On The Armor of God

Posted: September 2, 2012 in Ephesians, Sermon Manuscripts

Much of the New Testament, to include Ephesians, was written by a man named Paul. This would no doubt shock you if you were around during the first century AD, because earlier in his life Paul was known as Saul, and he grew increasingly famous for his persecution of Christians, those blaspheming, God-hating, Scripture denouncing heretics who had the audacity to claim that Jesus of Nazareth, this simple carpenter, was the long-awaited Messiah.

It wasn’t that Paul hated God, per se…he just had an extremely distorted view of who God was. You could say he was a devout follower of the god of his own making. Born a Jew, he later became a Pharisee who prided himself on achieving his own self-righteousness by keeping the Law…the same Law he would later proclaim served to save no one, but rather revealed to all men their condemnation before God.

Paul reached a point in his life where he hated the Church so much that he wanted official governmental authority to continue his persecution of  Christ-followers. While traveling to Damascus to receive the papers allowing him to humiliate, beat, and transport the Christians he encountered back to Jerusalem, he was encountered by Christ- the risen Savior, the Son of God.

It became apparent to Paul that he had it all wrong. God graciously granted him repentance, that change in reality that leads to a change in thought, belief, and behavior, and all Paul could do was act in faith and follow Christ’s commands. Paul then spent the next three decades planting churches, strengthening congregations, and writing the majority of the books in the New Testament.

Along the way he made enemies with his former compatriots, with the civil authorities, with a host of other people. Eventually he was arrested and invoked his rights to a Roman trial as a Roman citizen. This landed him in a two-year house arrest- not his first imprisonment. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 11 that during his years of ministry and service to Christ, that he was whipped five times- totaling some 195 stripes across his back. He was beaten with rods three times…three times he was stoned, beaten with rocks so severely that on one occasion those beating him thought he was dead and dragged him outside of the city. Paul also experienced three shipwrecks and a host of other hardships.

It was no easy life, and as he wrote this letter to the Ephesians he’s under house arrest and beneath the watchful eye of a Roman soldier. That makes it all the more amazing as Paul began this letter, as he began them all, by saying “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Seemingly odd, yet Paul knew too well of a higher reality, that our peace and happiness wasn’t to be tied into this world around us.

As so as Paul wrote this letter he flooded the first half of it with doctrinal richness. He explained that our salvation was settled in eternity past, that God had purposed before He created us that we would be conformed to the image of His Son. He explained that we are saved solely and exclusively by God’s grace, a salvation that becomes real and applied when we are joined to Christ by faith.

Then after establishing our position in Christ he moves on to the practical aspect of our salvation, how our lives are to look as children of God, how we’re to imitate God and walk as children of light, full of the Holy Spirit. And then last week we began to look at Paul’s concluding thoughts. As he’s sitting in house arrest, after he’s lived some thirty years under persecution for his faith, after enduring all of the sin and evil of those who hate him, Paul still tells us that “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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

Paul first mentioned this idea of “standing” in verse eleven, then iterates it in verse thirteen, and then reiterates the idea in verse fourteen with the command to: “Stand” yet again. Paul isn’t simply telling us to stand on our spiritual feet so that we’re not caught off guard. The idea that he’s communicating is one in which we are continuing to stand against the onslaught of the enemy. It’s this idea that even in the midst of the strongest of attacks by the enemy, we are to stand firm, pressing back.

But how many of us feel like we accomplished that this week? How often were we defeated in our battle for holiness? How effective were we in loving our spouses, in being the mom and dad that God has called us to be? How effective were we in working our hardest, treating our employees with love and fairness? How much did we grow this week in our walk with God? How much of our failure wasn’t simply a result of our fallen flesh, but was unbeknown to us a spiritual attack in which we failed to utilize the armor that God extends to us? Victory is ours…if we’ll fight like we could. If we use the right weapons. If we rely upon God’s strength and not our own.

Paul says “stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth.” There are two ways in which this can be understood. We know that Satan is a liar, that he is the very father of lies. Perhaps Paul is saying that we need to have the belt of truth on, as opposed to falsehood…but there’s another, perhaps a more accurate idea of what Paul is saying, and that is this: the first aspect of our spiritual armor, this “belt” that we need, is representative of the need we have to not be hypocrites, to not let our words and actions contradict, but that as we have the Word of God to guide us, so should our lives reflect the Truth within.

Let me explain why Paul makes reference of the belt here. Belts are important. Without a belt Batman would just be an angry young man with a cape and mask on! But seriously, the belt was a vital part of the soldiers armor, and no doubt Paul was gleaning from the appearance of the soldier who was guarding him as he wrote this letter.

Back then soldiers didn’t have custom-fitted uniforms. In today’s military, uniforms come in a variety of sizes- small, medium, large, as well as short, regular, and long variations of all three. This  allows our soldiers to wear a comfortable uniform that has flexibility of movement, yet isn’t baggy or bulky.

Not the soldiers of Paul’s day, though. Back then they wore a simple tunic that was more or less a square or rectangular piece of cloth with arm openings and a head hole cut into it. Left alone, it would become distracting as it flopped around. It could obscure one’s vision. It could become a means by which the enemy could grab your tunic and wrestle you from your horse, or tackle you to the ground.

So the Roman soldier wore a belt that not only connected various pieces of armor together, not only held the sword to be used in combat, but it gave them the ability to run, leap, fight. So as Paul sees this belt as a vital element of the soldier’s armor, the thing needed to created mobility and ease of movement, this thing needed to go from passive observer to active warrior, he tells us have on your own belt of truth. He can’t put it on us- we have to. We have to purpose to dig so deeply into the truths of God’s Word that they transform us and lead us into a life of truth. It means taking this fight serious, not being content to learn a bit of God’s Word here and there and never letting it change us.

Paul continues, “having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” He’s actually drawing a reference from the prophet Isaiah here, where we are told that the coming Messiah would have righteousness as his breastplate. Breastplates are important for obvious reasons- they protect your vital organs. When my reserve unit deployed for Iraq in the first rotation of the war, we weren’t yet equipped with bullet-proof vests. Instead we had flak-jackets. I mean, they were good for protecting your organs from shrapnel, but these vests were not designed to stop bullets. In fact, with the right knife you could stab through them.

The symbology isn’t lost on Paul as he observes this breastplate that covers the heart and bowels of a man. In Jewish thinking, the heart is the where the mind and will reside, and the bowels, or stomach serve as the seat of emotion. If you can control the way a person thinks and feels, you can control the way they act. Therefore it becomes vitally important that a Christian defend themselves from allowing Satan to make them feel and think wrongly.

But what does Paul mean by “righteousness”? Surely he doesn’t mean our own, because God said that our own attempts at right living are an offense to him. The best things we do, apart from His grace in our lives, is like a filthy rag. I’ll spare you the details of what all that entails. Trust me, though- it ain’t pretty. So it’s not a self-righteousness that Paul speaks of. It could be an allusion to our imputed righteousness of Christ, which is certainly important. After all, if you’re not covered by the atoning work of Christ, which we join to by faith, you’re not yet a child of God and therefore certainly incapable of any sort of spiritual victory.

But Paul speaks elsewhere in Philippians of our producing “fruits of righteousness, which come from Jesus Christ.” What he’s referencing is the ongoing holiness that is produced within us as not just as God conforms us to Christ, but also as we dwell on what it means to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, and the way we live in response.

What Paul is saying is that as we live in the reality of who we are in Christ, as we see and know and experience the love God shows us, that Jesus demonstrated by His death on our behalf, we in turn are motivated by loving gratefulness to live lives worthy of this calling, and as we continue to do that Satan will be hopeless in his attempts to change the way we think and feel. We have got to be Gospel-centered people.

This leads us to this next piece that we’re to arm ourselves with, as Paul says “and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” It’s amazing how important our feet are. More than once I’ve quit ice-skating too early because of a little teeny, tiny blister that brings excruciating pain when I try to continue skating.

The Romans were no dummies, either. Part of their battle strategy included sharpening little sticks and then burying them in the road, leaving just a small, razor sharp tip protruding through the soil. They knew if they could injure an enemy soldier’s foot, he’d be out of the fight. You gotta protect the feet. There were a lot of soldiers taken from the fight in Vietnam due to trench foot from having wet, cold, dirty feet. Charlie Beckwith, the founder and first commander officer of the elite Delta Force, said in his book that one man, after marching 18 miles with full battle-rattle, removed his boots only to find that the soles of his feet stayed in them. Gotta protect the feet, and protect them the right way.

The Romans knew how important this was, so they devised these half boot, half sandal shoes known as a caligae, which had a thick, hobnailed sole designed to protect their feet from any puncture, and it would also allow them to gain traction from the short spikes or pieces of metal that would protrude from the bottom of the sole. They were able to stand their ground, grab traction, even kick with these combat shoes.

What Paul is doing, then, is reminding us that a firm grasp and intimate knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a necessity for us to be able to withstand the attacks of Satan and push back. Knowledge of the Gospel brings us the peace needed when Satan lies to us, when he tells us that we’re unloved, that God has rejected us.

And so, this is what this looks like. We’re saved. We’re excited. We’re boldly pressing into the battle, we’re pressing into Jesus, and then we mess up. Perhaps a sin that we’re continually struggling with. Maybe something you never saw coming, and boy did you mess it up. And there is Satan, or one of his angels, or a human messenger, whatever it looks like, telling you that you’ve failed. God hates you. You’ll never make God happy. Or maybe you’re being told that God’s never been happy with you. That you have to do more good deeds before He’ll look at you. That if the good outweighs the bad you might get into Heaven- you might not.

