The Armor of God – Stand!

armor-of-god1Standing for the Lord year after year might be the most difficult thing that a Christian can do. The annals of history are full of Christians who shone brilliantly for a short while and then faded away. The world is a cruel place, and it often happens that people are hurt to the point that they no longer have any desire to obey God in a meaningful way. That is one reason why the words of Ephesians 6, which focus on standing, are so powerful. In the short section of Scripture below, note that the word “stand” (Greek: histemi) and “withstand,” which comes from the same root word, occurs four times in four verses.

Ephesians 6:10-14a (ESV)
(10) Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
(11) Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
(12) 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.
(13) 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.
(14a) Stand therefore….

God wants us to stand day after day throughout our lives. Nevertheless, many people stand for the Lord for awhile, then fall away. Why is standing year after year so difficult? There are many reasons, of which we will examine only a few. One reason is that many people do not take the time to build a clear picture of the Hope in their mind. That Hope is the anchor of the soul (Heb. 6:19), and a clear understanding of it helps keep us anchored to God in day-to-day life. There is no need to be unclear about what God has in store for you in the future, because there is much about it in Scripture, and it is there because God wants us to know the love He has for us.

Another reason people do not keep standing for God is that they do not mentally prepare themselves for the long and difficult fight with evil. Somehow many of us think that life should be, or will be, easier than it actually is. Life is hard and cruel, and difficulties come from unexpected places.

Looking at how and why people start going to church will give us some insight on why many fall away from God during tough times. Many Christians started going to church when they were children, simply because their parents made them go. Sunday School teachers work hard to make the experience fun and entertaining so the children will like it. Most children do not learn that the Christian life is not about what is fun or what makes us happy, but rather about giving and service. God created us for a purpose, and fruitful Christian living requires making sacrifices for Him. As children grow up and are faced with the distracting “pleasures” of life, church becomes less “fun,” and by college age, a huge number of children who were raised to go to church no longer do. They naturally, but incorrectly, think in terms of what church can do for them, not what they could do for God as a member of a church.

People who give their life to Christ when they are adults often have the same problem the children do. Most of them start going to church with a friend because they like the fellowship, or because they feel a spiritual or psychological need, or they are searching for something in their life and think God may help. In most cases, it seems people start going to church because of what God can do for them. That is natural, and it is fine. God is the Great Healer, and the ministry of Christ to heal the brokenhearted, set captives free, and bring Good News to those in need is a vital part of what happens in church.

However, it is important that Christians be taught why God delivers His people. He could, after all, simply let captive and brokenhearted Christians stay that way until the Rapture, and straighten everything out then. Why deliver people now? The answer is clear—we are delivered so we can serve. Giving our lives in service to God is reasonable. It may not be easy, and many times it is not “fun,” but it is certainly reasonable, and Romans makes that point.

Romans 12:1 (KJV)
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

Christians need to know that they were created for a purpose, saved for a purpose, and healed for a purpose, and that purpose is to serve God. If we understand that service will require a lot from us, we will be much more able to stand in tough times, when we do not get a good feeling from serving God. As the psychiatrist Scott Peck has pointed out, when we realize that life is difficult, it immediately becomes less difficult, because we are mentally prepared for the difficulty.

Be Strong in the Lord

Because life is difficult, and God wants us to stand year after year, He has given us armor to help us stand in the fight.

Ephesians 6:13-17 (ESV)
(13) 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.
(14) Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
(15) and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
(16) In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
(17) and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,

Before we go into the specifics of the armor, we need to make a couple of important observations. First, the armor of God mentioned in verses 13-17 is so intriguing, and so intrinsically powerful, that it is easy to forget that this section of Scripture opens with the exhortation to be strong in the Lord.

Ephesians 6:10 (author’s translation)
Finally, be strong in the Lord, that is, in his mighty strength.

The Christian must be, and remain, strong in the Lord. In him we have the strength we need to stand and withstand. The armor we put on is not our armor, it is God’s armor. Furthermore, we are not strong in ourselves because we have the armor. If we forget that, and begin to trust in our strength, then the Evil One will quickly discover how to defeat us. The “armor” section of Scripture starts with us being strong in the Lord, and that is where we must stay.

Another thing we need to remember is that the armor not only allows us to stand day after day in “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4), but it specifically enables us to stand in any given evil day (cp. Eph. 6:13). [5] Every one of us has good days and bad days. There are days when no fiery darts from the Evil One seem to hit us, and there are days when we seem to be hit with arrow after arrow, problem after problem.

