Forgiveness shuts the mouth of Hell, but you have to be perfect to get to Heaven. The forgotten half of the gospel is the righteousness of Christ.
There is something about safety in the midst of danger that fascinates us. That could explain why some people enjoy bungee jumping, sky diving and roller coasters. If you follow the rules and trust the equipment, you’ll be OK. The safety bar on a roller coaster keeps you in your seat, not your grip on it, but its grip on you. The performance of the safety equipment is so predictable that there is only a story for the news headlines if the equipment fails.
God has given us trustworthy, reliable equipment to keep us safe in the midst of Spiritual Warfare. When we are tempted to sin, the danger is real, but we can be confident that our armor will hold. What keeps us safe is not trust in ourselves, but trust in the armor that God has given us. This is not trust in our own faith or in our own strength or righteousness, but in Christ.
The breastplate was the piece of a Roman soldier’s armor that protected his thorax and internal vital organs—his heart, liver and intestines; in other words, his guts. In ancient culture, the intestines were thought to be the seat of a person’s will and emotions, the command and control center of the person.
Paul speaks of righteousness being our breastplate in Spiritual Warfare. It is important to understand that this righteousness he speaks of is not our own moral integrity or obedience, our prayers or our faithfulness. A record of your own obedience will not stand when Satan attacks your conscience with his accusations, nor will it stand on the Day of Judgment when your obedience is measured by the perfect Law of God. It is Christ’s imputed righteousness that stands like bullet-proof glass between us and Satan’s bullets. This is not an imparted righteousness, started by God but finished by you; it is a righteousness completely from God—the moral perfection of Christ, which was given to you when you first believed the gospel. Satan can shred your righteousness, but not Christ’s.
Your conscience is the target of Satan’s accusations. Your righteousness is growing, but it is still spotty and shoddy; and Satan will point out only your failures. How do we stand against Satan’s true accusations? We must put on the righteousness of Christ; that is, be reminded of it, trust it and allow it to protect our conscience. If Satan can separate you from the righteousness of Christ, then he’s got you. Satan says, “See your sin? How can God love you? You give Him a bad name! You sin so often and so easily!” Your answer must not be, “I’ll try harder!” You must say, “Yes, but I am covered with the perfect righteousness of Christ! You’re right; I have failed, but Christ has not! You’ll have to go through Him to get to me! When God looks at me, it is as if I never sinned! God is good to me because He is rewarding the perfect righteousness of Christ!” This will send Satan packing.
The perfect righteousness of Christ is our protection and it empowers us to live righteous lives. We must look outside ourselves and trust Christ when temptation comes. We must put on the armor, not only to protect our conscience but also to resist the temptation and maintain the power of holiness. This putting on the armor is itself an act of righteousness, an act of faith in Christ.
What was David’s confidence when he boldly faced Goliath (1 Samuel 1:17)? It was not to trust in his skill with a slingshot or to trust in the armor and weapons that King Saul tried to give him. His confidence was to trust the God who had previously delivered him from the lion and the bear, to trust that God would also deliver him in this confrontation. The battle is the Lord’s!
We are to be active in trusting this armor of a perfect righteousness. (1 Thessalonians 5:8; 2 Corinthians 6:7). We strive to do the right thing and to live in holiness and obedience, but we don’t trust in our own striving. We trust in the perfect righteousness of Christ that covers us, the righteousness that Christ has already won for us. This demands that we admit our own weakness and sin and our utter dependence upon Christ. When you come to die, what will be your confidence? It cannot be your church membership or the history of your own obedience, piety or good works. Your confidence must be in the work of the Lord Jesus alone. There is no other righteousness worthy of your confidence.
Remember, “The tallest oak in the forest was once just a little nut that held his ground.” When Satan pushes you out of an airplane, trust the God who packed your parachute. The righteousness of Christ will not fail you. When Satan comes at you with temptations and accusations, you tell him, “Go to Christ, Satan! If you find a hole in Him, you can come to me!”