Ephesians 6:14 “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place.”

In this section believers in the Lord Jesus Christ – church members and disciples of his – are being told to do something. Paul is addressing the entire congregation. Of course he is writing to baby Christians, those who are newly in love with their Saviour. They are novices and they need to be told about the nature of the Christian life, that it’s a fight, but he is also addressing the most holy and mature Christian in the congregation. “Don’t think these counsels are for the novices,” Paul is saying. “I am exhorting everyone to do something.”

What must they do? “Put on the full armour of God” (v.11). Let everyone listen and prepare himself for battle. The bugle has sounded; everyone is getting out of their sleeping bags and opening the flaps of their tents; we are all preparing for the battle ahead. We are all putting on the full armour of God. The children have infant-sized armour; the great mature believers have their beloved armour which they are putting on as they’ve put it on hundreds of times in the past; teenage girls and old grannies are busy putting on their armour, and the men, both young and old, are doing the same. There must be no exceptions at all; none staying in bed; none refusing to come out of their tents. The bugler is announcing the Captain’s summons and we are getting ready for war. Let no one be unprepared for the strife. It is a scene of bustle and activity. There is action in the air. We are not preparing for a long session of singing. This is not an eisteddfod it is war; there’s a tough session of fighting ahead and we’re getting ready for it. The first piece of armour is the belt of truth, and the next piece of armour is the breastplate of righteousness.


I want to begin with this question because it sets up a structure to help us understand what all these pieces of armour are; our inquiry will remind us what is our privileged status, and also where we are always deficient. I want to say right at the outset that the answer to this question must be imparted righteousness, in other words, personal holiness. That is Paul’s concern; that is the breastplate that we must put on each day.

Back to basics; God makes a sinner a Christian when he works in his heart by the Holy Spirit in regenerating energy. He gives him new life, a new birth, a new heart. He brings Christians or words of truth into his life. God enables a man to see what by nature he would never personally acknowledge, that he is a wretched sinner, under the judgment of God, a lost man, a helpless man, condemned to hell because of a desperately deceitful heart. He also shows him what God in his unfathomable love has done; he has sent his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to become the Saviour of sinners. Our Lord has achieved this by being born of a woman, under the law of God, and as a man living a righteous life of obedience to the law of God. Here is a human righteousness; bone-of-our-bone righteousness; flesh-of-our-flesh righteousness; utterly suitable for unrighteous men and women. But because this is the Christ who is the God-man who has effected such a righteousness it is also divine, infinite, eternal and unchangeable righteousness, immeasurably rich in its resources, sufficient to clothe every man, woman and child who ever breathed a breath with its glory, sufficient to cover every atom or star in the universe with this boundless righteousness and still leaving an infinite supply untouched. In salvation, I say, God imputes this righteousness to the believing sinner. He clothes him with the robes of Christ’s spotless righteousness. The sinner’s crimson stains are all covered; Christ, from God himself, has been made our own righteousness.

However, the full divine act of redemption is only ‘half over,’ I might say. There is still the believer’s own guilt and shame. What of his lies and lusts? What of his pride and the pain he has caused others? What of his greed and violence? What of his vanity and selfishness? What of his contentment to live without God? What of his defiant unbelief, his blasphemy and mockery of all that is pure and good? What of the advantage he has taken of others? What of his unforgiving spirit, his heavy-spirited contempt for everyone else, his covetousness, his jealousies? Are his sins not many? Does his guilt not reach up to heaven like a great mountain and hide the face of God from him? I am talking about your own sin and guilt! I am reminding you that this is a moral universe and that you must answer to the living God. You are helpless to keep God’s commandments and you are accumulating for yourself a ton of shame. You are taking all this to the throne of the universe. You are soon to meet the Holy God who created and sustains you. What will a just God do? He will treat you absolutely fairly, certainly. He will take every factor into consideration, surely. There will be no miscarriage of justice at the Great White Throne. There will be no failure to know the facts or consider all the evidence. What then will be his verdict? Guilty, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Your prospect is condemnation by the living God. The wages of sin is death.

