Put On the Breastplate of Righteousness | Ephesians 6:10-20
Brian Hedges | February 10, 2019
Turn in your Bibles this morning to Ephesians 6; we’re going to be reading verses 10 through 20. As we have begun working through this passage of Scripture over the last several weeks, we’ve already learned that there is a battle for us to fight. We are in a spiritual warfare. We are in a combat zone. We live in enemy-occupied territory, and we have an enemy, our adversary the devil.
Not only do we have an enemy, but we have a captain who has provided us with everything we need for the fight. He’s given us an armor, the armor of God. That’s been our focus during this series. Last week we started looking at the specific pieces of the armor themselves, and we talked about the belt of truth and how we are to embrace the word of truth with a true heart, a true and sincere heart. So the belt of truth includes both the objective word that has been given to us by God as well as the inner quality of truthfulness and sincerity and integrity.
This morning we come to the next piece of armor, the breastplate of righteousness. As we’ve done throughout this series, I want to begin by just reading the passage so that we get the whole context: Ephesians 6:10-20. You can follow along on the screen or in your own copy of God’s word.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
This is God’s word.
So I just want to ask three simple questions about the breastplate this morning:
I. What Is It?
II. Why Do We Need It?
III. How Do We Put It On?
So I want to end in a very practical way, and I’m actually going to give you five steps this morning for putting on the breastplate of righteousness; but, first of all, we need to understand what it is and why we need it.
I. What Is It?
So, first question, what is it? What is this breastplate of righteousness? Let me just, first of all, before telling you what it is, tell you what it’s not.
It is not self-righteousness, okay? When you hear people talk about righteousness, it’s pretty easy to get the idea of those who are more righteous in their own eyes than others, the “holier-than-thou” attitude.
You might think, for example, of Jesus’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. You remember they went to the temple to pray, and the Pharisee is pretty pleased with himself, and he’s saying, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other men, I’m not like this tax collector, and I’m not an adulterer, and I haven’t done all these things. On the contrary, I fast twice a week and I pray and I tithe and I do all these things.”
The tax collector is beating on his chest and is saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Jesus says that’s the man who went down to his house justified, not the Pharisee, who’s righteous in his own eyes.
I’ll never forget when I was much younger, when I was a teenager, I heard my dad preach on that passage of Scripture. It’s so easy for us to miss the application of this, okay. I remember after church standing outside on the church porch, and one of the deacons in the church started talking about the sermon, and he said, “Brother Ronnie,” that’s my dad; he said, “Brother Ronnie, I’m so glad I’m not like that Pharisee.” I was sitting there thinking, “I’m so glad I’m not like that deacon!”
You see, it’s so easy for us to slip into self-righteousness. I think we all know that self-righteousness is repugnant, it’s obnoxious. In fact, it’s sinful. Self-righteousness is sinful.
So, when we’re talking about the breastplate of righteousness, we’re not talking about that. We’re not talking about self-righteousness, we’re not talking about a “holier-than-thou” attitude. This is for the Christian, and it’s for the Christian who’s recognized their sin, they’ve recognized their need for Christ and for the righteousness that comes from faith in Jesus Christ.
So we’re really talking about gospel righteousness, okay, not self-righteousness. This gospel righteousness has two aspects to it, and I think we need to understand both of these. There is a positional aspect and there is a practical aspect. Let me give you a little five-minute theology lesson, okay?
Positional righteousness is objective; it is Christ’s work for us. It’s what Jesus Christ himself has done for us that is perfect, it’s complete, it makes us perfect, it declares us righteous in the sight of God, it’s received by faith alone. This is what we call justification.
Perhaps one of the best passages of Scripture describing this is Philippians 3:8-9. Listen to what the apostle Paul says. He says, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” and the “everything” there are all of his good works. He’s just listed them off: his blamelessness according to the law, he was a Pharisee, and all of these good things that he did. He says, “I count it all as loss,” and the word there is refuse, it’s garbage. “I count it all as garbage for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish [that’s the word that means garbage] in order that I may gain Christ,” and listen: “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
Justifying righteousness: it’s given to us once and for all when we come to faith in Christ. This is what constitutes us as righteous in the sight of God, so that God the judge looks upon us and he sees us through the blood of Christ, he sees us covered in the righteousness of Christ, he sees the obedience of Christ counted as ours, and he says, “Not guilty.” This is vitally important for us to understand, and until we get this we will struggle with doubt and fear and with the assurance of our salvation.
