Ephesians 6:14b

Sermon preached on April 18, 2010 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

One of my aunts recently had an interesting experience. My aunt N. is 75 years old and she lives in Nova Scotia. Not long ago she was taking a little trip with her daughter. They stopped in a town to get some food at a fast food place. They got their meal and went back out to their vehicle to eat it. My aunt sat in the back seat to eat her food and I believe her daughter went back in the restaurant to get something they had forgotten. My aunt was sitting eating her French fries when suddenly multiple police cars come screeching into the parking lot and stopped on all sides of her vehicle, policemen jumped out of their cars and suddenly there were lots of policemen, on each side of her car, with their guns out of their holsters, pointing them at my aunt. They ordered her to put her hands up and to get out of the car.

She couldn't believe it. She hadn't done anything wrong. She was just eating her lunch. But of course it was all a mistake. The police were looking for a white GMC Jimmy. It had obviously been linked to some serious crime—like a bank robbery or a drug deal or something like that. So when they saw my aunt's Jimmy, they thought it was the one they were looking for.

I don't know what was going through my aunt's mind when she saw the police surrounding her with their guns pointed at her. Perhaps she was wondering if it was against the law to eat french fries on that day of the week. It was a scary situation. I would certainly be frightened if someone was pointing a loaded gun at me. I suspect that at that point the policemen even had their safety's on their guns switched to the off position. There have been too many incidents where someone didn't mean to fire a gun but the gun went off. So I think that short term, there must have been quite a bit of fear there.

But I suspect that my aunt figured that if they didn't accidentally shoot her that everything would be okay. I don't think she was afraid at all for the long term. She knew that she and her daughter hadn't done anything wrong. She knew it was a mistake and that they would certainly let her go. The truth of the matter is that she wasn't the bad guy that they were looking for. She was not guilty of breaking any laws, she was innocent, or to put it in biblical terms—she righteous and she knew it. So she wasn't really worried at all in the long term. She had righteousness on her side. She knew that the police would see that and let her go. The fact that she wasn't guilty of any crime made all the difference.

That's the kind of attitude that you Christians need. What Paul is implying here is that your enemy will often seek to deliver a fatal blow to you but if you have righteousness on your side you'll be able to stand and he will not be able to harm you. So as a Christian,

you need to put on the breastplate of righteousness.

Righteousness is absolutely indispensable to a Christian. Righteousness is the great thing that you need. It is of tremendous use to a Christian. It is something that you need for protection. Just like in ancient times the breastplate protected a soldier's vital organs, this righteousness that Paul speaks of is something that can help you stand and continue to fight even as the enemy is trying to knock you down so that he can defeat you. This righteousness can give you confidence, courage and great hope. It is exactly what you need. You need it. You need to know that you have it. You cannot stand without it.

But what exactly is the righteousness that is our breastplate?

There are three main theories about this. On the one hand, some people believe that he is referring to the righteousness that we get from Jesus Christ when we believe in Him. This is the righteousness that Christ gives us—the righteousness in justification. But many other Christians believe that the righteousness that is spoken of here is the righteousness that we exhibit in our daily walk—our righteous behavior. Both interpretations are plausible, but objections have also been raised against each of them. The third way of understanding it is that it combines the first two. I believe that is the best way of understanding it.

The main objection against understanding the breastplate of righteousness as referring to our own righteousness, the righteousness that we show in our daily living, is that fact that it is it is a poor defense because our righteousness always falls short. On its own, it is utterly inadequate when dealing with the attacks of Satan. No matter how good a Christian is, his righteousness falls far short of what it should be. As the prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 64:6,

"All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;"

Our own righteousness is always defective and is always tainted by sin. If we rely on that as our breastplate it is inadequate. Our enemies can always accuse us and have a basis for doing so. John Eadie wrote, (Ephesians, p. 468)

"What Christian can boast of entire rectitude, or use as his defense what Turner unhappily calls, 'his own righteousness'—nil conscire sibi, nulla pallescere culpa?"

Translation: "to have a clear conscience and not pale at any charge?"

None of us will be able to effectively defend ourselves if we look to our own righteousness. Charles Hodge says, (Ephesians p. 383)

"this is not protection. It cannot resist the accusations of conscience, the whispers of despondency, the power of temptation, much less the severity of the law, or the assaults of Satan."

Furthermore, in Philippians 3:8–9, when the apostle Paul told us what he boasted in, it was not his own righteousness, but the righteousness that he received by faith from God. He wrote,

"What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith."

So many commentators believe that the breastplate of righteousness cannot be in any way a righteousness of our own that we exhibit, that it must be the righteousness of Christ, the righteousness that we get in justification.

But we should not totally discount the idea that there is something of our own righteousness in Paul's reference. In 2 Timothy 4:7–8 Paul used his personal attainments, (that were through God's grace) as a source of confidence because it showed that God's grace had indeed worked greatly in him. He wrote,

"I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith.
Now there is in store for me
the crown of righteousness,
which the Lord, the righteous Judge,
will award to me on that day—

and not only to me, but also to all
who have longed for his appearing."

We see the same teaching in 1 John, where John told Christians that there were certain 'tests of life' that showed that they were in the faith. Many of these related to how they lived, to their personal righteousness. For example, in 1 John 2:3, he wrote,

"We know that we have come to know him
if we obey his commands."

Then in 1 John 3:14 John said,

"We know that we have passed from death to life,
because we love our brothers."

And in 1 John 3:9 we read, (ESV)

"No one born of God makes a practice of sinning,
for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning
because he has been born of God."

So we see that some of our confidence can and should come from the effects of the Spirit in our life. As the apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:13,

"We know that we live in him and he in us,
because he has given us of his Spirit."

So the best solution seems to be to understand the breastplate of righteousness to consist of both the imputed righteousness of Christ, and the righteousness that we exhibit as a result of the Spirit's work in us. After all, the ancient Roman breastplate had two parts. Charles Hodge describes it as, (p. 383)

"armor covering the body from the neck to the thighs, consisting of two parts, one covering the front and the other the back."

Thus it protected the Roman soldier from both frontal and rear attacks. In the same way, if you have both of the kinds of righteousness that we can get from Christ—the righteousness of Christ and a righteous life, that is a great protection against our enemy and can protect us on all sides from differing kinds of attacks.

This means two things by way of application.

First, it means that

you should have a good understanding of the doctrine of justification.

Martin Luther made a famous statement that a proper understanding of the biblical doctrine of justification was,

"the standing or falling article of the church."

The understanding and personal application of this doctrine could also be seen as the key thing which determines whether an individual Christian will stand or fall when confronted with the guilt of his sin by Satan.

Many people today are very good at ignoring the guilt of sin. But it has a nasty habit of confronting us when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable. If you don't deal with it effectively it can lead to depression, despair or utter hopelessness.

For example, the noted poet and hymn writer William Cowper, died on April 25th, 1800 in what was described as '
unutterable despair'. (Banner of Truth, September 1971. p. 26)

How could a Christian die like that? How could he fail so miserably? It seems that he never applied the doctrine of justification to himself when he should have. The guilt of his sins overwhelmed him. He forgot what Jesus had done for him. Instead of dying with full confidence in his Savior, he died as one who had no hope. For a Christian such should never be.

John Owen tells us that justification has great implications for us, for how we live, for how we respond to the attacks of Satan. He wrote that justification is,

"the proper relief of the conscience of a sinner pressed and perplexed with a sense of the guilt of sin. For justification is the way and means whereby such a person doeth obtain acceptance before God, with a right and title unto a heavenly inheritance."

Martin Luther wrote, (What Luther says: an anthology, Volume 2, p. 718)

"The article of justification must be learned diligently. It alone can support us in the face of these countless offenses and can console us in all temptations and persecutions."

The doctrine of justification tells us that we are loved and accepted by God and that rather than being mired in despair and hopelessness—we should be rejoicing at having our sins forgiven and having a righteous status before God.

Christian, do you have a good understanding of justification? Is 2 Corinthians 5:21 close to your heart?

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us,
so that in him we might become
the righteousness of God."

When you believed in Jesus, your sins were completely forgiven. Jesus died for your sins when He died on the cross. He paid the full penalty for them. They are gone, washed away forever. Not only, that but Christ's obedience, His keeping of the law perfectly, His righteousness—was imputed to you. As a consequence, you have been declared righteous by God. Your standing before God is one of absolute and perfect righteousness. That's because you have the righteousness of Jesus Christ. It was this righteousness that Paul boasted about. God justifies us. As we read in Romans 8:33,

"Who will bring any charge
against those whom God has chosen?
It is God who justifies."

This righteousness comes to us by faith. It's a free gift. We don't earn it or show ourselves worthy of it—God gives it to us freely. Paul tells us about that in Romans 4:3. He wrote,

"Abraham believed God,
and it was credited to him as righteousness."

