The Armor of God

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.

Living with the Holy Spirit

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”‭‭

Ephesians‬ ‭3:14-19‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The New Testament in general, and Paul in particular, have a lot to say about the Holy Spirit.  Each of the epistle authors talks about the Holy Spirit’s role in the Christian Church and the life of the believer.  Jesus Himself promised the Holy Spirit’s arrival would take place when He left to return to Heaven.  His arrival was foretold by the Old Testament prophets and was documented by Luke in the book of Acts.  But who is the Holy Spirit and just how does He work in the church?  How is He recognized and does He interact with believers in a tangible way? Fortunately, we don’t have to look any further than our fingertips for the answers to these and other questions about the person referred to in old England as “The Holy Ghost”.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

Quite simply, the Holy Spirit is God.  More precisely, He is the third person in the triune God head.  God is God the Father, Jesus Christ is God the Son, and the Holy Spirit is God the Spirit.  All three are unique individuals who are at the same time God.  All three are equal in their abilities and character and yet each serves a different function, as it were, in the plan of God.  God the Father (God) serves as the implementer and maintainer of the plan of God.  Nothing escapes Him and He oversees the universe and all that is in it, working all things for the good of those who love Him and obey Him (Romans 8).  God the Son (Jesus Christ) serves as our Savior.  He came to pay for the sins of all and waits for those who accept the work He has done in their place(Acts 2).  While He waits, He intercedes with the Father on behalf of those who live in Him (Hebrews 4).  And God the Spirit (The Holy Spirit) serves as our guide and comforter.  He lives in those who have accepted Christ and brings to mind God’s scriptures when they are needed (John 14), directs us in the right path to choose (John 16), and works through us to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to others (John 15).

Does the Holy Spirit live in everyone?

The Holy Spirit only resides in the lives of those who believe in, and have accepted, Jesus Christ and the saving work He did at the cross.  In the fourteenth chapter of John, Jesus told the disciples, “If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.”  The world cannot recognize Him because they are not looking for Him.  But those who have accepted Christ are looking for the Holy Spirit in their lives and will recognize that He has taken up residence.  That doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit does not “work” in the lives of non-believers.  He is always at work, convicting non-believers of the sin in their lives, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and the coming judgement of God (John 16).  Non-believers may not see the work of the Holy Spirit for what it is, believing it to be their own conscience instead.  But that does not mean that He is not working to prepare them for the gospel message.  But He does not reside in those who refuse Jesus and what He has done for them.

Why do we need the Holy Spirit?

Before the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Israelites had the Law of Moses to guide them while they walked the earth.  But the Law was a written document that over the years had been translated, amended, and interpreted by men.  It was hard to read, hard to remember, and even harder to follow.  And that was the point of the Law.  It wasn’t only hard to follow, it was impossible to follow.  God wanted us to understand that, on our own, we would never be able to follow the Law perfectly.  And perfection is the only thing that can exist adjacent to God.  Corruption cannot exist with incorruption and those who are not perfect cannot exist in the presence of a perfect God.  But God had a better plan than the Law.  He told the prophet Jeremiah that,

“The day is coming,” says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the LORD. “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the LORD. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

That day arrived when Christ sacrificed Himself for our sins, and God writes His law on the hearts of men by residing their hearts in the form of the Holy Spirit.  Who knows the law better than God Himself?  Who can teach us about God like God Himself can?  We can follow the spirit of the Law of God if we follow the Spirit of God.  If we allow Him, the Holy Spirit will tell us the difference between right and wrong in our lives.

What else does the Holy Spirit do?

In addition to living in us and teaching us about Himself, the Holy Spirit also bestows gifts on us for the purpose of spreading the gospel to others.  Those gifts may be permanent (Acts 9) or temporary (Acts 2).  Each gift we receive is tailor made for the person God has designed us to be so that we may be used to reach other individuals with the message of Christ.  Our gifts may be received instantly or learned as we progress through trials in our own lives.  In each instance, the Holy Spirit blesses us with these gifts in the perfect way to make them, and us, useful in the kingdom.  The Holy Spirit also steers us away from things in this world that would shipwreck our faith.  Only God knows what our faith is strong enough to stand up to so why would we allow anyone else to tell us what we are capable of, where we should or shouldn’t go, or what is right for us verses what is wrong?

How do I communicate with the Holy Spirit?

We communicate with the Holy Spirit in our daily lives by prayer and study.  In prayer, we spend time in personal communion with the Holy Spirit through honest communication about our thankfulness, our desires, our fears, our triumphs, and our failures.  We listen in the quiet for His still small voice as we spend time seeking Him in the Scriptures and waiting for His words in our life.  As we recognize Him speaking to us, we can strengthen our ability to hear Him by responding in obedience, even when we may not want to.  To do the opposite, to ignore Him, only makes it more difficult to  hear Him when we need Him later.

The Holy Spirit, God in Spirit, makes Himself available to all.  In the person of Jesus Christ He said, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (Revelation 3:20).  God as friend, God as counselor, God as guide, God as Spirit waits to enter our hearts.  The only thing preventing Him from coming in and changing our lives is our willingness to open the door.  My prayer is that we turn the knob, and turn it soon.