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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:The Breastplate of Righteousness
Text:Ephesians 6:14c (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Spiritual Warfare

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Selections from the 1976 Psalter Hymnal:

304 - Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah

389 - Not What My Hands Have Done

464 - Christian, Dost Thou See Them?

467 - Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

“The Breastplate of Righteousness”
Zechariah 3:1-10; Ephesians 6:14c
When the first gulf war, Operation Desert Storm, began in 1991, our nation relied on the accuracy of the Patriot missile system to keep the Iraqi “Scud” missiles from our forces. How the tactics of war have changed since the first century when Paul wrote to the Ephesians! In Ephesians 6 we see a battle displayed for us that is far greater than any human war. As Abraham Kuyper observed, “The most fierce battle fought on earth would seem like mere child’s play by comparison” to the spiritual battle we are engaged in.
When I was a child, I remember my parents had an illustrated, two-volume set on World War Two. It was graphic. Although I don’t remember all the scenes, I remember many, including the vivid pictorial display of the landing at Normandy and the plume of smoke from the nuclear bomb at Hiroshima. Soldiers who fought in World War Two, or any of the other more recent wars, know the intensity and danger of war firsthand. In the wars we fight on earth there are exemptions. Some people opt out the exemption of being a conscientious objector. Others are not enlisted in the wars our nation fights for health reasons. But no exemptions are given for the great spiritual warfare that we find ourselves caught up in.
Furthermore, if we were to try to fight the devil and his schemes on our own power, we would be dead on arrival. We would not last a moment. But as we have seen in our study of Ephesians 6, we fight in the strength the Lord provides. Ephesians 6:10 tells us: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” But we not only fight with the strength of the Lord; we fight with the armor that the Lord Himself uses.
The armor of God includes the belt of truth, (which we looked at last week), and the armor of God includes the breastplate of righteousness. All the armor is effective because the armor God gives us is the same armor God uses. Isaiah refers to two pieces of that armor in Isaiah 59:17a: “He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head…”  
However, one of the devil’s most effective ruses is to put substitute armor – armor that is counterfeit and worthless – before us. That applies to each piece of armor, and we see that vividly in the breastplate of righteousness, described in Ephesians 6:14: “Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place...”
One of the most dangerous counterfeit pieces of armor is self-righteousness. Consider the parable Jesus spoke in Luke 18 when He described the prayers of a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee took great pride in his perceived self-righteousness, praying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” That self-righteous Pharisee thought he had earned his way into heaven, but Jesus pointed out that it was the tax collector who pleaded, “God have mercy on me a sinner,” who went home justified before God.
Why did Jesus speak so often about self-righteousness of the Pharisees? He did so because He knew self-righteousness would be a magnet for proud human hearts, not just in the first century with the Pharisees, but in every era of time, including ours. Looking around us we see where the evil one has snared so many with thoughts about their relationship with the Lord, all based not on the righteousness of Christ, but on self-righteousness.
Dr. John Gerstner, who was R.C. Sproul’s professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary years ago, pointed out that there is a hymn entitled, “Lord, We Are Able.” Gerstner said: “That was written by Peter. Peter said, ‘Lord, I am able.’ But when he was tempted by Satan and fell, Peter discovered he was not able. So he revised that hymn to read: ‘Lord, We Are Not Able.’  He learned that only when he was united to Jesus Christ could he stand his ground and be victorious.” 
Clearly, self-righteousness will never serve as a breastplate of protection against the devil's schemes. We are not able to stand against him and his schemes for even a moment without the righteousness of Christ as our breastplate.
The Righteousness of Christ
The Bible, while warning us against self-righteousness, also describes the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This righteousness flows from the active and passive obedience of Christ. In His active obedience Jesus kept every commandment perfectly, not only actively keeping His Father’s commands outwardly, but also inwardly in His motives and thoughts. That active obedience of Christ is credited – imputed – to every true believer.
In His passive obedience Jesus submitted to the agony of the cross. As Jesus pointed out when Peter cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt. 26:53-54) By obediently submitting to death on the cross Jesus passively shed His blood, which covers the sins of all who truly believe in Him.
