Consumers are confronted by many marketing schemes, or perhaps some are scams? One that was popular a few years ago during the rebate craze was the “price after rebate”, which sounded fine until you tried to read and fulfill the rebate instructions that seemed impossible to comply with! Another such method was/is the “lifetime guarantee” from companies that are small and that no one has ever heard of. However, true Christianity is not a marketing scheme. Consider Christ’s message to people (Luke 13:3, 5, 24; 14:27; 16:13; 18:22). Such teaching makes it clear that Jesus was not seeking to manipulate people into following him.
Our subject in this series of articles is spiritual warfare. We focus on the armor or spiritual protection that the Lord Jesus Christ has provided for us. The apostle Paul uses the illustration of an ancient soldier’s armor to represent the spiritual blessings that we have in and through Christ. When we are strong in the Lord and his mighty power and by faith rely on what we have “in him”, we are fully protected against any attack of the enemy. Now let us think about the spiritual blessing we have in “the breastplate of righteousness”.
First, let’s unpack the picture of the breastplate. It was vital in battle long ago. In the close combat action of the ancient world (consider scenes from a movie like Gladiator), the breastplate was especially important. It had two parts (the front and the back) and protected the soldier’s heart, lungs and other vital organs. Without this piece of the armor, the soldier was very vulnerable to every sword, spear or dagger thrust and to arrows and other debris of battle. While not impenetrable, it offered him at least some means of making it through hand to hand fights alive. The armor that Christ gives his people is much better than the armor in the illustration.
Second, we need to remove a misconception. At least since the time of John Bunyan and his Pilgrim’s Progress (and I recommend the book), a teaching has been circulating through the Christian church that “the armor is only for the front. The Christian has no armor for the front, so you must face the enemy.” That teaching is partially incorrect. Certainly, we ought to confront the enemy. “Stand!” But the point of confronting the enemy was taken from the wrong idea. Both the breastplate and the helmet protected the front and the back (and the sides) of the ancient soldier. We are still protected, thank God, if our spiritual enemies slip up behind us, or if we fall flat on our faces! Having put on the armor of God, we are very safe throughout all the special emergencies of spiritual battle.
Third, I offer some thoughts to help us understand this spiritual grace. Like the other pieces of armor, some try to interpret this righteousness as the believer’s own achievements in practical sanctification (that is, growth in grace, 2 Peter 3:18). I can certainly understand their concerns, for the pursuit of holiness and godliness is not optional, as the New Testament Scriptures constantly stress. The imputed righteousness of Christ is not a license to sin, as some wrongly teach (Jude 3-4). In fact, union with Christ demands a godly way of life (Romans 6). In a time of growing rebellion against God, we must stand for righteous and holy conduct. However, the evil surrounding us must not lead us to misuse any text of Scripture. For reasons mentioned in previous blog posts, “righteousness” must the imputed or credited righteousness of Christ. Anything else turns the armor of God into our armor, and offers little, if any, protection against spiritual attacks. Only the proud or the ignorant assume that they have progressed in growth in grace to the point where their own holiness protects them. Yes, the Holy Spirit produces conformity to Christ. Yes, that way of life glorifies God. But where in the Bible does he ever tell us to trust in ourselves and our works of righteousness? No, the Spirit of God does not.
Instead, let us think about the gracious provision of the righteousness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This righteousness, which is ours through faith in Christ, is God’s righteousness. It comes from him and fully meets his approval. By it we are right with God—justified (which means, declared right)! We have peace with God (Romans 5:1), are saved from God’s righteous wrath (Romans 5:10), and reconciled to God (Romans 5:10). Being in Christ Jesus, we can never be condemned (Romans 8:1) or separated from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). The righteousness that comes from God and that is by faith (Philippians 3:9) is what the Spirit of God through the apostle urges us to put on. “It is an infinitely perfect righteousness, consisting in the obedience and sufferings of the Son of God, which satisfies all the demands of the divine law and justice…” (Hodge). It is this kind of breastplate that can protect us who follow Christ against the devil’s schemes. Christ’s righteousness is our true joy and confidence in spiritual warfare. Thank God for this far beyond your ability to imagine perfect armor.
Grace and peace, David