Armor of God – Part 1
I imagine the apostle Paul sitting in prison somewhere, it’s a little dark, maybe a single light is coming in from a window above him, and in the precious hours of daylight he has, and he’s writing this letter. Occasionally, as he’s pausing to think, he notices the guard outside his cell. Or he hears the marching of passing soldiers. And as he’s wrapping things up in his letter about the life of a Christian, trying to think of how to summarize it, this image comes to mind and he runs with it.
He’s imagining that being a follower of Jesus is a lot like how a soldier prepares for war. He’s looking at the different pieces of armor and considering what each one is designed for. The helmet. The shield. The shoes. The belt. The sword. What would happen if one piece of armor were missing? Paul wonders and he starts to write his thoughts down, maybe even sketching out a soldier on his parchment.
How does a Christian prepare for battle? Paul wonders. What does God give us that’s like a helmet to protect our mind? What is our weapon we use against the enemy? And come to think of it, who is our enemy? And so on.
And so he begins in verse 10.
Ephesians 6:10–18 (CSB):
10 Finally (so wrapping up everything I’ve been talking about in the first several chapters), be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength.
And I feel like I have to start this with a clarifier. In my last message, I started the sermon by introducing this new series and the idea that being a Christian requires discipline and hard work, and the words that I chose to convey that to you is that the Christian life is not for the faint of heart. As I listened to the message later that week, I realized that a deception from the enemy had slipped out of my own mouth, because what I said implies that you have to be strong and courageous to be a Christian. Yet all throughout scripture, Moses, Gideon, David, Rahab, Esther, Ruth… so many people who trusted and followed God, entering into the battle for faith.... were NOT strong or courageous. Some like Gideon and Peter were laughably faint of heart. Part of what makes the gospel good news is that it IS INDEED for people who are faint of heart.
And I should have known what I said was wrong, because I AM one of those faint of heart people that God has chosen to use.
When the derecho hit Cedar Rapids last Monday, I was driving my sister-in-law’s van, pulling her 37’ camper trailer on Interstate 380. I was at the CR Airport exit headed into CR when the first gust of wind hit and tried to throw me into the ditch. For the next hour we sat on the shoulder of 380 VERY FAINT OF HEART praying that God would keep us upright as sustained 90-100mph winds disagreed with our prayers. And as we sat and waited it out, with each strong gust, we were praying, 100% trusting God to keep us out of the ditch.
In that moment, you are helpless. Nothing you own can save you. No amount of money in the bank could save us. No amount of education or connections around the world could save you. People hiding in their basements weren’t even sure their house could protect them. And many of us were certainly faint of heart, even as we hoped in faith that God would protect us.
That’s just one storm. I felt much the same as God began to say plant a church. I believe that’s the whole point of why Paul begins this section on preparing for spiritual war by saying, “YOU DON’T HAVE WHAT IT TAKES!” You don’t have enough strength or courage on your own to fight an enemy you can’t see. You don’t have the strength to withstand the sustained attacks of someone who has been using these tactics on people for thousands of years with great success. Oh, please, Paul pleads, don’t dig into your own strength. That won’t get you anywhere. Dig into the Lord’s endless capacity of strength.
Because unlike us, God has no weakness. No vulnerabilities that Satan could exploit. No shortage of strength. No gauge that would eventually hit on empty where he would be running on fumes. God is always at full strength and has been for eternity past and will be for eternity future. He is a river that never dries up, a mountain spring that never stops. Be strengthened by the Lord.
But of course, that raises the question: How do you actually do that? I think the rest of this section gives us some hints:
- Knowing the mission - you have to know where you’re going, and what you’re hoping to accomplish there.
- Knowing the enemy – Where are they? Who are they? What is their mission? How can we expect them to engage us? What weapons do we need? Preparation.
- Know your team – This battle is waged in a community – No one goes alone. Knowing who has your back. There is strength in numbers, right?
- Know your weapons – what is your offensive strategy? What tools are you using; what do you need for this situation?
- Know your armor – he is most vulnerable when he is not protected. Know your defensive strategy. How are we going to protect ourselves?
- Communication – he has spent time with his commanding officer, understands what is expected, continuous communication all throughout the battle, coming/going, etc
So, armed with strength, now:
11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil.
Full armor – Don’t leave any of this out. You can’t leave out the training. Can’t leave out knowledge of your enemy. Can’t leave out your community. Can’t leave out your weapons or your armor.