We receive the righteousness of Christ by saving faith in Him and are thus described as being “clothed in the righteousness of Christ.” Sometimes this is described as an “alien righteousness,” meaning it is not our righteousness, it is not of our doing, but it is the righteousness of another, the righteousness of Jesus Christ which is imputed to us. Being clothed in the righteousness of Christ is portrayed beautifully for us in the passage we read from Zechariah 3:3-5:
     Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”
     Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.”
     Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.
The righteousness of Christ is portrayed as a garment throughout Scripture. We see that already in the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve sinned, and realized their nakedness before God, they tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. Their effort was foolish and futile, but God, in grace, provided clothing for them from animal skins.
The first garments came at the cost of life. The shedding of blood was necessary to clothe Adam and Eve. The shed blood from those garments from the slain animal pointed ahead to Jesus Christ, to His shed blood, and to the garment of righteousness that we are clothed in when we have saving faith in Him alone. As Romans 3:21 points out: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
The Righteousness of Living a Holy Life
When, by God’s grace, we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, we desire to live a righteous life. Living a life of righteousness, motivated by gratitude for the imputed righteousness of Christ, becomes the goal of our life and serves as a breastplate against the devil’s schemes. In 2 Corinthians 6:7 the Apostle points out that godly conduct serves as “weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left…”
Zechariah also writes about this in Zechariah 3:6-7: “The angel of the LORD gave this charge to Joshua: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.’”
The obedience that we are called to is not motivated by self-righteousness, but by deep and sincere gratitude for the redeeming work of Christ. By God’s grace our sin-stained robes are removed and replaced with the pure garment of Christ’s righteousness. Only those who are justified by Christ’s righteousness can put on the full armor of God. This righteousness of Christ imputed to us, motivates us to walk in His ways, and it is an essential part of the “breastplate of righteousness.”
Not too long ago I inquired about a colleague of mine in a former denomination for whom I had great respect. I couldn’t track him down and called another colleague to ask about him. “Oh, I’m sorry, didn’t you hear? He had to demit the ministry.” There is forgiveness. Sins are washed away.  But the consequences of dropping your guard, of not keeping the breastplate of righteous living in place, brings destruction and sorrow into innumerable lives. Sin always has a ripple effect. Your sin, when you drop the breastplate of righteousness, won’t just affect you. It will affect your loved ones, your church family, and your community. There is always a ripple effect with every wave of sin.
In the heat of Roman battle, once the breastplate was gone, the soldier’s heart was exposed to the arrows of the enemy. In the Christian life the same is true. If you drop your guard, if you lay down the breastplate of living a Christian life, for even a moment, the evil one will aim one of those flaming arrows, his temptations to sin, deep into the depth of your heart.
Young people, how many times do you have to experiment with crack cocaine or crystal meth before you are hooked? For many, it is one time. Eighty-five percent of the people who try crystal meth one time become addicted. Drop the breastplate of righteousness one time, and your life can be contorted and agonized permanently.
How many teenage girls, visiting the crisis pregnancy center, have said through their tears, “I didn’t think I’d get pregnant after just one time.” How many older, seasoned, mature Christians, like my former colleague, have seen their lives spiral into the deepest of heartaches, for so many, because “one time” they put down the breastplate of righteousness?
You see, every part of the armor is crucial. There are no optional pieces. You can’t say, “I like the belt of truth but I’ll pass on the breastplate of righteousness.” No, as verse 11 says, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
And incidentally, the confession of having sinned “one time” is almost always rooted in repetitive sin. The “one time” leads to another and another and another until a habitual pattern of sin has developed.
Living a Pure, Holy Life
Seeing, then, the importance of the breastplate of righteousness, how can you and I know that we have that breastplate? It is only given by God’s grace through the gift of saving faith in Jesus Christ. Yet God’s sovereign grace and our human responsibility go hand in hand. And if, by God’s grace, we have put on the breastplate of righteousness that He has given, how can we keep that breastplate in place?
First, prayerfully strive to live a pure, holy life, which includes putting to death sinful thoughts and actions. That is part of the charge given to Joshua the high priest in verses 6 and 7. It is only by God’s grace and sanctifying Spirit that we are enabled to walk, although so imperfectly, in His ways.
