For many years, a flock of wild sheep had lived in terror of a pack of wolves. Then one day, a mountain sheep came and lived among them, and he taught the sheep how to defend themselves. The sheep went to war with the wolves, and they were winning. After a time, one of the wolves came to the sheep. "I am tired of fighting." said the wolf. "Let me live among you in peace, and I will protect you. I will eat other prey, so that you never have to fear me." This seemed acceptable to the sheep, so they allowed the wolf to stay. When the other wolves attacked the flock, the one wolf fought on the side of the sheep. Unfortunately, the sheep became confused. They could not tell one wolf from another, and they wounded their friend. After several weeks, the friendly wolf recovered. When he returned to his job protecting the sheep, the herd alpha presented him a coat made from his own wool. "Let there be no doubt." said the Alpha. "You were a wolf once, but now, you are a sheep. Wear my coat proudly so that everyone will know you are on our side." From that day forward, the good wolf and all of his descendents have worn the coats of sheep to show that they are friends of the flock. And that is where sheepdogs come from.
...Okay, so that's not where sheepdogs come from. It's a fun story, though, isn't it? And it sets up a perfect foundation to talk about the breastplate of righteousness. First of all, it isn't our righteousness. We don't have sufficient righteousness to form a breastplate. Our righteousness falls far short.
Isaiah 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Going into battle wearing rags may work for Garbage-Man, but for the rest of us, it's not going to cut it. Our righteousness must be replaced with that of another. Our breastplate of righteousness is the same as the one which appears in isaiah 59.
Isaiah 59:17 For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.
Isaiah is talking about God here. The breastplate he refers to is God's righteousness. Specifically, it is the righteousness of Christ. After all, it was Christ who took our sin upon Himself. Thus, when we accept His sacrifice, we are given His righteousness in exchange. It belongs to Him, and He has to put it on us. Of course, our responsibility is to wear it correctly. The helmet is the one piece of armor that cannot be removed. The shield of faith can be put down. The breastplate of righteousness can be taken off. It will still be with you, but it cannot be effective if it's not on your chest. Keep reading to understand what I mean.
Think about your favorite superheroes. Most of them, though not all, have some sort of identifying insignia. Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, Prime, Captain America, Mr. Incredible, Allegience, Challenger... And where do they wear it? Right on the chest. Your helmet has God's insignia on it. Your shield has it too. But the breastplate is what people are going to see first. If you are living according to the righteousness of Christ, adopting His lifestyle of shunning sin and living for God, there will be no mistaking what you are: a prince of God's empire. Remember, that breastplate comes from the crown prince Himself! Wearing His armor identifies you with Christ. Now depending on who you're dealing with, that insignia on your chest can serve two purposes. It can draw people to Christ, or it can serve as a target. Oh, make no mistake. People will take aim at you because of that symbol of Christ. Satan himself will come against you and hurl accusations at you, both in person and through the world's people. But remember, unlike Spider-Man, that's not spandex you're wearing. That's the finest armor ever made. As the helmet stops killing attacks and the shield stops darts of doubt, so the breastplate is meant to withstand blades of accusation. Satan just loves to bring all of our misdeeds to God's attention in an attempt to alienate us from Him, but God looks at us and He sees the righteousness of Jesus. And of course, this armor looks REALLY cool! I, for one, like the way I look and feel (In a spiritual sense, of course) when I'm wearing the breastplate properly.
So what does it MEAN to wear the breastplate properly? For one thing, you have to have it ON! Don't let your attitude be that you can never attain to the righteousness of Christ and so you're not going to try. When you give up trying to be a Godpleaser, you take the breastplate off and no one can see that insignia on your chest. You won't have that protection against accusations because not only will you be doing them in deed, but in spirit. When Satan goes to God and says "look at what that guy is doing!" God will look at you and think "He's already been forgiven, but now he's gone and refused to even identify with Christ, who bought him. What am I going to do with this guy?" In so doing, we invite wrath upon ourselves.
Don't treat your forgiveness as a license to sin. When you do that, you get your breastplate dirty, because you treat the righteousness of Christ just like your own filthy rags. Who here knows what a "glitter boy" is? In the role playing system of "Rifts", glitter boys wear highly reflective armor so that lasers have no effect on them. If one becomes covered with mud, that armor is useless against lasers. When God's armor is dirty, it becomes useless for protecting you against certain types of attack. Not only can Satan discredit you to the world as a hypocrite, but remember that God is not obliged to protect you against the stupidity of your own actions.
And of course, don't take credit for it. You know full well that you didn't create that breastplate. It is not your righteousness. Don't go making people think it is. Instead, tell them the truth- that Christ's righteousness is making YOU. Just like the helmet changes who and what we are, so, too, the breastplate will change us if we take care of it. Christ's righteousness begins to infuse us and we in turn become more and more righteous. Never innocent, but justified, and continually transformed until the person underneath the armor is as clean and beautiful as the one who made it.
Brothers and sisters, take good care of those breastplates. Wear them proudly and do your best to bring honor to their maker by wearing them correctly, keeping them clean, and directing all praise to the Lord.
Next week: The belt
Today's reading: Ephesians 6:10-17
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: