If God opened our eyes to see spiritual reality like Elisha’s servant (2 Kings 6: 15-17), we would understand that our counseling doesn’t take place merely in a counseling office but on a battlefield. Consider this story:
In 2011 Sgt. Timothy Gilboe was on duty in Afghanistan. One day his platoon was patrolling the village of Awalata, when they were attacked by guerilla insurgents. Gilboe charged at a man and grabbed his AK-47. The gun got turned around toward Gilboe and fired right into his chest. Amazingly, Gilboe only had the wind knocked out of him and his leg was sprayed with shrapnel, but he was able to engage in hand-to-hand combat with his enemy, holding him off until another soldier shot him. What saved Sgt. Gilboe was his bullet-proof vest. Similarly, we need a spiritual “bullet-proof vest” in our battle with the enemy of our souls, which Paul describes in Ephesians 6:10-14:
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…put on the breastplate of righteousness.
Two of the weapons Satan uses against us and our counselees are self-righteous legalism and presumptuous license. Both of these gain their strength from us not recognizing God’s provision of the “double blessing” (Calvin) we receive when we trust in Jesus Christ: his imputed and imparted righteousness. This breastplate of righteousness is our only protection against the condemning accusations and blinding temptations of Satan. Let’s look at three types of people who need the breastplate of righteousness.
Defeated Debbie: Debbie only has a partial understanding of justification by grace alone through faith alone. She doesn’t fully understand imputed righteousness. She thinks that faith in Christ merely forgives her sins. However, she doesn’t realize it also credits the perfect righteousness of Christ to her, giving her his righteous status and loving relationship with the Father. So instead of living a life of continual and hopeful repentance and faith, she lives a life of continual and discouraged penance—anxiously striving to make up for her failures and to be good enough for God to accept and bless. She needs to understand and appropriate what John Piper wrote, “There is something about righteousness that makes you bold. But our consciences and Scripture accuse us of being sinners. We don’t feel righteous. The breath of boldness is knocked out of us. No passion, always anxious, inadequate, insecure. Through righteousness we can laugh at all the terrors, sicknesses, calamities, enemies, miseries, losses, and heartaches Satan threatens us with…The good news of God’s imputed righteousness gives joy, makes strong. Everything is because of Christ. We owe everything to him.”
Self-Confident Sam: Sam doesn’t understand his need for imputed righteousness. He thinks that being a Christian is basically accepting God’s forgiveness and then simply living by Christian principles and keeping biblical rules the best he can. He would say, “I’m not perfect,” but feels he’s really doing pretty well, at least compared to others. However, Sam also neglects humble love and looks down his nose at those who aren’t doing as well as he is. Sam needs to hear the description of his heart by John Newton: “He is insensible of his state; because he knows not the evil of his sin, the strictness of the law, the majesty of God whom he has offended…because he is comparatively whole, and sees not his need of this great Physician; because he relies on his own wisdom, power, and supposed righteousness.” When Sam comes to see the true state of his heart and to embrace the righteousness of Christ, he will be set free from self-righteousness to love God and others.
Careless Carl: Carl gets what the other two don’t get about imputed righteousness, but he doesn’t understand that justification (being counted righteous in Christ) always leads to sanctification (working out that righteousness in daily life by trusting and obeying the Lord Jesus). He is guilty of what James called “dead faith”—a false security that shows no evidence of love or holiness. He’s trusting in a supposed past decision for Christ and not in Christ himself. Carl believes in a dangerous distortion of “once saved, always saved.” He believes that since he “accepted Jesus into his heart” at a church camp in high school it doesn’t make any difference how he lives—he will go to heaven no matter what. He says he knows he’s living for the college party scene and not for Christ right now, but he can always repent someday, after he’s had some time to enjoy his newfound freedom from parents and church. Because of this false belief, Carl can have no true assurance of salvation and is endangering his soul every day. Charles Spurgeon speaks directly to Carl’s situation: “If Christ has died for me – ungodly as I am, without strength as I am – then I can no longer live in sin, but must arouse myself to love and serve Him who has redeemed me. I cannot trifle with the evil that killed my best Friend. I must be holy for his sake. How can I live in sin when He has died to save me from it?”
Counselees who don’t understand and put on the breastplate of righteousness will follow in the footsteps of one of these three types of people. When they do, they will experience defeated discouragement, self-confident pride, or careless presumption. All three are deadly. What a responsibility and privilege it is to help them see their need of Christ’s imputed and imparted righteousness and learn to pray, “Lord Jesus, I receive you as my perfect righteousness before the Father. Thank you that in you I am perfect and accepted. Help me to become what I am: the righteousness of God, and to live this out this week.”
Join the Conversation
Think of counselees you know who are like the three described above. What are their particular temptations and struggles? How could you help them put on the breastplate of righteousness?
 This is a paraphrase from Piper’s sermon The Demonstration of Righteousness, pt. 1. http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-demonstration-of-gods-righteousness-part-iv.
 The Letters of John Newton – To the Rev. Thomas Scott (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 264.