Going on the Offensive

Faith, Scripture, Salvation, Armor of God, Warfare

Over the last several weeks we have observed that the Christian life is a struggle. There is a sense in which when we become a follower of Jesus we also become a target of the Devil. The Devil not only wants to keep us from telling others about Jesus, he wants to discredit or marginalize us and through us to encourage people to dismiss Christ.

Satan actively tempts us with distortions, half-truths, doubts, and rationalizations. He will try to get us to draw our sense of purpose and direction from the world around us. He will try to get us to believe that the material world is where we will find peace, purpose and satisfaction. In short, he will do everything he can to move us away from Christ.

God has warned us of this battle through the Apostle Paul. At the end of Ephesians 6 Paul reminds us that God has not left us defenseless.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

 The first pieces of the armor was the belt of truth which means we are to stand upon the solid doctrines of the faith that have been revealed in the Bible. We need to know what we believe. Second we put on the breastplate or body armor of righteousness which means we must remind ourselves again and again that we are not right with God because of our performance but because of what Christ has done for us. Third, we are to put on the shoes of peace so we will be prepared. This peace is the result of being made right with God. It is anchored to our knowledge that God is in control and because of that fact we have nothing to fear. Our peace comes from knowing that God will never leave us or forsake us and nothing the world can throw at us can separate us from His love. This is the message we eagerly share with anyone who will listen.

Shield of Faith

The fourth piece of our armor is the shield of faith. The soldier of the day had two kinds of shields. One shield was smaller and was strapped to the arm to deflect a sword in hand to hand battle.

The second kind of shield (which is the word used here) was about 2 ½ feet wide and 4 ½ feet high. It was designed to protect the entire body of the soldier. It was made of a solid piece of wood and covered with metal or oiled leather. The men who carried this shield were on the front lines of battle. When placed side by side this could form a movable wall behind which the archers could shoot their arrows.

Often enemy forces would cover the tip of their arrow with a cloth that had been soaked in flammable material. Just before the arrow was shot the tip would be lit on fire. These shields were designed to deflect and extinguish such arrows.

It is a good image for us. Satan is constantly hurling flaming arrows of temptation at us. He tempts us to immorality, pride, envy, hatred, bitterness, compromise, deception, and it seems millions of other things. The way to handle these temptations is with the shield of faith.

It is important to define what the word “faith” means and doesn’t mean. Sometimes people view faith as “wishful thinking”. In their minds faith is synonymous with a positive mental attitude. Biblical faith is something much greater and deeper than mere wishful thinking or a positive mental attitude. The Bible says,

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (Heb 11:1)

Biblical faith is having a sure, steady, and unwavering confidence in the character, goodness, and plan of God. This faith results in our believing what God says and trusting what He does (whether we understand it or not).

Every temptation, every fiery dart we encounter is actually a temptation to doubt and mistrust God. Almost everyone says they believe in God. However, when times get rough, when comforts are taken away, when your life is threatened, when that “belief” is going to cost you something, that is when we find out the true nature of our faith. Are we using God because we think it will get us to the things we want or are we using things and serving God? The key is that we must have faith in God rather than faith in ourselves!

We take up the “shield of faith” when in tough times we hang tenaciously to the truths the Bible affirms,

  • God is in Control (Daniel 4:35; Neh. 9:6; 1 Chronicles 9:11)
  • He loves me (through Christ) (Romans 8:31-39)
  • He never (ever) makes a mistake (Genesis 50:20; Psalm 37; Psalm 39; 1 Peter 1:6-7)

In other words we trust God’s Character and God’s promise rather than our circumstances or feelings. Get that! We trust God’s promise over our feelings; we trust His character over our circumstances. That is the faith that will provide a shield in the times of difficulty.

This is what we see in the men of faith.

  • Noah built the boat as instructed even though he did not live near water and it is quite possible the world had never seen a flood.
  • Abraham left his comfortable home to follow God’s leading.
  • Abraham believed God would give him a son as he promised . . . even though he was 100 years old.
  • He was also willing to sacrifice that son even though doing so would seem to derail God’s promise.
  • Moses confronted Pharaoh even though he didn’t want to.
  • Gideon went to war with only 300 men.
  • David faced a giant with only a sling.
  • Elijah faced off with 400 prophets of Baal.
  • Ezekiel did all kinds of weird things because God told him to.
  • Hosea married his prostitute ex-wife.
  • The disciples took a lunchbox worth of food to feed over 5000 hungry people.
  • The disciples refused to stop preaching about Jesus even when threatened with prison.
  • Polycarp, John Knox, Martin Luther, John Hus, Deitrich Bonhoeffer and many others refused to renounce their faith even when threatened with death. Some were even burned at the stake and refused to deny their Lord.

The list could go on and on to tell the stories of those who have served Christ faithfully even after they have been imprisoned for their faith, tortured, and threatened with the loss of everything they hold dear. REAL faith . . . the kind of faith that extinguishes fiery darts and moves mountains is that which trusts God no mater what!

The Helmet of Salvation

We are next to “put on salvation as our helmet”. When the Bible talks about salvation it is talking not only about being forgiven of sin. In other words, salvation is not about an event in time (a prayer prayed, an aisle walked) . . . it is about a process related to God working in our lives. Salvation has elements in the past, present and the future. God has cleansed us from sin through Christ, is cleansing us from the power of sin through His Spirit, and will fully and finally cleanse us from sin when we stand before Him.

In other words, the believer needs to remind him/herself in every situation that “we are not home yet”. We continue to look forward to a future day. Even though we experience or taste God’s Kingdom in the present, we are still looking forward to a future day. It is true, “this world is not our home, we are only passing through.”