Yet this God who has woven a robe of righteousness for you in the life of his Son Jesus Christ has also done something just as astounding. He and his Son have dealt with your guilt and punishment. The Lord Jesus chose to become the Lamb of God. To him God imputed our guilt and condemnation. He died for our sins. He loved the church and gave himself for her. He was bruised for our wickedness. The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. In our place condemned he stood. The Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world. He became the great Substitute who stood in the naked flame of God’s hatred of all that is contemptible, and mean, and despicable. What men do to women; what men do to children; what men do to animals; how we treat those who love us the most – Christ took the blame for all of that, its guilt, its very answerability to the mighty Creator. O Christ, what burdens bowed your head! Our load was laid on you. He has dealt with it all. The smallest sin of omission – he has accepted its guilt. “I will answer for that.” The worst hypocrisy of the most popular preacher – he has taken its guilt. The vilest action of the worst sinner the world has ever seen, Christ has clasped that defilement to his bosom and on his cross he has taken full responsibility for that act before Almighty God. He has been motivated by love alone and utterly comprehensively, and all alone he has suffered in our room and stead so completely that there is now absolutely nothing left for which we have to answer Almighty God. It has all been dealt with. It has all been cleared away. Every stain has been removed. Every spot has disappeared. The garment once so crimson and defiled, is now whiter than snow. The Judge of the whole earth scrutinizes all who appear before him and says to everyone for whom Christ suffered, “Forgiven! Pardoned! Justified! No condemnation! Welcome! Come you blessed person!” That is the salvation which the only God there is has accomplished for men and women.

Now you will see from what I’ve said that God has done three things in redeeming us. Firstly he has changed our natures, delivering us from their anti-Christ bias, making them alive to God, teaching us inwardly the truth of the good news, creating in us faith to believe them and sorrow that we had sinned against so mighty and loving a God. That is the first thing God does in regenerating grace. Secondly, he imputes to us the righteousness which Christ constituted by his own beautiful life in this world. Men have seen someone as holy as God, and that righteousness of the Lord Jesus, the God-man is henceforth laid to the account of sinners. Thirdly, he imputes to Christ on Golgotha ’s cross our shame and blame. He takes all our condemnation so that pardon and forgiveness is ours through what he has done for us. Salvation is receiving what God has done for sinners in Jesus Christ, which now is freely offered to us all by his grace and in his name. It is a gift of God. That is the salvation taught in the Bible. One great typical verse that sums up the gospel message is found at the end of 2 Corinthians chapter 5, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cors. 5:21).

I have talked to you about the imputed righteousness of Christ, but I do not think that that is what Paul is talking about in this phrase, “the breastplate of righteousness.” He cannot be telling us to put that on because every Christian already has that on whether they realise it or not. That is the basic status of the believer. Every Christian is clothed in the righteousness of Christ. We come to God and we express our need of him and his salvation. We ‘re truly sincere for the first time in our lives, and we say to God something like, “I surrender . . . you are my God . . . please save me . . . take me . . . forgive me . . . accept me in Jesus’ name . . . help me never to sin again.” Whatever words we say we have to say them from our hearts. The last thing when we are talking to the living God about the rest of our lives and eternity is to blurt out a formula. Get real! We close with Christ as we entrust ourselves to him. We believe upon him. We believe right into him as our God and Saviour.

Now what is God’s answer to every person who does that? Then and there . . . on the spot? He clothes the believing sinner with the righteousness of Christ; that is the divine response to saving faith; it is not a response to maturity, or agonizing, or perfection. It is unto all and upon all them that believe in Jesus Christ that his righteousness is imputed. What else happens at that moment? A knowledge that all his sins are pardoned is given to him. He may not have 100 per cent assurance that this is the case. He may have mustard seed faith; he may be very uncertain that he is a real believer but he does know this, “I’m not sure whether I am a Christian but I know this, that if I had Christ all my sins would be forgiven.” That is a Christian! Only a Christian thinks like that. He is coming to a confidence in this;

“My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more;
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord O my soul!” (Horatio G. Spafford)

So, he casts himself at the feet of Christ, and the immediate answer is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and the removal of all his guilt and condemnation, but God hasn’t finished with him yet. He adopts him into his family, making him his son and heir, assuring him of his provision and protection and fatherly chastening. That is not the end. He terminates the domination of sin over him. Hitherto he has been a slave of sin; what sin told him to do he did. Whatever it commanded him to do he went ahead and obeyed his boss. So he disdained religion, and refused to go to church, he never thought of praying, he wouldn’t take a Bible down and read it, he refused to think about his soul, he wouldn’t entertain such questions as who was Jesus Christ and what was significant about his life. He wouldn’t consider what was death, what lies beyond it, who is God and how can he know him for myself? Sin had told him to ignore all of that and live for himself, and obey this sin-crazed culture in which men exist and all men are slaves to sin. “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin” (Gals 3:22). They do what they are told, but when a person believes in Christ sin is thrown out of his life as his boss. It is still in his life as a provocateur and accuser, but not dominating any longer. Jesus Christ is the Lord of every Christian.

