Sunday 10 June 2012

The armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-17)

Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
Ephesians 6:11

My mother-in-law once told me the amazing story of an uncle who became a Christian at wartime in Malaysia. He was a young boy then, at a time when the country was occupied by enemy forces. One day, this uncle was stopped by enemy soldiers. He was rounded up together with several men from the village whom the soldiers forced to line-up side by side in front of a large ditch which had been freshly dug in the ground. Then one by one, they shot them, executing these young men from a distance. Their dead bodies fell backwards into what was to become a mass grave.

In despair, my uncle prayed to God, begging for his life to be saved. Silently in his heart, he promised that he would serve God the rest of his days. As it turned out, the soldiers had lined him up right next to a man who was much taller and bigger than my uncle. Bang! The man was shot and killed. But as he fell backwards, he took my uncle with him and the both of them went down into the ditch. The soldiers continued executing the rest of the prisoners, not noticing my uncle who slowly crawled out from under the bodies, and ran for his life into the woods.

The bible describes the Christian life as a struggle. As a war. While it is likely that only those who have lived through war, who have fought in wars as soldiers themselves, who best understand the imagery of war - of the armour, of the threat of enemy forces, of the need for defensive and offensive weapons; and while it is likely that those in my generation who have only ever known peace, who only experience war through the news reports on television, through stories from their older relatives, who will look at this passage and think it to be rather quaint, backward or irrelevant; the bible is saying to all of us here today: Life in this age and on this earth is a struggle. It is a war.

Two important lessons from our passage today:

(1) Know your enemy
(2) Know your weapons

1. Know your enemy

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but 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 6:10-12

The first thing we need to take note of is our enemy, and Paul makes it a point to say to us, “It’s not who you think.” Your biggest problem is not your boss. It is not that annoying relative. It is not even a corrupt politician who oppresses his people. He says in verse 12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” meaning, it’s not against other people, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers... and against the spiritual forces of evil.”

To which many in our culture would dismiss and say, “That’s just superstitious nonsense!” “Spiritual forces of evil are not responsible for deaths in Syria. The devil did not cause the economy to fall,” we might add. “The problem is within us,” or, “It’s all around us. It’s irresponsible, greedy, evil men.” Paul does not deny any of these factors. Back in chapter two, he tells us how we were dead in our sins and dead in our transgressions because we followed the ways of the world and because we followed our sinful desires (Ephesians 2:1-3). That is, we are responsible for the mess we are in - individually, through our personal actions and thoughts; and corporately through the governments we elect, the culture that we buy into and the social evils that we ignore. Having said that, the reason why Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against “flesh and blood” is because we miss a third enemy: the devil.

And to those of us who would be quick to dismiss the devil as superstitious, Paul is, in effect, saying to us, “Are you so naive?” Bearing in mind that Paul is at this point, speaking to the Christian believer, I just wanted to address the non-Christians for the moment. Just about every culture and tradition has made room for the presence of a spiritual evil. I am pretty sure, whichever culture you come from, that’s true of yours too. I wonder if it might be worth just reflecting on why this is so, before you dismiss it altogether, that civilizations throughout the ages have accounted for the presence of a powerful and supernatural influence of evil. It may very well be superstition, many of these traditions are. Yet, I wonder as well, if it might be our own modern Western culture that has dismissed these claims, not out of certainty of an alternative worldview, but out of pride, hubris and confidence in ourselves. You know, the reason why people tell us stories about their experiences in the war, isn’t just to entertain or scare us. It is to remind us of the reality of war, and perhaps even, the real possibility of war today. Similarly, the bible isn’t telling us about the devil just to scare us into being good and religious. It is warning us soberly of a real and present danger, and all I am saying to you now is, consider it. Listen to what it has to say.

It is true that investing too much power in the devil is harmful. The bible tells us that the devil is a created being, meaning that, he too, stands under the authority of God. When we ascribe all our problems to the devil or make too much of his power, it can be a symptom of irresponsibility: we are looking for an excuse for our own culpable sins; or it might indicate that we don’t really understand who God is: God alone is sovereign. God works through all things to accomplish only his purposes for the good of his glory. No, the devil is but another created being, subject to God’s sovereignty, subject to God’s judgement. But he is an enemy the bible wants us as Christians to take seriously. Making too much of the devil in harmful, yes, but so is denying his existence altogether.

Know your enemy, Paul says to us, not so that we will be afraid of the devil, but rather, so that we can take our stand against the devil. Diabolos means accuser, as in a law court, when someone is accusing you of a crime before a judge; and that is a useful image to have because it reminds us that the attack isn’t simply against us as Christians, but against Jesus who justifies us as our Saviour. You see, the devil’s plan isn’t simply to get people to do bad things by sinning, but rather to separate men and women from God through their sinful rebellion. In other words, he is on a recruitment drive. We are joining the devil in opposing God when we sin against God. Either that, or the devil uses our sin by accusing us before God, shoving it in our face and saying to God our supreme judge, “There! Calvin deserves to be punished as a sinner.” But if our trust is in Jesus, he defends us before God. His death on the cross paid for the punishment for my sin - all of it, past, present, future - and his righteousness covers me so that I am free and accepted and loved by God, not simply as my Judge, but as my Heavenly Father.

So when Paul warns us of the devil’s “schemes” - meaning his plans, his trickery, his manipulations - he isn’t simply saying, “Watch out! Or the devil will get you!” That is, Paul isn’t saying that we might be tricked into doing something naughty, behaving inappropriately, or reacting in anger and malice when we don’t mean to. More than that, these “schemes” are plans to break our confidence in Jesus alone, that Jesus is all we need for the forgiveness of our sin. He does this by suggesting that it isn’t enough to trust in Jesus, by shifting our focus away from Jesus, to something else like our own track record, or the sincerity of our intentions - in order to prove our innocence. The devil does everything he can to get us to move away from our faith and dependence on Jesus and Jesus alone. Which is why Paul calls us next to stand, to withstand and to stand our ground.

Therefore put on the whole armour of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Ephesians 6:13

Again and again, throughout this passage on spiritual warfare, Paul reminds us to take our stand (verse 10), to stand our ground (verse 13) and to stand firm (verse 14). It is talking about perseverance. It is talking about a consistent, immovable trust in God’s power - not ours - to withstand the attacks of the evil one.

The “day of evil” that he mentions here picks up from Chapter 5, verse 16, where Paul advises us to make the most of every opportunity because “the days are evil”. The message there was to not waste our lives. Every moment given us is precious so use it wisely and use it well for God’s kingdom; don’t let it pass away because time is against you - “the days are evil”. Still, it is a strange way to describe everyday life; as evil. I mean, wouldn’t it be better to say to Christians, “The days given you are blessings, there are gifts from God, so enjoy them and invest them well for eternity!” Why the overly negative emphasis? Here, Paul answers that question for us. These present days are evil because they lull us into complacency. They keep us from realising that there will soon be a definite day of evil. There will come a time when each one of us will be tested and tried, our foundation of trust in Christ rocked, and Paul is saying to each and every one of us, “Prepare for that eventuality.”

Paul’s point is preparedness that leads to perseverance. Put on the whole armour of God, he says. Why? So that when that day comes, you will still be standing at the end of the day. So that after you have done everything, you will still stand. It is the same lesson from Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish men, who built their houses, one on rock, the other on sand (Matthew 7:24-29). The rain came, the waters rose, the winds blew and beat against both their houses. In the end, one house fell but one house was still standing, the house of the wise man that was built on the foundation of solid rock. Where is your foundation? The question is not: Where will you be standing on that last day. No, the question is: What are you building your life on today? Where are you standing now? Before the day comes, while you still have the opportunity, while you still have time; the implication being this: if you are not standing on the promises of God today, if you are not in Christ right now, what on earth makes you think you still be standing in Jesus then? Preparedness today leads to and results in perseverance for tomorrow.

One more thing. I don’t think that “the day of evil” is talking about the last day of judgement. There are overtones of it, I admit, but I think that when Paul talks about the evil day, he is describing specific points in our Christian lives when we will be tested; specific moments when we will be hit hard. He describes great effort leading up to that day - “after you have done everything” - meaning, you have come out of a crisis which has emptied all your reserves, you have exhausted every possibility, you are completely emptied out and drained of all your resolve and the question is: What would be the outcome of this struggle? What would victory look like for the Christian after such a trying experience? It looks like this: A believer who is still standing in Christ. That’s the goal. That’s the strength that God provides “in his mighty power” (verse 10). Not avoiding hardship but going through the most intense of trials and coming out the other side still standing, still persevering, still trusting in God and the salvation of his Son.

Some of us know what it means to struggle like this, first hand. We come away from such battles, not with a sense of bravado, but with cuts and bruises, with our pride humbled, with our confidence strengthened but with our hearts full of praise for God’s sustaining grace. That is the sign of a believer whose strength is in God. It is the Christian who stands firmly on the grace of God in the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. And friends, if you haven’t yet experienced such trying circumstances, this passage is saying to you quite soberly, you will.

The word which Paul uses for “struggle” - when he says that our “struggle” is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities and powers - that’s a word describing close combat. It actually means to wrestle. Paul is saying that this is a war that hits home. The devil and all his forces behind him - small and great, earthly and spiritual - will strike you where it hurts most and when you least expect. The point being this: You cannot do this on your own. How could you? The rulers, the authorities, the powers - and not just that, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms - are all arrayed against you; they will overpower you and they will defeat you with ease. And yet Paul can say to the Christian: You have strength. Paul dares to say to the Christian: You will take on the devil himself and you will be the one still standing at the end of the fight. How? Through the power and strength that God provides. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” It is precisely to the weak that God promises his power. It is precisely to the humble that God lifts up with honour. And it is to the vulnerable that God clothes with his armour, protection and love. To the Christian, God promises that he will protect you, he will guide you, he will save you. And what he calls you to do is to respond to these promises by trusting in Jesus alone. He calls us to stand, to withstand and to be prepared to keep standing in his provision of grace.

Are you prepared to persevere? Are you withstanding evil by standing firm in Jesus? That is the strength that God promises to give us. And that is the purpose of the armour with which he equips us. And Paul says to us, “Know your weapons.”

2. Know your weapons

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Ephesians 6:14-17

Paul uses imagery of a Roman soldier’s armour and I guess it is tempting to enhance the illustration somewhat; to upgrade the weaponry with its modern equivalents. The Batman utility belt of truth. The kevlar vest of righteousness. The lightsaber of the Spirit. We are tempted to do this because by today’s standards, it all sounds old-fashioned, clunky and quite feeble. Who carries swords into battle anymore? What good would a shield be against the firepower of an M-16?

And yet, doing so would miss the bible’s point of spiritual armour at two important levels. Firstly, these different components of weaponry are meant to be associated with the different parts of the body. Hence, the full armour of God - covering the head, torso, arms, legs, feet - is symbolic of the Christian’s complete protection in the salvation of Jesus Christ. Secondly, Paul uses imagery taken not simply from the Roman military uniform of his day, but from Old Testament prophecy of what the Messiah would be clothed in. He would come dressed for battle to save God’s people as their King.

The belt of truth

Take for example the belt of truth, which comes directly from Isaiah Chapter 11.

