This past week brought the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when thousands of young men advanced into a life-or-death battle to win freedom for the people of Europe.
The New Testament passage we come to today in our study through the book of Ephesians is all about the battle underway today, the battle to bring spiritual freedom to whoever will side with Christ.
Turn with me to Ephesians chapter 6. Beginning in verse 10, Paul writes…
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”Ephesians 6:10-12
We have a spiritual enemy, who fights to ruin people spiritually throughout the world. If it seems hard to believe there is an unseen but real enemy, consider this: the latest scientific estimate is that 95%of all matter in the universe is invisible. We can neither see, smell, taste, touch or hear 95% of what makes up the universe—but it exists nonetheless. 95% is real and invisible to us. If that is true in the physical realm, it is within reason to believe there are spiritual realities that we likewise cannot see.
So Paul begins heading toward the conclusion of this letter by warning that Christianity is not just a nice option. Following Christ is the way to experience victory in the spiritual battle for people’s eternal destiny.
As Paul dictates this letter, he is suffering as a direct result of the spiritual war taking place: he’s in prison because of teaching that Jesus is the way to God.
To be a Christian in the first century was to guarantee persecution and rejection, often beginning with members of your own family. That’s still the case in many nations today. Here in the U.S., for a long time it was easy to be a Christian. Not so much anymore. It’s beginning to cost more to hold to what the Bible teaches.
So get your strength from the Lord, Paul urges—speaking from his own experience. Acts chapter 27 tells how when Paul and those transporting him as prisoner were caught in a deadly storm at sea, an angel sent from God came and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.” (Acts 27:24) At his greatest time of need, God strengthened Paul so that he could make it through.
And the reason we need to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, Paul points out, is so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. We know how the devil works.
Now at yChurch and in the Christian & Missionary Alliance, we don’t major on Satan or demons. Neither do we ignore or deny their existence.
We believe, as the Bible says, that there is a real and personal spiritual entity known as the Devil, Satan, Beelzebul, the ruler of this world, the god of this age, the evil one, the Ancient Serpent.
We believe, as the Bible says, that Satan leads some number of fallen angels who rebelled against the Lord, who now actively oppose all who ally themselves with the Lord. That belief is as old as the Bible itself: the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job, is premised on the existence of a real Satan who has real power to attack real people in devastating ways.
The devil hates God, and he hates us because we are made in God’s image.
We also believe Revelation chapter 20, that the day is coming when Christ will cast the devil into hell, where he will be punished forever.
And until then, we are in a battle against spiritual forces that are at once wicked and cunning.
So be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
Paul next takes six pieces of equipment worn by Roman soldiers heading into battle, and applies them to what we need to experience victory in this spiritual battle. Verses 13-17 he writes…
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”Ephesians 6:13-17
It’s a vivid picture of a soldier confidently advancing into battle and prepared to win. The warrior’s belt, breastplate, boots, shield, helmet and sword—are given as pictures of how God equips us for spiritual victory—with truth, righteousness, the gospel message, faith, salvation, and the word of God.
If a soldier neglected any one of the six, he would put himself at risk of becoming a casualty. Similar in the spiritual battle. Let’s take them one at a time, showing why each piece of equipment is essential.
The devil’s schemes The armor of GodFall for lies Buckle up to truth
- Live how you want Guard your heart with right living
- Head into the day unprepared Always be ready to share the gospel
- Doubt God when the heat is on Believe God in the heat of battle
- Feel defeated Guard your mind, knowing Jesus saves
- Listen to Satan’s whispers Wield God’s Word
Let’s take them one at a time. John 8:44, Jesus says the devil “is a liar and the father of all lies.” To be a Christian is to buckle up to truth. Cinch truth to yourself like a belt. The Roman soldier’s belt is what held his sword by his side.
Truth as spiritual armor refers to two things: first is the truth of the Bible about who God is and why Jesus came. That’s the only truth that sets people free spiritually. Spiritual freedom has a name: Jesus. So we cling to him. We buckle up with him.
The second sense of buckling up to truth here is in your integrity. If God says something is good and right and pure and pleasing to him, live that way. When God says something is sinful and displeasing to him, avoid it.
Buckle up to the truth in what you believe, and in how you behave. Make sure both are anchored to God’s truth.
Here at yChurch and in the Christian & Missionary Alliance, we have clearly articulated doctrinal statements. We know what we believe. What we believe comes from the Bible’s main and plain teachings—doctrines that have been hammered out carefully by men of God who came before us. If you want to examine the truth that we buckle up to, cling to, and stand for, here’s the link: https://www.cmalliance.org/about/beliefs/doctrine
Satan’s first scheme is to get you to fall for lies. God says buckle up to truth.
