“Having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” (Eph. 6:14).
The breastplate was a standard part of a soldier’s armor at the time that Paul wrote this letter. It had to be of such material, and so constructed, that swords and arrows could not penetrate it. It was fastened over the chest of the warrior in order to protect his heart.
If the breastplate were sufficiently strong so that the weapons of the enemy could not destroy it, the heart would be protected. The soldier could then have hopes of surviving the battle, even if he might otherwise have many and serious wounds. A person can live without an arm or a foot; he could even get along without his eyesight; but he cannot live without a heart. When the point of the sword has reached the heart, life hangs over the grave by a very thin thread.
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When Paul tries to picture a part of the Christian’s equipment under the figure of a breastplate, we can draw the conclusion that this is the most important part of the whole armor. The breastplate of righteousness is just that.
There are plenty of enemies; they are all united in their attacks upon the Christian. When God announces to us that there is a breastplate that is strong enough to protect us against the strongest blows and the sharpest arrows, it must be life’s most important duty and privilege to put on this part of the armor.
Many Christians are asking for a power sufficient to insure victory; there is no dearth of good advice as to how one may obtain this power either. However, when this advice is followed the result is usually a disastrous defeat for the Christian. Then he just stands there, disconcerted and frightened, precisely at the time that he was supposed to be so courageous and strong. We know well enough that power for victory lies ready for us; we are to be more than conquerors through Him that loved us. The question for us is how to be clothed in this power so that we by faith in the Word may advance against the enemy and win. The teaching of the text we have before us is that this power is the breastplate of righteousness.
This is a strange figure; how can a defensive article of an armor like the breastplate represent power? We can see how it protects the soldier, but we are not able to see power under the figure of a breastplate. At least it does not express the warrior’s power. It must be a power of God then.
What is this power of God?
It is the garment of Christ’s righteousness which He acquired for us when He died for our sins and rose again for our justification. It is the righteousness of God by faith in Christ for all and to all who believe. It is this, that he who has no works, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned unto him for righteousness. It is this that He was made sin for us, so that we in Him might be made just before God.
“But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation.” “For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.”
These are some of the teachings of the Word of God about the breastplate of righteousness. But it is also one of the mysteries of the gospel that so many fail to see.
There are times when all the powers of evil seem to surge against the Christian. The very air seems to be full of devils, that almost chokes him to death spiritually. What is worse is that not only is he tempted to sin, but he actually sins. He is sometimes frivolous, as though there were no God; at other times he is melancholy, as though God were dead. He makes untrue statements and cutting remarks; many such like things he does. Where shall he then turn to get courage and to retain peace with God?
This is the great question to which so many are seeking an answer. The secret is this: With all your heart you are to cling to the comfort God gives, namely that in the midst of all this, just as you are, while your soul resembles hell more than it resembles heaven, you are still a child of God. Yes, it is just wretches such as you who find their comfort in Christ alone; only such as to stand before God as pure as though they had never sinned.
This is the breastplate.
“But,” you say, “Is not this the same as to sin on grace?”
Yes, it is so if we are not girded with truth. But if we are honest before God, this is precisely what it is to be a Christian.
Where else shall we go? Where else shall we get help? If we cannot hide in His pavilion in the time of trouble, and if we cannot be in the secret of His tabernacle, then we are in the battle without the breastplate of righteousness.
Is it not precisely doubt concerning this great salvation that makes us weak and powerless warriors?
We continue to struggle along to become respectable Christians; we try to be sober, and do our best to be zealous in our prayer life. As we think we succeed in this we begin to believe that we are fair Christians; we then entertain faint hopes that perhaps the Lord is beginning to be pleased with us. But such reasoning is to take off the breastplate in the heat of the battle and to put it on again after the battle is over.
Can we ever hope to win in that fashion?
No, Christians! We must think more highly of our Savior than that. If we do not, we shall find that He becomes too small for us in the battle. If we could only believe that He can save to the uttermost, and that all that He has is ours, then we could sing:
And were the world with devils filled. All seeking to devour us, Our hearts to fear we need not yield, They cannot overpower us; Their dreaded prince no more Can harm us as of yore; His rage we can endure; For lo! his doom is sure, A word shall overthrow him.
This story is told about Martin Luther: He sat one day at his desk in the study. Satan came to him and placed an index of Luther’s sins on the wall. When Luther had read the whole list, and had agreed that it was essentially correct, he wrote these words on the bottom of the page: The blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses from all sin. When he had thus written, both the devil and the index had disappeared.
Luther wore the breastplate of righteousness. Every one who sees that the grace of Christ is greater than all wickedness in him, has a breastplate strong enough to stop all the darts of the devil. If we hold fast to the divine comfort that Christ is our righteousness before God, that the blood of His Son cleanses from all sin, then none of the devil’s arrows can reach our heart. In the midst of the battle we can be courageous and glad, because it is Christ, and not we ourselves, who determines the outcome of the battle.
In myself I am unworthy If God were to look upon me. My piety, walk, and conduct, Would all worthless be. But always in Christ I am righteous, For if I have failed, yet never Has Christ failed; He is my Savior.
Who will lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies.
The one who goes into the battle with this breastplate cannot lose. He will win just as surely as he wears the girdle of truth.
“But thanks be to God Who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”