But more is given to every single Christian the moment he believes in the Saviour. He is joined to Jesus Christ. He is put ‘in Christ.’ Like a branch is attached to the vine so that the life and strength of the vine supports and vitalizes the branch moment by moment. Thus the life of Jesus Christ is communicated to us from the midst of the throne of God where our Lord now is moment by moment throughout our entire lives and into eternity. As we get older our outward man perishes; we need more powerful glasses and dentures and hearing aids and we lose our hair and we get more forgetful, but at the same time our inward man is being renewed day by day. That is because we are joined to Christ; he is in us and we are in him, and when we get senile and no longer recognize those who are nearest and dearest to us we are still in Christ, and he is still in us. This is our new status from the moment of our regeneration. If any man is in Christ he is a new creation, and he always will be so.

I am saying to you that all these changes occur to every single believer in Jesus Christ from the moment he puts his trust in the Saviour. He does not have to wait until he understands he needs the righteousness of God and then after agonizing and pleading with God for it is finally given it. He does not have to be taught that he needs to be adopted into the family of God to have God’s protection and provision so then he agonizes and pleads with God for the grace of adoption and then at last God gives it to him. He does not have to plead with God for weeks or years to have a new Lord and that the lordship of sin be ended, and then God finally gives him Christ as his Lord. No. He does not have to be taught of the possibility of being in Christ, what it is, the many privileges and the great honour of this status, and then that he should agonize to get it because he will be a second rate Christian without it. Not at all! Every Christian from the moment he trusts in Christ is in Christ. What an answer to a prayer, “Save me Lord!” The answer is above all that we could ask or even think.

Now this does not mean that there has ever been one Christian from the moment of his new birth who knew all the privileges of his new status in Christ. Every one of us made discoveries as we went along in our Christian lives of how high and deep and wide was the love of God in granting these blessings to us. Before we had asked for them he had given them to us. His salvation was far more than we could ever ask or think. The divine blessings do not depend on our understanding and earnest praying. Understanding and earnest praying are the fruit of the divine salvation not the cause of it. Our faith (perhaps as thin as a spider’s thread) is lodged in Christ. “Save me . . .” is our only prayer. His answer is, “Today you shall be forgiven in the name of Jesus, clothed in his righteousness, adopted into my family, receive the protection of a new Lord and be joined to my Son for ever.” O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out.

So when the bugle blasts calling us to battle and we get ready for another day’s warfare we do not remember to put on the forgiveness of our sins. Our sins are all forgiven sins. We’ve never been parted from forgiveness, not for a second. We do not put on the righteousness of Christ; that righteousness is imputed to us and it is ours always. We don’t put on adoption into the family of God when the bugle sounds, for we can that moment turn to him and say, “Abba Father!” We do not ask for Jesus Christ to become our Lord and protect and provide for us this day. He does that every single day even when we forget him. We do not say, “Now join me to Christ; put me in Christ today.” That is our status every day and for ever. Those are the foundations that God lays for every believer throughout his or her life. “On Christ the solid rock I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.”

So this is the confession I make about my status not the armour I need to be putting on. It is impossible to be a Christian and not have all that privileged status. That is absolutely essential for every believer. That is why God has given it to us. We could not survive for a day without full forgiveness, the imputed righteousness, the grace of adoption, the King of love shepherding us and our union with Christ. These are the givens of being a mere Christian. Of course each day we will reflect on one or another aspect of these glories. They are the stuff of believing meditation. They are the cause of our doxology. They are the theme of our thankfulness to God. They are our longing for other men and women when we wish that they could become Christians. We are wanting all of this to happen to them, but we do not pray each day that this should happen to us. We don’t pray for justification to be given to us all over again, or adoption, or union with Christ. We do pray that God will constantly show us the implications of these privileges, and that everyone in our congregation and families will grow to see these things for themselves and will be lost in wonder, love and praise. Then we will become better soldiers of Jesus Christ. These great realities will help us focus better on our real enemies and be persuaded what marvellous resources God has given us for the fight.

For example, how often we remember the sins of our past, even from years ago, many different sins come suddenly into our mind, most of them sins we committed long after we became Christians. Then Satan says to us, “Do you really think God would accept someone who did something like that? God is holy, and you are bad. God is pure, and you are rotten. Look at the sort of person you are. Look at the things you have done. You might just as well forget about going to heaven.” But then we remember all that the Bible says about our status as believers in the Lord Jesus. We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ on our worst days. When we are most under attack, and our minds are most filled with our dirty, nasty past actions, on those occasions we are still righteous in Christ. When the Christian in the Corinthian congregation went to a brothel and had sex with a prostitute was he proving that he wasn’t clothed in Christ’s righteousness, that he wasn’t a son of God, that he didn’t have a new Lord, that he had dismantled the union joining him with Christ? No! None of these things were true. He was taking the members of Christ and joining them to a harlot. He was taking a prostitute into bed with him while he was clothed in Christ’s righteousness. That is the horror of what he was doing.