The second approach Satan takes is trying get you to think you should live however you want. The argument is, it’s your life, what you choose is your business, and no one has any right to tell you otherwise. Sounds good. But it’s a trap.
For the Christian, the first question is not, “How do I want to live?” The first question is, “How does my Lord call me to live?”
C.T. Studd put it well when he said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.”
1 Corinthians chapter 6 goes further. Speaking to Christians it asks…
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”1 Corinthians 6:19-20
The issue being confronted in that passage is that we’re called to sexual purity and self-control rather than giving in to sexual immorality, which Corinth was known for. The protection God gives to avoid becoming a casualty in how you live is what Paul calls “the breastplate of righteousness.”
The breastplate of righteousness has twin meanings. First is that when Satan accuses that God doesn’t love you, or that your sins are too deep for God to forgive, the way to guard your heart is by pointing to Christ’s righteousness counted to you.
2 Corinthians 5:7 explains:
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
God made Jesus, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God. In theology, we call this imputed righteousness—that when you trust in Christ, God not only forgives your sins, he also counts or credits Christ’s righteousness to you. That’s the first meaning of the breastplate of righteousness: the way you can stand against the devil’s accusations is by pointing to Jesus on the cross—that because you trust in him, God himself has declared you righteous. God said it. You believe it.
The second meaning intended by the breastplate of righteousness is living right in character and conduct. God has declared you holy, now pursue holiness. Walk uprightly before God. Do what’s right, and flee from sin.
A car full of Christian young men were headed to a bachelor party when one of them said, “I’ve never been to a Christian bachelor party. What does a Christian bachelor party look like?” Another guy immediately shot back with a big smile, “Just don’t make Jesus weep!” That’s a great answer. You can guard your heart and have a great time—returning home with no regrets, by living righteously, by walking morally upright before the Lord.
Keep your “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”
Like shoes for your feet, always be ready to tell the good news that peace with God comes from trusting in Jesus. A soldier on D-Day would never consider running to battle barefoot. In the same way, the Christian’s “shoes” are always to be on. Be always ready to share the good news.
Peter says the same in 1 Peter 3:15:
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Always be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are.
The readiness Paul speaks of may be an allusion to how Roman soldier’s half-boots had studs on the soles so that they wouldn’t slip when engaged in hand-to-hand combat. They could stand their ground—as we’re called to in our mission of telling others about Jesus.
The author of a book titled The Missionary Nature of the Church writes: “Missionary work [really, all of us sharing our faith] is like a pair of sandals that have been given to the Church in order that it shall set out on the road and keep on going to make known the mystery of the gospel.” It’s a mystery to those who haven’t clearly heard it. So we want to be always ready to tell someone that peace with God comes from following Jesus.
Quoted in Stott, pg. 280.
“Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
Satan wants you to doubt God when the heat is on. He wants you to fall for the lie that God doesn’t care about you, doesn’t love you, and isn’t going to rescue you. The protection God provides against that attack is the shield of faith. Believe God in the heat of battle.
When the thought comes to mind, “God won’t forgive me,” that is a flaming arrow from Satan. Snuff it out by believing God. When you think, “God doesn’t love me,” that’s a burning arrow sent from Satan. Extinguish it by choosing faith over feelings. Believe God over whatever dark thought comes in the moment.
What we’re talking about here is Psychological Warfare. Satan wants to mess with your head. He wants to get you to doubt God. This is as old as Genesis chapter 3, where the serpent implies that God is not good, but is holding us back from something better. Adam and Eve bit, and the consequences continue to reverberate today. Believe God when the heat is on.
“Take the helmet of salvation.”
The Roman soldier’s helmet was made of tough metal with a soft lining. Nothing short of an axe or hammer could penetrate it. It functioned much like the latest helmet American military forces wear today, protecting the brain. The biblical emphasis implied here has to do with your thought life.
The most fundamental battleground in spiritual warfare is the mind. The devil wants you to feel defeated. If he can get you discouraged and feeling defeated, that’s one step closer to a victory for him. It’s spiritual psychological warfare.
Look with me at 1 Thessalonians 5. Paul writes…
“[Put on] the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”1 Thessalonians 5:8-11
That passage, like Ephesians 6, is speaking about your thought life. When you think or feel like God is done with you, hold onto your hat! What hat? The fact that Jesus saves. It never was up to you to be saved. No one could bear that kind of responsibility!
Charles Hodge explains: “That which adorns and protects the Christian, which enables him to hold up his head with confidence and joy, is the fact that he is saved.”
Quoted in Stott, pg 282.
