Sunday, 1 June 2014

Spiritual Armour

In Ephesians 6, Paul tells his readers that they need to wear spiritual armour and he specifies various aspects of it.

He begins by telling his readers to wear the belt of truth. The belt was used to tie up any loose garments a soldier was wearing so that they would not hinder him. It is not too difficult to see what the belt signifies. First, it means that we must have the right understanding of the doctrines of God’s Word.  But ‘truth’ refers to more than head knowledge of the Bible; it also includes our characters, which are to be marked by truthfulness. This was the character of the righteous man described in Psalm 15:2: ‘He that walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart.’ Such a person lives out from the heart the character of God. In other words, he becomes Christlike.

The second piece of armour mentioned by Paul is the breastplate of righteousness. A Roman soldier’s breastplate covered his chest and stomach and protected many of the vital organs. What does the apostle have in mind by righteousness? Paul is speaking about imputed righteousness, that is, the perfect lawkeeping of Jesus that was credited to our account. We wear this as our breastplate, and it is a breastplate that fits comfortably as well as giving a sense of security.

The third item in the armour concerned the soldier’s footwear, which Paul says is the readiness or preparation of the gospel of peace. We need shoes to keep our balance, they provide protection as we move, and they enable us to move more quickly. Paul is not saying that we are being prepared to pass on the gospel; rather he is saying that the gospel prepares Christians to defend themselves against the enemy. A Roman soldier had always to be ready for a sudden change in the enemy’s tactics. Each Christian has to be ready as well because he does not know when the devil will change his tactics. 

The peace here is not with our enemy but with our Commander. So it is a reminder that we were once at enmity with him. Yet Paul is not referring only to a cessation of enmity; he is also referring to an experience of peace in our hearts; he is not only referring to our Christian standing before God, he is also referring to a Christian’s sense of security. The first aspect concerns the removal of hostility, which occurs at conversion because of what Jesus did when he was on the cross; the second concerns the confident sense of God’s favour, which should be our ongoing experience. The first is reconciliation between God and us; the second is assurance. Paul is saying that the preparation we need to fight the devil is an understanding that we are reconciled with God and are enjoying the assurance of his favour.

The fourth item in resisting the devil is, according to Paul, the shield of faith. We should note that Paul here changes the verb from ‘having’ to ‘taking’, which suggests that some items have to be utilised in specific locations. Obviously a shield in battle had to be flexible: sometimes a soldier would hold it in front of him, at other times he would hold it above his head. A believer’s faith has to focus on matters that are suitable to a particular time. What matters about faith is not its strength, but its object, and the object of Christian faith is Jesus. Such faith will concentrate on the aspects of Jesus that are needed at the moment. So if a person is under Satanic attack, he will focus on the power and on the sympathy of Jesus. 

A Roman soldier prepared for battle by drenching his shield in water. Then, in the battle, the fiery arrows of his enemies would be extinguished when they attached themselves to the wet shield. A soldier who failed to wet his shield did not make adequate preparation for the battle. We need to saturate our faith in the Word of God, and then we will diminish the effects of the devil’s roar. 

The fifth item mentioned by Paul is the helmet of salvation.  The Roman helmet was designed to protect the head from blows and from arrows. Paul is saying that salvation is the particular doctrine that will protect the believer’s mind and vision. This salvation enables the Christian to resist the devil by looking back (a good memory), looking up (a good attitude), and looking ahead (clear-sighted about the future). He can look back to conversion, indeed even further back to the eternal counsels when Jesus agreed to become the Saviour. And he can look back to deliverances he has known in the Christian journey. Then he can look up to where Jesus is and see how he is willing and able to help each of his people. And he can look ahead to what he will receive when Jesus returns and there will be the great resurrection and transformation of his people. 

The sixth piece of armour is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. A soldier’s sword was for using at close quarters and we have to use the Bible when we find ourselves under attack. The Bible was produced by the Spirit and he ensured that it is full of Jesus. It is also always his property, even when we are using it, so he will enable us only when we use it in a right way. Yet we have to familiarize ourselves with it in order to use it. The Bible is a very effective way of dealing with the roaring lion. 

Paul adds another feature, which we can call the Christian soldier’s battle cry, and that is prayer. When the lion roars, respond with the battle cry, which is prayer in the Spirit. In a sense, all we do is tell our Commander that the enemy is roaring. Such prayer is very specific in asking for divine help. 

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