One of the great stories about this in Christian history is John Bunyan. John Bunyan was that 17th-century Baptist tinker who became a preacher. He wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Holy War, gave us these wonderful classics in Christian literature. He also wrote a spiritual autobiography called Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. He describes how he wrestled with so much doubt and fear and lack of assurance. He went literally months and even years experiencing all of these doubts, until one day something happened. I want to read to you what he said took place and it just changed everything.
He says, “One day, as I was passing into the field, this sentence fell upon my soul: ‘Thy righteousness is in heaven.’ With the eyes of my soul I saw Jesus at the Father’s right hand. ‘There,’ I said, ‘is my righteousness,’ so that wherever I was or whatever I was doing, God cannot say to me, ‘Where is your righteousness?’ for it is always right before him. I saw that it is not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness is Christ. Now my chains fell off indeed, my temptations fled away, and I live sweetly, at peace with God.”
Has that happened to you? Have you recognized that Christ is your righteousness? He’s the only way to be in a right relationship with God, and you can be justified in the eyes of God, in the eyes of the divine court, freed from the penalty of the law, completely absolved of sin, all of your sins pardoned and covered in the blood of Christ, and you clothed in the righteousness and the obedience of Jesus Christ. Until you understand that, until you grasp that, you’re going to struggle with doubt and with fear and lack of assurance.
You know that wonderful hymn that sometimes we sing (in fact, we’re going to sing it later on today): “My hope is built on nothing less,” than what? “Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. / I dare not trust the sweetest frame…” What does he mean by sweetest frame? He means, “I don’t trust my good emotions, my feelings. I don’t trust the sweetest frame,” “...but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”
That’s justification, alright? Justification comes to us through the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. That’s positional righteousness.
Now, the breastplate of righteousness has been understood by scholars to be the imputed righteousness of Christ, or sometimes to be what we call the imparted righteousness of Christ; that’s practical righteousness; sometimes a combination of the two. As I’ve wrestled with this text - and I tell you, I’ve looked at commentary after commentary, I’ve gone as far back as the church fathers, Chrysostom and Calvin, I’ve read these guys - I’m pretty much convinced that the righteousness here is not the imputed righteousness, it’s rather practical righteousness. It’s not the imputed righteousness, it’s the imparted righteousness, it’s practical righteousness.
Now, you don’t get practical righteousness without the positional. That comes first, it’s the foundation. But Paul here is writing in an ethical context. He’s writing about practical Christian living. He’s telling us to “put on” something. He’s telling us that we have to do certain things that require effort on our part in order to stand in the evil day, to stand against the wiles, the strategies of the evil one. So the righteousness he has in mind here, I think, is the practical righteousness. It’s not so much Christ’s work for us, though that’s the foundation of it; it’s, rather, the Spirit’s work in us.
This righteousness is not perfect; it’s progressive. It’s not complete; it’s something that we are in the process of working out. You remember how the apostle Paul says in Philippians 2, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
So this is not by faith alone; it’s faith and effort. When you look at the various metaphors that are used in the New Testament for the Christian life, it becomes pretty clear that there’s a lot of effort involved. “Run...the race that is set before us” with endurance, right? “Fight the good fight of faith.” Strive to enter the straight gate. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against rules and authorities, the spiritual forces of evil, and so on. These are active metaphors that describe the strenuous effort, the fierce combat, the antagonism that we are engaged in in the Christian life. That’s what sanctification is. The life of holiness is a battle, and in order for us to fight this battle we need the breastplate of righteousness.
In the words of one of the Puritans, John Downham, this breastplate of righteousness is “a good conscience, true sanctification, and a godly life.” It’s a life of holiness.
Now, let me tell you why I think that’s the case. Mainly because of the context in which it falls and because Ephesians 4 uses this word “righteousness” in exactly this context. Ephesians 4:20-24. We read this last week. Paul says, “But that is not the way you learned Christ! - assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self,” the new man, “created after the likeness of God, in true righteousness and holiness.”