Righteousness will be his belt,
and faithfulness (or truth) the sash around his waist.
Isaiah 11:5

The prophecy foretold the coming of the Messiah ("the shoot arising from the stump of Jesse") on whom the Spirit of God would rest - providing him with wisdom, counsel and knowledge. What immediately follows is a description of the Messiah's utter fairness in carrying out God's judgement, "He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes... but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth" (verses 3 to 4). Therefore, the belt of truth which he ties around his waist is indicative of his authority judge the earth with fairness and justice. It was Spirit-empowered truth. It symbolised God's sanction upon the Messiah to carry out his true and final judgement. Yet at the same time, truth was the foundation of God's final salvation of his people through this same Messiah. You will remember, how Jesus repeated began his statements on earth with the familiar expression, "I tell you the truth," or "Truly, truly, I say to you."  It was not simply a statement of sincerity. He was giving a hint into his very identity, as the bearer of God's true judgement and salvation.

For the Roman soldier, this wasn’t so much a belt, as it was... well, underwear. It was made of leather and did go round the waist, but stretched down to the thighs, protecting the soldier’s legs. (Some translations have “girdle” which sounds like women’s underwear, so understandably most modern translations have gone with “belt” instead.) There is a reason why Paul begins with the picture of the belt of truth: he is laying a foundation. Before anything else, the truth needs to be set straight. Right from the beginning of his letter, Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus what this truth specifically referred to, “And you also were included in Christ, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13). He is saying to us as Christians: Get this right. The gospel is your foundation. You heard it, you trusted it, you were saved by it. Get your gospel on. Just like in the morning when you get out of bed, the first thing you put on are your pants; so the first thing you need as an essential part of your protective gear is the truth. It’s the gospel. Walking into battle without the gospel is like waking up, putting on your shirt, jacket and tie and turning up for work without any pants. Get your gospel on, that’s the first thing you need to do!

The breastplate of righteousness

Next comes the breastplate of righteousness. Again in Isaiah 59, we find the following description of God’s armour, which he straps upon himself.

The Lord looked and was displeased
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm worked salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him.
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
Isaiah 59:15-17

What is so fascinating about the connection is that Isaiah in the Old Testament is describing God, whereas Paul in the New Testament applies it to us today, as Christians. The breastplate of righteousness is God’s (“his own righteousness”). That is, God looked down on creation, found no one standing up to evil, instead everyone committing evil acts; so he strapped on his armour of righteousness and got involved to fix the sorry situation. “There was no justice... there was no one... he was appalled that there was no one to intervene.” Paul picks up on this and says to the Christian believer, “You put on this same armour that God had on that day. Put on righteousness.” That word righteousness means goodness, it means innocence; it is often translated as justice (as we’ve seen in our studies in Romans at Rock Fellowship), but Paul is not at all saying that the Christian has any goodness, innocence or justice in and of himself. No, this is God’s righteousness. He is telling us to take something that is external to us, that is given to us, that we do not have for ourselves, and put it on as a kind of armour, as a kind of protective clothing. We receive this protection through Jesus Christ who covers us - the bible even says, clothes us (Romans 13:14) - with his righteousness, such that when God looks at us, what he sees is his Son. What we receive is His approval and love.

The shoes of peace

Next, our feet are to be “fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (verse 15). Isaiah describes such feet as belonging to the messenger who brings good news to a city awaiting the outcome of a battle. His feet are called beautiful, not because his toes have been manicured and his ankles spritzed with Chanel Number 5, but because at a time of war, when everyone was expecting a damage report or worse, the enemy nation’s terms for their surrender, this messenger brought them good news. He runs up to the people of God, shouting, “Peace!”

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!
Isaiah 52:7

In what sense are our feet to be “ready”? It could be that Paul is calling us to be ready to share the gospel. It could mean that we should be ready to go anywhere that God calls us in order to make Jesus known. Both are good options. The word “readiness” could also rightly be translated, “preparedness” or “alertness”, and I think this fits in the current context better. It means being prepared to bring this message of peace into situations of hostility. In Ephesians, whenever we find the word “peace” occurring in Chapters 2, 3 and 4, it is in the context of Jews and Gentiles separated from one another by generations of antagonism, divided by vast cultural differences, but brought together through the blood of Jesus Christ. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