This is why a proper understanding of the Gospel is vital to standing firm in the face of spiritual warfare. ‘Cause too many pastors now, even evangelical pastors, don’t get the Gospel. They know it. They can articulate it. But they don’t get it. Here’s the Gospel: God saves sinners. Period. It’s all His doing. From start to finish. He began it, He will complete it. We cannot earn it, deserve it, or demand it. It’s God’s salvation to bestow, and He’s the one to bestow it. Pretty simple, right? Some of you are squirming now, perhaps thinking to yourself “well I had to believe!” True. No one is justified apart from saving faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But where’d your faith come from? According to Paul it’s a gift. Who’s the gift giver? God. That’s what we mean when we say we are saved by grace through faith. Yes…we must repent and believe. But even God is the source of that.

Imagine the comfort that brings when Satan tells us we’re not good enough for God. I know I’m not. You failed today. Yeah…I did. You’re not perfect. I know. And God loves me. He saved me in spite of me, not because of me.

But what about when the God who saves you doesn’t seem to be there anymore? Or worse yet, seems to be against you, because everything is crashing down around you? Your family is falling apart. You’ve lost your job. Loved ones have died. Nothing’s fair, and everywhere you turn there is confusion and misery. In those moments Satan will attack you and try to get you to doubt everything you thought you knew about God, which is why Paul tells us “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”

Flaming darts. Technology 2000 years ago was just a little behind where we are. Back then some of the more sophisticated means of fighting included putting combustible substances on arrows and javelins so that you could not only wound, but you could also burn. Powerful stuff there. If Paul were talking to us today he’d say we could shield ourselves from Satan’s incendiary rounds and hand grenades. The point that he’s making is that if we fully rely on God and trust Him, believe His Word, even in the hardest of times, Satan will never be successful in shooting us when our defenses are down.

Perhaps the worst attack Satan can launch upon a person is in causing them to doubt their salvation. There is no more miserable feeling in the world than the feeling that God has rejected you, that you do not have that relationship for Christ that you’re desperate for. Yeah, the idea of Hell terrifies you, but the thought of being without God is far worse.

Paul implores us to “take the helmet of salvation” so that Satan can’t get a foot into our mind. Having a complete and total assurance of one’s salvation will mentally prepare us to defend ourselves against Satan’s lies. The question is, how do I attain this assurance, this confidence that I am indeed “in Christ”? How do I know that my faith is real, that it is indeed saving faith?

Short answer to that question is this: we can know that we’ve been born again by the change that God is working in our lives. John says in 1 John 5 that his reason for writing that book was so that we could compare ourselves against Scripture, so that we could see how God describes the lives of His children, look at our own lives, and see if who we are is indicative of a supernatural change.

I love the logical progression of Paul’s thought here. He tells us to prepare ourselves for battle, live lives of holiness by immersing ourselves in the Gospel, trust God in all things, be assured of our salvation, and now he presents the only truly offensive piece of our armor, which is the sword of the Spirit, identified by Paul as the Word of God. We will never be able to effectively defeat the thoughts and temptations of Satan if we are not geared with truth from God’s word.

The Psalmist said in Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” It’s vital that we know what God has said. You’ll never meet a victorious Christian who has no Bible study somewhere in their life. Whether it’s by meditating on one verse a day or reading for hours, we have got to have a steady diet of God’s Word, so that it becomes a reality in our life.

And then lastly, in addition to taking on and keeping on this armor of God, Paul reminds his readers to pray at all times in the spirit, for all the saints. Specifically, he asks them to pray for him to remain a bold prisoner of the Gospel. The principal behind that is this- my prayers to God will help me defeat Satan. My prayers to God will help you defeat Satan. Your prayers for me can help me in my spiritual battles. Are you praying in all things?

The thought I want to leave you with is this: you’ll never defeat the right enemy by using the wrong weapons. God has assured us spiritual victory as long as we’re equipped with the armor He offers. Where are you weakest? Are you too wrapped up in appearances, in playing “Church Christian” on Sundays and living like Hell the rest of the week? Perhaps you need to confess this to God and ask Him to make you serious about this thing called Christ-following.

Maybe you’re holding on to some pets sins, things that you know are impeding your walk with Christ, yet you still want them. Will you ask God today to help you live a life of righteousness? Will you ask Him to help you fall in love with Jesus?

Perhaps your understanding of the Gospel is so shallow that it’s become powerless in your life. Your prayer should be for God to give you a grace-awakening, a better, more intimate understanding of your position in Christ, what it really means to be saved by grace.

Maybe your battle is in trusting in God’s goodness and sovereignty in the face of evil and hardship. You might be fighting for assurance of salvation- will you pray your way through 1 John and allow the Spirit to show you the Truth? Will you spend more time in the Word this week, more time in prayer? What will you do with this armor that God offers you?

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