Armor for the Fight

Last week I tried to underscore the reality that every Christian, whether aware or not, faces a furious battle. That much is clear from Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:10ff. There he repeatedly urges his readers to stand their ground against implacable spiritual powers captained by Satan himself. Their only hope of doing so is to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,” putting on the “full armor of God.”

Paul then expands his teaching on the armor in question with a passage that will be familiar to many:

6:14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 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, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

One question that Paul’s words bring to mind is just how each of these armaments equips us for the fight. A few thoughts in reply:

The belt of truth. We would do well to understand from elsewhere in Scripture that Satan is a liar; indeed, he’s the “father of lies.” Deception is central to who he is and how he wars against followers of Christ. (See John 8:44.) He is not clumsy in his efforts. Rather, subtlety is his strength, and the most difficult lie to discern is often the one closest to the truth. Accordingly, the best defense is a thorough understanding of what really is true. We will not be easily swayed if we are familiar with God’s character, his deeds, his promises, etc.…especially what he has accomplished in the person of Jesus.

The breastplate of righteousness. Scholars are divided as to whether Paul refers here to the righteousness that Christ has gained for us through his life and death (the righteousness by which God declares us not guilty before him), or to the righteousness we’re to demonstrate in our ongoing lives (i.e., character and actions consistent with God’s will). It may be unnecessary to choose between the two. Both are important for the fight. The first renders powerless Satan’s accusations that our ever-present sin renders us unworthy to stand before God (see Rom. 8:31-39, esp. vv. 33-34). And the second? “For just as to cultivate truth is the way to overthrow the devil’s deceits, so to cultivate righteousness is the way to resist his temptations.” (John Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 279)

The readiness given by the gospel of peace. This phrase has also been explained in more than one way. One the one hand, Paul may be suggesting that the truth of the gospel—including the fact that God has given us peace with him through the work of Christ—roots us firmly in our spiritual battle. On the other, Paul’s words echo Isaiah 52:7:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Accordingly, Paul could be urging believers to take the offensive by letting others know how they might have peace with God through the good news of Jesus. Stott again summarizes nicely: “In either case the devil fears and hates the gospel, because it is God’s power to rescue people from his tyranny, both us who have received it and those with whom we share it.” (280)

The shield of faith. The large Roman shield was made to withstand even arrows dipped in pitch and set aflame. So Paul says the shield of faith will extinguish the attacks of the evil one. What is the Christian to do in the face of temptation, distress, accusation, and the like? Cling fiercely to the promises of the God who never lies and is always faithful to carry out his word. The potential applications of this point are virtually limitless. In the face of any circumstance, we may ask ourselves, “Which promise of the God who is completely trustworthy meets the need I have at present?”

The helmet of salvation. Those who believe the gospel have been “delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). We have been liberated from our sin and guilt at present. We need no longer serve our former master, however unwittingly (see Eph. 2:1-10). And we can now look forward to sure hope of spending an eternity of joy and satisfaction with in God, with every enemy completely vanquished, even sin and death (see Rev. 21-22, 1 Cor. 15). As Jesus himself said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). No matter how difficult we find the battle at present, we may take comfort that we know its final outcome.

The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Notice what Paul is saying here. The instrument of God’s Spirit—the normal manner in which he works in our lives—is none other than his word. It is striking how often God’s Spirit is linked with his word in Scripture (compare, for example, Eph. 5:18-19 with Col. 3:16). If we experience the Spirit’s power and fruit in the midst of our fight, we must traffic in the pages of Scripture.

Paul closes his instruction on spiritual battle with a call to pray “at all times” and “with perseverance” (v. 18). Genuine prayer, by definition, is an acknowledgement of dependence on the one who really is strong. And in the unfathomable providence of God, it is the lever that moves his divine power. And one final point: it is telling that Paul knew that even he could not stand alone. He needed the prayers of others to remain faithful in the calling God had given him. Doubtless, we are in the same, mutually dependent situation. Will you fight for others in your prayers? Will you ask them to fight for you?

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