Stand therefore, … having put on the breastplate of righteousness …
An essential part of the Roman soldier’s equipment was his breastplate. As its name suggests, the breastplate protected the vital organs of the chest – principally the heart. Without a breastplate the warrior was vulnerable to a fatal frontal attack. Paul writes that righteousness is the Christian’s breastplate – so it is righteousness that protects our heart.
Righteousness is an extremely important theme in the Scripture. God reveals Himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7, as a God who ‘forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin,’ and yet ‘He does not leave the guilty unpunished.’ We learn from this that God’s love, mercy and grace do not cancel out his justice, holiness and righteousness. Scripture proclaims over and over again that God is perfectly just and unassailably righteous. We are told that righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne (Ps 89:14, 97:2). As such, God’s sovereign Lordship over the universe is founded upon the attributes of His righteousness and justice. God also loves righteousness in His people; Psalm 11:7 for example sys, “For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness” (see also Ps 33:5, 45:7, 146:8). In Habakkuk 1:13, we discover that because of God’s love for righteousness, He will deal decisively with all evil; “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness.”
Psalm 14:5, 15:1-2, 118:19-20, as well as many other Scriptures teach that only the righteous can enter into God’s presence. Hebrews 12:14 instructs, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Quoting Leviticus, Peter writes, “be holy for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). It is very clear that God’s standard for being in an eternal relationship with him, is one of absolute perfect righteousness and holiness. Romans 10:5 describes the righteousness required of man under a covenant of works: “For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” And James writes: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (2:10). In short, the whole law must be kept with the whole heart, the least defect either in portion or degree in obedience to God’s law spoils all! Further this personal obedience must be perpetual, so even if you could fathom the impossibility of living without ever sinning again, the sins you have already committed are enough for you to be condemned.
Various religions of the world have dealt with righteousness in various ways. Judaism, for example, offers a system whereby righteous deeds can be done to negate sinful acts; so if one’s righteous acts surpass his evil acts, he will not be condemned on judgment day. Catholicism suggests that an infusion of grace prompts some innate righteousness – and that ultimately judgment will be rendered based upon that righteousness. In fact most of the world’s religions including many forms of the Christian faith teach that there is an island of righteousness in man’s heart.
But God’s verdict of man is found in Romans 3:10-12: “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.” Is there any hope for mankind with this judgment against us? The answer comes in the form of a breastplate of righteousness originally part of God’s armor, but now given to us to take up and live in. Christianity answers the dilemma of the requirement for a legal righteousness with an imputed righteousness. In preparation for next week’s sermon read the following texts which address an imputed righteousness: 2 Cor 5:21, Romans 4:6, 11, with 3:21-22, 5:18-19).
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