So confidence comes from remembering where your salvation comes from, and where your salvation is headed. The whole thing comes from God. It is God who started a work in you, it is God who is now at work within you, and it is God who will carry on to completion on the day Christ returns. The call for us is simply to cooperate with God in the work he is doing within us.
So don’t fall for the feeling that you’re not going to make it, or that following Jesus isn’t worth it. Guard your mind, knowing that Jesus saves. And anytime the devil reminds you of your past, you remind him of his future! [repeat]
The sixth piece of equipment in the armor of God is God’s Word. Verse 17,
“Take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”
The devil being the liar he is, will try to get you to hear and buy in to his whispers. What all of them have in common is that they contradict God’s Word. The way to victory over the devil’s schemes is know your Bible and use it. Wield God’s Word. Don’t let it sit undisturbed for months at a time. It’s been pointed out that a Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.
Old man Gene Boldman, who discipled me when I was a new believer, had one of those Bibles with gold edging on the pages. But when I met him, he had read and studied and prayed the Bible so much, the pages were worn and the gold was gone. The gold had traded places, and was now in his heart and mind. I have never since met someone who knows the Bible that thoroughly, and lived it out to faithfully. It was gold getting to know Gene. He wielded the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
The most recent time we offered the free prayer table here in the YMCA, someone came by who tried to pick a fight over the Bible. They wanted me to tell them that we don’t teach things in the Bible that she personally disagrees with.
Dwight Moody had something to say about that. He said a mutilated Bible…is a broken sword. If you want to pick and choose parts of the Bible, but imagine you know better than to believe parts you don’t understand or don’t like, that’s not a Christian view of Scripture. A mutilated Bible is a broken sword.
If you have sincere questions regarding the inspiration and authority of the Bible, there are a lot of excellent resources out there. One of the websites I recommend is www.rzim.org/resources/bible.
That’s Ravi Zacharias Ministries. You’ll find well-reasoned articles and videos explaining how intelligent critical thinkers can conclude that the Bible is the living, powerful, timeless, inspired Word of God.
While we’re hearing that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God, remember that when Jesus was tempted and tested by Satan (Matthew chapter 4 and Luke chapter four), each time Jesus’ counterattack was straight from Scripture: “It is written,” and he would quote the word of God. Why? Because there’s power in God’s Word.
We take the same view of Scripture that Jesus did. Every time Jesus handled the Scriptures, quoted Scripture, or alluded to Scripture, he did so as the very words of God.
So get to know this book.
Memorize verses you need to wield in time of temptation.
Study it with others. Decide now that you’re going to get into a Bible study this fall.
Not original to me is the adage that…
This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.
Helen Keller, who had better excuses for not reading the Bible than just about anybody I can think of, said: “Unless we form the habit of going to the Bible in bright moments as well as in trouble, we cannot fully respond to its consolations because we lack equilibrium between light and darkness.”
That’s a mouthful. She’s saying if you’re not in the Bible regularly, you have no clue how much you’re missing out on.
A.W. Tozer, who pastored in Indianapolis, said, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”
John Wesley back in his day wrote, “I want to know one thing, the way to heaven: how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end he came from heaven. He has written it down in a book! Oh, give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be: ‘A man of one book.’”
What book best describes you? If you’re a Christian, it should be the Bible. British theologian N.T. Wright says: “The Bible is the book of my life. It’s the book I live with, the book I live by, the book I want to die by.”
You know what that is? That’s Jesus’ view of Scripture. That’s the apostles’ view of Scripture.
That’s the view of Scripture that has been faithfully handed down to us from godly men and women throughout history. Don’t be caught without the sword of the Spirit, God’s Word, in your hand and in your heart.
There you have the six-fold armor of God—everything you need to experience victory in the spiritual battle. God supplies the armor, but you have to put it on. Like a soldier headed into battle, don’t leave off a single piece.
One final quote, this from John Bunyan, best known for his amazing allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. I highly recommend you buy a modern-language version of Pilgrim’s Progress. I want you to hear Bunyan’s take on today’s passage. He writes: “The preeminent job of the church is to equip the Christian for life’s challenges. This requires the emphasis on being fitted with tested armor. He is tutored in the Word of God. He is encouraged to rely on the Lord alone through faith in His promises and providence. He is drilled in the doctrines of salvation and is encouraged to allow these truths to work themselves deep into his soul. He is encouraged to live righteously by having within him a righteous mind soaked in Scripture and demonstrated in right living. He is taught how to pray. He is encouraged to share his faith with those who do not have peace with God.”
This is our mission, friends. The battle is real. Our enemy is real. And God has given us everything we need to experience victory. Put it all on.