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Put On The Full Armor Of God (6:10-17)

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After writing about the salvation that Christ has given to His followers, their glorious inheritance, the purpose of the church and giving instructions about how to live, the Apostle Paul concludes his inspired letter to the Ephesians with an analogy to warfare. In chapter 6, verses 10 through 12 he writes, “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 wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

The follower of Christ must not rely on his own power but rather that of the Lord, for the forces which are arrayed against him are far beyond his strength or ability. If it were a physical battle then, perhaps, one might be able to rely on his own strength. But this battle is not physical. It is spiritual. Many have made the mistake of thinking that they must resort to violence or even war in order to defend Christianity. But the fight is not against people. It is against spiritual forces. A spiritual battle cannot be fought by physical means.

Paul will go on to say what he means by putting on the “armor of God.” But the point or purpose of putting it on is so the follower of Christ can ‘stand’ against the devil’s schemes. This does not mean that the followers of Christ are responsible for winning the war. The victory has already been won by Christ. As Scripture says, “...having stripped the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it [that is, the cross].” (Colossians 2:15) But though the war has already been won, the battle continues for the soul of each individual person. It is for this reason that the follower of Christ must take his stand.

“Our wrestling [NIV, “struggle”] is not against flesh and blood.” (verse 12) It is a shameful fact of history that people calling themselves Christians have sometimes waged wars in the name of Christ. But no matter what anyone may say, such wars and conflicts have nothing to do with Christ. The true adversary is the devil and the schemes which he implements through the rulers, authorities and powers of this world. It is not the rulers and authorities themselves which are the enemy. The true battle is against the “spiritual forces of wickedness” and the battlefield is in the “heavenly places.” Paul writes in another place, “For though we walk in the flesh, we don’t wage war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds, throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ;” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

In verses 13 through 17 Paul describes what the armor of God is, “Therefore, put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having the utility belt of truth buckled around your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having fitted your feet with the preparation of the Good News of peace; above all, taking up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;”

In describing the armor of God, Paul borrows imagery from the writings of the prophet Isaiah, chapters 11, 49, 52 and 59. It is important to note that each one of these portions of Scripture is a prophecy of the coming of Christ. Isaiah points out that sin has caused separation between God and mankind. Because man is incapable of saving himself and there was no one to intercede on his behalf, God Himself would send a Savior.

By applying the same imagery to the follower of Christ as Isaiah used in prophesying the coming of Christ, Paul points to a very important truth. Just as God brought salvation through Christ, Christ uses His followers to take that message of salvation to others. In chapters 4 and 5 Paul had already emphasized the necessity for Christ’s followers to be like Christ. Since Christ brought salvation can those of us who claim to follow Him do any less than to proclaim that salvation to those who do not yet know of it?

Many people are very zealous for their religion and are eager to come to its defense. The followers of Christ truly are in a holy war. But it is a different kind of battle than the world usually thinks of. Five of the items Paul mentions are defensive in nature. They are the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, footwear of readiness which comes from the gospel of peace, shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. This gives us a very important criterion by which to judge whether our defense of our religion is truly of God or not. Is our defense based on truth? Can our righteous way of life deflect accusation? Are we eager to spread the gospel of peace? Do we overcome attacks against us through faith? Are we secure in the knowledge of our salvation? If we can answer these questions positively, then we know that our defense is a godly one. On the other hand, if in the defense of our religion we lie and deceive, if we use the struggle as a justification for committing sin, if we stir up strife and conflict, if we try to strike down opposition by threats instead of faith, if we think that destroying those whom we regard as enemies will earn us salvation then, though we may think we are defending our religion, in reality we are in opposition to God. Even though we may wear the name of Christ, our defense has nothing to do with Him.

The only offensive weapon Paul mentions is the “sword of the Spirit.” He then defines it as the “word of God.” Usually, when we think of God’s word we have the Bible in mind. But Paul is not referring to written words enclosed by the covers of a book. The word he uses refers to a spoken proclamation or declaration. What Paul is saying is that each follower of Christ has the responsibility of not merely reading the Bible, but actively proclaiming its message to others. We must always remember, however, that the battle will not be won through our eloquence but, as Paul wrote at the beginning of this passage, through God’s might. It is not us, but the Word which will prevail. As Scripture says, “For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)