Ready for Battle

Spiritual Warfare, Armor of God

In the incredibly moving book, THE INSANITY OF GOD Nik Ripken (a pseudonym) shares his work in Somalia over 15 years ago and his subsequent visits with Christians in Russia, China, and other places around the world. He records incredible stories of persecution and the torture of believers who considered it an honor to suffer in the name of Christ. All of these believers expected to eventually be arrested and tortured for Christ.

At one point while visiting a group of underground house church Pastors in China they asked Nik to teach them how to “be ready for when they are arrested and tortured”. The conclusion was simple: you will only be as ready for the time of trial and persecution as you have developed the sense of readiness ahead of time.

I hope that we will never have to be tortured for our faith (because I am kind of a wimp). However, we will be tested in some fashion. It may be in a friendship, a work relationship, or even through outside circumstances that rock our world. It may be through a tragedy, an illness, or the burdens of aging. Maybe it will be a temptation to take the easy way out or to live for the moment (just this once). Whatever it is, there will be something that will test the depth of the roots of our faith. The question is: how do we prepare for such times of testing?

Paul has labored to warn us that we are fighting an unseen enemy. We face spiritual forces that will try to derail, defeat, or marginalize us in terms of our Christian faith. How can we prepare so that we will be able to stand when trials come?

To this end we are going to look at what is called the “armor of God”. These are tools that God has given us, and which we must take, to meet these times of trials. This list  is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the tools that God has given us. Much like the list of spiritual gifts, Paul gives a sampling of the tools available. However, these are all important tools. Listen again to Paul’s words,

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.

Notice a few things. First, this is called God’s armor. These are tools that God has given us to help us stand against the Devil and his forces.

Second, we are told that we must put these tools on. In other words we must be active rather than passive. The Bible does not teach the mentality, “Just let go and let God”. We have a responsibility to use what God has given to us. It is not enough to merely learn about the armor, we must put it on.

Think about it this way: you may be extremely confident that you are being coached by the best Football coach around. The first thing the coach will tell you to do is to put on all your equipment! The best coaching, even the best talent, will not last long without the proper protective equipment.

The Bible has used this image of spiritual armor in the past. In Isa. 59:17 we read: “He put on righteousness as his body armor and placed the helmet of salvation on his head.” In addition Paul had great familiarity with soldiers because he spent a lot of time in jail because of his faith. Not only was he familiar with soldiers but so was his audience. Any good analogy ties truth to something the listeners can relate to. This is what Paul is doing. We will look at the first few pieces of God’s armor today.

Anchor Your Life to the Truth

The belt worn by a soldier wasn’t just something decorative. It had a couple of purposes. First, it allowed freedom of movement. People in the Bible days (and in the Middle East today) wear long flowing garments. To try to run in such a garment would be like trying to run in a choir robe, graduation gown, or prom dress. It you can’t relate to that, imagine running in a bathrobe. It is easy to get caught up in such garments and trip and fall. The belt made it possible for you to tuck the bottom of the garment into the belt so that your legs could move freely.

Second, the belt was the place where other things were anchored. The breastplate and the sword were both attached to this belt.

So what is this truth that must be our anchor? Paul is saying that if we want to be able to stand against the forces that attack us we must anchor our lives to the fact that there is absolute truth and we must live on the basis of that truth.

Some people assert that there is no such thing as absolute truth (which, of course is a statement meant to be taken as absolute truth!). These people believe truth changes with the individual. It may be true for me, but not true for you. But that is not truth, it is opinion! Truth is something solid! It is a standard  we can anchor our life to. It is a reference point from which everything else is defined and understood.

We find absolute truth in the Bible. What God says is true, and it is true absolutely. There is no wavering in God’s truth. Truth does not change according to polling data or legislative initiatives. Truth is foundational.

