************ Sermon on Ephesians 6:14b ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 18, 2018
"The Breastplate of Righteousness"
Paul tells us God has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3). Review with me the blessings listed by Paul in his letter to the Ephesian Christians:
-He chose us in Christ (Eph 1:4).
-At work in us is His incomparably great power (Eph 1:19) by which God does immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).
-We have been brought near through the blood of Christ (Eph 2:13) so we are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household (Eph 2:19).
-We are a dwelling in which God lives with His Spirit (Eph 2:22).
-In Christ and through faith we can approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph 3:12).
-We who once were darkness now are light in the Lord (Eph 5:8).
What great and wonderful and beautiful blessings! And, I am sure you can easily name dozens of others.
But, BUT, don't get overconfident! Don't think life is a walk in the park. Don't think you are facing flowery beds of ease. Don't think Christian living is a piece of cake. What does Paul say as he ends his letter to the Ephesians?
(Eph 6:10) Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.Why? Because we are under attack! Because the Christian life is a battle! Because we face the devil's schemes (Eph 2:11). Because our struggle is against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). Our struggle is against Satan. Satan is NOT God or like God: he is not almighty, omniscient, or omnipresent. But he is very dangerous. He strives to establish a beachhead in your life. He strives to grow in one of the cracks of your life. He is constantly looking for a foothold (Eph 4:27).
(Eph 6:13) Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.To put on the full armor of God is so important that Paul says this twice (Eph 6:11,13).
"Put on the full armor of God." This is true no matter who you are. This is true whether you are a pastor, elder, deacon, seminary professor, Sunday School teacher, church member. This is true no matter how much theology you know, no matter how well you know the Creeds and Confessions, no matter how many Bible verses you memorize, no matter how much you love God's truth. We all need to put on the full armor of God. That's the only way we have to tap into the power of Jesus so we can resist the devil's schemes. That's the only way we have to remain standing in the faith when the devil attacks.
"Put on the full armor of God" (Eph 6:11,13). Paul wants us to picture a Roman soldier dressed for battle. [HOLD UP PICTURE FROM NURSERY.] Last week we watched as the soldier put on the belt of truth. We said the belt of truth was two things. First, it was knowing sound doctrine, the doctrine of our Creeds and Confessions, the truths of Scripture. Second, it was being true and sincere in the faith. We said we need the belt of truth as we fight off all the lies of Satan.
Today, we look at the next piece of the Christian's armor: the breastplate of righteousness. As with the belt of truth, we need the breastplate of righteousness in order to tap into the power of Christ and thereby resist the attacks of the evil one.
I The Breastplate
A No Roman soldier would ever go into battle without his breastplate. It protected him from a short-range weapon like a sword and from a long-range weapon like an arrow. The breastplate for the Roman soldier is like the bulletproof vest for a police officer -- you simply do not leave home without it.
The Romans had various kinds of breastplates. The most basic kind started with a piece of heavy linen; the hoof of an animal would be cut into thin slices; those slices would be hung on the linen and hooked together. The next step up would cover the linen with flattened pieces of metal hooked together. At the top end, the one we see in movies, would be the heavy piece of molded metal that we associate with Roman soldiers.
B The helmet protects the head. The breastplate protects the organs including the heart, kidneys, liver, stomach, and so on.
Twenty years ago Visalia Police Officer James Rapozo died in the line of duty. He was part of a SWAT Team looking for a suspect in gang-related shootings. The suspect shot Rapozo under the arm, just above his bulletproof vest. An inch or so down, and Rapozo's vest would have protected him.
The breastplate protects the upper and lower body. Among the Jews the upper body means the heart. The heart is the center of a person, the core of a person:
(Jer 17:9) The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
(Mt 15:19) For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
(Prov 23:7; KJV) For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he ...
(Prov 4:23) Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
Among the Jews the lower body is associated with feelings and emotions. We all know how our emotions give us feelings in our stomach so we become too excited or upset or nervous to eat or we are so angry that we develop stomach ulcers.
The breastplate protects the upper body and the lower body: The upper body, representing the core of a person; the lower body, representing the emotions of a person.
C Since the breastplate is meant to protect us from the devil's schemes and attacks, this tells us something about how Satan attacks the believer. He attacks the core of your being, your beliefs, your outlook on life, your relationship with God. He attacks with his lies. He wants to fill your mind with false doctrines and perversions and immorality instead of with the Word of God. He feeds you false information so you wrongly understand things. He wants you to become so tolerant of sin and entertained by sin that when you see it on TV or hear it on the radio it does not sear your conscience.
And, Satan attacks your emotions. He feeds you false information so you respond with the wrong parts of your emotions: so you respond with anger and hatred and lust rather than with patience and love and respect. He wants to twist and corrupt your emotions and affections. He wants to confuse your emotions so you feel the wrong way towards people.
Dear people, do you see how Satan works? Do you see him working this way in your life? Do you see him attacking your beliefs and your relationship with God? Do you see him clouding your emotions? Put on the breastplate. Paul -- Jesus -- says this to all of us. Put on the breastplate to tap into the mighty and wondrous power of Jesus. Put on the breastplate to protect yourself from the attacks of the evil one. Put on the breastplate to protect your heart and your emotions.
