THE BRESTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

EPHESIANS 6:14

 

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            Did you hear about the young soldier who was experiencing his first battle?  The frightened recruit inched his way backward, and backward and finally just turned and ran.  He had gone quite a ways when he was abruptly stopped by an officer. The officer was pointing a revolver at the man's head.  He threatened to execute the soldier if he took another step.  The soldier pleaded with the officer, "Oh, please Captain, don't shoot me; please give me another chance to prove myself."  The officer felt compassion for the young man and agreed, "All right, private, but take a closer look; I am not a captain. I'm a colonel."  The young soldier looked at the officer and apologized, "I'm sorry, Colonel, I guess I didn't realize how far from the front line I had run."

            Have you ever been on the front line?  Thankfully, most of us have never had to fight in an actual war.  Every day of our lives, though, we are engaged in a war.  It is a a spiritual war, a war of hope vs. despair, a war of love vs. hatred,  a war of right vs. wrong.  The Apostle Paul put it this way ...

 

            Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, stand firm.

 

            Paul knew what it was like to be on the front line.  Indeed, he was under arrest when he wrote to the believers at Ephesus.  His own words were that he was an "ambassador in chains."  He says that he was shipwrecked, stoned, beaten and left for dead all because he was preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And yet, in spite of all this, he writes a message to the Ephesians that is upbeat and positive and honest about the challenges we face as followers of Christ.

            Today we turn to the third message in our sermon series on the armor of God.  Last Sunday we looked at the first piece of armor Paul wants us to wear as we battle the forces of evil in heavenly places, the belt of truth.  Today we turn to the second piece of armor we are to put on, the breastplate of righteousness.  Note verse fourteen.

 

            Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.

 

            Last Sunday we noted that the Apostle Paul had a Roman soldier in mind when he wrote this section of Ephesians, probably the Roman soldier guarding him while Paul was in prison.  And our tech-savvy Rose, included a picture for us of what that Roman soldier guarding Paul probably looked like.  Note his belt, and we looked at that last week.  That was the first piece of armor a Roman soldier would put on, followed by a breastplate. 

            Now, two quick questions.  First, what is a breastplate?  No, it’s not something you order at KFC.  It was something worn into battle, the precursor to a bullet-proof vest, and Roman soldiers had different kinds of breastplates depending upon where they served.  Some soldiers wore a very heavy linen garment covered with the hooves of an animal which they would slice thinly and then they would hang them, hooking them to the linen and together to protect one’s stomach and chest.  If you were a part of the Roman elite, however, you wore what we have here.  This type of breastplate was worn by Roman Legion soldiers, particularly in the Praetorian or Palace guard.  The breastplate went from neck to waist and protected one’s torso.  What Rose found for us online is particularly accurate as the entire breastplate consisted of curved pieces of armor that one fastened with leather in the back.  It gave one the sense of an armadillo shell.  It reminds me of the scene in the movie Batman with the Batmobile where Batman said, “Shields,” and these strips of metal, probably titanium, slipped into place.

            Second, question: what is righteousness?  Webster defines it as “acting in accord with divine or moral law.”  Wow, that’s a pretty good definition, and I never knew Webster was so spiritual.  Once again, according to Webster it is “acting in accord with divine or moral law.”

            And in the Bible we see two types of righteousness.  One is “imputed” righteousness and the other is “imparted” righteousness.  Imputed righteousness comes to us as a gift from God.  It is not earned.  From the moment we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, God sees us as righteous.  We may not feel that way, we may not feel particularly righteous or act particularly righteous, but God sees us that way.  It’s sort of like a grandparent who thinks his or her grandchildren are the best grandchildren in the world.  They may not be, but that’s how a grandparent sees them.  Well, God sees us as holy and righteous because when we accepted Christ we were immediately blessed with the righteousness of Christ.  It’s the righteousness we get because of Christ’s sacrifice.  In fact, do you mind taking a little journey with me to Rome?  Turn with me in your pew bible to Romans chapter three, verse twenty-one on page 916 of your pew bible.  Listen to Paul describe imputed righteousness.

 

            But now, apart from the law (that is apart from something we could earn or do on our own), the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

 

            If you are a Christian, you are righteous, at least in God’s eyes.  It’s comes as a gift from Jesus Christ and it is not something we earned.  We get it through our faith in Christ.

