“Stand your ground, putting on the…body armor (breastplate) of God’s righteousness.” (Ephesians 6:14, NLT)
In this article in our series on the Armor of God, we’ll take a deep dive into the next piece of body armor for the Christian police officer – the breastplate of righteousness (or as the NLT puts it, the “body armor of righteousness”). In our last post in the series, we explored the “duty belt” of truth. Let’s start by reviewing a few versions of this verse:
NLT: Stand your ground, putting on the…body armor of God’s righteousness.
NKJV: …the breastplate of righteousness (“breastplate” being the most common word among all trusted translations).
CSB: …righteousness like armor on your chest
And then please read the foundational passage God has for us in Isaiah 59:14-21.
Those of us who serve in law enforcement and combat military units understand “body armor” (typically front and back Kevlar panels in a vest carrier covering the torso), but the main image Paul uses here is that of a front plate/panel ONLY. Why? Because Roman soldiers were generally not allowed to retreat or allow the enemy to get behind them (running from the enemy was often a death penalty offense). They either stood their ground (the “stand” part Paul uses here — as in a shield wall) or advanced in their famous battle formation, the testudo (tortoise). The testudo was protected by shields and defended by weapons primarily from the front and top — and less so at the flanks and rarely at the rear (see the Testudo Formation). And, for the common soldier (think “street cop”), the front armor was almost always tougher and more protective than the back panel — if they had it at all aside from leather and chain mail.
Versions of the testudo formation are still used by police today in riot situations (and I’ll cover this in more detail when we get to verse 16 — the “shield of faith”). For now, just understand that the breastplate was body armor primarily intended to protect the wearer’s vital organs from the front. So what is the spiritual (biblical) application God has for use here? And what does it the word “righteousness” mean?
Simply put, the breastplate or body armor of righteousness refers to the righteousness purchased for us by Jesus at the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). At salvation, God issues a “breastplate” (body armor) to each repentant sinner. It is specially designed by God to protect our heart and soul from evil and deception. Our own so-called righteous acts are no match for Satan’s attacks (Isaiah 64:6). The breastplate of righteousness has Christ’s name stamped on it, as though He saying, “Your righteousness isn’t sufficient to protect you. Wear mine.”
Moreover, God instructs us to “put on” this armor, which implies that we do not automatically wear it all the time (although nowhere in Scripture are we told to take it off). Putting on the Armor of God requires a decision on our part. To put on the breastplate of righteousness, we must first have the belt of truth (our last study) firmly in place and attached to the breastplate. Without God’s truth, our righteousness will be based upon our own attempts to impress God or otherwise be “good”. We choose instead to acknowledge that, apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). As genuine, born again believers (Is that you?), we should see ourselves “in Christ” and that, regardless of our failures, His righteousness has been credited to our account.
We “put on” God’s body armor by seeking Him and His righteousness above everything else (Matthew 6:33). We daily seek to make Him and His ways our ways (our “dwelling place” — Psalm 91:1, Psalm 37:4). When God reveals an area of change to us, we obey and allow Him to work in us.
As we wear God’s breastplate/body armor of righteousness, we begin to develop a purity of heart that translates into actions. As our lives become conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), our choices become more righteous, and these godly choices also protect us from further temptation and deception (see Proverbs 8:20 and Psalm 23:3). As we wear God's breastplate/body armor of righteousness, we begin to develop a purity of heart that translates into actions. Click To Tweet
When body armor is abused or worn incorrectly, it can malfunction. Likewise, there are several factors that can interfere with the effectiveness of our spiritual breastplate/body armor: carelessness (1 Peter 5:8), unbelief (Hebrews 3:12), abusing grace (Romans 6:1–2), or disobedience (1 John 3:4; Hebrews 4:6) can hinder our ability to stand firm and defeat the enemy in our lives. When we tolerate sin, refuse to forgive (2 Corinthians 2:10–11), rely on personal righteousness (Titus 3:5), or allow earthly concerns to crowd out time for an intimate relationship with God, we, in effect, take off the breastplate of righteousness, minimizing its power to protect us.
It is also vital that we understand that, without first being born again in Christ, we can NEVER be “righteous” enough (God clearly tells us that, without Him, “none are righteous, no not even one” — Romans 3:10-12, Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 53:1-3). In short, the unsaved/unbeliever is unprotected from Satan’s attacks. So how can believers stand firm and armor up in spiritual warfare—the attacks of Satan and his demons? Here’s a short summary of our first two pieces of spiritual armor (with the understanding that the “duty belt” of truth helps secure the breastplate of righteousness in place):
Believers Stand Firm by Putting on the Belt of Truth
- through knowing the content of truth as revealed in Scripture (meaning we need to read/study our Bibles and be in a solid, Bible-teaching church)
- through living a life of honesty and integrity under the power of the Holy Spirit)
- through being fully committed (“all in”) to God in Christ
Believers Stand Firm by Putting on the Breastplate of Righteousness
- through recognizing the imputed righteousness of Christ
- through living a righteous life in God’s power (we’ll fail if we try to do it on our own) — see Philippians 4:13.
- through guarding/protecting our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7)
And what kinds of attacks does our spiritual body armor protect us from? Here are just a few spiritual attack tactics that our common enemy will employ:
(1) Temptation to sin, to falter, to compromise on God’s standards (including but not limited abortion [murder of the unborn], living together/sex outside of marriage, God’s standard for marriage, etc.)
(2) Doubt (such as doubting you’re really saved; doubts that what God says is really true, etc.)
(3) False teaching/teachers leading others astray from God’s truth as revealed to us in His Word, the Bible
(4) Spiritual attacks when we’re physically and emotionally exhausted
(5) Peace (the enemy will come after our peace)
(6) Persecution and attacks against Christians (and Christian cops in particular)
Finally (Ephesians 6:10 again), for an ever deeper dive on this topic (especially on the meaning of being a “soldier” or “warrior of the cross”), I strongly recommend Pastor Alistair Begg’s outstanding exegesis (a “big word” for a critical explanation of the Bible text, including the original and intended meaning of a passage of scripture) of this passage: The Breastplate of Righteousness.
In closing, we must not forget that God’s spiritual armor and weapons described here are available ONLY to born again believers (“Christians” as God alone gets to describe it). In fact, if you are an unbeliever (non-Christian), you are utterly helpless against the enemy’s attacks (John 15:5 and many other passages). So is that you? Are you right with God today? Are you sure? If not, I implore you, surrender to Him in faith NOW while you still can.