August 13, 2017

Abs of Steel: The Breastplate of Righteousness (The Armor, part 2)

Before I became a Christian, I didn’t really understand what the word “righteousness” meant. You see, I associated it with the term “self-righteousness,” which of course is a bad thing. In my mind, the two terms carried the same negative connotations, and when I heard Christians talk about righteousness, it didn’t sit well with me. I felt like they were congratulating themselves, patting their own backs for being so "good."

This misconception plagued me until after I had been saved, finally being dispelled when a pastor literally defined “righteousness” during a sermon. I learned two things that day: one was the meaning of righteousness; the other was that sometimes it really is necessary to state the obvious. As it turns out, righteousness isn’t at all hard to understand. It simply means doing the right thing. Good deeds, as opposed to bad ones (patting oneself on the back falling into the latter category).

Of course, knowing a thing and doing the thing do not always go hand-in-hand. We all have a sense of right and wrong, but we don’t always do the right thing. Many times we err without thinking; accidentally. But every now and then, all of us are guilty of choosing to go ahead and do something, knowing full well that it’s the wrong thing to do. We find (or rather, invent or manufacture) some justification to excuse our actions. Actions which we would quickly condemn if committed by anyone but ourselves. Why do we do that?

Fallen human nature.

We are all prone to sin, no matter how good we try to be. When we fail, as we all do from time to time, consequences necessarily follow. Even though the results can be quite painful, we still have an unfortunate tendency to get ourselves into trouble. Sometimes our sin hurts others, but every sin we commit leaves behind a self-inflicted wound. So how in the world do we protect ourselves from… ourselves?

Enter: the Breastplate of Righteousness.

GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Roman soldiers of the early first century used only a few different types of armor. The two iconic breastplates which would have been the most common by far were lorica segmentata (standard infantry armor made of strips of metal held together by leather straps) and the muscle cuirass (or tribunal armor - for higher-ranking officers, consisting of molded brass or iron shaped to resemble a human torso). Less expensive (and less effective) scale armor and chain mail were also available. All four types completely encircle the soldier’s torso and protect the major internal organs.

See page for author [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons - ©dzain - - By fabryb13 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons,
A breastplate is an item of defense intended to protect the wearer, and it has no offensive capabilities. With regard to the spiritual significance of the Breastplate of Righteousness, it should be understood that the same is true. Symbolically, the Breastplate protects us from sin. While our sins may (and often do) affect others, the symbolic focus of this item is on our own personal struggle to avoid sinful behaviors, as well as the consequences of failure.

The human body is a fragile thing, easily harmed and all too breakable. However, certain parts of the body are more vital than others. For example, one may lose an arm or a leg and still live afterwards, but a knife through the heart almost certainly results in a swift death. All of the organs of the human torso, the mid-section of the body, are extremely fragile and of vital importance to our survival. For this reason, body armor of all types is designed specifically to protect the heart, lungs, and all of the various organs within the abdominal cavity.

Just as injury to the body weakens, disables, or kills the soldier, so too the presence of sin in our lives weakens and disables us in our spiritual battles. The heart is arguably the most important organ to be protected by a physical breastplate. Likewise, in the spiritual sense, sin corrupts our hearts and can strike fatal blows to the human soul. There is but one cure for the disease of sin, and that is to be found in salvation by faith in Jesus.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
-Romans 6:23 (NKJV)

Let’s consider death for a moment. Going to the book of Genesis, we see that God warned Adam in advance that disobedience (sin) would result in extreme consequences:

“…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
-Genesis 2:17 (NKJV)

Adam and Eve didn’t drop dead on the spot when they committed this first act of sin. This has led some to believe there is an inconsistency in the Biblical text, but there is none. Translations are always tricky business, and certain words or phrases don’t translate easily between languages. The Hebrew words translated as “surely you will die” might be more accurately translated as, “dying, you shall die,” which sounds a bit confusing in English. It does not refer to an instantaneous consequence at all, but rather to a gradual process of degradation, decay, and - eventually – actual physical death. Maybe we should translate the phrase as, "you will slowly wither away and die."

It is this gradual process of “dying” that we must understand when we discuss sin and the Breastplate of Righteousness. If you are reading this, you obviously have not died. But without a doubt, you have sinned…

“There is none righteous, no, not one…”
-Romans 3:10 (KJV)
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
-Romans 3:23 (KJV)

While physical death has not yet come to you, you surely have experienced the consequences of sin in your life. Whether the outcome is simple guilt, a broken relationship, a prison sentence, or anything in between, we do experience consequences in this life after we sin. For the Christian who sins (remember, Paul was writing to believers), one of the spiritual consequences is damage to one’s fellowship with the Lord, which can leave us feeling empty and dead inside.

Separation from God is a dire situation for anyone who has ever been in His presence. Jesus himself cried the following words from Psalm 22:1 as he hung upon the cross, experiencing total separation from God the Father as He became sin for us: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” See Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 (NKJV)

After his lust for Bathsheba led to the sins of adultery and murder, we see a repentant King David pleading desperately for the restoration of his relationship with God in Psalm 51:11. “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.” (KJV)

Psalm 88 paints a clear picture of a believer who is separated from God, and the anguish which accompanies broken fellowship with the Almighty. The consequences appear to manifest both physically and spiritually. 

Clearly, separation from God is the most painful of experiences for one who has drawn close to Him. But the pain is not without purpose. Anytime the Christian sins, God responds with chastening. The hurt that we feel is there in order to correct our behavior, turn us around (we call it repentance), and bring us ultimately back into fellowship with our Father. But if we fail to respond to God’s correction, we make ourselves subject to more immediate, often irreversible consequences – up to and including physical death.

For example, Acts 5:1-11 tells the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who both dropped dead because of lying to God. In 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, Paul makes it clear that partaking in the ritual of communion without the requisite self-examination can result in sickness and death. Paul also instructs the Church at Corinth to separate from themselves one of the believers who has been continually guilty of heinous sexual sin, and to “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (NKJV)

When we fall into sin, we experience separation from God, and that weakens us. Just as a soldier must be in good physical health to perform his duties effectively, we must be in good spiritual health in order to fulfill God’s mission and stand against the forces of evil in the world. To put a fine head on it: a wounded soldier is of little use, whether in physical or spiritual warfare. Putting on the Breastplate of Righteousness is (in part) a metaphor for controlling our own behavior, thereby protecting us from sin and its deadly consequences. It keeps us healthy, able to stand “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV)

Thus far, we have focused on the personal application of putting on the Breastplate of Righteousness – what we are supposed to do in order to be healthy, effective spiritual warriors. But our own efforts are only half of the story. God plays His part as well, as we shall see in the next post in this series.

Until then, keep your armor polished and ready.

“Depart from evil and do good…”
-Psalm 34:14 (NKJV)

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