Yet, although it is His work within us, we must also consciously strive to live a holy, righteous life. Romans 6:11-13 instructs us: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”
It is crucial that we put to death sinful practices and habits, because habits are like cables. Have you noticed how a steel cable, or even a thick rope, is made of many strands? Each one of those strands on a cable is like a habit, the more strands the stronger the cable. Each repetitive sin becomes like another strand on the cable, binding us ever more tightly in the grip of sin.
The story is told about the man who trained snakes for a large traveling circus. There was one snake that he became especially fond of. It was a young boa constrictor that would gently wrap itself around the man’s shoulders. In the man’s eyes, the snake was beautiful. After feeding the snake he would allow it to wrap itself around him. After all, the snake was young and not fully developed. But because it was an everyday routine, a daily habit of feeding the snake and then spending time with it, the trainer didn’t realize just how large that boa constrictor had grown until it squeezed him to death. The same principle is true for sinful habits that are allowed to grow. They must be put to death or they will consume us; they will squeeze us to death.
However, it’s not enough just to put sinful habits and thoughts to death, which is accomplished not because of sheer willpower on our part but by the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work with in us.  Romans 8:13 points out: “If you live according to the sinful nature you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live.” And we put to death those “misdeeds of the body” when by the Holy Spirit's sanctifying power we begin to replace sinful habits with godly, righteous habits.
Just as every poison has an antidote, so every sin has a counterpart of righteousness that must be exercised. A man who is allergic to bee stings not only has to remove the stinger from his flesh; he also needs to take the antidote. Spiritually speaking it’s the same way. It’s not enough to say, “Well, I no longer swear like I used to.” You must also ask, “Am I now using my voice to praise God? Am I using my voice to tell others about Him?”
It’s not enough to say, “I’m starting to squelch some of those thoughts of lust, greed, and pride.” You must replace those thoughts with the guidance of a passage like Philippians 4:8: “...Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.”
Do you remember what Jesus talks about in Matthew 12:43-45? He said: “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
Guarding Against the Devil’s Schemes
In addition to living that pure holy life, guard yourself against the devil’s schemes which include presenting sin as a pleasure we are missing out on. No one likes to miss out on pleasure. And Satan, knowing our human nature and frailness, presents evil as a pleasure everyone else enjoys but we are missing out on.
I have never been good at wrapping presents. But if Satan were a human being, he would excel at gift wrapping. Why? Because he can take the most pathetic, sad, empty sin and package it to look delightful and fun. He then dangles his gift-wrapped sin before the Christian and says, “Put down your breastplate, lay down your guard of holy righteous living. Look at the pleasure you are missing out on!”
At other times he takes what is good and tempts us to misuse the good things God has given us. He did that with Eve. He tried doing that with Jesus and does the same in his attacks against you and me. He still specializes in taking what is good and twisting it, in order to tempt us to trust in the gift instead of the Giver.
As Satan dangles his pleasures before us, he appeals to our emotions and to our thoughts. The breastplate for a Roman soldier covered both his heart and also his lower abdomen, his stomach. Jewish readers understood that symbolism well. In Jewish literature, including the Bible, the thoughts come not just from our mind, but rather they originate in the heart, the center of who we are as people. Jesus Himself warned that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony...” (Matthew 15:19)
In a similar way, in the old King James Version of 1611, we read passages such as Genesis 43:30, “And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother,” and we might wonder, “What is that verse talking about!”
Or we read in 1 John 3:17, “He shutteth up his bowels of compassion.” And again, we wonder, “What is the Scripture speaking about?”  It is talking about emotion. In Jewish thought the emotions come from the stomach. Several commentators point out that the breastplate of righteousness is crucial because it guards our emotions and our thought life, both of which are powerful forces within in us. And what does Satan work on, when he dangles his gift-wrapped temptations before our eyes? He works on our emotions and on our thoughts.