He’s talking about ethical holiness, he’s talking about practical holiness. He’s talking about not just what is imputed to you through faith in Jesus Christ, but he’s talking about the actual outworking of that righteousness in your new heart. It’s being created anew in Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
I think this also fits with 1 Thessalonians 5:8, where Paul uses the armor metaphor in a slightly different way. There he says, “Put on the breastplate” not of righteousness, but “of faith and love.” Faith and love are virtues, are graces from the heart. In fact, that is what righteousness is. It is the outworking of faith and love in our lives.
So, in answer to our first question, “What is it? What is this breastplate of righteousness?” the breastplate of righteousness is practical, personal holiness. That’s the breastplate. You could say that the metal in this breastplate is practical, personal holiness. To be sure, it is founded on the objective, imputed righteousness of Christ. If you don’t have that, you’ll never be able to put a breastplate on, but if you’re a Christian, there’s something for you to do in pursuing sanctification; and that’s what this piece of armor is all about. So that’s what it is.
II. Why Do We Need It?
Second question: why do we need it? Let me give you three reasons.
(1) Number one, we need it to protect our inner being. The breastplate that Paul has in mind was the Roman breastplate, the lorica segmentata is what it was called. It protected the vital organs. You can see a picture of it here on the screen. It protected the vital organs. This breastplate covered, basically, from the neck down to about the top of the thighs, and it covered the whole chest region and the vital organs, in the same way that a police officer today might wear a bullet-proof vest in order to protect himself from a mortal wound. You know, nobody wants to get shot at all, but you especially don’t want a bullet to pierce the heart or the lungs or something in the viscera, right, the abdominal cavity. That’s what this breastplate was for. It was to protect those vital organs, the heart and the lungs and the intestines and so on.
One reason, I think, Paul perhaps uses the image here (we have to be careful in how far we press the details), perhaps he calls this the breastplate of righteousness because righteousness is what covers the vital parts of our inner being.
You see, in the ancient world, the people in the ancient world associated the inner being with the intestinal organs and with the heart, with these vital organs. So, they would often talk about their reins being moved, right? So the reins were - that’s a word for the kidneys.
Now, that’s kind of weird to talk that way; we don’t use that language today, that’s from the old King James. We don’t use this same language today, but we still sometimes associate language in this way. Sometimes we talk about having a visceral response to something. A visceral response; that’s when you have a gag reflex, you smell something that’s disgusting and it makes you gag. Or you might think about when someone is struggling with some really strong emotion. So, anxiety or nervousness or fear can almost make you feel sick to your stomach. Have you ever experienced that?
I have, and sometimes not in a very pleasant situation. I remember - this was one of my very, very first dates, when I was about 18 years old. I took a girl out to lunch, and I had to leave the table about every ten minutes to go to the restroom and throw up because I was so absolutely nervous. I was having a visceral response, not to her, but just to the situation. (This wasn’t Holly, by the way; it was before I met her.)
So we have that, right? We have these visceral responses to situations in our lives. Paul knows that and the biblical writers know that, so they talk about protecting the vital organs because they know that it’s from the heart, right, it’s from the inner being, that the issues of life flow. Right? So, Proverbs 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
You might think of it this way: the breastplate of righteousness (that is, a holy life) is what protects our conscience, it protects our affections and our desires, it protects the will, it protects the understanding, it protects the emotions. If we are not wearing the breastplate of holiness and of righteousness, then we are likely to get a wound that can be a mortal wound, a vital wound, in this inner part of our lives. So to protect the inner being, we need to wear the breastplate of righteousness.
(2) Here’s the second reason why we need it: we need it in order to know that we are saved. Listen: there is no salvation without a holy life.
The apostle who wrote the letter to the Hebrews, the writer to the Hebrews, says, Hebrews 12:14, “Strive for peace with everyone and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” No one will see the Lord without holiness! That’s what he says. No heaven, no beatific vision, no sight of the Lord without holiness. There’s no salvation without a holy life.
Now, your holy life is not what makes up your salvation in terms of meriting salvation; you don’t merit anything from it. But salvation is the road. It is the way in which we walk. It’s the pathway in which we walk. So the sanctification is necessary.
Let me give you a couple of other texts, because this is controversial in some circles; it shouldn’t be if you read your Bibles, it’s not, but people who don’t know their Bibles well, I think, will sometimes disagree with this.
