The Breastplate Of RighteousnessErwin W. Lutzer | August 17, 2008
Selected highlights from this sermon
The Christian life is a battleground, and like it or not, you’re already involved. Even non-believers are involved in the battle.
And this battle is taking place on two fronts. We battle in our hearts, where all the sins of the world are found as seeds waiting to germinate, and we battle against Satan.
So how do we fight against these two warring factions? We put on the breastplate of righteousness by confessing our sins to fight the enemy within, and we affirm the victory of Jesus to fight the enemy without—Satan.
I am convinced that oftentimes we see the Christian life as a playground rather than a battleground, and it is a battleground, and you are in that battle whether you like it or not. You don’t have to sign up. The battle has come to you.
The Bible says that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, and by the way, that’s true whether you are here today as a believer or not. As a matter of fact, the devil actually blinds the minds of the unsaved, the Bible says, lest they should believe the Gospel, and Jesus said that when the Word is preached, it is Satan that comes and snatches it out of people’s minds so that they don’t believe, so we’re all in the battle.
If you’re here today as a Christian, I want to remind you of what Satan’s strategy is. It is very clear. He wants to make sin attractive to us, and then what he wants us to do in the process of sinning, and of course, it happens, is to break our fellowship with God. If there’s anything that he detests, it’s people who walk with God. Maybe you’re here today as a Christian and you are backslidden. You are not in fellowship with God. If so, Satan has won a victory. He has won what it’s all about for him—cutting us off from fellowship with the Almighty.
Do you remember that story (I think it was a legend, of course) about Queen Helen who was captured by the people of Troy? The Greeks tried to overcome Troy for about ten years, and they couldn’t do that. They couldn’t capture the city, so they came up with a very ingenious plan. The plan was to take a wooden horse, and in that big wooden horse they had a number of soldiers, but they took the horse and they put it outside the city and said to the people of the city, “This is our gift to you.” The people of Troy fell for the trap and they brought the horse in, and then when they were having a party in the city, you know the rest of the story. The soldiers came out of the horse and they ran to the gates and they opened the gates where soldiers were waiting, and so the enemy within joined with the enemy without and Troy was captured.
You and I have two enemies. There is the enemy within that is the heart. That is what we call the flesh. Jesus said that out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornication, thefts and covetousness. All the different sins of the world exist in seed form within our hearts. That’s the enemy within, but there’s also an enemy without, and that is Satan, and what he wants the enemy within to do is to open the gate so that he can come in and be in cahoots with the enemy that is within, and of course, in extreme cases this actually results in Satanic invasion or possession. I think, for example, of Judas in John 13. It says that Judas decided to betray Christ. He’s there in the upper room, and then Jesus said, “One of you shall betray me,” and remember it says, “…and Judas left and Satan entered into him.” Wow! Satan wasn’t in Judas yet in the upper room. It was when he left. He had made the decision that he was going to betray Christ. The enemy within opened the gates to the enemy without, and the enemy without came in, and Judas goes down in history as having done that terrible, terrible deed of betraying the only one that could save him from his sins.
That’s our struggle too. It is to so understand the nature of the battle that we remember that it says in Ephesians 6, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age,” and many skirmishes that we have emotionally, spiritually, and even conflict with one another oftentimes are agitated, inspired and, what shall we say, brought about by the temptations of the devil. And then it says, “Stand therefore.”
In the last message we talked about the belt of truth, and today we come to the breastplate of righteousness. Rather than turn to Ephesians 6, I’d like you to turn to the book of Romans, because if we want to understand what the breastplate of righteousness is, if we want to understand how we can apply it so that we can leave here today with truth that will transform us (not only in the next week but forever), some of the truths that I will share with you today about the righteousness of God are truths that I apply practically every single day, and we’re going to see how we can do that.
In Romans 10, and we’ll begin there (though my main text will be in Romans 3) the Apostle Paul distinguishes two kinds of righteousness. Actually he does this throughout the book, but I chose Romans 10:3 and 4. It says, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness (he’s talking about the people of Israel—the Jews of his day—trying to establish their own righteousness), they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
Notice the contrast between their own righteousness and God’s righteousness, and that’s where I begin today in this message. I talk about human righteousness. Human righteousness is the decision to be religious. It’s the decision to do whatever your religion dictates should be done to meet the requirements, and so you become disciplined, and you do everything within your power to meet the obligations. You attend temple; you go to church. If you’re told these are the rules, you obey the rules. You worship according to the way in which your particular tradition tells you that you should, and that would be true in any religion of the world, and that kind of righteousness does not attain the righteousness of God. It’s not the righteousness with which we can stand against the fiery darts of the wicked, and the reason is because all human righteousness is tainted. It’s all tainted.