Too many Christians act as if the armor of God was there to protect us during the days when we have no trouble, or only mild trouble. During those times we withstand evil well, and do a good job of acting like a Christian should act. However, when the Adversary (or adversity) really hits us hard, we are not as diligent to act as we should. For example, many people who pride themselves in not using profanity or letting their anger get out of control in their day-to-day lives, will then excuse themselves and allow their anger to get out of control. Or, a person who never gets drunk at home might excuse himself and get drunk. The point is that the Word says that the armor is so we can stand in the “evil” day, not the “regular” days. Christians should be known for being our best when things are the worst. Unfortunately, that is something that many of us have to become much better at.

Another thing we must keep in mind is that “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood….” The word “wrestle” is a very good translation of the Greek word pale (Strong’s #3823), even in this context of a soldier’s armor. While it is true that over time the usage of pale broadened to include various struggles (which is why quite a few versions say “struggle” instead of “wrestle”) pale always retained its undertone of the wrestling contest. Furthermore, hand-to-hand combat was common enough among professional soldiers that being a good wrestler helped a lot on the battlefield.

The people of Ephesus were familiar with wrestling due to the popularity of athletic games throughout the Greco-Roman world. Archaeologists have uncovered three gymnasiums in Ephesus, and the main theater, occasionally used for gladiatorial games, seated 24,000 people. Although there were always some “local amateurs” who competed in the games, by the time of Paul many of the contestants were professional athletes who made their living by traveling around from game to game, living off sponsorships or winnings.

A major point of comparison between wrestling and Christian life is that the wrestlers did not kill their opponents. The games went on place after place and year after year, and although today’s match might be over, another would come next week, or next month. The contest never ended, and such is the case with Christians. We cannot beat the Devil once and for all and then have peace in our lives. Rather, we wrestle against evil and ungodliness day after day, week after week, throughout our lives. This can get discouraging, and it is why we must grasp the fact that God does not ask us to “win” the contest, because we cannot kill the Devil. We are told to “stand.”

My Argentinean friend Alejandro Marchesan called Christianity “the Big Game” and compared it to the big soccer matches of his country. I was always empowered by his comparison. In sports, each player enters the match of his own free will, each player gives his all, and each player knows that there will be another match soon. No one is upset that the opponent is not “killed” and does not “go away.” That is the nature of the game. Christians would do well to take to heart that our contest with evil will exist throughout our lives. God does not reward us for the ultimate victory, which is His, He rewards us for entering the contest and standing faithfully for Him, wearing His uniform, if you will, throughout our lives.

As we begin to examine the armor that God has provided for us, we can see that we are told to “take up the whole armor of God.” The words “take up” are not the usual words for putting on clothing, but mean what they say, “take up.” Furthermore, the Greek is in the imperative mood, so the verb is a command, not a suggestion. God gives us the armor, and to obey Him we must put it on. The words “take up” give us the mind picture of a person standing up with all the armor lying at his feet. The armor is there, but to be useful it must be picked up and put on. Furthermore, if only a piece of the armor is used, the benefit of the armor is minimized. We are to take up the whole armor, not just parts of it.

The Belt of Truth

The first piece of armor in the list is the belt of truth. [7] The soldier’s belt was one of his most significant pieces of clothing. While not as visible or glamorous as the helmet, or as fearsome as the sword, the belt anchored the rest of the armor. The breastplate attached to it and thus stayed in place, protecting the soldier’s chest; the sword hung from it so it would not have to be constantly carried in the hand; and the belt had a rest for the shield so that the soldier would not have to carry the weight of the shield hour after hour as he marched. A soldier who marched all day carrying the weight of the sword and shield would arrive at the scene of battle so tired that his effectiveness in combat would be greatly reduced.

Like the soldier’s belt, the truth of God’s Word is foundational for the Christian and anchors all of the rest of his life. Knowing that the belt of truth anchors the rest of the Christian armor, the Devil wages a constant and aggressive campaign against truth, and promulgates lies such as there is no absolute truth, or that relationships are more important than truth. To defeat those lies we must remember that God is true, and that He does not lie (Titus 1:2). What comes from God is truth, and truth leads us to Him.

Psalm 43:3
Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.