Look at what Paul says, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (I’m going to read the whole text; it’s on the screen): “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” It can’t be more plain than that, can it? “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers,” (a wrong use of the tongue), “nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
The good news is verse 11, “And such were some of you.” So he’s certainly not saying that if you’ve ever committed these sins that means you’re out. What he’s saying is that there needs to be transformation, there needs to be change. So he says, verse 11, “And such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
There’s no salvation without holiness! The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. Therefore, you can’t know that you’re saved if you are not pursuing holiness and wearing the breastplate of righteousness. Now, that does not mean sinless perfection, it doesn’t mean you don’t struggle; it means, rather, that you’re in the struggle, that you’re actually in the fight. So, the rebuke here is for the person who’s not in the fight at all, who’s just living under the dominion of sin rather than living in surrender to God and striving against sin.
Let me give you one more text, Titus 2:11-14. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,” now notice this, “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
Listen: the whole purpose of God in his plan of salvation is our holiness. God the Father electing a people from before the foundation of the world that they should be holy and blameless before him, in love; the Son of God dying on the cross for our sins, in order to redeem us from lawlessness and purify for himself a people zealous for good deeds; and the Holy Spirit indwelling our hearts, cleansing our hearts, indwelling our hearts as his temple, to make that temple holy, to purify it, to cleanse it. All that God does in his triune work to save us is for our holiness! We’re predestined for this, to be conformed to the image of Christ.
Therefore, we can have no real assurance of salvation if we’re not in the pursuit of holiness. Let me ask you this morning: are you struggling with assurance? It may be because there’s a mortal wound in your conscience. It may be because there’s some sin lying on your conscience that you haven’t repented of, you haven’t dealt with, you haven’t put to death. Don’t expect to have assurance if you’re living habitual, unrepented of sin.
(3) So we need this breastplate in order to know that we’re saved, we need it in order to protect our inner being, and then here’s the third reason (I’ll be brief on this one): we need it in order to glorify God.
So far, I’ve just given reasons that appeal to your self-interest, but ultimately, God requires the holiness, God demands holiness, God commands you to be holy! “Be holy, for I am holy,” says the Lord, and when we pursue holiness God is glorified.
You remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5. He said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” What is your light shining before others? What is that? It’s a holy life! It’s a holy life; it’s good works, it’s righteousness, practical righteousness outshining in our lives. It glorifies God.
But listen: it not only glorifies God, it is the best thing for you. It will satisfy your heart, it will make you happy. You know I like these Puritan authors, these dead theologians. The dead theologians are all better than the living theologians. These dead theologians, they write about the connection between holiness and happiness. There’s a whole book by the Puritan Thomas Brooks, and the whole thesis of the book is that a holy life is a happy life. He wrote a whole book on that! They were so convinced that our joy was to be found in pursuing holiness in our relationship with God.
So that’s why we need it. I could give you a lot more reasons, but I want to focus on this third question: How do you put it on? I want this to be practical. I want us to be able to walk away today not only knowing that we should be holy and why we should be holy, but having some practical tools to help us in the pursuit of holiness.
III. How Do We Put It On?
So let me give you give steps, alright, five ways or things to do to put on the breastplate of righteousness.
(1) Here’s the first thing (and this is so important): fasten in to the belt of truth. You fasten the breastplate to the belt of truth. There is an order to what Paul says here. He tells us, first of all, we are to have put on the belt of truth. We saw last week that was an apron; it was an apron that was like a girdle that held everything together, and it was the base of the rest of the armor. So the rest of the armor was connected to this apron or this belt of truth. The breastplate is fastened onto that. Just as the image suggests, so it is true, that holiness is built on the foundation of truth and knowing truth and appropriating that truth with a sincere heart.
Let me give you an example here from Romans 6. Now, I’m not going to read every verse, but I’m going to read three verses in the course of these next three points. But let me just summarize Romans 6:1-10. Okay, Paul has just gotten through talking about how we’re justified by faith, we’re justified through the obedience of the one man, the righteousness of the one man “that leads to our justification.” That’s Romans 5. Then he raises this question at the beginning of Romans 6: “What shall we say then to these things? Shall we continue in sin that grace might increase?” He says, “May it never be! How will you who are dead to sin keep living in it?”
