A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. – Ephesians 6:10-18 NLT
A Roman soldier was the standard by which all other armies were judged in Paul’s day and so it is no surprise that when Paul wanted to talk about aspects of Christian warfare he went to the centurion as an illustration for a soldier of Christ. Not because Romans had faith in Christ, but rather because the Roman soldier was an image that anyone in the known world was familiar with and could picture easily as he ticked off the points about spiritual warfare.
In the picture above you can see that the battle dress for a Roman infantryman was designed for both protection and maneuverability. Metal shielded vital areas while fabric and leather allowed the soldier to be constantly on the move in battle. A large shield for defense from larger attacks and an offensive weapon such as a sword rounded out the centurion’s armament.
There are several points that Paul makes in this passage where he compares the Christian to the infantryman so let’s dive in and look at them ourselves.
Know your enemy.
Before ever talking about offense or defense, Paul brings up and important point. We must know who the real enemy is. Battles, and even wars, have been lost because the basic definition of “who is the enemy” could not be settled. On more than one occasion in the Old Testament we see an enemy of Israel defeated because they become confused about who the enemy was. Gideon’s small force claimed victory when the enemy awoke and, in their confusion, started attacking each other. Saul won a battle against the Phillistines in the same manner. And when the Moabites marched on Judah, God would not even let the Israelites fight. Instead, He had them sing praises while God Himself confused the Moabite army, causing them to attack each other.
But God is not the only one capable of confusing the issue of who the enemy might be. That is Paul’s point in verse 12. Our enemies are not other human beings. We need to understand that, as Christians, our battlefield is in the spiritual realm. We do not fight against other humans, even if we don’t agree with them. Satan knows that if he can get us fighting each other then he and his army are free to wreak havoc. For a little while longer, Satan has dominion over the earth. As such, he causes circumstances to pit us against other humans. As a result, the gospel suffers and those who might listen turn away when they see us coming because they mistakenly think we are coming to attack rather than point the way to rescue. So those who we think are the enemy turn out not to be and we leave ourselves vulnerable to attack because our attention is not focused in the right direction. If we don’t know our enemy then we will never win the battle.
Put on all of the armor that God supplies.
Our enemy is formidable. He possesses powers that we will never be able to overcome on our own. For us to ignore protection that God freely gives to us is nothing short of spiritual suicide. Satan has many strategies available to him, any of which can bring us down easily unless we take advantage of all that God provides. Only in availing ourselves of the entire suit of armor can we guarantee that we will still be standing when the attack has faded. To put on anything less than the entire suit of armor is to walk in front of the enemy naked.
Cinching up the belt of Truth.
The soldier, before putting on any armor, had to make sure that his loins were girded so that he was free to move. He did so by using a belt to hold up his tunic in almost diaper like fashion. The belts often came with leather thongs that hung down all the way around, protecting the upper legs and lower abdomen. Before we can even begin to contemplate donning our armor, we too must make sure we are in a position to respond to attacks.
By cinching up the belt of Truth we prepare ourselves to respond to those who speak error. We protect ourselves by keeping the truth in our hearts so that we do not believe the lies that the evil one disseminates throughout the earth. The truth is what keeps us safe in our inner most parts, that is our conscience. Without it, we will not know how to respond to the attacks of the enemy. And unless we can speak it in love then we might as well be speaking gibberish, because the enemy can confuse anything else we say.
Get on that breastplate.
The breastplate (or body armor) covered the centurion’s torso, much like a modern day bullet proof vest protects a law enforcement officer. The purpose of both is the same. In the confusion of an attack, it is not always clear where the initial blow might come from. The body armor increases the soldier’s (or policeman’s) ability to survive that blow, assess where the attack is coming from, and begin to respond to it. Without it, a sneak attack is almost always a fatal one as wounds to any part of the body covered by it destroy critical body organs.
If we are wearing the breastplate of righteousness, then we essentially are protecting ourselves from sneak attacks as well. When we live in righteousness, we do not have to worry about things we do in the dark being used against us by the enemy. One of his favorite ploys is to use our own failures against us. By twisting the knife of regret, Satan is able to convince us that we are not worthy of being saved. Once we have called our own salvation into question he follows the knife with the arrow of doubt and soon we begin to question our position on everything. We will never live a perfect life here on earth. But if we live in the breastplate of righteousness, that is the righteousness of Christ, we protect ourselves from such attacks because our life is not the issue, Christ’s is, and His is perfect.
