Guard Your Heart from Evil

Wearing the Breastplate of Righteousness

Years ago, when I was a new believer in Cameroon, a woman in Nigeria published a testimony about working for the devil. She shared that midnight until 2:00 were the most active hours in the world of darkness. As a result, she encouraged believers to pray warfare prayers during those hours. Unfortunately, her story (and others like it) influenced a generation to have a narrow understanding of both prayer and warfare, restricting it to a couple of hours at night for battling the devil.

While there is nothing wrong with praying from midnight to 2:00 (or any other time of day), to think that those are the most spiritually hostile hours is grossly wrong. Paul teaches to the contrary. Every hour is an hour of war. For believers, war is a way of life. If any Christian is not fighting, that Christian is losing the battle with sin.

We must arm ourselves at all times “in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13), this present evil age when the god of this world, the devil, constantly raises his claws against the people of God. Every day on earth is a day when evil and the evil one are trying to overcome believers (Ephesians 5:16). Christians are always at war against principalities, rulers, cosmic powers, darkness, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. And if all of life is war, we must always be armed and well-clothed for battle. We need armor like the breastplate of righteousness.

What Is the Breastplate?

The breastplate of righteousness is one of several pieces of armor that the church puts on as it engages in spiritual war (Ephesians 6:14). In Isaiah 59, Yahweh presents himself as a warrior King with armor that includes this breastplate:

His own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. (Isaiah 59:16–17)

Yahweh comes as a warrior King to repay evil so that the nations “fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun” (Isaiah 59:19). The Old Testament knows only one warrior who clothes himself with the breastplate of righteousness to war against evil for his glory (see also Isaiah 11:5). He fights for his fame.

When Paul draws from this Old Testament imagery of the warrior God and applies it to the church, he shows that the church now represents Yahweh as his army. In Christ, the church has become like her God, waging war against evil with the same armor as her warrior King. In putting on the same attire as Yahweh, Christians not only fight for Yahweh and his fame, but we also fight in the form of our God.

In Ephesians 6, the breastplate of righteousness is an active, Spirit-filled pursuit of righteousness as opposed to imputed righteousness. That Paul commands us to “put on” the breastplate shows it is our responsibility to wear the attire of our warrior King. If it were imputed righteousness, Paul would not have charged us to put it on. Rather, God declares us righteous the moment we believe, and then we grow in Christ by putting on the breastplate of righteousness.

The Christian’s new self was “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). New creations, like the earth when God created it, bear fruit, the fruit of righteousness (Ephesians 5:9). As God’s new creation, by faith in Christ, we live and grow in righteousness. The breastplate of righteousness, therefore, is a lifestyle fueled by faith in Christ Jesus.

How Do We Put On Righteousness?

Paul calls us to continually and progressively put on the breastplate of righteousness. But how do we do it? We do so by faith. Paul says, “In all, taking the shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16, my translation). The word “all,” in the immediate context, has the pieces of armor in view. Thus, Paul tells us how we put them all on. We put on the breastplate of righteousness by faith in Christ who is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). The “faith” Paul has in mind in Ephesians 6:16 is our present trusting in Christ and his work of redemption.

“In Christ, the church has become like her God, waging war against evil with the same armor as her warrior King.”

One way we express that faith (and so put on righteousness) is through prayer. Paul tells us to put on the armor, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18). How does praying relate to putting on the breastplate of righteousness? We actively put on the breastplate by asking God, our Righteous Warrior, to grow us in righteousness. When we are tempted to sin, we cry to him. When our faith is weak, we cry to him. In dependence on him, by faith, we become more like him.

Taking up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, is also a means by which we put on the breastplate of righteousness. In the Scriptures, we see God’s glory (1 Samuel 3:21), and in seeing God’s glory, we become progressively like him (2 Corinthians 3:18). So, read to be righteous. If you neglect the word of God, you cannot wear this breastplate.

We also put on this breastplate of righteousness together with the church. The call to clothe ourselves like our warrior King and engage in war against evil is a corporate call. The church is the army of God. You cannot separate yourself from the church and expect to put on the armor and fight. Although our individual pursuit of righteousness is necessary, we are far stronger together. You cannot war alone. You need your local church in order to stand in these evil days.

Give Evil No Opportunity

In this spiritual war, Satan aims to hinder us from glorifying God and imaging him with lives of righteousness. He hinders our pursuit of holiness because he hates the glory of God.

One might ask, How does the breastplate protect us against the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil? When believers engage in sinful behavior, they open the door for the devil to have influence. Paul calls the church to “give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27). When we give him an opportunity with our sin, we allow Satan to exert his destructive, God-dishonoring influence in the world. We allow him to hinder our efforts to glorify God in ministry, missions, marriage, and life. Our sins also give the devil the occasion to slander the church and her Messiah (1 Timothy 5:14).

When we actively submit to God, however, trusting God’s power for salvation from sin in the gospel and pursuing righteousness, we resist the devil and drive him away. He cannot devour our faith (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8).

When Satan Tempts Us to Despair

When we fail to put on the breastplate (as we all do), the cross of Christ is our hope. Because Jesus died for our sins, because Jesus is our righteousness, we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us and gave himself up for us (Romans 8:37). So, we can sing in our failures,

When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see him there,
Who made an end of all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, not the satanic condemnation, and see your righteousness and perfection in him. In the strength of what he has accomplished for you, get up, dust off the filth, and put on the breastplate of your increasing righteousness. None of Satan’s arrows will be able to pierce your heart.

is assistant professor of Bible and theology, and coordinator of the Cameroon Extension Site for Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Dominique, live in Yaoundé, Cameroon, with their two children.