To say that there is no absolute truth is to miss the point that everything in existence originated in the heart of a God who had a divine and loving purpose for everything He did. There is a God and there is a Devil; thus there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to live, there is everlasting life and everlasting death, and so forth. We ignore this to our peril. God gave us the armor so we could stand for Him, and if we neglect understanding and knowing truth, the foundation of our armor becomes shaky indeed. Thankfully, as Jesus has told us, the Word of God is truth (John 17:17), and we can grow in truth by studying it diligently. As the Psalmist says, the truth guides us to God.

We should note that the Greek text reads that the Christian is to “gird himself” or “belt himself” around with truth. The verb is in the middle voice, making it crystal clear that it is the person who must put the truth around his or her waist. Knowing truth does not come from owning a Bible or living near a church. We must actively work to put on the belt of truth, it does not “tie itself on” to us. Similarly, the breastplate and shoes are referred to in the middle voice in the Greek text. Each believer must put these things on for himself. [For further study you can listen to our audio teaching free of charge – Truth Matters: Part One – Truth Seekers.]

The Breastplate of Righteousness

The Roman soldier wore a breastplate that covered his vital organs, and we are told to put on the breastplate of righteousness. To fully understand the breastplate of righteousness, we must remember that “righteousness” has two meanings in the Administration of Grace in which we live. [8] Righteousness is the God-given righteousness, or right standing, that we have before God because Jesus died for our sins, and it is also the right standing we have before God when we choose to live rightly. When Romans 5:17 mentions the free gift of righteousness that Christians have, that is our righteousness due to the work of Christ. When 1 Timothy 6:11 (KJV) instructs us to follow after righteousness, or 2 Timothy 3:16 (KJV) says that the Bible provides instruction in righteousness, that is “right living” before God.

The “breastplate of righteousness” includes both meanings. First, no matter how hard we try to live obediently before God, we will sin. If we do not understand that our sins are forgiven, and that due to the work of Christ we stand righteous before God, the weight of that sin on our conscience can be unbearable. Many people have been made ineffective in their lives and ministries, and some have abandoned the Christian faith altogether, due to the guilt they feel from their sins. They have not put on the breastplate of righteousness, and guilt and shame have penetrated their vital organs. The knowledgeable Christian is aware that when he confesses his sins, they are forgiven in Christ, and he does not hold on to the guilt produced by his mistakes. Freed from that weight, he can stand effectively for the Lord.

The breastplate of righteousness is also the breastplate of our righteous life. Living righteously before God protects us in many ways. There is physical protection, such as from the ravages of alcohol, drugs, sexually transmitted disease, and so forth. Also, our minds are protected from the consequences of willful sin, such as shame and guilt. The Bible says that those who practice sin become slaves to sin, and that is true. The savvy Christian puts on the breastplate of righteousness by living righteously from day to day so he can readily stand against the wiles of the Devil.

The Shoes; Readiness Given by the Gospel of Peace

The shoes, like the belt and breastplate, are not offensive armor. Nevertheless, they are essential if the Christian is going to stand year after year for God. In this case, the footwear of God is the readiness, or preparation, one has for the evil day, and this comes from the Good News of peace. The reference to the gospel of peace in this context is not referring to evangelism, as that is not the context here. Rather it is referring to the peace that Christians must have in their minds and hearts to stand firmly day after day against the onslaughts of the Adversary.

The Bible has many references to the peace that each of us is to have. Every Church Epistle opens with God’s assurance that we are at peace with Him. Peace is a fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22). Furthermore, we are to let the peace of God rule in our hearts (Col. 3:15), and peace can also guard our hearts (Phil. 4:7). The Christian who has not prepared himself to be peaceful will have a difficult life, for every day brings new challenges. In contrast, people who love the Word of God and follow it have great peace, and can stand in the battle of life.

Psalm 119:165
Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.

To have an abundant and joy-filled life, believers must prepare themselves with the Good News of peace, and be peaceful.

The Shield of Faith

The importance of the shield to a soldier cannot be overstated. It protects him from being killed by the blows of the enemy. What we as Christians need to remember, however, is that the shield does not stop the blows from coming. In fact, the soldier feels the blows in spite of the shield. A blow may even be so hard that it knocks the soldier down, but the shield will do its work and keep the blow from killing him. The shield of faith works the same way.