And then he goes on to appeal to our baptism. He says if you’re baptized - the very image of baptism suggests that you have been buried with Christ, right, buried in the waters of baptism, buried with Christ, and then raised to walk in newness of life. That’s what baptism pictures. It pictures our connection to Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection.
The implication here is that just as Christ defeated the power of sin, he died to the power of sin on the cross and he was raised in victory, in the same way, if you are united to Christ you have died to that sin, you are now dead to it, and you’ve been raised to walk in newness of life! Paul then goes on to say, “Believe it!” Right? Believe it! Count on that!
Look at what he says in verse 11: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The command there, if I’m not mistaken, this is the very first imperative verb in the book of Romans. This is the first command after six chapters of doctrine. He says, “Consider yourselves dead to sin,” or other versions might say, “Count yourselves dead to sin,” or the old King James says, “Reckon yourselves dead to sin.” Paul was a southerner, right? Don’t you reckon? “Reckon yourselves dead to sin.”
He’s telling us that there’s something for us to believe and to count on, to count on the truth. Count on the truth that because you are united to Christ you’re dead to sin and you’re alive to God through Christ Jesus. That is the first step in holiness. It’s to believe the truth. You fasten the breastplate to the belt of truth. That’s why the word is so important in your life, that’s why theology is important, that’s why you need to know doctrine, that’s why you need to read your Bible, that’s why we need expository preaching, that’s why we need books in our lives, to help us understand these things, to clarify these things. You need doctrine if you want to live a holy life!
You say, “Well, I just care about the practical stuff.” Listen: you don’t get the practical stuff without the foundation of the doctrine.
On the other hand, there are some eggheads that can easily become content with doctrine as the end in itself and never apply it, and that’s wrong, too. All of our doctrine must be applied, and all of our application must have a doctrinal, theological foundation. Fasten the breastplate to the belt of truth; that’s first.
(2) Secondly, say “no” to every sin.
Say “no” to every sin. You remember the anti-drug campaign in the 1980s? “Just say no.” Well, Paul wouldn’t quite say that; he wouldn’t say, “Just say no,” he would say, “Therefore, say no.” Right? “Therefore, say no.” Because of truth.
Look at verse 12, Romans 6:12. He says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.” Don’t let it reign! You know what he’s saying? “Tell it no.”
You see, we’re like people who have been set free from an old slave master, and we now belong to a new master, our husband, Jesus Christ; we’re married to him. But we used to be enslaved, and the old taskmaster used to beat us with whips and yell out these harsh commands. He would tell us what to do and we would do it! The devil tells us to sin, we would sin. He tells us to lust, we lust. He tells us to get angry, we lose our temper. We were obedient to the evil one, to this old power.
What Paul is saying is you’re dead to that power now, and when the old slave master comes shouting in your ears, you just say, “No.” You don’t listen. You don’t listen; instead, you refuse to obey the passions of the flesh. Say “no” to the old slave master.
Another way to put this is Romans 8:13, where Paul tells us to put sin to death. He says we’re not debtors to the flesh, “to live according to the flesh. If you live in the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” That’s where we get our language of mortification, the mortification of sin. It’s just a fancy theological word for putting sin to death.
Again, one of the Puritans famously said, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you,” John Owen. Saying no to sin means putting sin to death, it means being ruthless with the impulses of sin, it means saying no to the habits of sin, it means refusing and abstaining from the opportunities of sin, making no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its desires. We have to be serious about sin; that’s second.
(3) Then number three, surrender yourself to God. Surrender yourself to God. Look at verse 13, and the key word here is the word “present.” Verse 13: “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”
The word “present” means to yield. It means to yield. It means to hand over. It’s a word that might describe a nurse during surgery who hands an instrument over to the surgeon, she turns it over. Or it might be a word that would describe a knight’s squire, who hands the sword to the knight. In fact, the word “instruments” here is the word “weapons.” Paul is saying, yield yourselves to God and yield your members, the members of your body, to God as weapons for righteousness. So surrender. It’s surrendering yourself to God.
It’s the same idea as you have in Romans 12:1 (in fact, the same word there is used), where Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” It’s the consecration of ourselves to him.
