August 15, 2017

Impenetrable: The Breastplate of Righteousness – continued (The Armor, part 3)

Just how strong is God? What are the limits of His power?

Your answer to those questions will play a huge factor in your Faith, your fellowship with God, and your everyday life. We say that God is all-powerful: omnipotent. We say that God is all-knowing: omniscient. We say that God is everywhere: omnipresent.

But do we really believe what we say we believe?

In the previous post, we examined the Breastplate of Righteousness and our role in putting it on in everyday life. But now let’s turn the discussion toward God’s part in the symbolism of the Breastplate and how our belief in God’s power affects us every day.

Like any figurative or metaphorical symbol, our understanding and personal application of the Breastplate of Righteousness depends largely upon having a proper image of the symbol fixed in our minds. For example, it is illogical to describe God as a consuming fire while using the imagery of a lake or river, or to reference Jesus as the Good Shepherd while describing the contents of the Most Holy Place in Solomon’s temple. The parts don’t fit, and such inaccurate imagery would leave one rather confused as to what the point of the lesson was and what difference it would make in one’s life.

The same is true when describing the Breastplate of Righteousness.

There is an inaccurate symbolism of the Breastplate which is commonly taught. I can’t count the number of times I have heard a preacher say, during a sermon, that the Breastplate covers only the soldier’s frontal torso, leaving the back unprotected. This is factually incorrect.

Actual Roman armor from the early first century does protect the back. In fact, the only historical examples of simple chest-only armor with no back protection (a pectorale, or heart-guard) fell out of use over a century before the time of Jesus. The audience for Paul’s letter to the Ephesians would probably not have been familiar with pectorale armor, though they would have seen contemporary lorica and cuirass armor on a daily basis.

Why is this important?

One word: symbolism.

If our righteousness was the sole symbolic factor of the Breastplate, then it would protect us no more than pectorale armor (if even that), and the symbolism based on front-only armor might be sufficient. We know that our own righteousness is far from perfect:

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
-1 John 1:8 (NKJV)
“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)

Every little sin we commit reveals chinks – weak and vulnerable spots - in our armor. In these instances, it is not because the Breastplate of Righteousness is incomplete, but because we have put it on incorrectly. We have behaved in a manner inconsistent with God’s Law, because we do not exhibit His perfect righteousness.

“He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.”

While our personal righteousness is nothing more than filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), God’s righteousness is perfect. This is not to say that our own good deeds are worthless – nay, God created us to do good works!

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)

But the point remains that our righteousness, all of our good works, kind deeds, and sacrificial love, are simply not enough to win the ultimate victory over sin. We need help, and lots of it. We should also note at this point that a Roman soldier could not put on his breastplate by himself. He, too, had to have help.

The Roman soldier had to depend upon another person to help him get into his armor, as the chest-piece would have been held together by various leather straps and buckles. Likewise, we must all assist each other in our spiritual battle against sin by helping other believers put on the Breastplate of Righteousness. We do this in various ways: confessing our faults to one another; correcting a sinning believer; forgiving the wrongs which others commit against us; restoring fellowship with a repentant believer, encouraging each other, and many, many other ways too numerous to mention.

More importantly, we have a helper who will never fail to be there for us – the Holy Spirit of God. The righteousness upon which we depend in our daily struggle against sin is not our own, nor does our help come from humans alone. Praise the Lord for that! Any righteousness which we have is truly a gift from God.

While our own righteousness might leave weak spots in our armor, God’s righteousness does not. We are not dependent upon our fallible righteousness, but upon God’s perfect righteousness. In this sense, God’s Breastplate of Righteousness protects us all-around.

So, why do so many preachers teach that the Breastplate covers only the front?

As I mentioned above, it’s mostly a matter of simply not knowing that much about Roman armor, which is an important bit of knowledge. We have to keep in mind the audience that Paul was writing for: early first century believers in Ephesus (which was part of the Roman Empire), who would see Roman soldiers daily. When Paul mentioned armor, the audience would have envisioned typical lorica or cuirass types of armor which were very familiar to them.

Why does it matter?