The good news prepares us to face opposition, rejection and hatred. Why? Because these are the very situations that need the good news. In such circumstances of difficulty and mistrust, we speak the gospel of peace, drawing attention first to our need for reconciliation and peace with God, and only after that, to the possibility of reconciliation and peace with one another. So yes, it does involve being willing to answer God’s call to mission. And yes, it does require us to be ready “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have,” doing this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). But we answer God’s call not because he says it will be smooth-sailing all the way, or that our friends will immediately turn to God in repentance and faith; but with every expectation that we ourselves may be rejected, just as Jesus was, and continuing to trust in the power of the gospel to turn human hearts and bring men and women back into a reconciled relationship with God through Jesus who abolished all hostility in his flesh on the cross.

The shield of faith

“In addition to all this,” Paul says in verse 16, “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” For the Roman soldier, this shield was huge (the Greek word here for shield, thureon incorporates the word thura, which means door! That’s how massive it was. It was as big as a door!) It was rectangular, made of wood, and enabled the soldier to hunch down and hide behind his shield for protection, especially when the enemy was shooting arrows at him. Unfortunately, enemy troops would sometimes employ the use of flaming arrows - its tips covered in pitch and set alight - causing the wooden shields to catch fire. To counteract this, the Roman soldier’s shield was covered in skin and wool which was drenched in water, so as to be able to “extinguish all the flaming arrows” coming their way.

The Christian’s shield, says Paul, is faith. Now realise how serious this bit of protection needs to be; for the first time, Paul refers to a direct attack from the devil - the evil one. He even calls them “flaming arrows”, meaning, they are fast and furious; they just keep coming at you and each attack is designed to inflict maximum damage. How are we to respond in such a desperate situation? By trusting in God. That is what faith means; it means trusting, relying and depending on God, who is trustworthy, reliable and dependable. You can’t stop the attacks, but what faith does is nullify their destructive effects. It extinguishes all of the flaming arrows - every single one. One important practical note about this is this: when faced with an attack by the evil one - this could be on your conscience, an accusation over a wrong you committed, a powerful temptation to sin, anger and hatred towards another person - faith draws our attention back to God. The devil’s strategy is always to draw our attention away from God, but faith means humbling ourselves and turning back in repentance to Jesus, asking for help, praying for forgiveness and receiving assurance and love.

The helmet of salvation

We encountered the “helmet of salvation” in our earlier reference to Isaiah 59, when we looked at the breastplate of righteousness. Remember that Isaiah was firstly describing God - he put on his breastplate of righteousness, he put the helmet of salvation on his head - and that Paul then applies the same weaponry on the present day Christian, saying, “You put on the same breastplate. You put on God’s helmet of salvation on your head.”

Now get this: Isaiah prophesied this armour as a way of identifying God; as a way of recognising the Messiah, when he appear to save his people. For the Old Testament reader who knew his bible, they would have read the descriptions of this armour and went, “Hey! That’s talking about God!” They wouldn’t have assumed it was talking about them. No, it was the uniform, as it were, of the Messiah, God’s chosen King. The Messiah would come with the belt of truth around his waist, with the breastplate of righteousness on his chest. He would have the helmet of salvation on his head. This was the sign of his authenticity. The armour he had on indicated that this was God’s chosen King who had come to bring salvation and establish his kingdom.

So for Paul to apply these same elements to the individual everyday Christian, what was he saying? It is his way of reminding us to stand firm in Jesus Christ. This was the same lesson he taught in Chapter 4, verses 22 onwards, to “put off” our old self (verse 22) and to “put on” our new self (verse 24), literally to put on our new humanity. And the words he used there to describe the putting off/putting on actions were words that that were synonymous with taking off your old jacket and putting on your new clothes. You put on Jesus Christ like a jacket, it covers you completely. That’s your new life, the old one is gone. Your new life in Jesus Christ displays the new reality that you are now living in him. People are meant to look at you and see Jesus; because friends, that’s exactly how God sees you right now. God looks at you and sees the glory of his Son.