Lace up those shoes.
A common ploy in battle is to draw the enemy into rugged terrain where obtaining a foothold is difficult. In the case of ancient armies this might include areas that tore up an enemies bare feet. Any commander will tell you that the most important part of an infantryman is his feet and leaving them unprotected is a recipe for disaster.
For the Christian, the best protection from the rugged terrain of uncertainty is the peace of Christ. Nothing can protect us from every storm of life, but we can be certain to walk through it if Christ’s peace resides in us. Only by knowing that everything in our life (both good and bad) works towards our good can we withstand the assaults of financial crisis, personal loss, attacks on our faith, etc. A good pair of shoes can get us over any kind of terrain. So can a firm foundation in the One who holds the future in His hands.
Don’t forget your shield.
The Roman soldier carried a large shield. It was so large, in fact, that he was able crouch behind it during an aerial attack (arrows, darts, or spears) and protect his entire body. This was important because, in an effort to make the soldier mobile, some areas of his body had to be free of armament. The shield was the only way to fully protect him when hundreds of projectiles were in the air.
Let’s be honest. There are going to be times in our lives when attacks are going to find there way in. Not because God’s armor is imperfect but because we do not wear it perfectly. Even when we try to don the whole package we will inevitably leave a strap loose or get it on crooked. When that happens, Satan’s projectiles of hate, deceit, remorse, regret, envy will find cracks in our armor. That is why we must carry the shield of faith. It is only through faith in Christ, by trusting in His ability to see us through, by believing that He will get us to eternity intact, that we can survive when hurls swarms of darts our way.
Cap it off with a sturdy helmet.
Everyone knows that if we lose our heads, we have lost completely. The entire body is controlled from the command center, the main computer, the brain. Even in ancient times they understood that any kind of blow to the head could mean death. Sometimes it was fast and other times it was slow. But fast or slow the result was the same and so a leather lined, metal helmet absorbed the blow of blunt weapons and repelled the attack of sharp ones.
What better way to protect ourselves from the enemy than with the knoweledge that, because Christ died for our sins, we too can be saved through faith in Him. The knowledge of that fact protects us from any lie that the enemy may hurl at us. Some bounce off instantly because they are just too contrary to be believed. Other, more suttle, lies are kept from penetrating by the wisdom we recieve from the Holy Spirit as a result of being saved through faith in Christ.
So how do we put on the armor of God?
I had a friend once who had this ritual. Every morning, he would actually go through the motions of putting on the armor of God. He would actually act like he was girding up his loins with a belt. He would strap on an imaginary breastplate. He put on “spiritual” shoes on top of his physical ones. He would since up his helmet and pick up his shield each day before he walked out into the world. Did that give him any special powers? Did it turn him into some superhuman who was ready to defend against the darkness? Well, no…and yes.
Of course, putting on an imaginary suit of armor doesn’t give us any special powers. But what it did do was remind my friend each day of the ways in which he was dependent on God. It reminded him that, without the gifts of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation he was woefully inadequate to face anything that the enemy might throw at him. And maybe that is the best way to suit up. In prayer, we remind ourselves where our protection lies and thank God for it. It’s a reminder that we would do well to repeat throughout our day as we never know where, or when, attacks will be launched.
The best defense comes with the best offense.
Lest we forget, the Roman soldier could not win the day simply by hiding in his armor. The centurion was also provided with a sharp sword. The reason was simple. Once the attack was repelled it was time to move in for the victory. His two edged broad sword quickly separated meat from bone, ensuring that no further attack came from that particular enemy.
When we are attacked, often it will come through other people. Now we said at the beginning that our enemy was not mortal, not human, but rather of the spiritual realm. This is a true statement. But another true statement is that one of Satan’s favorite ways to attack us is through other humans. So what do we do? Of course we use the armor God has given us to withstand the onslaught. But once we have survived, once the metal of our armor has done its job, it’s time to bring out our own broad sword. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the Word of God is sharper than any two edged sword, able to divide between truth and error, soul and spirit, right and wrong. When wielded correctly, we can use it to turn those around who have been used to attack us and reveal the light of Christ to them. When we do, we separate Satan from his weapons and another soul is won for Christ.
The Roman soldier, properly equipped and confident in his protection, was a warrior feared by all who opposed him. But even the Roman soldier pales in comparison to a child of God, walking in His Holy Spirit. When we walk with the Lord and abide in His Word, His protection, His gifts, no enemy can defeat us, no matter what he may throw our way.