Of God – This armor you’re about to put on is not your own. These are issued to you by God himself. For those of you who served in the military, (thank you), did you bring your own helmet? Your own weapon? No – you are given those. Don’t get to bring own truth, righteousness, own gospel, own salvation. Those will be given to you.
Why are they important?
- So that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. We’ve been working through this most of the summer so far, in our series Did God Really Say That? That word scheme means craftiness, cleverness, cunning. Look at Genesis 3:1 – now the serpent was the most cunning animal the Lord God had made.
- Paul's word choice there is meant to help you and I connect the dots. “Ah, the battle is still against the serpent. So anything that happened in the Garden of Eden is still happening.” We’re still up against “did God really say that?” We’re still up against “you won’t die.” We’re still up against, “God is holding out on you.” We’re still up against “God wants to keep you small and insignificant. How embarrassing, when you are clearly smart enough to be in control.”2 And like we talked about in our series this summer, the devil, Satan, the chief instigator and deceiver, the primary opponent to the kingdom of God, knows all about you, and will attack you wherever you are weakest. Anywhere there is a gap in your armor, he will exploit to make you crumble.
What is he scheming against?
Habakkuk 2:14 – The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as water covers the sea.
- That’s the mission. Fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of God. Paul writes it just a little differently in Ephesians 1:10 – the plan for the right time – to bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and on earth in him. The mission is to once again unite heaven and earth in bringing glory to God, and it’s all made possible in Christ. That is what our enemy is opposed to
But I thought Jesus defeated sin and death and Satan at the cross; what is my role in that mission?
- 1. 2. Look back to chapter 4, verse 22. Take off --- put on… This often IS the battle we’re called to. It is a huge part of the mission. It’s called “sanctification.” That word simply means, “being made holy.” Being set apart. It’s the process of becoming like Jesus, becoming a good and faithful soldier. Pastor and author Eugene Peterson wrote a book that sums up this progression, and he titled it, “A long obedience in the same direction.” That’s what sanctification is.
And we have to suit up with God’s strength and God’s armor for this, because
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.
- For this reason take up the full armor of God,
You’ve seen a big guy on the playground picking on a little guy, and what do we say? Pick on someone your own size! But our battle isn’t against people our own size. Our battle, our wrestling, our struggle isn’t against people we can see – it’s against something much bigger, and more sinister than that.
Satan is a copycat of God, so where God leads and guides people to do his will to advance the kingdom of heaven, Satan too leads and guides people to do his will to advance the kingdom of darkness. And just like God’s kingdom is about God’s power and authority and wisdom, Satan mimics it with his own powers and authorities.
In our own strength, we are helpless against this enemy. Like sitting in that derecho last week, there nothing we can do on our own to escape it. But thankfully, we’re not left to our own strength.
But flip back to chapter 1 of Ephesians, and look how Paul begins this letter: 20 [God] exercised[his] power in Christ by raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens – far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but in the one to come. And he subjected everything under his feet and appointed him as the head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”
So look at that – no matter how powerful the enemy seems to be, God has raised Christ from the dead, and has welcomed him back to his place of authority at God’s right hand, FAR ABOVE all the powers and rulers and darkness that our battle is against.
So, while we are at war against a powerful enemy, the Believer has no need to fear. Our King is in charge of their king! Our King is stronger than their king! Our God is not too weak to save anyone, Isaiah 59:1 says. So Christ, our Savior, is seated at the right hand of God far above all these powers of darkness, but watch this - that’s just the beginning:
Back to verse 3 of chapter 1: Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ.
And then this, from chapter 2:4-6 – But God who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him IN THE HEAVENS in Christ Jesus!!
We might have unseen enemies in heavenly places, but if we are IN Christ, we also have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, we have been given a position in heaven, a position as those who have been snatched from the jaws of death, saved from the powers of darkness in the air by being seated with the King of kings and Lord of lords in the air – meaning that even though we still have to go to battle every single day, we fight from a place of victory, not a place of defeat! So whether it’s COVID or cancer, losing a job or losing a loved one, freedom or persecution = JESUS IS VICTORIOUS against this enemy and the battle has been won!
Colossians 2:14 says that at the cross, Jesus erased the record of sin that stood against me, separating me from God, and nailed it to the cross. In the next verse of Colossians 2 it says Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them.