Meaning, when he says to us, “Put on the helmet of salvation,” it more than just saying, “Make sure you are saved.” Like wearing a hat with the word “Christian” emblazoned on its front; that’s not what he’s saying. Rather, remembering that the helmet of salvation is actually referring to the helmet of the Saviour - it is the display of the true identity of God’s chosen Messiah - what Paul is saying to Christians is, to put on Jesus Christ. He is your new identity. His righteousness is now your righteousness. His victory is your victory. His life is now your life.

The sword of the Spirit

The final weapon is the one and only offensive weapon in all of our arsenal; it is the sword of the Spirit, which, Paul tells us quite plainly, is the word of God. Yet, the word that Paul uses here is an interesting one. Instead of logos, which is more commonly used to denote word, or expression, or even revelation (It is the same word John uses in his gospel to describe Jesus in the prologue of Chapter 1 - “The word became flesh and dwelt among us”), here, Paul employs the word rhema instead, which describes the spoken word; a word that is spoken out loud. What this means is: the bible is not the sword of the Spirit, or at least, it’s not the bible per se. We are not meant to wave the bible around like a sword, thrusting it into the air and going, “Hyeah! Take that, evil one!” Rather, Paul is describing the bible that is preached out loud. We are meant to speak the word, to preach the gospel, to pray the scriptures, and as we do, God’s empowers us by his Spirit to take down our most formidable enemies, even the devil himself. Don’t believe me? Look at these words from John’s first letter:

I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
1 John 2:14

We find the same description of Christians in the book of Revelation who overcome the devil by the blood of the Lamb (the power of the cross of Jesus Christ) and the word of their testimony (the speaking of the gospel):

For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
Revelation 12:10-11

God gives us his word to be spoken, to be preached, to be prayed through. The gathering of God's people, the church, is a gathering around God's word. And friends, it is a tremendously foolish thing to have this word and keep silent. It is a superstitious thing to have verses from the bible framed up and displayed in your living room ("As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD") - which is not in and of itself a bad thing, I think they are wonderful reminders - and yet to hear nothing mentioned of God on the lips of those of live in such homes. We must not dare not presume the presence of God's word even in a gathering like this, and therefore, to end up speak only the words of man. This applies to our bible studies, Sunday schools, council meetings, prayer meetings - Is the word of God spoken in these meetings held in God's name? It is so important that the songs we sing contain the words of God. It is so important that the bible readings are incorporated into our meetings, so that we continually listen to and submit to the Word of God. This is the word spoken, the gospel preached, the scriptures prayed over, the psalms sung. This is the sword of the Spirit, which is the spoken word of God.

The full armour of God; our one salvation in Christ

Altogether, these weapons constitute the full armour of God - the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. Notice, that Paul doesn’t so much say to us that we need to get our gear on, as he reminds us that it needs to already be on. The ESV is helpful at this point. Have a look at how it translates these same verses we’ve been looking at:

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.
Ephesians 6:14-15

Did you notice how Paul keeps saying, “having fastened” and “having put on”? His point is, Don’t wait till the last moment to get your armour on. He assumes that you’ve already armed yourself with God’s full protection: having put on the belt of truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness; having put on the readiness of the gospel of peace. Meaning, the reason why many Christians do not have their armour on is simply this: They don’t realise there’s a war going on. They put off bible study. They put off getting baptised. They put off getting serious with Jesus, serving him, getting down on their knees and doing business with him in prayer, because of one simple reason: They think there’s still time. All this talk of Christian warfare is for another day, for that other guy or girl, but not me. Not realising that all this while, they have already lost ground. They may have already lost the fight.

