Remember that we are at war. We cannot afford to forget the fight, or to become lazy, apathetic, or complacent. All around us spiritual battles are raging as the enemy seeks to disable us in our pursuit of pleasing God and to derail our work to proclaim the good news that Christ has come to set the prisoners free. This war has eternal ramifications. We are fighting to honor our King, to defend His truth, to advance His Kingdom, and to rescue captives. If we falter and fail we dishonor the One who bought us with His blood!
As we continue to look at each individual piece of armor that has been given to us by God in Christ, we now move to the second piece, the breastplate of righteousness. Remember from last week that the belt was foundational for the Roman soldier’s armor. The breastplate, and helmet were fastened to the belt, and the sheath for the sword was also attached within easy reach. Just as we learned about the belt of truth, so now we see that the breastplate is crucial for defense.
For the Roman soldier the breastplate was made of think layers of leather and fabric, or for higher ranking men, it was made of molded metal. It offered protection against swords, spears, and arrows. It protected the body from the neck to the waist, covering the chest and stomach as it protected vital organs like the heart, lungs, liver, and intestines. If anything got through the armor a wound to this section of the body could be devastatingly fatal at worst, or it could cause severe and disabling injury, removing the soldier from action.
For the believer, the breastplate is a breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness is a term that expresses rightness. In relation to God, to be righteous is to be holy. It is to be in a right state in our relationship with Him. So we see that to hunger and thirst after righteousness is to desire to be right with God.
Specifically to Scripture, there are three kinds of righteousness. There is imputed righteousness, imparted righteousness, and un-righteousness.
To compare the first two, we see that imputed righteousness is a right standing with God that is given to us, it is imputed. It is not our own righteousness. It is not righteous acts that we do. It is the righteousness of Christ that is given to us freely by grace as we are saved.
Christ lived a perfect and sinless life in obedience to the will and Word of God. When He died on the cross as our substitute taking our sin and its penalty upon Himself, there was a great exchange. He took from us that which kept us from a holy God, and He gave to us that which gives us access to a holy God. He took our sin and gave us His righteousness, His own obedience and right standing with God. When that righteousness was imputed to us and we were counted righteous, when we were justified by faith in Christ, God looked at us and saw Christ’s perfection.
Imparted righteousness is righteousness that results from our obedience to the Word of God. God has made us a new creation. He says in His Word that we are a new man created in righteousness and holiness. He even tells us that He has prepared good works for us by grace so that we might walk in them. From the Word of God we are sanctified, that is made more and more like Christ. And as we grow in this grace we learn to do what is right for the right reasons. These works, imparted to us and accomplished through us by the Spirit are pleasing to God.
Think of it this way – imputed righteousness refers to our position in Our Lord and imparted righteousness refers to our practice in our life. One speaks of who and what we are in Jesus. The other speaks of how we live as a result of who we are. We see then that imputed righteousness is necessary for imparted righteousness.
Our right standing with God motivates us and gives us the ability and power to do what is right. This is practical righteousness – practicing, that is doing over and over again, what is right in God’s sight. In order to do these good works we have to be obedient to principles of righteousness. We have to know the difference between good and evil, between that which pleases God and that which displeases Him.
Imputed righteousness opens the door for imparted righteousness, which in turn motivates us to apply principles of practical righteousness and results in our being obedient and therefore holy. Do we remember on a daily basis that God commands us to be holy? (1 Peter 1:15-16).
Holiness is easy, right? I mean, if we study the Scriptures we learn that God has given us everything that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:2-4). So why is holiness so hard?
Holiness is difficult because when we look at what God’s Word says, it tells us just how many people without God are holy. Who is righteous without Christ?
There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one. – Romans 3:10-12 (quoting Psalm 14:2-3).
We see then that Christ alone is righteous. All that we have to offer outside of Christ is disgustingly evil and wicked (Isaiah 64:6). We might think that we can accomplish good things without God, and we may attribute good things to men and women who do not know Christ. But the truth is that without Christ we have nothing righteous to offer or to do. Even the good that we attempt for all the “right reasons” are but iniquity, sins of the self will, tainted by sin, and unholy.
We have looked at imputed righteousness and imparted righteousness, but what about the third type, that which is unrighteous?
Unrighteousness is wickedness, evil, and sin. We all know this unrighteousness when we see it, or at least we should. But sometimes unrighteousness disguises itself. At times it presents itself as self-righteousness, that form of righteousness that we have on our own without Christ. It may look good on the outside. It may look like we are doing what is right, being obedient to God. But when our heart is wrong, our attitude is selfish, and our motivation is driven by lust for the praise of men, then we see that the righteousness we have on our own is actually the complete lack of righteousness. It is the opposite of what it right.
When it comes to righteousness there are three kinds of people: Pharisees, Phonies, and Peculiar People.
The Pharisees were self righteous. They had no fear of men or God. All that mattered was that they were good and right and respected and looked up to and envied by others. It is a self serving code of works built upon the notion that we can work our way to heaven, pleasing God by all that we do and sacrifice for Him.
The Phonies are those who have a false righteousness. It is powerless morality based on the fear of men or on a desire to please God on our own terms. These are phony because they have an outward form of godliness but deny the very power that imputes and imparts righteousness to us.
The Peculiar People are those who fear God and have had Christ’s righteousness given to them. The have imputed righteousness and so are right with God and they see imparted righteousness working its way out in their daily lives as they seek to please and glorify God in all they do. They are peculiar because they are holy. They are separate from the world, they are different, they are full of power and joy and all the fruit of the spirit.
Do we desire to be right with God? Do we know the difference between the different kinds of righteousness? Are we trusting in Christ to save us as He gives us His righteousness, or are we foolish enough to think that we can be good enough on our own to please a holy God?
We have the breastplate of righteousness. Do we use it?
Links for Further Study (links to study each daily topic in more detail if you have the desire and the time)