The teaching associated with this erroneous misconception usually states that a believer is always to face evil head-on. Yes, the Bible teaches in Ephesians 6:11 that we are to “stand against the wiles of the devil,” but this does not mean that we are to wade headfirst into situations which we would be better off to avoid.

For example, Joseph (the son of Jacob/Israel), famously fled sexual temptation when Potiphar's wife attempted to seduce him. "But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside." Genesis 39:11-12 (NKJV)

Another Joseph (the husband of Mary), who is described as a just man, was commanded to “take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him”Matthew 2:13 (NKJV). God told Joseph to get out of town, get out of the country, because evil is looking for you. God did not tell him to stay in a dangerous location. 

But let’s look at some examples which are less specific than a certain command given to one man in a particular situation…

“’And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.”
-John 10:4-6 (NKJV)

Flee sexual immorality…”

“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry…”

“But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness…”

All of these examples contradict the notion that we are to always face evil head-on. There is a time for everything, and sometimes the best thing that we can do to stand against evil is to get away from temptation or other dangerous situations that would lead us into sins we ordinarily would not commit. It is during these instances when the full, all-around, complete protection of the Breastplate of Righteousness really becomes apparent.

Just as a Roman soldier in combat might find himself cut off from the support of his battalion and completely surrounded by enemies, we will sometimes face situations where evil and temptation are all around us. God does not leave our backs exposed and unprotected. We can be confident that He will bring us through into victory, if we believe in Him.

And here we come to the first instance of overlapping symbolism in God’s Whole Armor. Our eternal victory over sin is assured, not by any righteousness which we exhibit, but by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. That is the Truth upon which we must believe if we are to be covered by God’s protection. In this way, the Breastplate of Righteousness is dependent upon the two "halves" of the Belt of Truth. The Truth must be put on before Righteousness can be worn, and the Truth completes Righteousness in the end.

“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe…”

“…He who has begun a good work in you will complete it…”
~ Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)

See page for author [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
There is one last point to be made before we look beyond the Breastplate. Any tools or devices made by humans require regular maintenance in order to remain in good working order. If a Roman soldier failed to care for his armor properly, it would rust. The leather straps would become brittle and break. Hinges would bind, and joints would fail to fasten. The armor would soon become nearly worthless, unfit to be worn, and would fail to protect the soldier in any way.

We, too, must keep our Breastplates clean, polished, and ready for use. This point strongly reinforces the previously stated idea of our responsibility to avoid sin. Just as one cannot expect to be sufficiently protected by rusty, deteriorated armor, we cannot expect to escape the consequences of sin when we stray from God’s Law.

Having a driver’s license won’t protect you from getting a speeding ticket, nor does armor lying unused in the corner of a room offer any protection in combat. Even though we may be saved, born-again followers of Jesus Christ, we don’t get a free pass when we sin. Jesus himself said this…

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”
-Matthew 5:17 (NKJV)

The scriptures are littered with examples of God's people who fall into sin, invariably followed by an account of the consequences which follow. Even those whom we consider to be the greatest heroes of the Bible have their sins laid out on display as warnings for us all. Moses, Samson, David, Solomon, Jonah, Peter, and so, so many others. Indeed, we even see Israel, the very nation which God chose as His own, falling repeatedly into cycles of sin, consequences, and repentance. God's people can indeed fall back into patterns of sin, and the consequences can be disastrous, often leaving us in a worse state than where we started (see Matthew 12:43-45Hebrews 6:4-8).

If sin is a wound, then it might be said that repentance is a bandage:

"Come, and let us return to the Lord; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up."
Hosea 6:1 (NKJV)
"Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Acts 2:38 (NKJV)

God’s Law is not just a set of rules which we are encouraged to obey. Its principles are a fundamental part of reality, like the law of gravity, or the law of cause and effect. When we break one of God’s Laws, even if we are true believers, the law of natural consequences always manifests.

So, do you believe that God is strong enough to protect you from sin? To heal your many self-inflicted wounds? To bring you to eternal victory?

Do you really believe it?

Then step up and start spreading the Good News!

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