By Bill Lee
I have long considered Paul’s letter to the Ephesians the Christian’s guide to the spiritual conflict of the ages.
Paul wrote Ephesians while imprisoned in Rome after his arrest in Jerusalem. While he expected to be released, the possibility of being executed did exist, and that could be the reason Paul felt the need to explain in detail God’s strategic objective of His redemptive plan (Eph 1:9-10). The first three chapters of this letter discuss the means of salvation and the nature of the Church, the Body of Christ. But, in the fourth chapter, the Apostle shifts to explain the tactical role we as believers play in the plan. Think of those last three chapters as our standing orders.
It is in Chaps. 4-6 that we learn about the proper function of a healthy church, about our need to set aside our natural mindset, and about living wisely by the Holy Spirit. The final instruction is the one I want to discuss here: the command to put on the whole armor of God.
Put on the Armor
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 (Eph 6:13).
Since Paul used a Roman soldier’s battle kit for his illustration, it seems proper to read it from a soldier’s perspective.
The command is to stand, not to attack. To stand against the enemy is a defensive posture. Paul is saying we ought to stand and defend the ground already taken. He has seen local churches across the Roman Empire get caught up in legalism, false spirituality, and internal disputes that robbed many of their assurance of salvation, leaving them open to return to religious laws and mysticism.
The only thing we have to offer that has any lasting value is the message that Jesus Christ died for our sins, rose from the grave, and that by believing in Him we can have everlasting life.
That is what we have to defend and why we have to stand.
To do that we must have the confidence of our acceptance by God in Christ Jesus. We have to stand firm in the assurance of our salvation, and that takes the whole armor of God!
Paul, using the battle dress of Roman soldiers as his model, explains what it takes to stand firm in our faith. It takes all of the armor to stand against the schemes of our enemy. So, it is important to learn the function of each piece of our equipment.
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness (Eph 6:14).
The soldier’s belt was put on first, as it provided the back support needed to carry everything else. With God’s armor, the first item is truth. Since there is no article preceding the word truth, I believe Paul meant truth in its broadest sense. We can be certain he had God’s revealed truth in mind, but also the observable truth of reality and personal honesty.
The thing about truth is that it is invisible to our emotions.
What I mean by that is our emotions cannot discern fact from fiction. For example, watching a sad movie will usually make you feel sad, even though you know it’s fictional. Putting on truth is a function of the will, guided by the mind, often in opposition to how we feel. That is likely one reason the Bible instructs us to renew our minds (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23). Living in truth requires sound thinking.
Our salvation is based on truth demonstrated by real events.
Jesus Christ died for our sins. He took away the sin of the world. God promises to give everlasting life to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. Those facts are true even when life’s troubles leave you feeling hopeless. Our assurance lies in the never-failing faithfulness of God, not in our emotions or anything else.
The breastplate of righteousness is the next piece of armor. Like a bulletproof vest, it is something we put on, not something we do. It is God’s armor, not ours. Therefore, I believe it represents the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Isaiah says, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isa 64:6). Consequently, our only hope lies in the righteousness that comes by faith. Paul says in Rom 4:5, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”
Every believer in Jesus Christ has been declared righteous by God. All sin has been forgiven, and we have peace with God. It is our security in God’s declaration of righteousness that frees us to live wisely in the filling by the Spirit. Righteousness derived from law can’t do that. Only a faith-based life empowered by the Spirit can give us the confidence to stand firm.
And having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace (Eph 6:15).
Standing requires a secure footing which is the preparation of the gospel of peace. Again, Paul is talking about something we wear, not something we do.
Our security is based on having been justified before God. Romans 5:1 states “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God.”
Knowing we have peace with God strengthens us to stand firm. Harold Hoehner, seminary professor and Biblical scholar, put it this way:
It is the believers’ “surefootedness” in the tranquility of the mind and security of the heart in the gospel of peace that gives them readiness to stand against the devil and his angelic hosts.1
Again, it is faith in God’s word that brings the assurance we need to stand. And that brings us to the next piece of armor God provides.
Above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Eph 6:16).
The shield is described as extinguishing the flaming arrows of the evil one. The Roman shield was usually a wooden frame covered with leather which would be soaked in water before battle. The wet leather helped extinguish flaming arrows. Unlike the armor we wear, the shield must be carried and manually employed against attacks we can see coming.
Faith—our knowledge and confidence in God’s word—is our shield by which we fend off any doubts the enemy might throw at us. He cannot separate us from God, but he’ll settle for keeping us in doubt and falling back into fighting the wrong battles. But faith comes from knowledge. You cannot believe what you do not know. Each of us is responsible for taking up the shield of faith—to work at accurately understanding the Bible. Not what others tell us it says, but what we can read for ourselves. It is not that hard. The Holy Spirit will graciously reveal the truth to those who seek the wisdom of God’s word.
The Helmet and Sword
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph 6:17).
Here we come to the final articles of our armor. The helmet of salvation protects our mind. That is what helmets do. If your head is protected, then you can have the confidence to stick it up so you can see what is happening. You can’t deflect those flaming arrows flying around if you’re not looking for them. What gives us the confidence to engage with the enemy is the assurance of ultimate deliverance by Jesus Christ.
The assurance of our acceptance by God is a big deal. It is the central point of God’s armor. As our helmet, it gives us the confidence to face the threats in front of us. We can stand firm because we rest in the good news of life in Jesus Christ.
The final piece is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The way Paul has structured this clause indicates it is the Spirit who empowers the use of the sword. If you fill your mind with the word of God, the Spirit will use it to begin shaping you into the likeness of Jesus Christ. So, fill your mind with the Word of God. It is the Spirit’s toolbox.
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Eph 6:18).
If you have the assurance that comes with wearing God’s armor, then what remains is the need to stay in communication with headquarters.
That is prayer.
Pray in the Spirit at every opportunity possible. Praying in the Spirit is nothing extraordinary. It simply means praying in agreement with the Holy Spirit’s will.
Stay alert, keep watch over yourself and each other. The conflict we are in is real. Our enemy wants to disrupt the unity of the Holy Spirit and render the church ineffective in its witness. Satan’s go-to tactic is to confuse us as to what God has said and thereby the assurance of our salvation. When the church loses its way, it gives people reason to question the gospel.
So, stand firm in the gospel of Jesus Christ Who died for our sins and rose from the dead so that we, by believing in Him, have life everlasting.
Bill Lee is pastor of Trego Community Church in Trego, WI.
1. Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 844.