Have you ever received hand-me-downs from an older sister or cousin? I have for as long as I can remember. When I was a little girl, hand-me-downs were dropped off in garbage bags and the shirts wore barbeque residue on the front or yellow stains under the sleeves.
But a few years ago my stylish friend from New York started sharing her hand-me-downs with me. They were dropped off in Ralph Lauren bags and displayed tags like DKNY. Turns out “hand-me-downs” aren’t necessarily synonymous with junk!
Did you know God gives us His better-than-DKNY hand-me-downs? The different pieces of armor we’re told to put on in Ephesians 6 actually belong to . . . God!
Put on the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:11).
Today we’re going to look at one piece of His armor, the breastplate of righteousness:
Stand therefore . . . having put on the breastplate of righteousness (Eph. 6:14).
First, let’s check out God modeling the breastplate. Flip all the way back to Isaiah for a look:
The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. . . . 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. According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies (59:15, 17–18, emphasis added).
The Lord putting on righteousness is colorful language to describe that He is righteous to His core. He always does what is right and just.
Now, I should probably interrupt myself here and mention that when Paul wrote this letter to the believers in Ephesus, they were used to seeing Roman soldiers walking around wearing breastplates. Not exactly something we see everyday in 2014! Today’s breastplate would look more like . . . a bulletproof vest.
So what do we need to do to get this breastplate/bulletproof vest of righteousness from God?
Believe God. It’s always been that way since the beginning of time:
And he [Abram] believed the LORD, and he [the LORD] counted it to him [Abram] as righteousness (Gen. 15:6).
Once a crowd asked Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” In other words, “What must we do to be righteous”?
Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). Who did God send? Jesus!
So I have to ask . . . have you repented of your sin and trusted in His Son, Jesus, to save you from God’s just wrath against your sin?
If so, you have been given Christ’s righteousness. Another word for that is you have been justified. God looks at you just as if you’ve never sinned and just as if you’ve always obeyed—because that’s what Jesus did for you!
But you are also being sanctified. You’re already righteous in God’s eyes, but now you’re being made more like Him in everyday life, with the help of God’s Spirit in you.
So what does putting on the breastplate of righteousness look like?
It looks like believing in Christ’s righteousness even when Satan tempts you to despair (check out the song below). When that voice in your head tells you you’re not good enough, how do you respond? Do you think, Yes, but I read my Bible regularly or Yes, but I’m the nicest girl in school or . . . Yes, but Christ is my righteousness.
It looks like acting righteously (rightly) before God and to other people. Like the guy who returned my wallet to me rather than keeping it for himself (another story for another day). Putting on the breastplate of righteousness is both about what we believe and how we live, because what we believe always impacts what we do.
I haven’t received any hand-me-downs from my stylish friend in a couple years, but I have been given God’s hand-me-downs. You have, too, if you’re in Christ. The question is . . . are the pieces stuffed in the back of the bottom drawer of your dresser, or are you putting them on every morning?
Do you think of yourself as a strong or a weak woman?
Personally, I’ve counted myself a strong one.
I was the girl who ran around flexing her biceps, challenging boys to arm-wrestling matches, and re-arranging my heavy bedroom furniture all by myself.
I was the young woman who had a scheduled activity on her calendar every night of the week. I was the woman who wrote a book on the side while continuing to work full-time. I was the woman who always, always pushed through.
But then last month I had an Isaiah 40:30 fall,
“Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted.”
My doctor said I was strong to have made it as long as I did.
I wasn’t so sure.
God, do You think of me as weak or strong? And how should I think of myself?
Taking Cues from a “Strong” Man and a “Weak” Man
I went to God’s Word for answers, starting with the strongest man I could think of: Samson. You know the beast—tearing a roaring lion to pieces with his bare hands, striking down 1,000 enemies with a donkey’s jawbone, pushing down a house killing 3,000 party-goers.
Here’s the surprising pattern I found. Just before Samson displays great strength, this is what happens just before:
“The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him” (Judg. 14:6).
“The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him” (Judg. 14:19).
“The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him” (Judg. 15:14).
It was always God’s strength Samson displayed; never his own. God is the strong One. Even Samson was weak apart from God.
Then I re-read the familiar story of David and Goliath. Anyone observing the battle scene that day would’ve put their money on the intimidating war champion Goliath, not the young, inexperienced David. Goliath had complete confidence in his strength; David had complete confidence in his living God. And at the end of the short fight, David was the unlikely victor.