Paul writes again in Romans 8 – who can separate us from the love of God? Can affliction or distress or persecution, famine or nakedness or danger or sword? NO! In all these things, we are MORE THAN CONQUERORS through him who loved us! There are no rulers or powers, past or present, high things or low things or anything else that was created (in other words, NOTHING BESIDES GOD) can separate us from the love of God in Christ.
The cross of Christ says to every believer: You have been armed with the strength of God, through the Holy Spirit living in you; You have been given every spiritual blessing in the heavens; you have been armed in the other hand with the word of God… and your enemy has already been disarmed. The battle is over.
13 ...so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.
“Evil day” can apply in many ways. 2 Timothy 3 says we can be sure that hard times will come in the last days. People will love themselves, and money, and reckless pleasure more than God. They will pretend to be godly, but are boastful, proud, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, brutal, no self-control, and they worm their way into households and deceive people. Do you see any of that happening in our world today?
In just the month of June: in Nigeria, 400 Christians were killed by extremists in Nigeria; in Turkey, 80 families were displaced and 10 churches closed; in Iran, a dozen Christians were imprisoned in one evening; in Eritrea (Eastern Africa), the count of imprisoned Christians is over 650 and are forced into government slave labor; one morning in June 100 authorities in China destroyed a dozen Christian homes that were used for house churches, only one month after closing down their public gathering by beating congregation members in broad daylight.
And I know it seems like that’s way over there and will never happen here. I’m telling you and Ephesians is telling you, the same powers of darkness that are behind the public beatings of Jesus followers in China are the same powers of darkness that entice you to get your own way in your home. Those same authorities of darkness behind the arrest and enslavement of 600 believers in Eritrea are the same authorities that try to get you to believe that you are not small and dependent on God for every breath. Those same authorities are sneaking in our homes through our TVs and devices to tell us that if Trump doesn’t get elected again, we will never see freedom again. Those same authorities tell us that if our kids aren’t perfectly behaved they’ll never amount to anything. Those same cosmic, evil, spiritual forces behind Boko Haram raping and murdering 100’s of girls in Nigeria are the same cosmic, evil, spiritual forces that want you to believe you have done too much for God to forgive you, and that God will only love you if you get your stuff together. Or, if it works better – those same evil forces behind ISIS are the ones who want you to believe that if you obey God he’ll make you rich. If you obey God he’ll make you successful and healthy and wise. And – because your grandpa was a preacher and your parents took you to church every Sunday morning, night, and twice on Wednesday, you are already on God’s good side and your sin is really inconsequential.
Maybe we aren’t really in danger of imprisonment and beating yet, though it’s coming sooner than later, but we’re already at war. And the battleground for our souls is not in the Middle East or Venezuela or North Korea. The battleground for your souls is in your homes. In our marriages. In our workplaces. In our bedrooms. In our kitchens. When we’re alone in the car. When we’re alone in the shower. When we’re on the playground or on the team or if we’re parents watching from the sidelines.
Are you prepared with the full armor of God to take your stand, that no matter what the enemy throws at you, you are prepared to be faithful where you’ve been called?
The enemy is already at work here in Riverside, and he is not afraid of us gathering on Sunday mornings. He doesn’t like us teaching and preaching the gospel to each other, at VBS, etc, but as long as he can keep you distracted from doing anything with what you’ve heard, he doesn’t care. What he is afraid of is a soldier who is seated in the heavenly places with Christ far above the devils rule and authority, freed from the power of sin, freed from the penalty of sin, united with Christ in his life, death, and resurrection, so that the voices of darkness have no authority or power in his/her life – armed to the hilt with the word of God as a weapon not waved around recklessly against each other, but used with authority against the powers of darkness, soldiers armed with the constant communication of prayer to our Commanding Officer, Jesus Christ, constantly getting information, wisdom, discernment to scope out the strategies and schemes of the enemy, soldiers standing linked arm in arm with the Son of God himself who overcame the temptations of this world, endured the most brutal persecution and suffering imaginable, despising the shame of the cross, and who was raised to life again to prove the cross marks the end of the rule of Satan over humans.
THAT IS WHAT PUTS THE ENEMY TO FLIGHT. THAT’S WHAT MAKES HIM TURN TAIL AND RUN, because OUR GOD FIGHTS WITH US AND FOR US! Thanks be to God, who always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere… until the earth is full of the knowledge of the glory of God, like water covers the sea.
Please stand with me as we close...
So stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation 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. Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.
Lord, make us people who are armed and ready, expectant and watchful. In Jesus name and for his sake I pray. Amen.