“Stand therefore… having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:14).
Christians must walk daily in the awareness that we are in a spiritual battle. And being in a battle means we need to be properly equipped.
We might get the wrong lesson, for instance, from the account of David’s interaction with King Saul, in which David decided not to wear Saul’s armor in order to fight Goliath. The lesson is not that we don’t need armor or protection when we are fighting faith’s battle; rather, the lesson is that we need to wear the right kind of armor. Goliath was almost 10 feet tall, wielded a 14-foot spear with a spearhead that weighed 15 pounds, and was wearing 125 pounds of torso armor. But our enemy, Paul reminds us in Ephesians, is even stronger… and is invisible!
Ours is not a physical battle over physical assets. Ours is a spiritual battle for spiritual success. Clearly, this is what matters most. Souls matter more than gold, and God’s glory matters more than national boundaries.
Recognizing the magnitude of what is at stake, then, Paul says to be sure to arm yourself for this daily spiritual warfare. And a vital part of arming oneself is putting on “righteousness.” This includes both personal righteousness and imputed righteousness.
The fact that the breastplate protects vital organs should remind us that we are in mortal combat! The writer of Proverbs, therefore, does not exaggerate the issue when he writes, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). As Christians, we must be concerned to live lives that are righteous, that are above reproach and avoiding temptation. As William Hendriksen helpfully puts it:
Before setting out to do battle with as formidable a foe as the devil and all his host, one may well ask the question: “Do I really want to fight him at all?”… [but] the second question is: “Am I living the kind of life that enables me to engage in this conflict?”
We will be useless in the Kingdom conflict if our lives are not submitted to the King Himself. We must make every effort to reflect the perfect character of Jesus and the superior pleasures of His service as we represent Jesus to the world.
Guarding our hearts with this kind of alertness and vigor will require a personal and continual examination for sin in our lives. We should be—with God’s Word and our Christian friends—like Oliver Cromwell with his self-portrait. It is reported that Cromwell gave this instruction to the one painting his portrait:
I desire you would use all you skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it.
Even as we submit our lives to the examination of Scripture, and of others, we must remember that self-righteousness is a sin itself, which can sneak under our armor if we are not careful. The goal is good works that glorify our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, not that merely make us look or feel good in front of others. Which also leads us to the necessity of imputed righteousness.
To “impute” means to give over the responsibility and/or credit for an action or characteristic. Christians are trusting in the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, given over to us because He took our place on the Cross.
Central to the armor of God is trust in the work of God, not ourselves. (Titus 3:5; Matthew 5:20; Romans 3:22, 25-26; 10:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21). In fact, trusting in Christ’s righteousness on our behalf is inseparable from personal righteousness because “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23) and “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Hebrews 11:6). There are no personal works of righteousness apart from faith in Jesus’ righteousness!
The only good or God-pleasing works that will ever be done will be done by those who are trusting in the sufficiency of Christ’s work on their behalf. Every other endeavor is just another act of rebellion, another attempt to find value in and of ourselves.
True righteousness is grounded in grace and overflows by grace into every area of our hearts and lives. So, Christian, put on righteousness today by faith.