I Am Weak, but He Is Strong
Funny how many times I’ve gotten it mixed up. I’ve considered myself strong and believed God to be weak. Nothing could be further from the truth:
“Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable” (Isa. 40:28, emphasis added).
God’s strength will never, ever give out.
Me on the other hand, I’m weak. My strength is finite.
What freedom that realization brings.
Strength comes when we first own up to our own weakness. (That’s ’cause we don’t rely on God when we consider ourselves strong.) But in our weakness, as we depend on our strong God, His strength flows through to us. Catch Paul’s personal testimony of this:
“We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Cor. 1:8–10).
And then there’s my favorite passage from this past month,
“He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:29–31).
How is this strength-for-weakness exchange possible?
Strong Made Weak; Weak Made Strong
It’s all because the Strong One was made weak so we, the weak, could be made strong.
Check out this baffling verse:
“The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25, emphasis added).
The weakness of God? But God isn’t weak!
Study the context, and you’ll see this verse refers to the cross. The world judges Jesus weak and pathetic, hanging there exposed and bleeding. “Weakness,” they spit.
But to us who are being saved, we gaze at the cross and celebrate. “Strength!” we shout.
God refuses to save Himself so He might save us. The Strong One is made weak so we, the weak, can be made strong.
What weakness can you boast about today? How might God want to showcase His strength through your particular weakness?
Hey, girls, I’ve missed you! Now you’ll know why I disappeared for a month—and why I’m so glad to be back with you.
This series on spiritual armor just got real personal.
I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been writing about how to fight our spiritual enemies or if it’s because I’ve been asking God to root out every bit of pride in me, but either way-this past month I felt shot at from every side.
A big part of the "attack" had to do with my health, including a visit to the emergency room, a terrible full-body rash (I’d share a picture, but then you’d never visit this blog again!), and terrifying insomnia (how is my body supposed to heal if I can’t sleep, I anxiously wondered as I tossed and turned night after night).
Satan really will use whatever circumstances he can to discourage and defeat us—even our health. A man named Job knows that even better than I do. It all started when Satan asked God for permission to attack Job’s health, swearing that Job would curse God if his health was compromised. But instead Job worshiped God.
In physical misery but tangible faith Job said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15). And for the record, God didn’t kill Job; just the opposite! Read the end of Job’s story here.
There were times this past month I felt like Job and wondered if I would survive.
So rather than writing a theoretical post about the different pieces of the armor of God, I’m going to focus on one piece I used a lot this past month—the shield of faith. Turns out the armor of God isn’t just an interesting concept to toss around on the blog; it’s intensely personal and necessary for normal, everyday life. Ephesians 6:16 urges us:
In all circumstances take up the shield of FAITH, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one (emphasis added).
Taking up the shield of faith is just a fancy, colorful way to say trust God.
For me it started with a choice to thank God for the hives, the trip to the emergency room, and the itchiness, even when I didn’t like or understand it. Lifting the shield of faith meant thanking Him—and believing—that this was His best for me. This was how I would learn to trust Him more, to depend on Him more, to experience His peace.
It meant thinking about His names as I lay in bed and asking Him to be that to me:
My Wonderful Counselor when I didn’t know which doctors to believe and which medical advice to take.
My Mighty God who is able to heal me.
My Everlasting Father who delights in me and protects me.
My Prince of Peace who can give peace even in the most frightening situations.
As I’d take medication or eat, I’d remind God that He’s my Healer (Ex. 15:26). I’d acknowledge that my trust was not ultimately in this medicine or food; I needed Him to heal me.
Five weeks later, I’m happy to report that my rash has now almost completely disappeared, and I’m sleeping some every night. And while Satan wanted to take me out through this difficult ordeal, God has used it to rescue me in ways I never dreamed possible. I could fill pages with how He has used it for good (well, I already have in my journal!), and I may share some of that with you in the future.
For now, though, I want to encourage you in your own difficult circumstances to lift up the shield of faith. Lean into God; rest your full weight on Him. This will protect you from the temptation to doubt His goodness, listen to Satan’s lies, and walk away from the One who has your back, who has your very best in mind.
God is for you. He is with you in the darkest, blackest night. Lift up your shield of faith, and lean into Him with a heart full of trust. He will not fail you. I promise. (Well actually, He promises.)