So how do we respond to Satan when he reminds us of our wretched falls? We say to him, “Ah, my enemy, all you say to me is true. I have said and done terribly wicked things and I am to face a God who is holy, but I am looking to Christ, not to myself. I am casting myself on his promises, on all he has said takes place in the lives of sinners who trust in Jesus. I don’t count on my ability to measure up to my own conscience let alone to the glory of God. I count on the Saviour, on his person and on his work. All my hopes are based on what he is and what he has done. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. So before you drive me to despair you will have to find something unrighteous in the Lord Jesus, for his righteousness is mine – the Lord my righteousness! My righteousness is in heaven.” Satan cannot handle that. He can point out to you all your weaknesses but he can’t find a single thing to attack in the holy life of Christ. So we are justified by faith in Christ and as a result we have peace with God. That is indispensable for any soldier during his battles with sin and Satan.

So when Paul exhorts us to put on the full armour of God and “put the breastplate of righteousness in place” (v.14) he is not saying we should get the divine imputation of righteousness today. This is what a fighting regular Christian is, a believing sinner clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Paul is talking about personal holiness, growing obedience to God, the fruits of daily righteous living. He is telling us that such righteousness is absolutely essential to protect us when we meet sin and the devil. This is the great protection against being defeated by temptation.


So the imputed righteousness is the basis for your entire standing with God; it is something which is apart from anything you can do, none of your good works supplement it or are a contribution towards it for the simple fact that sin has affected the very best people. So each Christian has this new standing with God; you are a new creation and now the challenge is this, that henceforth in your life your nature needs to reflect your status. There needs to be constancy between what your lips profess and what your life says. You talk the talk of imputed righteousness; you must walk the walk of imparted righteousness. Jesus’ righteous standing before God has been fully imputed to you – that is, credited to your account – but now you must display Jesus’ righteous character day by day. I am talking about daily decision making, and every decision either made for Jesus Christ or against him. I am talking about bringing my biblical convictions about the great work of Jesus Christ into fruitful application to my life.

I can use these buzz words; imputed righteousness, I say, is ‘punctiliar’, in other words it is point righteousness. It happens at a moment. Imparted righteousness, on the other hand is linear, it is line righteousness. Imputed righteousness is perfect accomplished righteousness; imparted righteousness is progressive, changing, growing and sanctifying. It is gradually imparted to you – that is, poured into you, filling you, made a part of your being – so that you start thinking, talking, and acting more like our Lord Jesus.

Think of the soldier when the bugle sounds he doesn’t jump out of bed in his armour. He needs to put each piece on, one by one, protecting different parts of his body and picking up his sword for the fight. There is something progressive about it as he prepares himself to be a better soldier. Imparted righteousness doesn’t come in a moment; imparted righteousness isn’t complete until God has made your actual character and conduct exactly like that of Jesus. Imparted righteousness is your developing resemblance to Jesus, which is never complete in this life. Only when you go to heaven will you finally be sinless and perfect like Jesus.

Imparted righteousness is never the basis for your acceptance by God. Rather, the reverse is true: your acceptance by God through Jesus Christ is the basis for imparted righteousness. Then his Holy Spirit begins the process of making you more and more like Jesus. This ongoing process of sanctifying you, making your character more and more righteous, is how you are made holy. The moment you start thinking that your acceptance with God depends on your putting on this breastplate, and belting it firmly into place, polishing it and cleaning it so that it shines in the sun as you are marching along, then you will either be puffed up with pride by overestimating your appearance, or you will be cast down in despair at how little progress you’ve made. To be secure, I say again, you absolutely must depend on justification by faith in the work of Christ imputed to you. Once you realize that Satan can’t destroy your standing with God, you are free to live in the same joyful, loving obedience Jesus gave to his heavenly Father. Imputed righteousness is your chief protection against self-righteousness, pride, and despair. Satan can’t fatally wound and bring to hell anyone to whom God has credited Jesus’ perfection, but Satan can do a lot of other damaging things. He can inflict a lot of wounds that are not fatal to the soul but are still very weakening.

