We read about the “armor of God” in Ephesians 6:10-18 with the breastplate of righteousness mentioned in verse 13:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
It shouldn’t surprise us that soldiers need to wear a breastplate going into a battle. This type of weaponry protects vital organs, secured by a belt, which we discussed in an earlier article.
What did a Roman breastplate look like? Certainly not the same as a bulletproof vest that soldiers wear now. Although this type of armor couldn’t deflect bullets (an invention that wouldn’t be weaponized in its earliest forms until the 1300s), they did protect a soldier from swinging swords and arrows on the battlefield.
Depending on the time period in Rome, a soldier would wear a different type of breastplate. In earlier Roman times, it looked like metal, adhering to the shape of the soldier’s body. Later on, it looked more like chain mail and leather, with more flexibility and coverage than the earlier breastplates.
No matter which type of breastplate Paul is referring to in the armor of God passage, he recognizes the important need to have our spiritual vitals covered in righteousness.
Righteousness, which is the perfect holiness of Christ, comes from God alone. Righteousness is to be right in God’s eyes. In essence, perfect living. To flee from the snares of temptation and sin Satan has set up and to follow God’s plan for our lives.
Like all other pieces of the armor of God, they can only come from our Savior. We cannot somehow create the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, or the helmet of salvation, from our own volition.
What Is the Breastplate of Righteousness in the Bible?
Like a Roman breastplate, this breastplate protects our vital organs spiritually. Whenever we enter the battlefield, Satan will attempt to pierce our most vulnerable areas. Therefore, God arms us with the breastplate of righteousness to prevent Satan from delivering a fatal blow.
This righteousness, God’s holiness and perfection, comes to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross. Because Jesus takes our place by living the life we should have lived and dying the death we deserved to die, he offers a covering of righteousness to block out the devil’s attacks on our hearts and souls.
Although issued at the time a sinner repents, the passage in Ephesians intends to encourage us to put on the armor regularly, not as just a one-time deal. But wait, you may say, I thought once we were saved, we’re always saved?
Yes, but righteousness doesn’t mean saying a prayer once and then going on with our lives as though nothing has changed. Justification comes through a one-time commitment to Christ. Sanctification, the act of God shaping us to become more like him, happens over a lifetime.
The Breastplate Focuses on the Process of Sanctification
Righteousness entails making a choice to regularly engage with Scripture and spend time with God. Therefore, when we encounter temptations and doubts on the battlefield, we come fully equipped to combat them, with the armor of God.
When we continually put on the breastplate of righteousness, we secure it with the belt of truth, to keep the breastplate in place. The belt of truth comes from God. We learn about Truth himself, and ignore the half-truths of this world that come from Satan.
Once we have the breastplate of righteousness in place, we can combat the snares Satan has set up for us that attempt to veers us away from the path of right living in God’s eyes.
How Do We Use the Breastplate of Righteousness?
When we use the breastplate of righteousness, we must first come to accept that righteousness doesn’t come from good works (Isaiah 64:6). It doesn’t matter how often we attend church, how much community service we do, or how often we read the Bible. If we don’t walk the path God has set before us to walk, our “good works” have no value.
That being said, once saved, God does give us the Holy Spirit to steer us in the way of righteousness, away from sin.
We use this breastplate of righteousness by:
1. Turning to God when we Face Temptation
James 4:7 calls us to submit ourselves to God. If we resist the devil, he will flee from us. Whenever we encounter temptation, we need to turn to God.
2. Guarding our Hearts against the Devil’s Schemes
The breastplate protects our heart, our most vital organ. In a Christian understanding, it’s the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). Satan is the wellspring of death. If we put on the breastplate of righteousness, we avoid the blows that will lead to spiritual death, that come from sin.
3. Avoiding What May Ensnare Us (Matthew 5:30)
We know what can trigger the sins we personally deal with. Maybe it’s a certain place, a certain group of people, a certain activity. No matter what the case, we need to avoid, if possible, anything that can entice us to sin.
Sometimes this may make us the odd man out, killjoy, or loser, but we have our spiritual walk at stake. Better to avoid something that can pull us away from God than to compromise our spiritual safety.
What Does Jesus Say about Righteousness?
Since righteousness comes from Jesus alone, he had some things to say about the subject while here on earth.
Jesus says the following about righteousness:
We should seek righteousness (Matthew 6:33). We should pursue it. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we should actively want a transformed, sanctified life.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). Those who want to pursue God and want to pursue righteous lives will find such lives through him.
Where Else Is Breastplate/Righteousness Imagery Used in the Bible?
Paul actually uses the breastplate to describe other virtues: the breastplate of faith and love (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Faith and love are also crucial elements in the walk of a Christian. We see faith in action in our shield of faith article, and without love, our works have no meaning (1 Corinthians 13:1).
As for righteousness, the Bible has a number of symbols to represent this. Christians can easily identify the cross as one of these, as Christ gives us righteousness through his death and resurrection.
Romans 6:18 describes Christians as slaves or servants of righteousness. We used to be slaves to sin, but now serve a different master. And from the fruit of righteousness comes a tree of life (Proverbs 11:30).
The Bible makes it clear. Through righteousness, we find abundant life and joy.
A Prayer for the Protection of the Breastplate of Righteousness
Heavenly Father, no one is righteous, not one. But you have given us the gift of righteousness to follow the path you have set before us, and to avoid the snares of temptation and sin set up by the devil. Help me to pursue you today. Whenever I encounter temptation, help me to find a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13). Steer me away from situations or places which may tempt me more to sin, and when I am tempted, remind me of your goodness and that you are the way of life. No matter what these temptations may promise, they cannot promise me eternal life, joy, or love, which comes from you alone. Arm me with the breastplate of righteousness today, so I may be ready when Satan unleashes heavy torrents of blows on the battlefield. Amen.
Righteousness comes from God alone, but righteous living isn’t a one-and-done deal. We have to make a conscious commitment to ask God every day to steer us away from temptation and sin, and to guide us to be more like him every day.
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Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 600 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) Den (releasing July 2020), Dear Hero (releasing September 2020), and Dear Henchman (releasing 2021) Find out more about her here.
This article is part of our series on the Armor of God. To learn more about the meaning, context, and purpose of each piece of armor in the spiritual life of the believer, visit the articles below.