II The Breastplate of Righteousness
A I keep saying "breastplate." What is the breastplate of the Christian? What does Paul have in mind? Notice the whole phrase used by Paul: he calls it the "breastplate of righteousness." "The breastplate of righteousness." Protect yourself from the devil's schemes by wearing "the breastplate of righteousness."
When it comes to righteousness, there are only three possibilities. First, there is self-righteousness; second, there is imputed righteousness; third, there is actual righteousness. Put on the breastplate of righteousness. Is Paul telling us to put on self-righteousness, the righteousness of Christ, or to live out the righteousness Christ has given us? Let's look at the three possibilities.
First, what can we say about self-righteousness? In this world it is so easy to think you have a righteousness of your own. People want to believe that everyone (or almost everyone) is basically good. People want to believe that our natural tendency is to love God and neighbor. I run across this kind of thinking all the time: in Rotary, in the cycling club, even in the church. But what does the Bible say?
(Rom 3:10-11) As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; (11) there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.Do you hear what the Bible says? It says, "Forget this self-righteousness stuff because no one is basically good."
We need to hear this. We need to know and realize and believe no one is basically good, that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23).
And then are those who acknowledge that not everyone is basically good. But they believe they are. They believe they are a cut above all others. They believe they have a righteousness that makes them right with God. The Pharisees were this way. And you know, from a purely human point-of-view, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who is more righteous than a Pharisee. They were consumed with keeping the demands of the Law. Again, what does the Bible say?
(Mt 5:20) For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.Jesus says the righteousness of the Pharisees was not good enough.
We need to hear this too. We need to hear we are no better than others. We need to hear that our religious observances and spiritual exercises don't qualify us for God's presence. I run into Christians with this kind of thinking. Who think they are righteous because they attend worship, put money in the collection plate, read the Bible and pray, receive God-centered schooling, and attend youth group. Who think they are righteous because they don't gamble, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, do drugs, or watch certain kinds of TV programs. This kind of righteousness is known as legalism. This kind of righteousness boasts like the Pharisee did:
(Lk 18:11) God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector.Do you hear what the Pharisee was saying? "God, I thank You I am so good. Thank You I am happy with me. Thank You that You are happy with me. Thank You for my holiness and my righteousness." But what should he have been saying? "God, have mercy on me, a sinner" (Lk 18:13).
Paul was this way. Before he met Christ, Paul was a boastful, self-righteous Pharisee:
(Phil 3:5-6) circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; (6) as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.But after he met Christ what does he say about this? "I consider them rubbish" (Phil 3:8). I "put no confidence in the flesh" (Phil 3:3).
As long as you are self-righteous, congregation, you do NOT have a breastplate. As long as you are self-righteous, congregation, you are not wearing the armor of God. Which means that as long as you are self-righteous, congregation, you have no protection against the attacks of Satan! Self-righteousness is NOT the breastplate of righteousness.
B Second, this brings us to imputed righteousness. By this, I mean the righteousness of Jesus, the "righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (Phil 3:9). The righteousness spoken of so eloquently by the Heidelberg Catechism in Q & A 60:
God grants and credits to meWhen you are in Christ, God gives you the righteousness of Christ. God clothes you in the righteousness of Christ. So that when God looks at you, He sees the righteousness of Christ. So that when God looks at you, He no longer sees you as a sinner. That's what we mean by imputed righteousness.
the perfect satisfaction, righteousness
and holiness of Christ,
as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner,
as if I had been as perfectly obedient
as Christ was obedient for me.
Put on the breastplate of righteousness. Believe in Jesus so His righteousness is yours. To be guarded and protected against the devil, you need the righteousness of Jesus. Unless you have this righteousness, your heart and your emotions are at the mercy of Satan.
C Third, this brings us to the last kind of righteousness: the Christ-like righteousness that is supposed to be found in your life and my life. We are called to righteous living: not in order to be saved but because we are saved. Philippians 2:13 is one of my favorite Bible verses; it says, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." What God has worked in, you and I are called to work out. God has made us righteous in Christ; now, we are called to live and act as righteous people.
In the first two churches I served, there were churches nearby that presumed all their members were saved. As long as young people were baptized members, it made no difference how much they drank and partied and fought in hockey games and engaged in premarital sex. What a horrible, awful theology. Imputed righteousness is to always result in actual righteousness. This reminds me of a discussion I was reading on an internet blog. The question was asked whether Christians could go to a strip bar to evangelize. One person asked, WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? First, I was scandalized that people would even ask that question. Second, no one who is holy and righteous can put themselves into that kind of temptation. Just like a police officer or a soldier puts on a uniform, so the Christian puts on a uniform. Soldiers in Jesus' army put on actual righteousness, they live out their faith, they work out what Jesus has worked in.
Put on the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate is on when we work out what Jesus has worked in. The breastplate is on when we strive to live out the Christian life. The breastplate is on when put off the old self with its deceitful desires and put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (cf Eph 4:22-24). The breastplate in on when you say NO to sin and YES to righteousness. The breastplate is on when you "do not give the devil a foothold" (Eph 4:27). And, the breastplate is off when you purposely lead a life of sin.
"Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power ... Put on the full armor of God ... with the breastplate of righteousness in place."
We need this righteousness because we are in a battle, a war. We need this righteousness so the devil goes down to defeat.
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