Have you done that? There is a decisive consecration that we make when we take our baptismal vows, when we declare our dependence on Jesus Christ, when we say in those waters of baptism, “I’ve died to sin and I’m now living to God in righteousness.” We do that in a definitive, decisive way; but there’s also an ongoing, daily application of this, where we yield ourselves to God, we surrender, we give up, and we turn away from our sin and we hand ourselves over to the Lord.
Let me give you an example of this. This is a prayer that John Wesley used to pray. It was a prayer found in his journals; he probably got it from one of the Puritans, Richard Alleine. Listen to what Wesley said.
“I am no longer mine, but yours. Put me to what you will. Rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full or let me be empty. Let me have all things or let me have nothing. I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. Amen.”
That’s the surrendered heart. That’s the prayer of surrender. “Lord, what will you have me to do?”
Years ago - I don’t remember who it was, but years ago someone challenged me, I think it was in a sermon, to take a blank sheet of paper and sign my name at the bottom and hand it over to the Lord and say, “Lord, you fill it out.” I did that. I still have that sheet of paper in one of my Bibles in my office.
You need to do something like that, whether you do it in a tangible way by signing a blank sheet of paper, but especially in your heart of hearts, that you bow the knee before King Jesus and you yield yourself to him and you say, “Lord, I surrender!”
That’s what we were singing this morning, isn’t it? We sang that. “Lord, I surrender all to you.” Were you telling the truth when you sang that, or were you lying to the Lord? It’s easy for us to sing those songs; it’s not easy for us to surrender until we wrestle through these issues in our hearts and we really turn everything over to Jesus and to his lordship. That’s essential for holiness.
(4) You fasten the breastplate to the belt of truth, you say no to every sin, you surrender yourself to God, and then number four, you replace sin with righteousness. You replace sin with righteousness.
Notice that Paul says here that you are to “yield your members to God for righteousness.” You were yielding your members to sin and to unrighteousness. What he means there is that you were at one time using your hands and your feet and your eyes and your tongue and your brain - you were using your body to serve sin. Every time you do sin, that’s what you’re doing. Paul is saying, don’t do that anymore; instead, surrender yourself to God and use the members of your body for righteousness, to do what is good.
You know how in Scripture you have both the “put off” lists and the “put on” lists. You put off sin, the old man with all of its qualities, and you put on the new man. You put on Christ, you put on the armor. You put on these qualities we’re talking about in the armor of truth and sincerity and righteousness and holiness and peace and faith and the hope of salvation and the helmet. You put these things on; you’re putting on a righteous life. That’s the idea here. You’re replacing sin with righteousness.
Practically speaking, that just means [to] think about the areas in your life that you’re struggling with sin. If you’re struggling with anger, say no to anger and put on kindness. You go deep; go deep into your heart. Figure out why is there anger there, and how do you deal with that anger? Do some soul-searching, and then replace the anger with responses of kindness and tenderness to those that you get angry with.
If you’re struggling with greed and covetousness, you put that off and you replace it with generosity. Instead of always trying to get something, you’re giving of yourself to others.
If you’re struggling with pride, you put on humility, you serve, you consider yourself not better than other people, and instead you take the servant’s position, the servant’s place in your relationships with others.
If you’re struggling with lust, you say no to desires and instead you put on gratitude. Ephesians 5 places gratitude, thanksgiving in opposition to lust. You cultivate gratitude and you cultivate chastity and pure love.
Whatever the sin is (and you know what yours is; I know what mine are and you know what yours are), you know what the sin is, you read in Scripture and you find the opposite of the sin, and you not only try to say no to the sin - you do that, but you also start cultivating intentionally, deliberately cultivating the opposite virtue. You replace the sin with righteousness.
(5) And then number five (this is the last one), you depend on the Holy Spirit. Depend on the Holy Spirit, because you can’t do this in your own strength. This is not self-made righteousness! This is the righteousness of Christ imparted to us, the righteousness of Christ lived out in our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit.
So when Paul says, “Put sin to death,” he says, “If you, by the Spirit” put it to death - you can’t do it by yourself; you have to do it by the Spirit. In Ephesians he’s praying for the Spirit. He prays in Ephesians 3:6 that “you would be strengthened in your inner being by the Spirit.” In Ephesians 5:18 he commands us to “be filled with the Spirit.” You can’t do anything without the Spirit! You need the Spirit.