Paul is reminding us that we need to know what we believe and why we believe it. What we call doctrine (Christian belief) is important! Part of the reason our society has become so secular and godless is because many who call themselves Christian, quite frankly, don’t know what they believe or why. If we are going to stand in our battle with evil we must have a firm grasp on the truth of the faith. We need to hold tight to such truths as,

  • God is Supreme, Sovereign and absolutely holy.
  • God created and sustains all there is.
  • We are all sinful people and cannot do anything to save ourselves.
  • Christ was God and man and because of His sinless perfection He was qualified to give His life as a substitute for us.
  • Jesus physically and literally rose from the dead.
  • Those who put their hope and trust in Christ are forgiven and made new.
  • The Holy Spirit lives in everyone who truly believes.
  • The true believer does not live differently in order to be saved, they live differently because God has made them new.
  • There is coming a Day of Judgment and there is really a Heaven and a Hell.
  • God has given us His Word as an infallible guide. It teaches us what is true and shows us how to live truthfully.
  • God has established the church to help us grow and mature in the faith.

Think about someone who serves as an EMT or Paramedic. It is not enough to simply put on a shirt that has the letters EMT on it. It’s not enough to have some first aid knowledge. You need to know basic information! You need to be prepared for how to respond in various situations. The state requires you to pass a test that shows your competency before you are ever called an EMT.

Similarly, if you want to be victorious in your Christian walk it is not enough to have just basic information about Christ. You must have a firm grasp on what it means to be a follower of Christ. We need to know who He is, why He came, and what He did. We need to have a standard of truth that we can turn to. We cannot recognize the lies and distortions of the devil and his minions unless we have a firm grasp on what is true

Christians who endure and stand in times of persecution do so because they understand the gospel. Soldiers that have a passion for what they are fighting for; soldiers who are clear in their purpose are almost impossible to defeat. We should seek the truth, we should love the truth, we should proclaim the truth, we should be people who don’t just sing the lyrics of songs . . . we should proclaim the truth in those songs! The truth is the foundation on which everything else is built. If the foundation is bad, everything else is compromised.

We Must Rely on the Righteousness of Christ

The breastplate was a tough sleeveless piece of armor that covered the full torso. It was often made of leather and had pieces of animal hooves or pieces of metal embedded in the leather. Some breastplates were made of molded or hammered metal. Think of it like the bulletproof vest of its day. The purpose was to protect the vital organs of the body.

Paul says our breastplate is righteousness. Unfortunately, the word righteous today is usually used in a negative sense, such as in self-righteous. It denotes arrogance and condescension. Tim Keller writes,

Righteousness means to be presentable. To be righteous means that I have passed inspection in the eyes of a significant other. I have been found pleasing to someone I want to please. That’s what righteous means. It has none of that connotation of being self-righteous or being proud or cocky or condescending or holier-than-thou. The word righteous means to be right with. It means to be reconciled to somebody. It means to be well-pleasing in someone’s sight. It means to be presentable.[1]

In terms of our relationship with God we know we can never be righteous in our own strength. We have fallen way short of the glory of God. In Romans 3:10 we are told that there are “none that are righteous, not even one.” The starting point of the gospel is this: God is Holy and we are not. Our only hope of being truly righteous before God depends on Jesus gaining that righteousness for us. This is called “imputed righteousness” in other words, it is given to us by another. It is applied to our account by Christ.

There is a great picture of this in the Old Testament book of Zechariah chapter 3. A high priest by the name of Joshua is standing before the Angel of the Lord and Satan. Satan is drawing attention to the stained nature of Joshua’s clothes. He points out that he is unworthy to stand before the Lord. The angel of the Lord (which some believe was Christ) commanded that the filthy clothes be taken off of Joshua and he was given clean clothes to put on. Satan could make no more charges. The Angel said,

“See, I have taken away your sins, and now I am giving you these fine new clothes.” [2]

This is what Christ does for us. Paul is telling us that we need to remind ourselves over and over that we are right with God not because we are good but because Christ has made us clean before God. Satan will accuse us constantly. There will be many times throughout our lives when we will think, “After all I have done, I can’t possibly truly be a child of God.”  There will be times when tragedy strikes and we will be tempted to conclude that God is punishing us. Deep down we know we deserve it. Paul is reminding us that we must remember that our status before God does not depend on what we have done but on what Christ has done for us. Satan cannot hold our present or past failures against us.

