. Isn’t it true that our emotions sometimes grab us right in the pit of our stomach? To this very day we say that our heart aches for those who are going through a really tough time. On this basis, he concludes that the breastplate is designed to protect such things as our emotions, feeling, affections and conscience.
Now at first, we may question the soundness of this approach to the breastplate of righteousness, but the more we think about it, the more we realize that Martin Lloyd Jones was right on target. As a matter of fact, the emotions, feelings and affection play a major role in our lives. The apostle Paul knew this, and so does the devil. And that doesn’t mean, of course, that emotions, affections and feelings should play no part in our lives as Christians. They certainly should. In fact, there is something quite wrong with our spiritual life if it is completely devoid of all emotional response. Every single one of us should know what it’s like to be filled with sorrow and penitential tears on account of our sin; but also the inexpressible joy of sins forgiven and washed away. Every one of us should know, from experience, the deep and abiding happiness that comes from knowing that we belong to Christ; and that our Father in heaven truly loves us.
But emotions and feelings can also be very misleading; and, of course, the devil knows this. What is one of the greatest problems in the evangelical world today? I would submit to you that one of the greatest problems in the evangelical world today is that people are setting the course for their spiritual lives on the basis of their feelings and emotions. And then, of course, in addition to our emotions, we must deal with our conscience. As Martin Lloyd Jones notes, one of the greatest difficulties in life for all of us is living with our conscience. It is always there, and it is always speaking to us. And, of course, the devil knows this too; and one of his most lethal schemes is to attack us in our conscience. In fact, we might summarize the work of the devil this way: that a large percentage of the devil’s attacks upon us as Christians are designed, in one way or another, to make us think or feel that we are lost and without hope — that we have sinned so deeply and so repeatedly against God that He has abandoned us. He loves nothing more than to make us wonder if we were ever Christians at all, and to confuse clear thinking, in this regard, with a storm of emotions and feelings!
And it is precisely against this assault upon our conscience, our feelings, affections and emotions that we must be protected by the breastplate of righteousness. Now that may seem rather self-evident to us, but it raises a most important and critical question, namely, what is this breastplate of righteousness? It is at this point that we can very easily veer off in the wrong direction. There are those who suggest that this breastplate of righteousness consists of our own integrity — that what we must do, in order to protect ourselves against the devil’s attack, is develop, cultivate and strengthen our own righteousness so that when the devil lays siege to our emotions and feelings and conscience, we can resist him. When he comes to us with the accusations that we are much too sinful to stand in God’s presence, we can respond by saying, “Oh, but look at my life. I’ve changed! I’m living a much more sanctified life than I did ten years ago. I’ve stopped doing some of the sinful things that I used to do, and now I go to church faithfully, and I’m making a point of reading the Bible more faithfully and praying every day.” And supposedly, this will protect us from the devil’s attacks.
But we must object most strenuously to this position — not that we have anything against integrity. Sanctification is certainly an important and essential part of our Christian life, but it cannot be the breastplate of righteousness that Paul speaks of here. Our own integrity, as important as it is and essential to the Christian life, is of very little value when we come face to face with the devil. Man’s integrity, notes Martin Lloyd Jones, is at its best as wax before the devil. Just think, for a moment, of your own life. How successful would you be in standing firm against the devil’s accusations in your conscience on the basis of your own works and righteousness? Would you be able to say to the devil with all confidence and certainty, “Satan, there is absolutely no basis in truth to what you say about me. I’ve never done any of the things that you accuse me of! I’m innocent of all the charges you bring against me. Look at my life. Look at how carefully and perfectly I keep the commandments of God. Now, go your way, and trouble someone else.”
We all know that if we try to resist the devil in this way, we will fall flat on our faces. And yet, isn’t it true that it’s precisely on this point that we so often fall. It’s been noted that we Christians often go through life carrying “inordinate burdens” because we tend to rely too much upon our own righteousness. Far too often, we’re trying to deal with the accusations of our consciences with our weak and feeble attempts to fix our lives, to put them in better repair, to clean and tidy things up a little. But all such efforts are, in the end, useless. If we build our defense against his accusations on the basis of our own works, we are building our defense on sinking sand. The devil will always be able to examine our own righteousness, and to shoot it full of holes, sending us into an emotional tailspin!
