The Roman army was known for its strength, its order, and discipline. For centuries it stood impenetrable and invincible, and had successfully conquered kingdoms, crushed revolutions, and controlled provinces with an iron fist. The Roman military personal equipment itself bore the hallmark of order and discipline and its standard patterns and uses came to be known as the res militaris or disciplina. The very military structure of the Roman forces and ranks has been a matter of deep interest for centuries now. The disciplined maneuvering and formation techniques that they developed have cast an immense impact on the history of military warfare strategy. They had the Testudo or Tortoise Formation, for instance, in which ranks of soldiers would stick closer to each other and raise their shields above and around them forming an impenetrable shell of protection from the fiery missiles that would come sizzling down on them from the enemy at a distance. However, when they got into hand-to-hand combat with the enemy (at wrestling arm-lengths), every piece of the Roman armor counted. And, one of the most important pieces of equipment was the breastplate, because it protected the very vital organs of the soldier.
The Romans referred to the breastplate as kardiophulax or the heart-guard. For Apostle Paul, while the metal plated armor of the day protected the heart of the Roman soldier engaged in a hand-to-hand combat with flesh and blood, it was righteousness that protected the heart of the Christian engaged in a battle with the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Now, while the heart of flesh was the organ that pumped fresh blood into the whole body-system of a human, the spiritual heart that Paul talked about pumped life into the total system of the Christian person. Any harm to this organ spelled death to the believer’s life. Therefore, protecting it was more important than protecting anything else.
“Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23, Amplified Bible)
Paul teaches us that there is only one thing that can protect the spiritual life-pumping organ of a Christian, and it is righteousness (Ephesians 6:14). It is not disconnectedly that the breastplate of the High Priest’s garment in the Old Testament was called the breastplate of judgment (Exodus 28:15). But, there was a difference between the two scenes. In the temple setting of the Old Testament, man stood as a condemned sinner, a captive held in chains with the sentence of death pronounced over him. It was the atoning ministry of the High Priest who bore the judgment of man on his breastplate year after year that made possible any point of contact between God and man. But, now, in the New Testament, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, all condemnation is removed. He bore the judgment of God on His breast and wiped away all writing of ordinances against us, nailing them to the cross (Colossians 2:14). Through the sacrifice of His flesh and the pouring of His blood, the veil of separation was torn and we now stand justified, i.e. “declared righteous”, before God (Hebrews 10:20). Now, we are no longer captives and criminals waiting execution; we are soldiers in the very army of God called out to stand our ground and take possession of our inheritance. Jesus built His Church upon the Rock, and the gates of hades can’t prevail against it anymore. No accusation, no missile of condemnation, no assault of the enemy can get through to the heart of Christian; because the Christian’s heart is protected by the blood of Jesus Christ, his heart is protected by the righteousness of Christ. Christ is the righteousness of God (1Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:9).
Now, the heart of man is considered to be the seat of emotions. We talk of broken hearts, which refers to the emotional brokenness of a person. The famous adhesive Quickfix of Wembley still runs the slogan “Joins everything except broken hearts.” They seemed to be pretty honest at that! The Bible tells us that “by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13). Flesh and blood cannot put together a broken heart. No material thing can heal a broken spirit. The healing has to be spiritual. It has to be by the Spirit of the Lord: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted” (Luke 4:18).
The righteousness of the Law (self-righteousness) brought condemnation; it broke the heart. But, the righteousness of faith in Jesus Christ removes all condemnation and brings justification and spiritual healing to the soul. It purifies our conscience to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14).
Righteousness protects our emotional life. When the sharp weapons of accusation and condemnation try to tear us down, the breastplate of Christ’s righteousness stands in between and blocks them off. When we know who we are in Christ, and that we are in right standing in Him, and that God is not against us but for us, then the assault of world fall like dry leaves on a stiff ground. His gracious love protects our heart. Take the instance of a young woman who is filled with guilt about things in the past and with hopelessness regarding things in the future. Let her ask herself this question: Does the Father treat me this way? Does He treat me as a condemned criminal? Would He like that I treat myself in this way? The answer would be evident: The Father loves us and He has blotted all our sins away. He has left us no reason to still abide under the shadow of guilt. He wants us to walk into the light with the armor of God and stand our ground. When He looks at us, He doesn’t see our failings; He sees the righteousness of Christ upon us. Why do we then try to see what He has thrown behind His back? Why do we search for the living among the dead? Take another instance of a young man who is filled with feelings of loneliness and forsakenness all of a sudden. The devil tells him that he is unloved and uncared for. If the young man will fall for the words of the devil, that might even look sustained by the circumstances around him, he is living by sight and not by faith in the Word of God. What does the Word say? It tells us that we aren’t unloved and forsaken; it tells us that God so loved us that He sent His only begotten Son, and that Christ came to give us abundant life, and that He is with us forever. When we live by faith in God’s Word, we have donned the breastplate of righteousness over our heart.
Righteousness protects our thought life. Jesus said that out of the heart proceed evil thoughts (Matthew 15:19). But, a good man, He said, out of the treasure of his good heart brings forth good things; for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34, 35). The heart of a man is like a field. What one allows to be sown in it is what is produced out of it. Jesus demanded, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). What one allows to be sown in the heart can either prove life-giving or fatal to a person. When Annanias and his wife conspired to lie against the Church, Peter cried at Annanias saying, “Ananias, why did you let Satan fill you with the idea that you could deceive the Holy Spirit? (Acts 5:3, God’s Word). In the next few moments, both he and his wife were dead. We can’t allow our hearts to be offguard. Therefore, the Bible commands us to “put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24). It calls us to be renewed in the spirit of our mind (Ephesians 4:23).
Finally, righteousness also controls our walk. While the steel plated armor of a Roman soldier could at times become too heavy for the soldier, tiring him out after a length of battle time, the righteousness of God is always strengthening like the fresh dew from heaven.
“Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” (Psalm 85:11)
“For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” (Isaiah 61:11)
Righteousness not only will keep us fresh like the morning dew; it will also help us to walk in the freedom of the Spirit. Righteousness helps us to not grow weary of well doing; it helps us to not lose heart, so that we reap the fruits of righteousness in due season (Galatians 6:9).
Also scheduled to be published in REVIVE magazine, January 2013.