So what is this putting on the breastplate of righteousness? Think of a Roman soldier whose god is his emperor. He will do whatever Caesar tells him to do. His ethics consist of submission to the Emperor and increasing the empire. On his breastplate is the insignia of the Roman Emperor. “For to me to live is the Emperor,” he says. Every Christian also has a breastplate and it also has an insignia. He bears on his body the dying of the Lord Jesus Christ. His whole life is one determined not to know anything but Jesus Christ and him crucified. He says, “For me to live is Christ.” When he thinks of the dying love of Jesus for him he says, “Love so amazing so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.” He is crucified to the world. All the honours and glittering prizes that the world has to offer are as desirable to him as a writhing crucified man hanging in agony on a cross pleading for a drink of water. Would you want that? Never, you say. So for the Christian when the world offers him sexual excitement, and material rewards, and all the thrills of the flesh he has an inner power to resist, indeed to find them repulsive. I was with a man in prison this week. He is serving a long sentence for a serious crime. He has spent years there and during this time he has become a serious minded Christian. All those vain things that once charmed him the most he now sacrifices them to the blood of Christ. He would burn the old magazines and the CDs and the videos and all the horrible images. He despises what he once was. He would spare nothing; he would destroy it all for the sake of the blood of Christ. He is progressing in holiness as he daily puts on the breastplate of righteousness.

The more righteous we become in character, the harder it becomes for Satan to tempt us successfully and wound our spirits. We need more and more of the Holy Spirit’s life and power, more and more of Jesus, more and more healthy patterns and less enslavement to old habits, in order to be vigorous, effective warriors for Christ. Here is Joe, a young lonely man, a long way from home, no other Christians around, managing an estate. The boss is far away, not likely to return for weeks, and his wife is saying to young Joe, “Let’s go to bed together. Come on! What’s the harm? We are two lonely people who fancy one another. Let’s have some love and affection.” What did Joe do? We read about him in Genesis 39:6-14; it is the story of a Christian who was wearing the breastplate of righteousness that day. He needed it and it was there for him. He couldn’t have blamed God. He couldn’t have said, “It was your fault. You didn’t give me anything to protect me.” Wouldn’t God have said to him, “What about the breastplate of righteousness that I offered you?” Why didn’t you put it on? Let’s read about Joseph not in a coat of many colours but wearing the breastplate of righteousness.

“Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he refused. ‘With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’ And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, she called her household servants . .” (Gen. 39:6-14).

Joseph’s longing each day was not to do wicked things and sin against God. That is what he said to Mrs. Potiphar. He was always buckling on the breastplate of righteousness. Let me give you another example. Paul was on trial before the Jewish supreme court, the Sanhedrin. He was unintimidated by them – many of them were known to him personally as his former colleagues. We are told, “Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.’ At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!’ Those who were standing near Paul said, ‘You dare to insult God’s high priest?’ Paul replied, ‘Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people’” (Acts 23:1-5). Paul retaliated under this provocation as we all do; his breastplate slipped, and then he apologised; he readjusted it. His natural life was now the righteous life of Christ.

Think of the people whose lives had been transformed by John the Baptist asking him for advice about righteous living; “‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked. John answered, ‘The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.’ Tax collectors also came to be baptized. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’ ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’ He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.’” (Lk.3:10-14). In other words, put on the breastplate of righteousness as proof that God has truly changed your heart.

You see the pattern in Ephesians four for buckling on the breastplate each day. “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” [that is take off the breastplate with the image of Emperor Sin] . . . and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. [that is the breastplate of righteousness] Therefore each of you must put off falsehood [take off that old breastplate] and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body [put on the breastplate of righteousness]. ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing [ that was the old breastplate] must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice [that is the old breastplate you once wore]. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you [that is the breastplate of righteousness]” (Ephs. 4:22-32). Obviously the more righteousness becomes a part of our being, the easier it becomes for us to resist sin and Satan

You must put on the breastplate of righteousness and then face the enemy. This is the point John Bunyan makes in Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian reaches the Valley of Humiliation , and many of us know such places. We are told by Bunyan, “He espied a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him whose name was Apollyon. Then did Christian begin to be afraid, and to cast in his mind whether to go back or to stand his ground. But he considered again that he had no armour for the back, and therefore thought that to turn back to him might give him greater advantage with ease to pierce him with his darts. Therefore he resolved to venture, and stand his ground.”

I say to you, “Stand your ground!” What a mighty protection you have if you are a righteous man. Stand up for Jesus you soldiers of the cross. Stand in an evil day and having done all stand!

22nd January 2006 GEOFF THOMAS