You see, you and I are generous, but we hope that we’ll be recognized. We do things with mixed motives. We do things and we think that we are doing a wonderful thing but actually there’s always that sense of doing it for others, and doing it to be recognized. I’ve told you before (but it fits here) about the time when I was driving along and I saw a woman who had driven partially into the ditch and the car was out of gas, and I drove to a gas station, and I had to buy a can because they wouldn’t trust me to bring it back, a can that I filled with a gallon of gas, and I was pouring it into her car and standing there in the ditch I thought to myself, “If only all the people at Moody Church could see me now.” [laughter] Mixed motives are always there, and you see, God’s righteousness is not human righteousness raised to a higher power. God’s righteousness is of an entirely different quality.
That’s why we like to emphasize that if you’re going to stand on the basis of your own record in God’s presence, you will be blown away, and you will be rejected because human righteousness does not attain to the righteousness of God, and as Christians we can also use human righteousness to fight against the devil and it does not work.
This is the way we do it. Satan comes to us and what he does is he loves to accuse. He loves to tell us and remind us of our past. All right? So he comes and reminds us and says, “So you’re a Christian. Look at what you’ve just done. As a matter of fact, if you think that God still loves you and cares about you, how could you possibly think that? Look at what you’ve done. God is so mad at you, you might as well walk away from Him.” That’s what Satan says. Okay?
What do we say if we’re thinking in terms of human righteousness? We say, “Wait a moment. I’m not that bad. I attended church. I memorized verses when I was in Sunday school. Most of the time I’m honest. Look at all of the good things that I do. On balance I’m pretty good. Don’t make me look that bad.” And if you fight the devil that way he has you for lunch, and for a snack later. He loves it because human righteousness cannot withstand the fiery darts of the wicked one. Human righteousness will never buy us any forgiveness of God. It will not buy the protection that God needs to give us. Human righteousness is weak and the wrong kind. Oh, it’s good to do these things, but it will never give you status with God.
I’ve used the illustration before, but I love it. If you were to add a million bananas, you would never get an orange. Take all the human righteousness that has ever been performed; gather it all together in one bundle and it does not attain to a scintilla of the righteousness of God. There are millions of people in church today who have established their own righteousness and think that they are fine, and they know nothing of the righteousness of God.
So let’s talk about the righteousness of God, and for this let’s turn to Romans 3. This passage of Scripture deserves particular attention, and we can’t give it all the attention it deserves, but I’m going to be speaking about this same passage perhaps in a couple of months in a series, and I’ll pick it up again, but notice today; this is critical.
In Romans 1 Paul proves that the pagans are sinners. In Romans 2 he goes on to prove that the Jews, who were self-righteous, who had their own righteousness, are sinners too. And he emphasizes then in Romans 3:19 that all of us are, and he says, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” Paul says, “Look, don’t depend upon human righteousness because in God’s presence your mouth is going to be stopped and you’ll have nothing to say because your righteousness is unacceptable.”
But now notice that the whole world is accountable to God. Verse 20 says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” Laws do have a benefit, and they remind us that we are sinners, and when we see that we are sinners then there’s hope for us, but the more righteous we perceive ourselves to be, the less likely we will see our need for the righteousness of God. That’s why self-righteousness is so deceptive. The more of it that you have the less of God’s righteousness you think you need.
Now notice verse 21: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” The righteousness of God! Imagine today if you had the righteousness of God. Obviously God would accept you because you’d have the very same quality of righteousness that He does. Righteousness in the Bible—the righteousness of God—refers to an attribute of God. He is just, He is holy, He is loving, but He is also righteous in all that He does. All of His acts are good and pure, and honest and right, and the good news is this: Through Jesus Christ we get this quality of righteousness credited to us as sinners even though we are imperfect in our own lives and in our own experience. That is the good news of the Gospel.
