I'm not sure if you've ever felt contested in your spiritual life ... like everywhere you turn, there is something trying to distract you from living for God. You want to, but something seems to get in the way or something seems to ensnare you or trip you up or set itself up against your faith. If you've ever felt contested in your faith, it's because you are. We have an opponent ... an enemy ... someone who's desire is to steal, kill, and destroy, and keep you from living out the truth of who you are as a follower of Jesus. So, as we continue to talk about the armor of God (truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the sword of the Spirit) I think it's important to remember that these are more than concepts. These are more than words. These are truths we live in and we live out.
Remember, armor was worn to protect areas vital for survival. So, each of these pieces of spiritual armor must be specifically designed to help us "survive" spiritually and to live out our gospel identity. If we are not living in them we will not be living them out.
The last post talked about truth. You can read about it right here, if you'd like. The idea is that we either kill the lies or they will kill us. But, when we stand in the truth of God, we can live out the truth of God in our lives.
This post will look at the "breastplate of righteousness." That sounds really "churchy." What exactly does being righteous mean? Well, in this context I think it has two meanings: one is in the sense of who we are and the other is in the sense of how we act. It's the idea of acting like who we have been called to be. Again, armor protects. So, remembering who we are and living like who we are must protect us from the enemy, and in particular, it guards our heart, because that's what a "breastplate" was designed to do.
A few years ago my dad went in for a random checkup. During that check-up, it was discovered that all of the arteries in his heart were more clogged than clear. So, it was literally only a matter of time before he had a heart attack. Two days after the check-up, he was having open heart surgery.
The next day ... the very next day, my dad is able to eat food. Guess what he has for his first meal ... Kentucky Fried Chicken! KFC! He just had open heart surgery, gets all the junk cleaned out, and he's eating KFC original recipe fried chicken with it's 11 secret herbs and spices of greasy goodness!
Maybe that's a poor illustration, but I think it's a picture of what we go through as followers of Jesus. Jesus has given us, literally, a new heart! When we put our trust in Him, we are not the same. He also gives us a new address. Colossians 1:13 - 14 remind us that Jesus "has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins." He has transformed us and He has taken us from one place and literally set us down in another place. Spiritually speaking, we have a whole new zip code. We no longer live in the kingdom of darkness zip code. We live in the Kingdom of Jesus zip code. There is now royal blood flowing through our veins. Jesus has done His part and has done what only He can do. Jesus and only Jesus makes us righteous. He alone gives us right standing with God.
So, Jesus gives us right standing which then enables us to do the right living. So, the breastplate of righteousness tells us who we are (we are righteous in the eyes of God) and reminds us how to live (rightly because we are righteous). Because we are "right" with God, we can now live "right" for God. It's living out who we have been called to be. You have a new heart so you don't eat the KFC because the KFC is what gave you the bad heart! "Finger-Lickin' good" is not who you are anymore. Because we have a new heart we live as people guided by and directed by a new heart instead of being guided by and directed by our appetites. So, that means there are certain things we turn to and certain things we turn from ... and this protects us. But how?
The truth of the Gospel tells us that God's faithfulness to us is not based on what we do but rather on what Jesus has done. So, we don't earn God's faithfulness. But, I think the reality is this ... our belief in God's faithfulness will impact what we do. When we really believe we are who God says we are, our decisions and our behaviors will begin to reflect that. When we fully believe that we have been transferred to the Kingdom of Jesus, we start acting like citizens of the Kingdom of Jesus. In my study on the armor of God, one speaker said, "How we behave overwhelmingly flows from what we deeply believe." That speaker went on to say, "What that means is we are able to do the right thing even when we don't feel the right thing."(Moore) There are a lot of times my feelings tell me to lash out in anger when someone cuts me off on the highway (which is like every day) or when my kids create a huge mess that they don't clean up (which is like every day). My feelings often tell me to act one way, but my belief tells me that I should act another. This creates a huge tension in my life because I don't always want to stay calm. I don't always want to show self-control. I don't always feel like staying pure. I don't always want to use kind words. I don't always feel like being fair. My feelings tell me to take the credit, to promote myself, and get ahead no matter who gets in the way. The problem is that these feelings are in direct opposition to my belief as a follower of Jesus. It's an incredible tug of war going on in my soul. How can we live righteously when our feelings are begging us to live differently?
One way is by remembering who we are. We are righteous in God's eyes. I can do the right thing even when I don't feel the right thing when I remember who I am. This is why I think it's crucial to focus on our identity rather than our behavior. If armor protects, one of the main things the breastplate of righteousness protects us from is trusting in our OWN righteousness. Tim Keller puts it this way: "Most people in the world today believe that if there is a God, you relate to God with your behavior. Most religions are based on that principle. It may look different, but when you sift through all the variations, the basic idea is 'If I can just do enough good things and stay away from enough bad things, I'm accepted.' Yet, the Gospel of Jesus is not only different from that, it's diametrically opposed to it!"
When we make behavior the central focus of our Christian walk, we start to lean on our own "righteousness" and continue to believe that "More Right Behavior + Less Wrong Behavior = Godliness." But, this type of thinking always turns me inward instead of outward because I'm living in this almost paranoid state of "How am I doing?" And, this is when I can find myself making a checklist to keep track of how I'm doing and feeling good about myself when I can check things off the list. As long as I'm checking off the list, God is happy with me. If I'm not checking off the list, it's not the God doesn't love me. He's just not as happy with me as He is the one getting more check marks. Making behavior the central focus of Christian living is like looking in a mirror all the time. I'm constantly looking at me ... "How do I look? How's my hair? That's a nice color on me. Does my butt look big in these jeans? What's that pimple doing there?" Making behavior the point always turns my eyes toward me and my behavior. It also makes it a whole lot easier to judge you by your behavior. The problem is, it never gets me looking toward Jesus and it certainly never gets me looking toward you.
But, the more I look to Jesus, the more I'm going to see you. Mother Theresa said, "I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, 'This is hungry Jesus, I just feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him.' I serve because I love Jesus."
Looking toward Jesus helps me remember that you have a soul. The more I look toward Jesus, the softer my heart becomes for those around me, and it reminds me that I have been saved from an old way of life to a NEW way of life. I am righteous. I don't live right for God to be made right with God, but rather I have been made right with God therefore I can live right for God. Standing confidently in the breastplate of righteousness reminds me I stand ONLY because of Jesus' righteousness. His righteousness is now applied to me and it literally transforms who I am. I can live in Christ's righteousness and act like someone who has a new heart.
Can I remind us, though, that none of us do this perfectly. There are ups and downs, highs and lows, failures and successes. But, grace is a beautiful thing. The more I realize I need it, the more I realize I want it. God remains faithful even when I am not. I'm so grateful that His faithfulness depends upon Him rather than me. Grace never excuses my sin, but it surely covers it and propels me forward and it empowers me to act out of identity rather than obligation.
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