One of our spiritual weapons which “have divine power to demolish strongholds” 2 Corinthians 10:4 is the breastplate of righteousness: “…with the breastplate of righteousness in place,” Ephesians 6:14
Righteousness is simply obeying God, either His moral law written in the Bible, our consciences (if they are not seared because of “the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” Romans 1:18), His voice (which includes the direct impressions He gives us) or what we feel He would have us to do (which includes just waiting and believing—knowing that He works everything for good).
An example of righteousness is Abraham: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6 (See James 2:23) Abraham left his homeland for a land which he knew nothing about, no small thing for a wealthy, comfortable man. He believed God that he would have a son who would become a great nation even though it seemed impossible. Later he was willing to sacrifice the son he had waited for so long—God intervened and provided another sacrifice after He saw Abram’s willingness to obey.
Only Jesus is perfect, although He expects us to obey: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 But even though we cannot obey perfectly, because we believe in Jesus, His perfect obedience makes us righteous. His righteousness is a substitute for that which we lack.
We are not righteous because of what we do: “…no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law…” Romans 3:20a. We are righteous because we believe in Jesus: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” Romans 3:21-22a
Faith in Jesus and righteousness are closely related. The passage above seems to say that righteousness comes through faith and the following seems to suggest that because of the righteousness of God and Jesus we receive faith: “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:” 1 Peter 1:1 Faith and righteousness are so intertwined, we can’t have one without the other: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." Romans 1:17
Our righteousness comes we because we belong to Jesus: We who “…are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness…” 1 Corinthians 1:30 If we believe in Jesus, we can put on a “breastplate of righteousness” as He did: (Jesus) “…put on righteousness as his breastplate…” Isaiah 59:17a
If we believe in Jesus, we automatically receive His righteous: “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” Romans 10:4
We need to try to do what is right and when we sin we need to confess and be restored: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
We do not need to feel condemned because Christ has taken our condemnation for us, but we should make every effect to have our “minds set on what the Spirit of God desires”: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Romans 8:1-5
The following passage has been quoted out of context to say that our righteousness means nothing:
“You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” Isaiah 64:5-6 It is true that unless our goal is pleasing God our righteousness means nothing. Any act, although good, if done to bring praise to ourselves or to please others means nothing.
But notice in this passage, their “righteous acts are like filthy rags” because they “continued to sin.” They were not obeying God.
Our righteousness is defined as obedience to God: “And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness." Deuteronomy 6:25
If righteousness is obedience to God who we know always does right, then our righteousness is significant:
“…He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Psalm 23:3
“…Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High.” Psalm 7:8
“The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.” Psalm 18:20 (Psalm 18:24)
“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” Psalm 37:5-6
Righteousness is from God, and when we do right because of Jesus, we are doing God’s righteousness.
To use righteousness as a weapon, first of all, we must realize that we are righteous because of the righteousness of Jesus if we accept what He did for us. We do not have to waste our time and energy wallowing in guilt. We can ask forgiveness and repent any time. We might have to suffer consequences of sin, but we can always be assured of the Father’s love and forgiveness:
Second, when we obey God strongholds are broken down. Maybe obedience will give us some new understanding to set us free. Maybe righteousness will protect us: May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you.” Psalm 25:21 Maybe our obedience will change the heart of an unbeliever. Maybe what God is asking us to do, no matter how seemingly unimportant, is the key to unlock a door to many hearts.
Because Jesus obeyed God in dying on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of the world, we can receive eternal life: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
The Bible is full of men and women, who because they obeyed God, helped fulfill His plan and the knowledge of Him. Joseph, who because of his moral integrity went from prison to palace in one day and saved the lives of many (Genesis 37-50). Esther because of her courage confronted the king and saved her people from destruction (book of Esther). Paul because of his obedience in preaching to the Gentiles is the reason we enjoy salvation: “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: " `I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ "” Act 13:47
A few other thoughts on righteousness:
We need to “love righteousness and hate wickedness” as Jesus did: “You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” Psalm 45:7
Righteousness includes the blessings God gives us—we need to testify about them: “I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly.” Psalm 40:10
When we act right we spread righteousness: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:18
When we talk about Jesus, we are preaching righteousness: “if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others;” 2 Peter 2:5 Noah spoke of the absolute moral integrity of God.
Someday we will live where there is perfect righteousness, both within ourselves and others: “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” 2 Peter 3:13