I love 2 Corinthians 5: “God made him to be sin who knew no sin (that is Jesus) that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” So Jesus got what He didn’t deserve, namely our sin; and we get what we don’t deserve, namely His righteousness. We get His righteousness, and that’s why it is sometimes referred to as the great exchange, that when Jesus died on the cross He received our sin.
You know (a parenthesis) there are some theologians who say, “Well, it is immoral for God to punish someone who is innocent.” My friend, Jesus wasn’t innocent. He was declared guilty by God when He bore our sins, and because He bore our sins, God says, “You can receive now the righteousness of God. Credited to your account—legally accredited—can be God’s own standard of holiness and perfection. It’s applied to you.”
Now, what are some of the characteristics of the holiness of God? Well, obviously, first of all it has to be a free gift. You’ll notice it says in verse 24, “…and are justified by his grace as a gift…." Of course it has to be a gift. Think about it. It’s a kind of righteousness of which you and I have none. We can’t work for it. We can’t earn it. We can’t say, “Well, God, you give me part of it, and then I’ll add my own righteousness to what you give me.” No, it is a gift because it is God’s righteousness. It has to be a gift. That’s why the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
The Gospel slaps us in the face if we’re proud people, because it says, “Whatever you bring is unacceptable. All that you can bring is your need and in the process of bringing the need, I will supply what you need.” Our great contribution in salvation is our sin. That’s the only contribution we make. It is the righteousness of God that is the gift.
If you are struggling here today and wondering whether or not you can believe in Jesus, or have assurance, remember to receive it as a gift. It is not of works. Don’t be impressed with what you’ve done for God, because I can assure you, He’s not impressed with it, and probably your close friends aren’t either.
Now, what do we say about it? It is a gift. It is an unchangeable righteousness. How do we know it is unchangeable? We know because it is the righteousness of God. You get the same righteousness when you believe on Jesus as I received, as anyone else has received throughout church history; the same righteousness the Apostle Paul received, the same righteousness that D. L. Moody received, and the same righteousness that Billy Graham received. We all receive the same righteousness, and that means that the real issue isn’t the greatness of your sin.
You see, there are some of you here today who, if the truth were known, have done some pretty terrible things, maybe even criminal things, and you’re asking today, “Now, can I believe on Jesus, and what happens when I believe?” and the answer is, “Yes, you can believe on Jesus.” If the Holy Spirit is working in your heart I’m going to urge you to believe on Jesus, and in the process you will receive the righteousness of God, and receive the same righteousness as anyone else—the same acceptance before God the Father, the same opportunity of access into His presence, the same privileges as a son or a daughter of the Almighty. It is an unchangeable righteousness, unaffected by the degree of our sin. Of course, it’s better to be a good person rather than a bad one, or rather than a criminal, but at the end of the day, when you believe in Jesus, the real issue is has the righteousness of Christ been credited to you?
It is an unchangeable righteousness. It’s a permanent righteousness. You see, when you receive this righteousness it is really yours forever. It’ll take you all the way to heaven.
There are some people who think the Christian life is this way: You confess your sins and then when you sin again, you lose your salvation. You lose the righteousness of Christ and you have to start over again, and if you really believe that, my friend, you don’t know where in the world you are in your Christian walk. It is so confusing and it is so uncertain.
I remember riding on a plane with a guy who said, “I’m A.W.O.L. from the Christian life.” He attended a camp, and at the camp he was told that if you leave here and sin, you lose your salvation. Well, I remember one pastor who believed that who said to the town drunk who used to get saved every Sunday, “If you get saved here next Sunday, I think right after you get saved I ought to just shoot you so that at least I’d know you’d go to heaven,” because you see on Monday when he got drunk again his salvation was gone. My friend, the work that God does in you when you believe in Jesus is so radical and is so permanent, it lasts. It will carry you all the way [applause] to the heavenly city. It is yours.
Well, you ask, “Do we have to confess our sins?” Yes, of course, we have to confess our sins because that has to do with our fellowship with God, but our standing, our legal righteousness remains there, and we can be confident that we are still God’s children even when we run.
