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The Armor of God. The Breastplate of Righteousness

THE ARMOR OF GOD. THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

By Ted Schroder

August 8, 2004

DuPont Company manufactures Kevlar, a bullet-proof material used in bullet-resistant vests. It is rated to stop most 9 mm or .357 caliber bullets. On their website they claim that personal body armor saves lives. And the people whose lives have been saved have powerful stories to tell. Their stories are listed on the DuPont Kevlar Survivors’ Club. More than 2,800 law enforcement and corrections officers have survived potentially fatal or disabling injuries because they were wearing their personal body armor. In 1987 the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and DuPont formed a partnership club whose goals are:

* To reduce death and disability by encouraging increased wearing of personal body armor.
* To recognize and honor those who, because of wearing body armor, survived life-threatening or life-disabling incidents.
* To serve the law enforcement community by collecting and sharing this important information.

The wearing of a vest often means the difference between life and death. Injuries to our armed forces in Iraq have been reduced by the wearing of body armor. Injuries to our spirit, soul and body would be reduced by the wearing of, what St. Paul calls, “the breastplate of righteousness.”

“Stand firm then … with the breastplate of righteousness in place.” (Ephesians 6:14)

The breastplate worn by the Roman soldier covered the upper part of the body from the base of the neck to the thighs: the thorax and the abdomen. Like a bullet-proof vest it protected the essential organs of the body: the heart and the lungs, the kidneys, liver and intestinal system.

People in premodern times often believed that these organs were the seat of the feelings and the affections, the conscience, the desires, and the will. Splagchna is the Greek word for the viscera: the heart, the lungs, the liver and the intestines. The Greeks held these to be the center of the emotions, especially of anger, of anxiety, of fear, and even of love. So then in classical Greek the splagchna means the inner parts of man, which are the seat of the deepest emotions. The verb formed from this word means to be moved with compassion and affection – the emotion which moves a person from the depths of his being. In the King James Version of the Bible it is translated as “bowels”, e.g. “I long after you in all the bowels of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:8), or “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies.” (Colossians 3:12) In the NIV it is translated “affection” and “compassion” respectively.

St. Paul is asserting that our inner emotions need to be protected from potentially disabling or lethal attacks. Most of us have either experienced such attacks ourselves or have seen the effects of those attacks on people we know. The world is full of people who have become disabled emotionally through being the victims of abuse. They did not know how to protect themselves, and as a result have become casualties, emotional basket-cases. Instead of being healthy and whole people who can enjoy relating to others they are fearful, timid, and phobic, living very restricted lives. Or, at the other extreme they have so hardened themselves against vulnerability that they ride rough-shod over others, and leave behind them a multitude of bruised and wounded sensitivities.

The breastplate of which St. Paul speaks, is meant to give a general sense of security and confidence as we enter the marketplace of life. Most of us are aware of how vulnerable we are to being emotionally wounded by the attacks of others or the circumstances of life. The breastplate is meant to protect our conscience, our feelings, our affections, our desires, and our wills. How does it do that?

St. Paul explains how it works from his own experience. He contrasts how he formerly protected himself, with how he protects himself as a Christian believer. His former confidence, was in the flesh – i.e. his self-confidence, or his self-righteousness. You could say that he used to wear the breastplate of self-righteousness.

“If anyone else thinks that he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: [look at my pedigree, my family background, education, religious training, professional qualifications and attainments, my track record, my citations for meritorious service, etc.] But what was to my profit I now consider a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:4-9)

Peterson puts it this way: “I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ – God’s righteousness.”

St. Paul found, that religious, and successful as he was, he had, over the years, constructed a straight-jacket of self righteousness. Scott Peck in The People of the Lie, calls such people evil. He says that they project their evil onto others through scapegoating. They feel themselves to be faultless, and that all the evil in the world is the fault of others.