The “shield of faith” is a genitive of apposition, and means, “the shield, that is to say, our faith.” In other words, the shield is our faith. “Faith,” which is “trust” in God, does not keep the blows of the Adversary from coming, and having a shield does not mean we will not feel the blows. [9] But our trust in God keeps us from being “killed” by the Adversary; we withstand attack after attack with our love for God and commitment to Him intact. Without the shield of trust, life’s problems would be overwhelming. Daily we trust that our heavenly Father will see us through the day, give us strength, give us guidance, help with our problems, and so much more. Without that trust, the Enemy’s fiery darts hit us again and again, eventually taking the life out of our Christian walk.

Faith is not a mystery—it is simply trust. We build trust with God the same way we do with anyone else, by being involved with the person, interacting with him, and paying attention to what he says and does. Christians must pray, pay attention to what God says in His Word, and act on it. If we are faithful to do that, our faith will grow, and our shield will be strong for those difficult times in life. [For further study read What Is Faith?]

The Helmet of Salvation

The “helmet of salvation” of Ephesians 6 is more accurately called the helmet of “the hope of salvation” in 1 Thessalonians 5:8. The word “salvation” is used in its general sense in this verse, and is not restricted to only salvation to everlasting life, although that is included. The entire Creation is in bondage and is groaning in pain (Rom. 8:21 and 22), and so are we Christians (Rom. 8:23). Everything in Creation needs to be “saved,” that is, “rescued” from the power of sin. Nothing any of us can do will change that now, but God will rescue His creation in the future. The Lord Jesus will descend from heaven and conquer the earth, and the earth will once again become a paradise. God promises that in the future we will live on a beautiful earth in new, energetic, bodies, and our lives will be free of sickness, hunger, war, and injustice. [10] He has given us that wonderful Hope, and it can sustain us through our lives, especially in hard times.

No matter how difficult our lives become, our hope for a wonderful future shines through the darkness and points to better things to come. Because of this, the Bible refers to the Hope as “the anchor of our soul” (Heb. 6:19). As such, it is fitting that our hope of salvation for both ourselves and Creation is referred to as our “helmet.” Life can be so difficult and discouraging that it is hard to think straight. Each year vast numbers of people get caught up in the difficulties of life and make unwise decisions. Many people even completely lose sight of any value or purpose in their life and commit suicide. The hope of salvation says, “Hang in there, your troubles will not last long, and then things will be glorious.” The hope of salvation helps protect our minds and keep us calm and rational in troubled times, enabling us to keep on standing for God. When properly understood, the hope of salvation is a very effective helmet, protecting our thoughts and helping us stand for the Lord year after year.

The Sword of the Spirit: the Word of God

The sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is the only offensive weapon the believer has as he wrestles with evil. This is simple, but often forgotten. Sometimes we try to reason with evil so it will change, or be so loving and kind that evil will relent from doing harm, or we simply try to avoid it and not enter the fight. The Devil is real, his nature is evil, and he has enlisted the help of many demons and humans to carry out his evil plans, so the fight is real and cannot be avoided. If we ignore the Word of God we not only disarm ourselves, but we also put ourselves in the position of not being able to effectively help others. [11] No wonder the psalmist says, “I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Ps. 119:16). No wonder Jesus reminded us of the words of Deuteronomy, that people do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4; Deut. 8:3).

It is important to remember that the sword is the “sword of the Spirit.” [12] When we think about it, that makes sense. As humans, can we stand against the Devil in our own strength? No. Are there any earthly weapons that can defeat him? No. The only weapon that is effective against the Enemy is the Word of God. Even with that, we do not defeat him in a permanent way; we simply cut off his attacks and protect ourselves.

In the Greek text, the verb telling us to take the helmet and the sword is in the imperative mood. That means that God is not just stating that we should take these pieces of armor, or asking us if we would like to, He is commanding us to take them and put them on. If we do not put on the helmet and take up and use the sword, we are in effect telling God that we will not enter into His service in our fullest capacity. One important reason why God commands us to take the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is that if we do not really understand the Word, we can unknowing be used by the Devil against the purposes of God, and hurt other people. For example, the Christians who tortured other Christians during the Inquisition thought they were doing Christ’s work. Although that is an extreme example, the same kind of thing, people working against God when they think they are working for Him, happens on a much smaller scale every day. Christians are called to stand for God, and the sword of the Spirit is an essential part of our armor if we are going to be successful in doing that throughout our lifetime.

God has called us to stand for Him, stand in the evil day, and, “having done all,” to stand. It is not easy, and sometimes seems more of a burden than a blessing, but our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Let us each do what it takes to stand for God and His Son as long as we live. They deserve that from us, and we will be blessed for doing it.

John Schoenheit

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