In fact, I think Paul means basically the same thing in verse 10 of Ephesians 6, when he says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” How do you do that? You do that by depending on the Holy Spirit.
So we have to come to the end of ourselves. We have to recognize [that] without Christ I can do nothing, but through Christ I can do all things. He strengthens me. He strengthens me by his Spirit. So we tap into the Spirit. How do you do that? You do that with the means of grace; you do that with prayer, you do that with the word, which is the sword of the Spirit.
You lean into the promises of God and you pray, you get on your face or on your knees and you close your eyes or you walk with your eyes open - do whatever you need to do to pray, but you say, “Lord, I can’t do this apart from you, and I’m asking you to cleanse me, I’m asking you to fill me, I’m asking you to help me! Help me fight these sins, help me live the obedient life you want me to live, and strengthen me by your Spirit. Lord, I’m opening myself up to you. Send your Spirit to me! Give me more power and more strength from your Spirit.” You have to learn to pray that way.
In fact, here’s something you could do this week. You have this outline in your bulletin: just take those five steps and in your devotional life this week, whatever you’re struggling with, whether it’s anxiety and worry or it’s pride or it’s anger or whatever it is - whatever the sin is that you’re struggling with, you take the sin, and in your quiet time work through those five steps. Just do it in prayer. Take those Scriptures.
Take Romans 6, turn it into a prayer to the Lord, and say, “Lord, I’ve believed in Jesus and I’m now counting on this truth that I’m dead to sin and I’m alive to you through Jesus Christ, and therefore I’m saying no to this sin and to this temptation, and I pray today that you would help me to say no when that temptation comes knocking on my door. Help me to say no, and help me yield myself to you instead. Fill me with your Spirit; give me power, give me strength, give me grace to fight this sin.”
I don’t know of any other way to pursue holiness than this. There are other ways to express it. You can put the points in slightly different order, depending on the passage you want to go with, but essentially, that’s it. That’s it in a nutshell. That’s how we pursue holiness in our Christian lives.
Let me end with an illustration. Many of you have heard me talk about the Scottish pastor Robert Murray M'Cheyne, 1813-1843. He was a young man; he died when he was 29 years old. There was revival in his church, Dundee, Scotland. He used to pray, “Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be made.” That was his prayer.
It’s just amazing, reading his journals and his diaries. He wrote these things not for publication, but when he died at 29 years old his friend, Andrew Bonar, got all of his letters and all of his diaries and he edited these things and he put them together, and now it’s a classic of Christian literature.
M'Cheyne was a holy man. In fact, the stories go that he was so saintly, he was so holy, people loved him so much, that when he would ascend the steps to the pulpit people would start weeping because of the sense of God’s holiness in that room. He used to pray that prayer: “Lord, make me as holy as a saved sinner can be.”
M'Cheyne wrote something for his own use that is maybe the most helpful thing that I have ever read for my own spiritual life. I reread this probably three or four times a year. I reread it this week. He wrote what he called his “personal reformation.” If I had 45 minutes to just read it out loud to you, I would love to do it. You would probably get tired of listening to me read out loud. So you can go find it or I’ll send it to you if you want a copy of it, but let me paraphrase essentially what he said in his “personal reformation.”
He said, “I am persuaded that my greatest happiness in life and my greatest usefulness is going to be found if I do” these three things: “if I keep my conscience always washed in the blood of Christ, and if I live in dependence on the Holy Spirit, and if I seek to be entirely conformed to the image of Christ.”
Then he wrote two or three pages on each one of those things. A conscience cleansed in the blood of Christ, and what he meant by that - it wasn’t that he didn’t struggle with sin. He did! He struggled with sin. But he would take those sins and he would confess them, and he would set aside whole days for confessing his sins. Every day he would spend time confessing his sins, and he would try to keep short accounts. So as soon he was conscious of a sin he’s confessing it, he’s bringing it before the Lord, and he’s asking the Lord to cleanse him and to wash him and he said, “For every sin I commit there is a stripe on the back of Jesus for that sin, and for every omission there is perfect obedience that Jesus performed to cover that omission.”
