“and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,” (Eph. 6:14b)
I think the word “righteous” carries a lot of baggage. Majority of the time, it’s used in one of two ways:
- To talk in a negative way about someone. That someone is usually the type of person who is “never wrong” and is very judgmental of others.
- A religious word that we kind of understand, but couldn’t really explain
Oh, right. And the third way:
- For surfers: “righteous waves, man.”
Let’s redefine “righteousness.”
Isaiah 59:17 promised a savior who would “put on righteousness as his breastplate.” Jesus lived a perfect life of righteousness for us. He was perfect, sinless, and right in the eyes of God. We are not righteous on our own, but we can trust Jesus’s righteousness: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
His life qualifies us for Heaven and justifies us right now.
When Jesus died on the cross, he put our sin on himself (he became sin for us) and took the death we deserved. He then handed his perfect life to us. He gave us his righteousness. For free!
So, his righteous life was given to us—through nothing that we did to earn it—and now his life qualifies us for Heaven. His life—not our nice life of church attendance and nursery volunteering. True righteousness can only come from the life of Jesus.
What is Justification?
We can understand this truth, but sometimes it’s hard to understand what it means that we are justified right now.
Have you ever been late and had a really good reason why you were late? You of course shared that with whomever might have been mad that you were late: your parents, boss, coach, or teacher, right? This is an example of us trying to justify—make right—what we did wrong. We should not have been late, and lateness usually incurs a punishment, but we always feel better when we are able to justify why we were late and hopefully avoid a punishment.
To justify is to make right, or declare innocent. People are justified in a court when there is evidence that proves that they are innocent. You are justified when your reason for being late was a good enough reason that you were proven innocent in the situation. And we are spiritually justified—declared right and innocent in the eyes of God—by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Because of Jesus, we are declared righteous for all of eternity, but we are also justified right now. Knowing we are justified is what can keep us from spiraling into a pit of guilt and shame when we discover what we are capable of in our sin.
We are reminded of this truth in Romans 8: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:33-34).
What this is saying is, if you had to be taken to court over your sin, you would be immediately dismissed because you wouldn’t have a case against you. Not one single piece of evidence. You are innocent. No one can bring a charge against you. Who can condemn? No one. God is the judge and he has justified you. People cannot justify you—you cannot justify yourself. It is God who justifies and he says you are innocent. Why? Because Jesus paid the price for your sins and now you get to go free.
So stop trying to pay the price for your sins. Stop holding onto guilt. When you hold onto guilt you are looking at Jesus as he hangs on the cross saying, “Sorry, God. Thanks for the nice gesture and everything but that’s just not enough to cover my sin.”
And your justification means people can say you’re guilty, they can misunderstand you, and they can say all sorts of terrible things about you and you don’t have to utter a word to fight back. They’re just plain wrong. And you don’t need to justify yourself to other people because the only one who justifies is God and he says you’re righteous in his eyes.
Do you still need to acknowledge your sin and repent? Absolutely. But your sin doesn’t get the final say. Jesus’s life, death and resurrection do. And they say you’re justified.
Satan can try any one of his schemes, but nothing can penetrate the righteousness that Christ gave us as he died on the cross. Satan thought he had won as Jesus died, but he was quickly defeated three days later when Jesus rose from the dead and defeated the throes of death. No mistake we make or sin we fall into can change our righteous standing before God.
Putting on the Breastplate of Righteousness
So how does this connect to the breastplate of righteousness? The breastplate is what protects the vital organs—but particularly the heart. The Bible speaks a lot about our hearts:
“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” (Matthew 12:34-35)
“And the Lord said: ‘Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me,’ ” (Isaiah 29:13).
“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9-10).
According to scripture, our heart determines our standing with God. Either it is hardened and in the darkness of sin, or it brings forth belief that leads to justification.
Let’s focus on that last verse in Romans 10: “For with the heart one believes and is justified.” We wear a breastplate of righteousness because it is with our heart that we believe and are justified. When we confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead, we receive the gift of salvation.
It is in our hearts that salvation bursts forth and it is Jesus’s righteousness and justification that continues to protect our hearts so that we continue in our salvation.
It is not our own “righteous” or “good” deeds that keeps our salvation.
We see this when Paul zealously writes to the Galatians: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected bythe flesh?” (Galatians 3:3).
As we’ve learned, we received righteousness and justification from Jesus. If we received it through no works of our own, we must continue to trust in Christ to guard our hearts rather than trusting in our own works to continue to be righteous in God’s eyes.
We trust in Christ’s righteousness when we don’t try to do more good things to impress God. We trust in Christ’s righteousness when we don’t live to please other people. We trust in Christ’s righteousness when we don’t add rules or laws to follow in order to be a Christian. We trust in Christ’s righteousness when we aren’t riddled with guilt and shame. We trust in Christ’s righteousness when we repent of our sin.
We put on the breastplate of righteousness to protect our hearts so that we may continue to trust in the perfect life of Jesus and walk in full confidence of our salvation.