C.S. Lewis uses an illustrates of women and makeup that may be helpful. A woman puts on makeup early in the morning to be ready for the day ahead. The problem is that what looks good in the dim light of the morning will not look good in the lighting of the day. So she uses a makeup mirror to emulate the light of day. In a sense she prepares herself for the light that is to come.

In a sense this is what it means to “put on the hope of salvation”. It means to live in the light of what you know is coming. This is the difference between the believer and the world. The world lives only in the dim light of the present. They assume everything will continue as it always has. The believer should be living with the realization that there is coming a day when the curtain will come crashing down, God’s irresistible light will shine, and His glory will reveal everything. The believer lives in light of this reality.[1]

The Helmet of Salvation then is a guard on our mind (where Satan delights to attack us). This “helmet” reminds us again and again that this world is not all there is. It reminds us to live each day in light of eternity. In a sense it is to live with the understanding that “this could be the day” the Lord calls us home. We lift our eyes beyond the battle of life and focus on the certain victory to come.

The Sword of the Spirit

Paul next tells us to take up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Once again we are reminded about how important truth is in standing strong in the times of conflict. If you remember, the “belt of truth” we said was having a foundation built on the Word of God. It is relying on the Word of God as true and trustworthy.

The Sword of the Spirit takes this a step further. Rather than just living by truth as a foundation, the Sword of the Spirit is about knowing the Bible so well that you can use it in the times of temptation. You can actually use it to defeat the enemy. The Sword of the Spirit is not just a defensive weapon; it is also an offensive weapon.

Jesus shows us how to use the sword effectively in the temptations He faced in the desert. We have a record of Satan choosing three temptations for Jesus.

  1. In the first temptation Satan encouraged Jesus to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. He concedes the power of Jesus. In a sense he was saying, “Look Jesus, you aren’t going to be any good to anyone if you starve . . .prove you are the Son of God by turning these stones into bread.” Jesus had been fasting for 40 days. He was hungry. He could have turned the stones into bread. Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” In other words, there are more important things than satisfying your physical needs. The most important thing is to do what God tells you to do.
  2. Second, Satan took Jesus to the highest point of the temple and told Jesus to prove to everyone that He was the Messiah by jumping off the top of the Temple. Satan even quoted part of Psalm 91 and the promise that God will order his angels to protect the Son. If Jesus did not have a solid working knowledge of Scripture He might have been taken in by this proof-text (a text that seems to prove something). Instead, Jesus used another text from Deuteronomy, “You must not test the Lord your God”.
  3. Finally, Satan offered Jesus a shortcut. He said, “Look, I will give you all the Kingdoms of the world if you will only bow down and worship me.” In other words all he had to do was worship Satan and he would have “everything”. It was the old “Sell your soul to the Devil” temptation. Jesus knew the Scriptures and went back to Deuteronomy and said, “You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”

The difference then between the belt of truth and the sword of the Spirit is between having a belief in the Bible as the truth on which we stand and having a working knowledge of the Scriptures so that we can turn to specific Bible passages when we are tempted.

This is not something that comes easily. You can’t develop a working knowledge of Scripture simply by reading a few verses every day (although that is a start). To get a working knowledge of Scripture we must.

  • Read the Bible Regularly. The more we are exposed to the Word of God, the more we will remember of the Word.
  • Read attentively. Do you ever just “turn the pages” of the Bible and find that nothing registers?  We must interact with the Bible as we read. In other words we need to put ourselves in the shoes of Biblical characters so that we can identify with them. We need to read Biblical teachings and ask: “Where do I apply this in my life?” We need to ask, “What is it that God is trying to teach me?
  • Discuss Scripture with Other Believers. This is where Sunday morning worship and small group gatherings are so important. This is where Christian Radio teaching is important. We benefit (if we are discerning) from hearing the Bible “fleshed out”.  In small groups (like Sunday School or Bible Studies) we get to interact with other believers. This helps us to see and apply what we didn’t see before, and to clarify what wasn’t clear. Small group discussions also help us to correct misunderstandings.
  • Memorize Scripture. The last step is memorization. We must hide God’s Word in our heart “so that we might not sin against God” (Psalm 119:11). I think this concept intimidates us. It is good to use flash cards but really “hiding God’s Word in our heart” (Psalm 119:11) is about becoming so saturated and attentive to God’s Word that you can recall it easily and accurately. It is to know the Word so well that you instinctively “know” what it says. Many people can quote sports stats or quote movie lines from favorite movies. We can remember favorite phone numbers. Why? Because we are engaged with these things. We have become exposed to them again and again. The key is to love the Word like you love those other things. We must be continually exposed to the Word of God. If we do this we will remember it.

The Bible is our primary tool when we fight against the forces of evil. When we rely on what the Bible says, we are not standing in our strength, but in His. We are not relying on our wisdom, but on God’s. That makes us much stronger.

Conclusions

All these pieces of the armor have been provided for us. We don’t have to go out and manufacture these things to defend ourselves against the assaults of the Devil. What we need to do is put them on. Car manufacturers provide all kinds of safety devices for vehicles. However if you do not put on the seatbelts, pay attention to warning lights, and drive within the law, you will not benefit from these helps.

So here’s the question: Are you facing the battle with all the tools God has given you? Have you worked to truly understand the truth of the gospel? Are you putting you hope in God’s work rather than your own? Are you doing what God tells you to do? Are you resting in His peace even in the times of trial? Do you trust Him even when the walls seem to be crashing down around you? Is your sword sharp and ready for battle or is it dull, rusty, or even misplaced?

I encourage you to look through the pieces of the armor and work to make sure that you are fully prepared. Study this passage more fully. Reflect on these things often. Of this you can be sure: whether or not you are prepared, your opponent will be fully armed and is extremely dangerous.

[1] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

Scripture:

Ephesians 6:13-17