He’s looking to Christ, he’s looking to the wounds of Christ, the cross of Christ, Christ bleeding and dying on the cross for him. He’s focusing on that. You see, he’s not introspective; he’s actually focused on Christ, but he’s doing it in order to pursue holiness. That’s how he kept his conscience cleansed and washed with the blood of Christ.
And then when he came to the Holy Spirit he said, “I have to study my weakness more. I need to know how weak I am so that I’ll depend on the ministry of the Holy Spirit.” He said similar things about conformity to Christ, being like Christ. He was pursuing this earnestly, with all of his heart.
Brothers and sisters, you and I need something like that. We need personal reformation in our lives. We need personal revival in our lives. We need to take seriously the command to be holy, the demands of holiness, to consecrate ourselves fully to God and to pray this prayer: “Lord, make me as holy as I can be.”
Anybody this morning want to say, “I’m already as holy as I can be”? No. Me neither. So I think we need this. We need this. We need to pray that way, and we should want it. We should want. Jesus is the most wonderful being in the universe; don’t you want to be like Jesus? Jesus’ holiness, Jesus’ purity, Jesus’ mercy, his compassion, his tenderness, and his love.
Let me ask you this morning as we close: do you have your breastplate on? Is your conscience clean? I don’t mean have you never committed a sin, because I know you have, and I have too. I mean, do you have unconfessed sins? Do you have sins you haven’t dealt with, sins you haven’t brought under the blood of Christ, sins you haven’t put to death? Are you killing sin, or is sin killing you? Are you pursuing holiness? Are you clothed with Christ? Do you have assurance of your salvation?
Let me urge you this morning: look to him, look to his cross, look to his wounds, his resurrection, his Spirit, and his grace.
Let me give you one more quote from M'Cheyne, and then I’m done. This is from a letter M'Cheyne wrote to a young woman; he was urging her to go to Christ. He says, “Christ is my armory, and I go to him to get the whole armor of God. The armor of light, my sword and buckler, my arrows, my sling and stone - all are laid up in Jesus.”
Brothers and sisters, what I want you to know this morning is that Christ is for us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. If you need justifying righteousness this morning, if you’ve never been saved, you go to Jesus and he will cover you, forgive you, pardon your sins, clothe you in his righteousness, so that you are right with God. If you need sanctification this morning, you go to Jesus, and Jesus will fill you with the Spirit, impart to you his character, so that you begin to walk with him.
I think we all need it, so let’s pray for it. Let’s ask God to work in our hearts and lives. Let’s bow together.
Gracious Father, Lord, we acknowledge our great need for your mercy and grace. We confess our sins to you this morning. Lord, we wish we were more holy than we are; too often we’re half-hearted in our pursuit of it. We ask you to forgive us of that.
Lord, we pray that you would make this prayer of M'Cheyne’s our own this morning, that we would genuinely desire and earnestly pursue holiness, that we would say, “Lord, make us as holy as a saved sinner could be.” Lord, would you do that in this church? Would you make us a holy church? Would you do it in our personal lives? Make us holy men and women and teenagers and children. Would you convict us of sin and show us right now where we’ve sinned against and have not dealt with those sins? Would you give us the grace to repent? Lord, would help us be practical in the pursuit of holiness, not be content with a mere wish, but get a plan and be earnest and really seek out practical ways to deal with sin and to become more like Jesus?
Lord, we need this this morning. This is your word, this is your will for us. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification,” Paul says, so give us hearts to pursue you.
As we come to the holy supper, the sacred supper of our Lord, the Lord’s table; as we come to it, Lord, we don’t come as people who have it all together. We come more like sick people coming to a doctor and asking for medicine. So as we come to the table this morning, help us come confessing our sin, our weakness, and our need. Help us come depending on Christ and on the Spirit, looking to Jesus and his broken body and shed blood that not only purchased our redemption, but also purchased our holiness, purchased our sanctification.
As we take this bread and juice, may we in the name of Jesus take all that is ours in Christ, may we take Christ himself in our heart of hearts. Give us faith, give us prayerful hearts as we worship. As we sing this song in a moment, “All I Have Is Christ,” may we sing it with all of our hearts. May we not lie as we say these words. Lord, move in us, work in us what is pleasing in your sight this morning. We pray in Jesus’ name and for his sake, Amen.