As we’ve seen over the past six weeks during our teaching series, The Forgotten War, it is crucial that every Christ-follower understand that we are involved in constant spiritual battle that roils and rages within and without. Certainly, spiritual warfare is something we can easily over- or under-emphasize, but the importance of developing an awareness of the war cannot be understated. For me personally, The Forgotten War series has brought to mind not only the need to be aware, but also the need to be vigilant, prepared and courageous as I engage “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 6:12).
Though our enemy works tirelessly against us, our God is great – and He has not left us without provision for this forgotten war. Ephesians 6:13-18 is one of the most often-quoted passages on the theme of spiritual warfare, and gives us a description of the spiritual armor and weaponry God has made available to us:
“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. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 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…” (Ephesians 6:13-18, ESV)
Like any good wartime tactician would, the apostle Paul walks us through the tools at our disposal here in Ephesians 6. He lays out an array of defensive and offensive options and invites us to suit up and make ready. What we should not miss, however, is that this passage is not merely about techniques or tools. There is a greater purpose behind each element of this considerable arsenal.
With a closer examination of each piece of armor, it would seem that each weapon Paul arrays before us leads us not merely to a technique, a tool, or a spiritual warfare methodology, but to a Person – the person of Jesus Christ.
- We are to fasten on a belt of truth. Certainly it goes without saying that having the truth fastened to us is vital as we resist Satan, who is “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Pontius Pilate once asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:36). While this remains a favorite question of many even in our day, Jesus has already answered this for us – He is the truth and truth comes through Him (John 1:17, 14:6).
- We are to put on a breastplate of righteousness.* We are all prone to establish our own righteousness apart from God, but Christ fulfills all that is needed – He gives it freely to those who believe (Romans 10:3-4). The only righteousness that counts is not from man, but from God’s abundant provision of grace – the gift of righteousness through Jesus (Romans 5:17).
- We are to have feet ready to carry the gospel of peace. The word “gospel” means good news, and there is no better news than the “good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:36) Because of this great gospel “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1) and thus should “be ready to do whatever is good” (Titus 3:1).
- We are to take up the shield of faith. Remember that breastplate of righteousness? It goes hand-in-hand, as it were, with this shield of faith. Righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:22). Because of the gift of our faith in Jesus, we are shielded by God’s own power (1 Peter 1:3-5). Our faith comes from Jesus who is also perfecting it in us (Hebrews 12:2). And when our faith fails, the faithfulness of our Lord remains a shield around us (Psalm 91:4).
- We are to take the helmet of salvation.* Salvation is “in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12) Salvation is found in Christ alone.
- We are to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. This is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, which Jesus asked His Father to send as an advocate for us, as a comforter and counselor (John 14:16-17, 26). This is the Spirit that reveals God and the deep things about God to us (1 Corinthians 2:10-11) and gives us the very mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:12-16). Indeed, this Spirit is our Lord (2 Corinthians 3:17) and is eternally inseparable from the word of God, the word that “became flesh and made his dwelling among us … the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
No single element of this arsenal is an end unto itself. Each piece points us directly to Jesus. A belt, a breastplate, a shield, a helmet, a sword – each piece is a parable, imploring us not to trust in the instruments themselves to win the battle – as those who might trust in horses or chariots (Psalm 20:7) – but to trust in Christ, who is mighty to save and who secures our victory.
It is only through our relationship with Jesus Christ that we can engage in such a battle. Apart from Jesus, we would have no knowledge, ability, authority or power to think rightly about spiritual warfare, much less engage in it. It is only in Jesus’ Name, only by His presence in us, with us, and through us that brings us any victory in this forgotten war. The victory is ours, because it is His.
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* It is interesting to note that in Isaiah 59, the Lord God enters battle against His enemies, who have separated themselves from Him by their sin. That’s us. And as He went forth, “He put on righteousness as his breastplate,and the helmet of salvation on his head” (Isaiah 59:17). It is incredible that now, because of Christ, He makes these available to us. God gives us His own “armor” as we do battle as adopted heirs, sons and daughters of the Most High God, co-heirs with Christ.