For the past eleven years, television networks in the United States have maintained a tradition of broadcasting the movie, “Saving Private Ryan”, every single year on Veterans Day (what is still observed here in the UK as Armistice Day), which is a day of remembrance for soldiers who have given lives in battle and in service of their country. If you have seen the film, you will now that the first half-hour is gruesomely violent, depicting the invasion at Normandy Beach. Troops landing on the shores stepped off their boats only to be gunned down on the spot. Bodies lay strewn on the sand. Dismembered soldiers cried out in pain for their mothers. And yet, despite the visual shock elements that hit you right from the beginning, with every scene left intact and unedited, this movie has been broadcast in its entirety, year after year, with the support of war veterans and even parents around the country. Why? Because they want the country to remember: This really happened. Because they want their children to remember: This is what war looks like. We ignore such lessons to our peril and shame.

The bible wants us to remember: our struggle as Christians is not against flesh and blood. It is against the devil, the rulers, the authorities, the powers and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. And in face of this opposition, the bible can confidently assure the believer: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God. This is not to scare us into obedience, though that wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen. No, more than that, the bible does this to assure us of our salvation and to equip us with his protection - the full armour - that comes from trusting in Jesus Christ alone. If you are in him, you are covered - fully and completely - in his truth, righteousness, holiness, salvation and love.

I want to close by running through some practical implications of what it means for us to put on the whole armour of God.

A. Each of you needs to put on Christ
I can’t do this for you. Your Mum and your Dad can’t do this for you. Your friends might have their armour on - they might be committed to Jesus, they might be serving Jesus faithfully - but the question is: Are you? Christ’s righteousness and his salvation needs to be appropriated personally, his armour needs to be on each one of us, individually. It’s like the safety instructions they demonstrate to you on the plane before take-off: when the oxygen masks pop down, you need to get yours on first, before attending to the person next to you. You cannot assume that you are covered. You need to make sure that you yourself have put on Christ.

B. We need the full armour of God
It is all or nothing. You can’t pick and choose the helmet but not the sword, the belt but not the shield. They all come together as the full armour of God and they all provide us with complete protection, full assurance, and a firm foundation on Jesus Christ.

C. It is God’s armour, God’s strength, not ours
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Your enemy is the devil, and he is a formidable foe. Your struggle is against his minions - rulers, authorities, powers, spiritual forces - and their influence is vast and their intent is malicious. You do not stand a chance against them on your own strength, in your own righteousness, with your own armour. This armour comes from God and equips us with his salvation, his strength and his Son.

D. Don’t put it off
These are not emergency measures for a rainy day. The bible wants us to be aware of a clear and present danger. The Christian life is spiritual warfare and the Christian believer needs to be armed and ready before the day of evil comes. The questions posed in this passage are all in the present tense: Do you have on the full armour of God? Are you now standing on Christ? If not, don’t put it off any longer.

E. These are weapons of the gospel
Truth, righteousness, faith, peace, salvation and the word of God. All these flow from the message of the gospel, the announcement that God has forgiven rebellious sinners through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus covers us with his righteousness. He is the source of our salvation. Yet notice as well that the description of this armour begins and ends with the word of truth and the word of God. We receive his salvation by trusting in the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation. You don’t go to a priest, or a blacksmith or a special place to obtain this armour of protection. You hear the gospel and you respond to Jesus in faith, repentance and love.

F. The purpose of God’s armour is our perseverance
Again and again, Paul calls upon the Christian to take his stand, to stand firm, to withstand the attacks of the evil one, and after he has done everything, to stand. It is a call to perseverance. It is call to faithfulness. If you began with Jesus, will you continue with him, even when the odds are stacked up against you? Is your goal to remain in him, whatever the cost, whatever the temptation, however strong the opposition? The purpose of the armour and the power of God’s strength all come together for one purpose: to enable the believer to keep on trusting in Christ, to keep on standing in the power of his grace.

Our gracious, sovereign God,
And our Heavenly Father,
Keep us standing in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
In the face of temptation,
In the face of sin,
In the face of opposition,
In the face of despair,
From the devil,
Against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world,
Against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,
Help us to be rooted in our salvation in Christ alone,
Equipped with the full armour of protection that he provides,
Assured with the full confidence of his love and faithfulness,
To stand, to withstand,
And after we have done everything,
To keep on standing firm.
In Jesus name we pray,

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