All right. So we’ve talked now about human righteousness. We’ve talked about divine righteousness. Now the question is, “How can it be applied?” Now we’re talking about practical righteousness. Now we’re in a position where we can actually talk about the breastplate of righteousness. This breastplate, by the way, covered everything from your neck to your belt, and it was usually made of metal or very heavy leather, and it was worn, of course, to protect the heart, and so when Paul says you have to put on the breastplate of righteousness, he was talking about the righteousness of God applied in our lives in a practical way. And how do we apply this righteousness? And, by the way, why is it that we are still vulnerable to Satan despite the fact that we have received legally the righteousness of God? It’s the way in which God worked it. God says that when you believe on Jesus, you are mine forever. You have the righteousness of God legally imputed to you, but you can still be rebellious. You and I have known some Christians who have done some pretty terrible things—very terrible things, and we as Christians can still in this life go into Satan’s territory, and when we do, we are in for the hassle of our lives.
Here’s an illustration. Suppose you are an American soldier and you happen to walk into enemy territory. You cross the boundary, and you may not even know it, but in the process of crossing the boundary into the enemy’s territory, you will be captured. You might get back but what a struggle it is going to be, and what a lesson you’re going to learn about the nature of the enemy.
Let me give you some examples of how you and I can still allow the enemy a victory even after the righteousness of God has been credited to us. We can do it first of all by presumptuous sins, by sins that we tolerate and sins where we sin and then we think to ourselves, “Well, God will forgive me anyway so it really doesn’t matter whether or not I sin because God is a forgiving God.” First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he’s faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from every unrighteousness.” So there’s my promise. I can sin and I can depend upon God’s forgiveness.
Someone who was sleeping with somebody else’s wife said to a friend of mine, “Well, of course God will forgive me. That’s his job, isn’t it?” And by the way, there is no evidence that that person understood the Gospel at all, but he was presumptuous anyway.
Many years ago I was in Japan preaching at a missionary conference there and I was in a car with my interpreter, who was a wonderful pastor there in Japan, and we had a driver who was taking us through Tokyo, and I noticed that there was their huge temple. It was all lit up in the evening and hundreds of people were swarming into it, and I said, “What’s going on there?” and he said, “That temple is to the fox god.” He said, “The fox god is a god that will enable you to sin and get by, and if not, you can receive absolution or forgiveness in advance of the sin that you plan to commit,” and he said, “It is frequented primarily by businessmen and prostitutes.” It’s the fox god.
Sometimes we treat God Almighty like that. We say to ourselves, “Well you know I can sin, and I can toy with this, and then I can just ask forgiveness and bounce back,” and God says, “I’m taking this much more seriously than you are. I will actually use Satan to harass you and to, what shall we say, put you in chains, and even give you an addiction.” An addiction is primarily the price people pay for toying with sin, and God says, “I will do all that for you until you get so desperate that you cry to me and say, ‘It’s time for me to come clean and to clear everything out.’”
So, you see, we can do that. We can do it through occultism. We can do it through those kinds of issues that come into our lives where we have matters of conscience that we refuse to address. You’ve got something in the back of your mind, you know that if you are wholly and totally right with God you’re going to have to deal with it, and sometimes it has to do with dealing with other people. And it’s in the back of our mind and then we come to church and we hear a sermon like this, and the Holy Spirit speaks to us and says, “You know, you have so-and-so that you need to make things right with,” and then we begin to really argue with God. “No, I don’t.” We justify ourselves. We think it is their responsibility, and on and on it goes, and Satan is winning a victory.
Well, you say, “Pastor Lutzer, how do we then put on this piece of armor—this righteousness of God?”
First of all, we do it through confession. It is true, of course, that the Bible is very clear that if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every unrighteousness. So, it is really through confession—honest repentance and confession.
When I was growing up on the farm in Canada, off a way from the farm yard we had a garbage dump, because you see, in those days, we didn’t have garbage trucks that came to pick up the garbage. And one of the things we noticed as children when we got close to the garbage dump was there were many, many hundreds of flies that loved to congregate there. Do you know the way in which you get rid of flies? You have to get rid of the garbage. The way in which we get rid of oftentimes satanic attacks is we just need to clear the garbage out of our lives. And when I’m speaking to you today, you know in advance, don’t you, as the Holy Spirit is speaking through me to you and through His Word, what that garbage is, don’t you? You know exactly what I am talking about in your experience and in your life, and so, you see, the enemy within is constantly feeding reason for the enemy without [Satan] to reinforce your particular sin, and the Bible says that he who covers his sin shall not prosper, but the person who confesses and forsakes it will receive mercy.
