The apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit is instructing Christians how they can walk worthy of the calling to which they have been called (Ephesians 4:1). It is necessary that Christians take up the whole armor of God that we may be able to stand against the devil and his schemes. Each piece of armor is needed so that we can stand and not fall when the devil attacks us. In the last lesson we learned that we needed the belt of truth. The beginning point to standing against the attack is knowing the truth. But the truth is not enough. There are more pieces of armor that we need to take up. The second piece of armor that God calls us to take up is the breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness is necessary for this fight.
Now, the scriptures speak of righteousness in two different ways. One way the scriptures speak of righteousness is that of us living holy and pure lives before the Lord. For example, notice Romans 6:13.
Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:13 ESV)
But the other way the scriptures speak of righteousness is the righteousness that is given to us by God. Another word for this righteousness would be justification, as we see in Romans 4.
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: (Romans 4:5–6 ESV)
So which is Paul talking about for us? First, there is God bestowing righteousness or justification on all who believe. Then Paul tells those people to live in that righteousness or justification by presenting their bodies as instruments of righteousness, not wickedness. I believe the armor of God that Paul is talking about is the second part of righteousness. There is nothing for me to take up as the armor of God if Paul is describing the righteousness or justification that God bestows on those who have faith in him. Remember, Paul is writing to Christians. They have already been justified by faith. They have already been pronounced righteous when they were saved through the blood of Jesus. But this is not the end of the concept of righteousness. Now there is a call for righteous living. Think about how this fits so well where we are in the book of Ephesians. Paul has started this section of the book calling Christians to walk worthy of the calling. The first half of the book was telling us what God has already done for us. The second half of the book is telling how to live because of what God has done. Thus, putting on the breastplate of righteousness is the need for the Christian to have right living. To live the life of victory that God wants you to have requires a life change, not based on ourselves, but based on God’s righteousness. We will talk more about this idea as we study today.
Paul has already written to these Christians about the need for living a life in righteousness. Notice earlier in Ephesians what he said.
…and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:24 ESV)
There is a new self and a new way of living that is to be model after the likeness of God. The breastplate of righteousness is perhaps more profound than we may have realized. When we struggle against the attacks of the devil, now that we have the truth around our waist, we need look if we are pursuing righteousness.
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:11–12 ESV)
Notice that Paul describes fighting the good fight as pursuing righteousness. Righteous living and presenting our bodies as instruments of righteousness does not just happen. Righteousness is something that must be pursued. I have to desire to live right in the sight of the Lord. Now left to ourselves we fail at this. The story of history is that there is no one who is righteous. Everyone has failed in living right before the Lord. So relying on my own willpower and my own strength will not be successful in accomplishing a righteous life. So I want to make clear in this lesson that the instruction of the scriptures is not just try harder and you will do better. There is no one who is righteous and all have sinned. We have to take a breath and resign ourselves to the knowledge that my effort in righteousness is simply insufficient. But God has given us the tools for righteousness to make this pursuit possible.
Putting On Righteousness
First, holy living is not simply about keeping rules but is the means by which we defend our faith and defend our hearts against the attacks of the devil. We must see our obedience to the Lord as armor to help us in our fight of faith, not as mere duties or rule keeping. The devil attacks and undermines pure living. He wants to replace righteous living with immorality, greed, envy, hate, and all vices. The devil wants us to laugh at sin rather than mourn it. He wants us to rationalize sin rather than confess it. He wants us to enjoy sin so that our conscience becomes seared rather than fight for righteousness. The devil wants to give up on this righteous living. Our failure at overcoming certain sins and temptations is used by the devil to get us to give up. He whispers in our ears that we cannot win this fight. But God is telling us that we can stand. When we resist with righteous living then there is going to be success. This is why the scriptures tell us to resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7). What a glorious promise that God has given to us. When we pursue righteous living we are driving the devil back and are standing against his attacks. We must see our decision today to live righteously and avoid sin as far more than just a simple moral decision. We must see this decision as waging war and standing against the devil which gives us greater strength by God for the next encounter.
We are creatures of habit. Whatever our habit is, it becomes easier and easier to do. When we pursue righteousness, there is a greater likelihood that we will continue in that habit. This is one of the reasons God wants us to pursue righteousness. Make the right decisions for the Lord become a greater habit for us the more it is practiced.
Second, holy living is a practice, not a perfection. The scriptures command us to practice righteousness. “Everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (1 John 2:29) and “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God” (1 John 3:10). But in this very letter John said that anyone who says they do not sin is a liar. The strength of God’s grace compels us to continue to practice righteousness even when there is a time we fall short. We do not give up. We strive to make righteous living the rule of our life, not the anomaly.
Third, we are compelled to living a righteous life because so much of our pain in life comes from our lack of personal holiness. Unrighteousness robs us of joy. How often we believe the lie of the devil that our joy will be found in unrighteousness, yet all we reap is pain and suffering! The truth is that righteousness is the place of joy for our lives. Psalm 51 records the devastation of David’s sexual sin and his desire to return to the Lord. After asking for a clean heart and a renewed spirit, listen to what he says.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:12 ESV)
Joy was not in his unrighteousness. Joy was not found in his plunge into sexual immorality. Joy was found in coming back into the presence of the Lord. Joy is in the salvation of the Lord. Living in righteousness is the good life for us. We should know this because part of our faith is believing that God desires what is best for us. He proved that he desires what is best for us through the cross of Jesus. God is not giving arbitrary rules just to see who will follow him and who will not. The path of righteousness is for our own good. Choosing the way of righteousness will build defenses against the attack of the devil. God’s strength in your life will help you recognize the temptation and stay away from it because you know that joy is not in the temptation that lies before you.
Finally, we are compelled to righteous living comes by seeing the faithfulness of our God and his loving kindness toward us. This has been the message of Ephesians. You have been called to a glorious life. Now walk worthy of the calling. Righteous living is desired by seeing what God has done for us. This is what the prophets predicted hundreds of years before the coming of Christ.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26–27 ESV)
God promised that he would do a heart operation on your life, removing the heart of stone and giving a heart of flesh. God will pour out his blessings as seen in the giving of the Holy Spirit which will cause us to be careful to obey God’s commands. Jesus makes righteous living possible by seeing him and his love and being transformed by that. We cannot forget the love of God as seen through Jesus and all that we have received from his sacrifice. This is why Paul spent the first three chapters telling us our identity in Christ. He had to remind us that we are dead in our sins and children of wrath, but through Jesus he has adopted us to be his children with full rights to receive the promises and inheritance of God. We have been justified by faith. Now we must desire the righteous life and give our bodies to God’s glory.
Tools To Begin
Very quickly, allow me to give you two tools to start your life of holiness and righteousness. First, soak in the scriptures.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17 ESV)
Notice that all scripture is profitable for training in righteousness. The scriptures will teach us what the righteous life looks like. Reading the scriptures with an open heart will bring about the transformation of heart that leads to a transformed life in holiness. Second, the battle starts in the mind to live in righteousness.
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:4–6 ESV)
The fight for obedience against the devil begins in the mind. Capture those thoughts and make them obey Christ. Fight the flesh. Fight the temptations. God has strengthened you through his Son and through his blessings that you can live a life that rejects sinful living and practices righteousness.