In the Apostle Paul’s day, this piece of armour was designed to protect the heart and lungs or ‘vital organs’ of the Roman soldier. Initially made of leather and strengthened with pieces of horn sewn in, the breastplate was improved over time. Later more sophisticated versions were manufactured from metals such as copper and were highly polished with elaborate designs on the visible frontal segment.
What then does the Apostle Paul mean when he talks about believers protecting themselves with the ‘breastplate of righteousness’?
The answer to this question lies in the holy nature of the Living God, a characteristic which some believers find hard to understand.
Blogger Tim Challies has recently attempted to clarify the issue: “Holiness is a difficult term to define. Most Christians know that a dimension of holiness is God’s set-apartness, his being essentially different from everyone and everything else, but there is far more to it than that…… If holiness is very near the heart of what it means for God to be God, it would make sense that it will be difficult for finite minds to understand and to distil to just a few words.
What does it mean that God is holy? Entire books would not come close to exhausting it. It means that God is different from everything else that exists in the universe. God is unique and set apart. Everything God is, everything God has, everything God does is saturated with holiness and flows out of his holiness. He is pure and good and perfect in all his works and all his ways. God’s goodness is good because he is holy; God’s justice is just because he is holy. Whatever God is, his holiness is right at the very heart.”The great theologian Charles Ryrie wrote, “…holiness in the Bible means separation from all that is common or unclean. In respect to God, holiness means not only that He is separate from all that is unclean and evil but also that He is positively pure and thus distinct from all others”.
This fact alone, abundantly clear in the Bible, places all human beings in a quandary: we are separated from God, the very source of life by something which we cannot fix by our own efforts…our sinfulness.
Today many people continue to put their faith in their own righteous deeds. Jesus however was very clear that self-righteousness cut no ice with His Father:
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
As every born again believer knows, God sacrificed His Son on a cross for their sin, and because of this every true believer is righteous in the sight of God. They stand justified and free of condemnation. This is God’s great gift to all who believe.Blogger Dele Oke explains two key aspects of righteousness: “Firstly, it is imputed to us: this means something we are given free of charge without effort. This gives us the right to stand before God and speak to him as if we were sinless. Secondly righteousness is imparted into us: this means something that Christ works in us and with our cooperation. This grants us the inner strength to live and conduct ourselves in a manner that is pleasing to God.”
Despite the challenging spiritual environment of 21st century Scotland, God still wants His people to live holy lives, not walking in sin or compromising their faith.
This means being properly equipped inside and out with the power of Christ by wearing the breastplate of righteousness 24/7.