“Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,” (Ephesians 6:13-14).
The second piece of armor we must put on is the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate of the Roman soldiers generally consisted of bronze with a leather backing, and was designed to protect the vital organ of the heart. Bronze in the Bible symbolizes judgment, and leather comes from an animal hide – the covering God made for Adam and Eve after their sin. Likewise, our spiritual breastplate of righteousness is also multi-layered.
For one thing, righteousness is a gift from God (Romans 5:17), imputed to those who believe through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22). We became righteous the moment we believed and received salvation, and it influences the way we behave. This is opposite the world’s philosophy that doing right (or ‘good’) things makes one righteous (or ‘good’). As Paul explained to the Philippians (3:4-9), he had been religiously righteous and politically correct, but he considered his past achievements, as well as any present accomplishments, as “rubbish in order to gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” In other words, we who believe in Christ’s work of redemption on Calvary on our behalf have been declared “righteous” (that is, “not guilty”) before the Judge of the universe, and we now have a right (holy) relationship with Him.
Furthermore, as Romans 10:10 states, it is “with the heart man believes unto righteousness”. This righteousness of God is positioned as a breastplate to protect our heart (emotions) from fear, anxiety, etc., because our salvation is secure. There is no longer any condemnation, because we are “not guilty”; and we are “free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1,2). The outer layer of bronze, usually symbolic of judgment, has instead become our protection!
But that’s just part of the breastplate. Now we are to “put on the new man, which in the likeness of God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24) This is an ongoing process, and as we yield to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, He makes us more like Jesus and He imparts to us the power and ability to do those good works which God has ordained for us (Ephesians 2:10). These works then produce a righteous, godly lifestyle, which is contrary to our old nature. Therefore, as Paul admonishes: “consider yourselves to be dead to sin,… and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but (present) your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:11,13) The Greek word for “instruments” can also be translated as “weapons” or “armor”. This sacrifice of our former nature, our old ‘animalistic’ ways, then provides the covering of leather in our breastplate.
But how do we give ourselves unto God in righteousness? It isn’t enough to just do the right things; we also must have the right attitude and motivation. Paul defines this in 1st Thessalonians 5:8 when he says to put “on the breastplate of faith and love”. Faith is the right attitude because, as Hebrews 11:6 says: “without faith it is impossible to please” God; and in Romans 9:30-32, Paul explains that righteousness is attained by faith, not through the law or works. He also details in 1st Corinthians 13 how sacrificial, self-less love is the only perfect, complete and lasting motivation for believers.
There’s one more consideration about our spiritual breastplate. Romans 13:12,14 equates putting on our armor with the command to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”, and we can see this parallel regarding righteousness as well. Through the prophet Jeremiah (23:6) God declares that one of the names of Jesus is, “The Lord our righteousness”, and in 2nd Corinthians 5:21 Paul explains that Christ became “sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus took God’s judgment against us (the bronze layer) when He substituted and sacrificed His own flesh (the leather covering) in our place. Thus, Jesus Christ Himself is our breastplate of righteousness!
But our righteousness is also a gift which we received from Jesus at salvation – “For He has clothed me with garments of salvation; He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10) – and it is also the resulting right attitude, motivation, and works that we practice while on earth. Still, the best is yet to come, for as Revelation 19:8 promises, we, as the bride of Christ, will “be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white, for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints.” While we’ll continue to have a covering of righteousness in heaven, it will no longer be in the form of armor!