We suggested yesterday that Paul had two aspects of righteousness in mind when considering the breastplate that is part of the Christian’s spiritual armour. One aspect is imputed righteousness, and we thought about it yesterday. The other is practical righteousness, and we can think about it today.
Unlike the imputed righteousness of Christ, practical righteousness develops in the lives of Christians as they progress in holiness through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. It is practical Christian living, marked by an ongoing determination to keep the commandments of God. It also is a righteousness that, like a breastplate, protects the vital organs of intellect, emotion and will, that fits comfortably in place, and that gives a sense of security.
It fits comfortably in place because it is the kind of life that we were created to live. God made us to glorify him and discomfort and dissatisfaction comes when we fail to do so. But when a person is regenerated, he or she begins to live for God. As they continue in this type of life, they discover that it is a pleasant life. The apostle John describes this life in 1 John 5:3: ‘For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.’ Jesus also told his disciples in Matthew 11:28-30: ‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ God reminded his people in Isaiah 48:18: ‘Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.’
But holiness also gives protection from the devil’s attacks. I don’t mean that we can depend on our progress as if it were a joint source of protection with the imputed righteousness of Christ. What I mean is that it is unlikely for a Christian who is focussed on developing his Christian life to be caught by the enemy’s weapons. Such a Christian distrusts himself, it is true. But he also engages in self-examination and is able to rebut the devil’s accusations of sinful thoughts and actions by noticing that he is not the person he used to be. He sees gradual changes taking place in his attitude and actions, and discovers that he is able to overcome the devil’s temptations.
Connected to this is the sense of security. The Christian, while realising he is not yet perfect, knows that he ‘who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 1:6). ‘It is holiness that is, though not our plea, yet our evidence for heaven’ (William Gurnall). The change in his life does not lead to self-confidence but to increasing confidence in the faithfulness and power of God. He can anticipate further conflicts on his journey to heaven, even defeats, but he knows that God will keep him and yet present him faultless before the judgment seat of Christ. Such a Christian can tell the devil that God did not take him this far in order to let him be lost.