And we must be alert to the fact that the devil can do this so very subtly. We know, when we think it through carefully, that we can’t depend on our own righteousness in order to be right with God. And we would never say that we are depending on our own righteousness in order to be right with God. But do we ever stop to think that when the devil has us pinned down with one accusation after another (accusations that are true), that we have stumbled for the very reason that we are evaluating our standing with God on the basis of our performance? We are allowing the devil to say, “Look, you’ve failed. You haven’t kept the law. You haven’t lived a perfect life; and for this reason, you can’t possibly expect to enjoy God’s favor or blessing.” And we stumble — we are sometimes deeply wounded — because we listen to it. It is imperative then, that we understand just what Paul had in mind when he spoke of this breastplate of righteousness by which alone our vital organs are protected from the devil’s assault.
What we realize, as we think about the devil’s schemes and tactics, is that the breastplate of righteousness that protects our “vital organs” spiritually, must be a breastplate that is impenetrable. It must be a righteousness that is absolutely perfect, a righteousness that cannot fail at any point. There cannot be a single point in this suit of armor that is vulnerable when struck with one of the devil’s fiery darts of accusation. And where do we obtain such a breastplate as this? By now, of course, you realize that we’re talking about the righteousness of our Savior Jesus Christ which is imputed to us. And perhaps the first thing that needs to be emphasized here is that we, as Christians, already have this breastplate. It’s not as though we, as Christians, have to go scrambling for this breastplate now that we realize our need of it. We already have it. All that is needed for us is to realize that we do have it; and then understand how it protects us so that we can appropriate that protection the next time we come under the devil’s attack.
We begin then, with a brief examination of the breastplate that God Himself has prepared and given to us. This breastplate is indeed precious to us. What we’re talking about is the sinless perfection of our Savior. He never sinned! There was never in His heart even so much as a single thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments! But His righteousness consists of more than the mere absence of sin. It is also, positively, the presence of perfect obedience to the law. Jesus obeyed every commandment of God perfectly. He fulfilled the whole law. And it is this perfect righteousness of Christ that God has given to you as the breastplate for our protection; and what you must do now, is think of that sinless perfection and perfect obedience of Christ as wrapped about you like a breastplate locked securely in place to protect your vital organs.
Do you not sense, even as you think about it in those terms, the immense security and protection this breastplate of righteousness affords you? As you mentally examine this breastplate, which is the perfect righteousness of Christ, ask yourself the question: where is the weak spot in this armor? Where would the devil cast his fiery dart at this breastplate, and actually succeed in piercing it? Can you think of one? Is there any point in the righteousness of Jesus Christ that is vulnerable — that will not withstand the devil’s accusations? Do you see it, the glorious — the wondrous — the joyous security of this breastplate that God has prepared for you? It is absolutely impenetrable! There is no accusation that can stand when it comes to the righteousness of Jesus Christ — not one fiery dart that can penetrate; and remember now — His righteousness has been given to you as your own!
It is the effectiveness of this breastplate that is being highlighted by Paul near the end of Romans 8 when he writes, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” And listen carefully to what he says next, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” Beloved, what you’ve just heard is the active, effective defense of this breastplate of righteousness! Who can bring a charge against you while you’re wearing it? Who will be able to condemn you? No one — not even the devil. Not even he can bring a charge against you that will succeed in condemning. Even if his fiery darts are tipped with the poison of your own sin, he cannot succeed in condemning you because all your sin has been taken away by Christ on the cross; and he cannot fault your righteousness because it, being that imputed righteousness of Christ, is absolutely perfect!
What a marvelous — what a glorious protection this breastplate is to us! “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress; ’Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head. Bold shall I stand in Thy great day; for who aught to my charge shall lay? Fully through Thee absolved am I, From sin and fear, from guilt and shame. O let the dead now hear Thy voice; Now bid Thy banished ones rejoice; Their beauty this, their glorious dress, Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness.” Here, beloved, is the great secret to success in spiritual battle which has been taught and learned by every succeeding generation of Christians, namely, that it is not upon our feelings that we can depend, for feelings are sinking sand. Today we may feel very close to God. Today we may feel like we are saved. Today we may feel as if God’s favor rests upon us. But if our defense rests upon feelings alone, tomorrow they may very well be gone. The devil may gather the dark clouds of accusation which drive those feeling far from us; and then what is left but fear and dread. Nothing but the blood and righteousness of Christ — that alone our defense must be!
When the devil says, “You’ve sinned — you’re condemned — your situation is entirely hopeless — surely God has given you up to hell,” it is with the breastplate of righteousness that we stand. We say in faith, “You are absolutely right. I have sinned; and I am ashamed of it. I have offended my God many times and grievously. My heart most surely testifies to this. I cannot deny it; and I am, as far as it goes with me, worthy of everlasting destruction. But you see, my status before God does not depend on me or my works. It depends wholly and entirely on the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, My Savior. He is my Redeemer. He has promised that He will never drive away, and that all sin shall be washed away save blasphemy against His Spirit. My status before God is based, therefore, on His righteousness, and against that righteousness, Satan, you cannot speak a word!” That, and nothing less, is the benefit we enjoy having put on the breastplate of righteousness!
