If we are going to make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus Christ then we must equip our soldiers with appropriate tools to do battle. Soldiers who are unequipped or even ill-equipped with no tools, or faulty tools, will do great harm to themselves and others. If we as disciples who make other disciples (this is, after all, our commission) are going to win the battle against the flesh and the enemy, we must make war.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Ephesians 6:10-20:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 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 firm. 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. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
The Apostle Paul is not saying that we wrestle only against rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers, but that those powers are the bigger picture. This passage is a call to arms—a call to do battle against the enemy. Like a general getting his soldiers ready, so Paul wishes to get the Church ready for war. The entire metaphor is built around the Spirit’s work of providing protection for us on our way to glorification.
First, he says that we are to be strong “in the Lord.” There is much in the world to drive us to despair, so we need strength in God, not in self or anyone else. Christ has called us to do good works (Eph. 2:10), and we have access to the Father by the power of the Spirit through the work of Christ (2:18). The road won’t be easy, since we have to walk as wise people, not unwise people (3:15), knowing that evil abounds (3:16). There’s much at stake in this battle of sanctification. The enemy is real.
Part of what the Apostle Paul is getting at in this passage is that, yes, strength resides in the Lord (vs. 10), and because of that truth, we can be strong in His might, and stand firm (vs. 13). “Strong,” “strength,” “might,” “stand against,” “wrestle,” “armor”—these are all words that Paul uses to paint the picture. So what is the armor the helps us do those things?
THE WHOLE ARMOR
Paul says to “take up the whole armor of God” (vs. 13)—not part of it, not some of it . . . all of it. A soldier who leaves behind part of his armor will be vulnerable. Paul starts the metaphor with the belt of truth because the word of truth is the gospel (Jn. 17:17). The gospel takes central stage because, like a belt, you need your armor to fit together properly on your body. Nothing works unless connected to the gospel. The belt holds everything together. More broadly, the belt holds the sword. Our confidence, then, is in the truthfulness of God’s word; we can rely on it with complete faith, knowing that it will sustain us during war.
Paul goes on to describe these tools by telling us to having a breastplate of righteousness. The devil is a slanderer and wishes to inflict harm on our hearts. Because of the imputed righteousness of Christ (Rom. 4:6-11; Phil. 3:9), Christians can believe the truth of what the gospel teaches instead of the lies of the Liar who wishes to stab you in the heart with a false identity. What Paul is getting at is that because of Christ’s righteousness given to us, we can withstand the attack on our identity by relying on the truth that our pursuit of righteousness is driven by Christ’s righteousness given to us. The breastplate prevails against any effort of the enemy.
The next tool of the trade are shoes of peace. Paul has already alluded to Christ being our peace (2:14), Christ’s work as the fulfillment of the temple sacrifices, thus making peace for us with the Father (2:15), and Christ’s preaching of peace to those far off (Gentiles) and those near (Jews), in fulfillment of Isaiah 57:19 (cf. Eph. 2:17). Peace is central to the gospel, for Christ’s work on the cross brought reconciliation to sinners who were at enmity with God (2:1-3). Paul’s allusion to shoes is certainly Isaiah’s concern (52:7), and the apostle quotes that very verse in Romans 10:15. Like a Roman soldier with tightened straps on his sandals, so is a Christian who walks in the peace of God offered in the gospel. In battle, we need this stability in our feet.
Paul goes on to tell us to take up the shield of faith (vs. 16). In the ancient times, particularly for the Romans, the shield was big enough to cover the entire body. Faith does that for the Christian. Faith covers everything as it works to defend any attack from the opposing army. Though the enemy will send flaming darts, a shield protects against those attacks. The apostle John says it best:
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. —1 John 5:4
J.C. Ryle says that, “Habitual lively faith in Christ’s presence and readiness to help is the secret of the Christian soldier fighting successfully.” Faith overcomes.
The helmet of salvation is our next piece of equipment (vs. 17). Paul understands the past, present, and future nature of salvation (2:8; cf. 1 Thess. 5:8). The penalty has been paid, the power of sin is currently being subdued, and the future of the gospel at work will be a complete removal of sin from the planet. Salvation protects the head from thinking that any attack from the evil one will result in a change of mind. We have been given the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Protect it with the assurance and security of our salvation (Eph. 1:14).
It is impossible to win a battle when always in defense mode. Offensive strikes must take place if a Christian is going to make war on sin. Thus Paul tells us to take up the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (vs. 17). The word of God is sharp enough to cut to the bone (Heb. 4:12). Its precision is unmatched; its immutability unwavering. The word of God destroys all attempts of the enemy. When tempted by the Liar, Jesus uses Scripture to attack him (Matt. 4:1-11). Memorizing, studying, reading, contemplating, speaking, and learning God’s word is absolutely essential for the war. Use it often.
THE FINAL CALL
The equipment has been issued. The final call to battle is a call to militant prayer. Prayer is God’s means to shape His warriors. Prayer is a call to keep alert and persevere (vs. 18); praying for your friends, so that the gospel can be proclaimed boldly (vs. 19). Prayer is an admission that you are powerless to uphold and control your world. Militant prayer is for those who are needy—needy for the Lord of Glory to fight for us. These are the tools of the trade. If we are to make war on sin, we must prayerfully use this equipment.
Rev. Jason M. Garwood (M.Div., Th.D.) serves as Lead Pastor of Colwood Church in Caro, MI and author of Be Holy and The Fight for Joy. Jason and his wife Mary have three children, Elijah, Avery and Nathan. He blogs at www.jasongarwood.com. Connect with him on Twitter: @jasongarwood.
Adapted with permission from Be Holy.