Martin Luther would most likely have died the same way as William Cowper did except that he grasped this doctrine of justification and held it close to his heart.

Learn and know the doctrine of justification. Memorize question 34 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism and its summary of the Biblical teaching of justification.

"Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and receive by faith alone."

John Stott writes, (God's New Society, p. 278-279)

"Certainly no spiritual protection is greater than a righteous relationship with God. To have been justified by his grace through simple faith in Christ crucified, to be clothed with a righteousness which is not one's own but Christ's to stand before God not condemned but accepted—this is an essential defense against an accusing conscience and against the slanderous attacks of the evil one, whose Hebrew name ('Satan') means 'adversary' and whose Greek title (diabolos' 'devil') means 'slanderer'.

But if we are in Christ Satan can't accuse. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:1–4

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus,
because through Christ Jesus
the law of the Spirit of life set me free
from the law of sin and death.
For what the law was powerless to do
in that it was weakened by the sinful nature,
God did by sending his own Son
in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
And so he condemned sin in sinful man,
in order that the righteous requirements
of the law might be fully met in us,
who do not live according to the sinful nature
but according to the Spirit."

John Eadie writes, (Ephesians, p. 468)

"But when the justifying righteousness of Christ is assumed as a breastplate by sinners, they can defy the assaults of the tempter. To every insinuation that they are so vile, guilty, worthless and perverse—so beset with sin and under such wrath that God will repulse them—they oppose the free and perfect righteousness of their Redeemer, which is 'upon them.' Romans 3:22. So that the dart thrown at them only rings against such a cuirass, and falls blunted to the ground."

What we have in Christ is a perfect righteousness. It comes to us from God on the basis of the perfect obedience and sufferings of the Son of God. It satisfies all the demands of the law. This is our sure defense against all the assaults of the enemy.

E.K. Simpson, (Ephesians p. 147)

"Now the Epistle to the Romans settles the question what it is that inspires the Christian trooper with inextinguishable confidence and unblenching fortitude. His impenetrable mail consists of a righteousness enthroned at God's right hand in the person of His well-beloved Son, absolutely flawless, the very 'righteousness which God's righteousness requires Him to require' (Cunningham)…"

The second thing that putting on the breastplate of righteousness means is that

you need to strive to be holy.

The doctrine of justification won't help you at all unless you know that you have believed in Jesus, unless you know that your sins are forgiven, unless you know that Christ's righteousness is yours. But a Christian should be able to apply this truth to himself. The verses I quoted from 1 John show that there are certain 'tests of life' that show whether we are indeed among those that Jesus has redeemed. Paul fought the good fight. He kept the faith. He knew there was a crown of righteousness laid up for him.

Thus the two kinds of righteousness make up the breastplate of truth. You can't have one without the other. As Sinclair Ferguson writes, (Let's Study Ephesians, p. 181)

"We are now the recipients of an irrevocable justification (or righteousness) in Christ, which in turns leads to a growth in righteousness in ourselves."

Having these two kinds of righteousness is a strong and impenetrable defense. G.G. Findlay says, (Quoted from Stott, God's New Society, p. 279)

"The completeness of pardon for past offence, and the integrity of character that belong to the justified life, are woven together into an impenetrable mail."

E.K. Simpson, (p. 147)

"His own godliness and integrity, the radical change wrought within him which implanted a sanctified principle inseparably linked with justification, interwoven with the moral texture of his being, unquestionably yields its serenity to his spirit; but his capital confidence lies in his Captain's victory, the basis and pledge of his own. Self-reliance in any shape would constitute no bulwark for his soul and but ill withstand hostile missiles; it would crinkle or warp in the hour of peril. The Lord our Righteousness must be our trusty munition, our sevenfold Shield and Buckler which no sword-thrust can pierce, our impregnable Rampart and Buttress which no volleys of the pit can batter or raze (Isa. 59:17)."

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, you should recognize that

if you don't have Jesus, you don't have any real righteousness.

You are like the wedding party crasher that Jesus spoke about in Matthew 22:11–13. The King came to the wedding, and,

"when the king came in to see the guests,
he noticed a man there
who was not wearing wedding clothes.
'Friend,' he asked,
'how did you get in here
without wedding clothes?'
The man was speechless.
Then the king told the attendants,
'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside,
into the darkness,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." '

You need Jesus. You need His righteousness. Without it you'll be lost. Go to Him today.