Beloved, have you put on the breastplate of righteousness? We have to be careful, of course, that we don’t leave the impression that it is entirely up to us to put on this breastplate of righteousness. In fact, it is God Himself who fits us with this breastplate. It is He alone who fashioned it, for it is God alone who sent His Son into this world for the purpose of bearing our sin and fulfilling the law for us. And it is God who has brought us to life spiritually and justified us through the blood and righteousness of His Son. It’s interesting that Paul uses the aorist form of this verb, “having put on” to indicate a simple action that has taken place. And so we understand that God has done this. He has fitted us with the breastplate of righteousness. But Paul also used the middle voice which, in turn, emphasizes our participation in putting on this armor.
But what can that possibly mean since it is ultimately God who puts the armor on us? The answer, I believe, is that once God has fitted us with this breastplate and made us aware of the fact that we are in possession of it, that we are then obligated to make every effort to employ it. Are you and I doing that? Are we putting on the breastplate of righteousness or are we still trying to defend ourselves against the devil’s accusations with our own works? Are you relying utterly upon the Son of God and His perfect righteousness, or trying to base your confidence on the shaky foundation of feelings and emotions? “But how do I do that,” you ask? “How do I put on this breastplate of righteousness? How do I advance in my use of this breastplate that God has given to me?” In answer to that question, I would say, first of all, that we humbly avail ourselves of the preaching of God’s Word; and, in particular, the pointed preaching of His law.
That may seem like a strange approach, but I’m thinking here of Lord’s Day 44. Do you remember, boys and girls, why the law of God must be preached so pointedly when none of us can keep it perfectly anyway? Do we do this just to make it easier for the devil to condemn us — to give him more ammunition to fire at us? Heaven forbid! On the contrary, we do this so that the longer we live, the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly seek Christ for forgiveness of sins and His righteousness. And it’s important that we don’t think here of the breastplate of righteousness being put on little bit by little bit. It’s not that Christ adds another chunk to the breastplate of righteousness each time we turn to Him more eagerly. As a matter of fact, once God has justified us through His righteousness, His righteousness is granted to us in its entirety. What changes then, is not the fullness of His righteousness granted to us, but first of all, our own awareness of our need and dependence on His righteousness and, secondly, that we actually do possess it!
And now for the crucial point — as we become aware of the fact that we are armored with the righteousness of Christ, we must avail ourselves of its benefits. What I’m speaking of right now is probably among the most crucial things that you and I will ever do when it comes to our stability and joy in the Christian life. Why is it that we so often suffer defeat from the devil when he holds all our sins before us, taunts us with them, and tells us that God is done with us, that it’s too late for us, that our sins are too awful and wicked to be forgiven? Why is it that we suffer sometimes, even for long periods of time, with spiritual depression, and fail to enjoy a deep assurance of our salvation? Is it not because we too often forget the breastplate of righteousness — that we allow the devil to fix our attention upon ourselves — our sins or our own putrid works instead of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us? And, perhaps one of the devil’s dirtiest tricks is to make us think that we’re not worthy of that righteousness of Christ! But we must not listen to him. We must listen to Christ. We must focus our faith on Him and His righteousness; and we will find, to our unspeakable comfort and relief, that the devil’s attempts to condemn us will be completely blunted and annulled!
May Christ Himself preserve us in His grace so that we don’t try to stand our ground against our enemy in our own righteousness or on the basis of how we happen to feel about our salvation on any particular day. If we do that, we’re doomed to go down in defeat. Let us stand, rather, as those who have put on the breastplate of righteousness. As one old hymn puts it, “’Twixt gleams of joy and clouds of doubt our feeling come and go; our best estate is tossed about in ceaseless ebb and flow; no mood of feelings, form of thought, is constant for a day; But Thou, O Lord, Thou changest not; the same Thou art always.” Beloved, we have marching orders. We have been called to stand against the wiles of the devil having put on the breastplate of righteousness — that righteousness of Christ by which we are utterly protected from every possible attempt of the devil to condemn us and to make us lose heart. Let us obey. Let us stand in the righteousness of Christ which is impenetrable, to serve, honor, glorify and bless our God. To His name be the glory. Amen.