How to win spiritual battles
In Paul’s ending to his letter to the Ephesians, he talks about how to defeat the powers of evil and darkness. We have take up the whole armor of God.
We have to take it up. Surely the armor of God is a gift, and we would have any of it without God, but Paul says we have to take some initiative. We have appropriate it, practice it, put in on. We have to make the choices to accept the gifts of protection that God has given. And it’s no coincidence that the metaphor here is a full set of armor, each piece designed to work with the others. Each item is crucial, and with out even one, the whole solider would be compromised. That’s why he says take up the whole armor.
So what is the whole armor of God? Let’s survey these briefly in the order they appear:
1) The belt of truth.
This is what holds everything together. In the times of Paul the basic garment was a flowing tunic; it was a square piece of fabric with holes for the head and arms that would hang loosely around the body. When preparing for a fight, soldier would put on the belt, which would gather the material between their legs so they had greater freedom of movement and keep it from being so loose as to be a liability.
This is what the the truth of God’s word does for us. Our faith is founded on the truth that Jesus really did live, that he did really did die, that he really did rise from the grave, and that he really is God in the flesh! This is the truth that keeps everything from unraveling around us. If we don’t have a firm foundation in this truth, we are on shaky ground indeed.
And further, we must people that are about truthfulness, that is we continually seek after the truth, we speak the truth, we believe that truth exists, and we love the truth.
2) The breastplate of righteousness
This is referring the not only to the righteous of Christ that is imputed to us–that is, given to us on his behalf–but also the righteousness of our everyday life. We guard our hearts and innermost being when we live in a way that is holy and pleasing to God. All those little habits of turning your thoughts toward Jesus, of living generously and simply, and so on, will protect you from temptation and subtle lies from Satan.
3) Shoes of the Gospel of Peace.
Without the right footwear for the activity at hand you’re sunk. The right shoes allow to traverse difficult ground quickly and gracefully. A couple years ago I ran a 12 mile obstacle race called the tough mudder. About 6 miles in I realized I had worn the wrong shoes… they were letting rocks in in every mud pit. And there were a lot of mud pits. By the end of the race I could barely walk, let alone run. I didn’t have the right shoes. We sometimes forget that the Gospel is a message of peace and reconciliation, and so we forget the core of our mission. Certainly not everyone will accept or believe the Gospel, but isn’t completely different when we approach people as ambassadors of peace and instead simply trying to assert the fact that we are right and others are wrong? Hateful groups like Westboro Baptist Church show that you can get many facts of the Gospel right, and still miss the core Gospel message.
4) The shield of faith.
Paul says we take up the shield of faith to protect from the fiery darts of the evil one. These darts are actually arrows that were used in the ancient world, dipped in pitch and ignited before launching at enemies. They could be devastating because they would splatter when he hit, lighting all kinds of things and people on fire.
I think of these assaults on our faith as things like inexplicable suffering of loved ones, the stresses of unexpected financial struggles, personal failures, chronic illness. These things have the potential to do us great harm, to shake us to our core. Yet, these are the very moments when we must stand strong in our faith, in our trust that that God that has already won the war by raising Jesus from the dead, thereby conquering death, and will not abandon us in our battle.
5) The helmet of salvation.
This is where it starts getting really good, brothers and sisters. The helmet, the part of the armor that covers the most important part of the body, is called the helmet of salvation. As long as we have put this on by believing in Jesus and confession him as Lord, we know that we will be saved. Not just from our past sin, but from our present struggles, and future failures.
Our ultimate end can’t be anything other than victory. Not because of us, of course, but because Jesus is already victorious. Let me put it another way…the helmet of salvation assures that ultimately, we are invincible to Satan’s attacks. He can’t do anything to snatch us from our Father’s hands.
6) The sword of the Spirit.
Our only offensive weapon here is the sword of the Spirit, which Paul is the word of God. Of course we immediately think of the Bible–“living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” as it says in Hebrews. And this word is animated by the Spirit. So we must be careful to listen for what the Spirit actually saying to us in the text, being careful to not just assume it’s saying what we might like it say. The image here is of a short weapon that required skill and precision to use. So part of arming ourselves with this weapon is knowing when and how to use it. Jesus used it to counter temptation and lies of the devil, but remember the devil tried to use it too! So we’ve got to be careful with one. It is powerful, but we hurt ourselves or others if we don’t treat it very seriously and listen very carefully, and operate in the power of God the Holy Spirit. You can see how each piece is just absolutely essential. If we don’t have the helmet, we’re in danger of eternal death. No sword and we’re left with no offensive options. No shield and not only are vulnerable but other people as well as the effects of those fiery darts spread. But how do we appropriate it? How to do we put it on?
Matthew Henry said, “Prayer must buckle on all the other parts of our Christian armour.” So we put on the whole armor by coming to God and asking. All the time. By consciously examining ourselves to see where our weaknesses are and taking action to bring those things to the Father in prayer.
We are to pray at all times in the Spirit which simply means with an open and trusting heart to work of Spirit in our lives.
What would your life be like if–having identified your true enemy–you devoted yourself to fighting with weapons that God has given you? What if in times of crises you saw opportunities to live a holy life marked by prayer and constant witness to the Gospel message?
What could your nation be like if Christians, instead of trying to throw money and worldly influence and guns at problems took up the whole armor of God together and took the fight straight to real sources of evil?