“As life often threatens their image of perfection, they are often busily engaged in hating and destroying that life – usually in the name of righteousness… Utterly dedicated to preserving their self-image of perfection, they are unceasingly engaged in the effort to maintain the appearance of moral purity. They worry about this a great deal. They are acutely sensitive to social norms and what others might think of them… The words ‘image,’ ‘appearance,’ and ‘outwardly,’ are crucial.. they intensely desire to appear good. Their ‘goodness’ is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie… They cannot or will not tolerate the pain of self-reproach. The decorum with which they lead their lives is maintained as a mirror in which they see themselves reflected righteously.”

Peck says that such people hide from themselves. “We see the smile which hides the hatred, the smooth and oily manner that masks the fury, the velvet glove that covers the fist.”

One of the places such people are most likely to be found is within the church. I will never forget meeting with a prominent lady in one of my former congregations who was always charming to me in public, always smiling, and apparently happy. But in a private meeting she tore into me, accusing me of all sorts of ridiculous behavior and motivations. I was stunned by unexpectedness and the ferocity of her attack. Looking back on it I could see how demonic it was. She was a terribly unhappy woman who was looking for a scapegoat for her own problems.

Peck writes that, “the evil hate the light – the light of goodness that shows them up, the light of scrutiny that exposes them, the light of truth that penetrates their deception.” Apparently the Holy Spirit, through some biblical teaching I had been doing, had convicted her of her condition, but the devil persuaded her that I was the problem.

Peck maintains that healthy adults submit themselves, one way or another, to something higher than themselves, be it God, or truth, or love, or some other ideal – they have a conscience and they follow it. The people of the lie are those who have a strong will, are determined to have their own way, and need to control others. They refuse to submit to anything outside of themselves.

Once I was summoned to a meeting with a former church member who asked me, “You don’t think that you have come here to teach us anything, do you?” In his arrogance and unteachable spirit he thought that he did not need to learn anything from my ministry of the Word, and that, to the contrary, I needed to submit myself to his direction. Scott Peck calls this attitude, “malignant narcissism.” St. Paul calls it “confidence in the flesh.” It is a straight-jacket of self-righteousness.

If we want to stand in the battle of life, and protect our inner life, we cannot trust in our own righteousness, our own good works, our own pedigree, our own family name, our own success, our own moral goodness, or our own attempts at justifying ourselves in the eyes of God. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)

We are sinners, and because of that vulnerable to the attacks of the forces of evil. We are vulnerable to being condemned by our guilty consciences, being swept away by our wounded feelings and affections, being trapped by our excessive desires, being slaves to our weak self-centered wills. If we rely on these things we are lost, because we trust in ourselves as our own savior.

The only way we can stand confidently before God is by being clothed in the righteousness of Christ. We put on the breastplate of righteousness when we, by faith, accept that Christ took our sins upon himself, and replaces our sins with his righteousness. God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us. Christ puts to my account in his ledger, imputes to me, the righteousness of His Son. He clothes me with it. So God sees only the righteousness of His Son covering me, clothing me completely. That is the beginning, what makes me acceptable in God’s sight.

After imputing to me Christ’s righteousness, he imparts to me, as I live into that standing before God, the righteous character of Christ. Sometimes that is called infused righteousness. It is comparable to a blood transfusion, where the blood from one person is put into the circulation and the blood of another. As Christ’s righteous character becomes more and more a part of us, we grow stronger and more confident in the face of conflict in our lives.

When we put on the breastplate of righteousness in this way, and suffer an assault on our conscience, our feelings, our desires, and our values, and we experience depression, sadness and injury, we call upon the righteousness, the purity, the love of Christ to protect us. Nothing else can. Nothing else can stop the bullet of temptation to defend ourselves, to retaliate, to strike back, and to despair. But by putting on the breastplate of the righteousness of Christ we are safe. We can then join the survivors’ club, and have a powerful story to tell to the world, which desperately needs to hear it.

END

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