Edward More wrote these wonderful and familiar words,

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,

I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace;

In every high and stormy gale My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood, support me in the whelming flood;

When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found,

Dressed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand – all other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

If we understand the imputed righteousness of Christ then we will be trying to do what God tells us to do. We don’t do this because it “makes sense”, because “it is appealing”, or because we think we can “save ourselves”. We are obedient because we trust Him. In the times of trial the best counsel is this: focus on Christ, remind ourselves that our hope is in Him, and then do what He says. If we do this, Satan cannot defeat us. He can wound us. He can even take our life. But he can never defeat us as long as we are clinging to the Lord.

We Move Forward with God’s Peace

The third piece of the armor is: “for shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.” Most of us have several different kinds of shoes. We have shoes for our recreational activities (running shoes, golf spikes, bowling shoes), shoes for work, and shoes for relaxation. We have different shoes for different activities.

A soldier’s shoes were important because their life might depend on those shoes. There were rough roads and difficult climbs. It is difficult to fight well if you do not have proper footing.  The typical Roman soldier had boots or shoes with metal or nails on the bottom to give them traction on slippery ground.

What are the shoes of a believer? The Greek word for “readiness” is a word that means “nimbleness”. It is a word that would be used for a dancer, athlete, someone who is sure-footed. It means to have the frame of mind that gives you the ability to be ready for changes and ready for action.

The way to be “ready for anything” is to live in God’s peace. This peace comes from knowing that we are right with God because of Christ. Romans 5 says,

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.

He paid our debt, He settled the score, and He made it possible for us to be right with God. We are secure in Him and we know that nothing . . . NOTHING can separate us from His love. There is a peace that comes from that knowledge that is powerful and gives us a sense of calm and strength even in the worst times.

Nik Ripken (who I mentioned at the beginning of the message) asked some house church leaders how they survived under the severe pressure from the state. He asked how they coped with the reality that soldiers may come and confiscate their home, family, or life. They responded,

The property owner will probably respond, “Do you want my house? Do you want my farm? Well, if you do, then you need to talk to Jesus because I gave this property to Him.” The security police will not know what to make of that answer. So they will say, “We don’t have any way to get to Jesus, but we can certainly get to you! When we take your property, you and your family will have nowhere to live!” And the house-church believers will declare, “Then we will be free to trust God for shelter as well as for our daily bread.” “If you keep this up, we will beat you!” the persecutors will tell them. “Then we will be free to trust Jesus for healing,” the believers will respond. “And then we will put you in prison!” the police will threaten. By now, the believers’ response is almost predictable: “Then we will be free to preach the good news of Jesus to the captives, to set them free. We will be free to plant churches in prison.” “If you try to do that, we will kill you!” the frustrated authorities will vow. And, with utter consistency, the house-church believers will reply, “Then we will be free to go to heaven and be with Jesus forever.”[3]

Conclusions

So here is the question for us? Are we ready to endure hardship or even death for the cause of Christ? We may not face death or imprisonment but there will undoubtedly be tests of some kind. Are we ready? The way to get ready is to put on the armor of God. This means we must hold fast to the truths of the faith; be diligent about reading the Bible; get involved in a Sunday School class or Bible Study; read books from our church library. Our job is to listen to God’s Word and hear what God tells us about ourselves, about the world, and about how to be right with God. We must anchor ourselves to the truth of the gospel message. It does not change, it will not shift, it is absolutely reliable.

Second, we must remind ourselves that we are right with God not because of anything we have done but solely because of what Christ has done for us. When Satan comes to accuse we must remind him that though everything he says about us may be true, our salvation is not anchored to what we have done . . . it is anchored to what Christ has done in our place. We must embrace this truth and live our lives confident of our standing before God.

Finally, we must live with the peace of God. It is a peace that is not dependent on the circumstances of life.  We can have peace in the midst of the greatest trials. We can even have peace facing death. Why? Because we know in whom we have believed. In even the most difficult circumstance we can know peace. When we are dressed fully in His armor we can stand strong no matter what the Devil throws at us.


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

[2] Tyndale House Publishers. (2007). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (3rd ed.) (Zec 3:4). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

[3] Ripken, Nik; Lewis, Gregg (2012-12-17). The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected (Kindle Locations 3959-3971). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

Scripture:

Ephesians 6:13-20