That’s the way in which we begin, by putting on the garment of righteousness—the breastplate of righteousness. First of all, you take care of the enemy within through confession and repentance. Then what you need to do is to handle the enemy without and that is done with knowledge. It’s done by pointing to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and affirming the victory of Jesus, about whom the Bible says He disarmed all principalities and all powers and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. It really affirms the victory of Jesus. You don’t look within your own heart. You look out at the victory that Jesus Christ accomplished.
There are two different areas in which Satan attacks us. First of all, he brings up our past. Revelation 12 says regarding our enemy, Satan, “He accuses us before God day and night.” You see, what he does is he says, “Now, look at those Christians. Look at the way in which they are acting, and you call them your sons and daughters. So, these are the kinds of people you associate with. Look at what that person did, and you see, he calls himself a Christian. How can you, as a holy God, associate with him?” And so what the devil does is he brings that up to God, but he also brings it up to us, and we become defeated, and do you know what the normal response is? We say, “I’m just leaving this whole thing. I’m not going to obey God anymore. I’m not going to walk with God. I’m not going to go to church. God’s mad at me anyway so I’m unworthy. I might as well sin and make myself even more unworthy.” It’s a lie of the devil but that’s the way in which he attacks us.
Now, how do you handle that? I’ve already mentioned that you don’t say, “Oh no, you can’t do that to me, Devil, because I had a warm time in my devotions. I went to church. I sang in the choir. Look at my goodness.” No, no, no, that’s human righteousness. What does the rest of the text say? It says, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of the testimony.”
When Satan comes to you and tells you how awful you are, you tell him that the half [of it] has not been told, that all the information that he has about you is incomplete. It’s far worse than he’s making it out to be. Tell him that. “You think that’s bad? Oh, you don’t know the half. Only God knows the half.” But, you see, my victory is not based in dragging something out of my human righteousness bag. My victory comes because there he stands before the throne. “Before the throne my surety stands, my name is written on his hands.” That’s how come we know that we overcome him.
They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, the righteousness of God. So what Satan does is he uses our past and then he uses our future, and he uses our future by engendering all kinds of fears—fears about our relationships, economic fears. You just list them—health fears, and what he wants to do is to destabilize us so that we lose our faith, so that we can no longer trust Him, so that we can no longer joyfully believe. And so what Satan does is he uses the past and he uses the future, and the answer is the same again. It is, “Today Jesus is my righteousness. I can’t handle tomorrow. It’s too complicated and it’s too fearful, but I don’t have to. I look to Him, and because I belong to Him my needs are His needs, and my cares are His cares, and I refuse to give in to the fears and the uncertainties of Satan.
One verse of Scripture that all of us should know by memory is 1 Corinthians 1:30: “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.” Wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption! Well you say, “Pastor Lutzer, you said you apply these truths virtually almost every day,” and the answer is “Yes.” Sometimes I wake up in the morning, and I don’t necessarily have a heart that’s hot for God—burning for God. I’m discouraged. I’m despondent. I fall into my own sins. So what do I do? Do I simply give up and say, “Well, see, things are so bad. I’m so unworthy.” I know I’m unworthy, but that’s not the point right now. “Lord Jesus, today You are my righteousness. Today You are my acceptance before the Father. Today You are all that I need, and Father, despite my failures, accept what Your Son has done on my behalf, and I know that You delight in Him, therefore You delight in me because I have His righteousness, and I’m going to continue to move on.” That’s the way [applause] the Christian life is to be lived.
So I have to ask you today, do you have on the breastplate of righteousness? First of all, legal righteousness because you’ve trusted Christ as Savior and it’s been credited to you. And then the practical righteousness of cleansing and faith, faith in the victory of Jesus. “Jesus, thy blood and righteous, my beauty art my heavenly dress.”
Let’s pray together.
So, today, whatever the Holy Spirit says to us, oh Father, we ask that You shall give us the grace to do. For those whom Satan has discouraged, we pray that they may look beyond their circumstances to the victory of Jesus and overcome him by the blood of the Lamb. To those whom Satan has discouraged by pointing out their past sins, may they know that they overcome that by the blood of the Lamb. To those, Father, who anticipate a future with great fear, may they know that they overcome that through the victory of Jesus and the blood of the Lamb. Grant that to us, oh God, we ask today, and for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior, today, even as we shall be singing in a moment, may they trust Christ. May they say, “Today I believe on Jesus.” Grant that, oh Lord, we pray in Jesus’ blessed name. Amen.