Another scheme of the evil one is to accuse us of our sins, even when we are covered by the blood of Jesus. The name “Satan” literally means “Accuser.” He specializes in finding those times when our breastplate of righteous living has not been securely attached, and he accuses us. He does to us what Zechariah describes him doing to Joshua the high priest. Although he has been cast out of heaven and cannot accuse us before God, he excels at accusing us of our sin, both of commission and omission. “You aren’t a child of God, not with those thoughts, not with what you did. God could never love you knowing how evil you are...”
We’ve all been accused, haven’t we? And when that happens don’t try to use self-righteousness as a breastplate. Don’t look to your perceived obedience in any area. Don’t counter the accusation by saying, “Yes, but I did this or that which was good.” Instead point to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, to His shed blood on the cross, and say, “That is my righteousness, that imputed, credited righteousness of my Savior, Jesus Christ!”
Perhaps you have heard about Martin Luther’s dream of being accused by Satan. The devil was accusing him of a long list of sins, all recorded on a scroll, and to Luther’s conscious stricken heart he realized every accusation was true. He was terrified in his dream until he recalled the words of 1 John 2:1 “We have One who speaks to the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.”
Then he said to the devil, in his dream, “I committed all those sins and so many more, but they are all covered by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. And I have One who speaks to the Father in my defense, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.” When the evil one accuses you, rest in the breastplate of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. Rest in the assurance that your filthy rags of unrighteousness are replaced by the perfect garment of the righteous robe of Christ.
Having the breastplate of Christ’s righteousness is crucial because Satan repeatedly tempts us to trust our own works instead of the works of Christ. He loves to puff us up with self-righteousness instead of treasuring the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. Consider how when the rich young ruler, described in Luke 18:21, was confronted with the commands of God he said, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Many people today have bought the lie of the devil that their own righteousness will bring them to heaven. They are singing the song that John Gerstner said Peter must have initially written, Jesus, I Am Able.
But unlike Peter, who was convicted of his sin, they have not turned to Christ in true repentance and saving faith for His imputed righteousness. We are to strive always to live a righteous holy life out of gratitude for the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ credited to our account. But even as we strive to live holy righteous lives, we realize the truth of Isaiah 64:6 that “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy rag in God’s sight.”                                                                      
Military tactics have certainly changed since the first century. We have unmanned drones, stealth bombers, patriot missiles, and other sophisticated weaponry to take on the enemy. The tactics of nations at war have changed.
But the devil’s tactics haven’t changed that much. He doesn’t need to change his tactics because they have been so very effective against professing Christians who drop their guard, who don’t keep that breastplate of righteousness in place. Then, out of gratitude, it becomes our sincere to live a holy and righteous life in view of God’s mercy to us.
May you and I, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, always keep the breastplate of righteousness in place as we live – by God’s enabling grace and power – holy, pure lives so that we can stand against the devil’s schemes in the armor and the strength that God provides. Amen.
Bulletin outline:
“Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with
 the breastplate of righteousness in place...” - Ephesians 6:14
                        “The Breastplate of Righteousness”
                            Zechariah 3:1-7; Ephesians 6:14c
I.  Zechariah 3 portrays the righteous robes of Christ’s righteousness
    given to the believer. It is His righteousness imputed to us that serves
    as our “breastplate of righteousness” as it motivates us to live pure,
    holy lives of gratitude for redeeming grace  
II. We keep the armor in place by God’s grace and enabling Spirit as He
     sanctifies us, enabling us to:
      1) Live a pure, holy life (although imperfectly), which includes:
           a) Putting to death sinful thoughts and actions (Romans 6:11-
               13, 8:13; Colossians 3:5)
           b) Replacing them with righteous, pure thoughts and actions
                (Matthew 12:43-45; Philippians 4:8)
       2) Guarding against the devil’s schemes which include:
            a) Presenting sin as a pleasure we are missing out on (Genesis
                 3:1-7; Luke 4:1-13)
             b) Accusing us, even when we are covered by Christ (Zech 3:1)
             c) Tempting us to trust in works instead of grace (Luke 18:20-21)
 III. Application: Strive to live a righteous, obedient, and holy life out of
        heartfelt gratitude for the imputed righteousness of Christ


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2011, Rev. Ted Gray

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