In keeping with his promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him- 2nd Peter 3:13-14 NIV
For some reason the whole notion of living a holy and righteous life has fallen on hard times in some Christian circles. I suspect this is due to some confusion over legalism and righteousness. When the two get tangled-up in a person’s mind any appeal to holiness, virtuousness or even just plain old common decency is seen as toxic to our faith journey. This is because many in the church see “being good” as a misguided attempt to earn God’s love and favor rather than simply accepting God’s free gift of mercy and grace.
Here’s the thing:
Legalism is bad. Really bad. Legalism is the idea that Christians must “be good” all the time or add good works or the keeping of certain manmade rules to what Jesus did on the cross in order to be saved from their sin and accepted by God. There is no biblical foundation for legalism. The New Testament is clear: all it really takes to get right with God and spend eternity with Him is faith in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, a repentant heart and nothing else (Genesis 15:6, Acts 13:38-39, Acts 16:31, Romans 3:22, Romans 10:9)
Seriously. It’s that easy.
That does not mean holiness and righteous living is somehow optional for Christians. Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with commands to “be holy” (Leviticus 11:45, Ephesians 1:4, Hebrews 12:14, 1st Peter 1:15-16). Furthermore, there is all kinds of instruction given in the Bible on how to live a life that pleases God. (Romans 12:1- 21, Colossians 3:1-25, Galatians 5:22-26, 2nd Peter 1:3-11).
The warfare passage in Ephesians six takes the whole idea of righteousness a step further. It teaches that “righteousness” is a critical part of our spiritual armor. The armor of God is meant to protect us from the various schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-13, 1st Peter 5:8).
Ephesians 6:15 tells Christians to “stand firm”: with the breastplate of righteousness in place.
Putting on the breastplate of righteousness means we make a commitment to choose righteousness, holiness and obedience over sin and self-will. It does not mean we never make a mistake. It does mean we make every effort to live the way God calls Christians to live (Colossians 3:1-25, Romans 12:1-21, 1st Thessalonians 4:3-9) When we put on the breastplate of righteousness it empowers and safeguards us in three critically important ways:
Righteous living keeps our hearts from being defiled-
The Bible teaches that the human heart more than just an organ in our bodies. It is the place from which all of our thoughts, feelings and actions flow (Proverbs 4:23, Proverbs 6:18). A pure heart produces good actions and an impure heart produces bad actions (Matthew 12:34, Matthew 15:18-20). Every. Single. Time. When we choose to sin, it has a polluting effect on our hearts. If we sin willfully for long enough that choice will defile us to the point we are worthless for doing any good for the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:13-16). Choosing to “put on” righteousness daily ensures our hearts will be pure and we will be useful to God.
Righteousness prevents us from destroying our testimony about Jesus-
In Revelation 12:11 we are told Christians overcome Satan through the blood of the Lamb (the saving work of Jesus) and the “word of their testimony”. A Christian’s “testimony” is their conversion story. It is the words we use to describe how Jesus took us from death to life. Our changed life lends legitimacy to our conversion story. Without a changed life there is no proof that anything of any spiritual significance happened to us. When Christians live like non-Christians it takes the power out of their conversion story. Conversely, living righteously gives our conversion story power and hope to others that they can be changed too.
Righteous living is a protection that keeps us from shipwrecking our lives-
The list of things that can ruin a person’s life is almost endless. A few highlights include such things as: adultery, sexually transmitted diseases, enslavement to pornography, drug addiction, embezzlement, drunk driving charges and credit card debt. All anyone (Christian or not) has to do to avoid all the pitfalls and snares that could possible ruin a person’s life is just to do what the Bible says to do and avoid all the things the Bible says not to do. That’s it. Obedience to God’s commands is a powerfully protective force that keeps us from running our lives into the dirt.
Here’s the hard and horrible truth about all of this:
We cannot keep up a life of righteousness on our own. In our own strength we will find ourselves putting on the breastplate of righteousness just for it to fall off a few hours later (metaphorically speaking). We simply cannot “be good” without God’s help. We are just a little too messy in our humanness to pull it off (Isaiah 64:6, Jeremiah 17:9). The key to putting the armor on and keeping it on is found in seeking the presence of Jesus daily. When we walk in close relationship with Jesus He gives us everything we need to live the way he has called us to live.