            That’s imputed righteousness.  Then there is another type of righteousness discussed in the bible and it’s type of righteousness that Paul talks about here when he tells us to put on the breastplate of righteousness.  This is imparted righteousness.  We are to put it on, we are to wear it on a daily basis.  In other words, we have the righteousness God has already placed in us because of what Christ did for us, and now it’s time to activate it.  Now, it’s time to use it.  It’s like a new credit card we get in the mail.  We have the card in our hands, but we have to call an 800 number and activate it.  That’s imparted righteousness.  We have to impart what has been given to us. 

            For an example of imparted righteousness, turn with me to Ephesians chapter four, verse 22, on page 951 of your pew bible.  Do you have that in front of you?  Our Roman’s passage was an example of imputed righteousness, and here we have an example of imparted righteousness.  Listen to what Paul has to say about imparted righteousness.

 

            You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self (in other words put on righteousness), created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

 

            Let’s sum up.  Imputed: God gives us righteousness through Christ.  Imparted: We are to put on that righteousness.  We are to use it.  It’s already there, it’s already installed, we just need to use it.  We just need to put it on.

            OK, two bits of application and then we are done for the day.  And by the way, has this been too deep?  Is it clear?  Do you need to visit with your neighbor for a minute to help each other understand before we continue?  I want to make sure we get it.  It’s not like you say “tomato” and I say “to-mah-to.”  There actually is a big difference between imparted and imputed righteousness.  So do you need more time?  No?  OK, let’s move on.

            The breastplate of righteousness protects a couple of vital organs: one’s lungs and one’s heart, and for our purposes this morning I want to say something about our lungs and the spiritual implications the breastplate of righteousness has on them.  Our lungs connect us to our environment in a very specific way.  When we breathe in we breathe in the world around us.  Now, I grew up in Southern California, in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and the air quality was often poor.  They have done a lot of things to improve the air quality since I was a boy, but they still have a ways to go, and as a child we would have smog alerts.  If there was a smog alert, we were not allowed to go outside at recess and play because the air quality was so bad.  And I recall my uncle having to move out of Los Angeles for his health.  He had a heart condition and the air quality constricted his blood vessels, as if he were a smoker.  His doctor told him breathing in LA air would shorten his life, so he moved down to San Diego, which had better air quality.

            What we breath in spiritually can have a negative affect on us as well.  If we continue to place ourselves, or if we simply have to live in a negative, unwholesome environment - we don’t have the freedom to move out like my uncle did to San Diego -we can’t help but breath the air.  So we need to make sure we put on the breastplate of righteousness to protect our spiritual lungs.  We need to activate the righteousness of Christ, which has been installed in us, so we can go into those environments and come out with no ill effects.  When Jesus walked this earth, where did he go?  He went into the secular world, hung out with shady characters, at least in the eyes of the spiritual elite, and his righteousness worked 100% of the time.  If we remember to put on the breastplate of righteousness every day, if we remember to put on the new self - this is how I’m goint to act, this is who I’m going to be today - then we can go into a room of gossipers and not gossip.  We can be wronged and turn the other cheek.  We can make sure the sun does not go down on our anger.  We can hang out with questionable characters and not become questionable ourselves.  But we have to put on the breastplate of righteousness, we need to activate it, or the air we breath in the world around us will become us.

            Then one other thing in terms of application: the breastplate was a heavy, uncomfortable piece of armor, even with a tunic underneath it.  It would rub against the flesh, and putting on the breastplate of righteousness today rubs against the flesh.  It rubs against the way we have been living, and we are tempted to take it off, but over time we will get used to it.

            It’s difficult to believe, but I played football in high school.  Why?  I went out for the football team not because I liked to play football, but I noticed that the football players got the best looking girls.  If the tennis team got the best looking girls, I would have tried my hand at tennis, but they didn’t so I want out for football.  And let me tell you, the first time I put on the pads, especially the shoulder pads and the helmet, it felt like I could hardly walk, let alone run. It felt like I was running in sand, and those pads seemed so heavy, so constrictive, but over time, especially by my senior year in high school, I hardly noticed them.  I got used to them.  It wasn’t so heavy, so constricting.

            You get the point.  At first, activating the breastplate of righteousness will feel uncomfortable.  It will rub against the fleshy way we have been living.  It will weigh us down, but over time, as we learn to put on the new life and refrain from the old stuff, we will get accustomed to it.  It will be like our second skin.