Practical righteousness is moment-by-moment obedience to God.
We’ve seen the importance of putting on the breastplate of righteousness as protection against Satan’s attempts to pervert your thinking and emotions. But Scripture speaks of three kinds of righteousness: self-righteousness, imputed righteousness, and practical righteousness. Which did Paul have in mind in Ephesians 6:14?
Paul wasn’t speaking of self-righteousness because that is what the breastplate of righteousness is designed to protect you from. Self-righteousness deceives a person into thinking, I can please God and reach heaven on my own merit. But Isaiah said, “All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isa. 64:6). Far from getting you to heaven, self- righteousness will condemn you to eternal hell because it rejects the merits of Christ’s atonement.
Similarly, Paul wasn’t speaking of imputed righteousness—the righteousness of Christ granted to every believer at the moment of salvation. It’s also called “positional righteousness” because it results from your position or standing in Christ. Second Corinthians 5:21 says that God made Christ, “who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Every believer is clothed in the garment of Christ’s righteousness. You don’t put that on. It’s already yours in Christ.
Only practical righteousness remains—that which flows from obedience to God’s Word. Although in God’s eyes you are righteous in Christ, you must also pursue righteous behavior. In other words, your practice should match your position. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:13). John added that “the one who says he abides in [Christ] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6).
As you learn to live in obedience to God’s Word, you’ll be protected by the breastplate of righteousness.
Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Spirit to help you search your heart and reveal any self-righteous attitudes that might be making you vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. Confess them, then praise Christ for the true righteousness that is yours in Him.
For Further Study
Read Romans 3:10-23. What kind of righteousness did Paul pursue?
From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187