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. (Ephesians 6:10-20)
Perhaps the most dangerous thing a Christian can do is attempt to fight our spiritual warfare alone. We’re doing little more than going through the motions when we fail to depend on the Lord every step of the way. Paul does not say, “Be strong in yourself.” No, he says, “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” (Eph 6:10-11).
In our constant fight against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places, we are at a severe disadvantage if not for the armor of God (Eph 6:11-12). Imagine standing on the battle field with nothing but a robe to wear. Even young David had a staff, five smooth stones, and a sling when he confronted Goliath (1Sa 17:40). No one in his right mind would approach the enemy without some kind of defense or protection. Ideally, we want to step onto the battlefield with an offensive weapon as well.
Why, then, do we try to fight this battle alone?
Let me explain what I mean. I’ll read something Jesus said in Luke 11:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)
Here is a person who has made all of the moral reforms we would expect from a religious person. He swept his house. He put everything in order. Imagine him saying, “I’m a Christian now. I’m going to turn my life around. I’m going to clean up my act.” As a result, the unclean spirit who once resided in him leaves. Apparently, though, something is missing. This spirit wanders around for awhile, comes back, realizes how neat and tidy the person is now, and invites seven other unclean spirits to join him. Jesus says, ”The last state of that person is worse than the first” (Lk 11:26). What happened?
The context would suggest Jesus was talking about many of the Jews in his day. The Jewish people were very religious. Their entire lives were dictated by religion, yet something fundamental was missing.
Maybe you’ve had this experience where you were talking to someone in the church, and he or she said something you found surprising. Maybe that person expressed a worldview or opinion that is clearly not in line with what Scripture teaches. Maybe you discovered that person is secretly living in sin. Maybe you’ve become frustrated with a fellow believer because it seems he or she is incapable or unwilling to talk about anything of a spiritual nature. Perhaps you’ve had moments when you’ve thought to yourself, Is this person even a Christian?
What’s missing? They claim to believe. They go to church. For the most part, they conduct themselves in an upstanding, moral way, yet something seems to be missing.
Assuming they are genuine Christians, they are probably walking on the battlefield without the whole armor of God (Eph 6:13). Unknowingly, they’re standing out there exposed. Maybe they’ve defeated one devil in the past, but little do they know, seven more are ready to attack. These people lack spiritual discipline. Maybe they don’t see the threat. I’ve known quite a few people who think, Jesus wins in the end. I’ll be fine. They’re half right. Jesus will be victorious in the end, but I can’t promise the same for you when you apparently have no concern for your own spiritual welfare.
What about the kingdom of God? Will you not fight for it? Paul says, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1Ti 6:13). Didn’t you sign up to be a soldier? Did you forget to first sit down and count the cost? (Lk 16:28). What do you think it means to be a Christian in this world?
Paul’s analogy in this chapter is not an accident. He’s in the heart of the ancient Roman world where he sees members of the Roman army every day and he thinks, That is precisely what a Christian should be: a soldier. He still has this analogy on his mind when he reaches the end of his life. He tells Timothy, “I have fought the good fight” (2Ti 4:7). As I said last time, the battle is real. The enemies are real. No, we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but that only means the fight is all the more challenging (Eph 6:12). I read to what Calvin said:
Where we resist human strength, sword is opposed to sword, man contends with man, force is met by force, and skill by skill; but here the case [in spiritual battle, that is] is very different, for our enemies are such as no human power can withstand. (Calvin’s Commentaries)
In other words, it’s not a fair fight. The first step for the professing Christian is to acknowledge that we are in an intense spiritual battle against an unrelenting enemy. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1Pe 5:8). The second step is to arm ourselves with the whole armor of God (Eph 6:13). Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Eph 6:11). Paul, then, repeats himself: “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.
Assuming we take God’s word seriously, we should read Paul’s description here of God’s armor with passionate interest. He names five defensive items intended to protect us: a belt, a breastplate, shoes, a shield, and a helmet. We have one offensive weapon, a sword, bringing the total number of items to six. Then, we have one item which isn’t something we wear or carry, that is, prayer. I suppose any veteran who has ever fought in a war would tell us that prayer is one of the most important things we can take with us into battle. Paul doesn’t need an analogy for prayer. Even the most godless soldier has probably found himself praying when he realizes his life is on the line.
This morning, we’ll look at the first two items: the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness (Eph 6:14).
A soldier didn’t need a belt to hold up his pants because he didn’t wear pants. He wore a tunic or what we might call a robe. The belt had three functions. First, it allowed the soldier to hold his tunic above his knees which allowed him to move his legs without the tunic getting in the way. As most women probably know, running in a dress is not ideal. Second, the belt was used for protection. Leather straps with small pieces of metal would hang down the front to protect the groin area. Third, the belt provided a place to carry a sword. A soldier’s belt had a bit more utility than we may have realized.
Paul calls this belt the belt of truth (Eph 6:14). Before we attempt to make application of the symbolism, we should consider what he means by truth. What I believe he means by truth is truth. I doubt he specifically means truth as in the word of God because that’s a distinct part of the Christian’s armor. Later, he says, “Take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17). I doubt he explicitly means the gospel because that’s also a distinct part of the Christian’s armor. I believe he means truth, period.
John 8 says, ”You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). Earlier in this letter, Paul refers to the truth [that] is in Jesus (Eph 4:21). Jesus said of himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). The book of Proverbs advises us to buy truth, and do not sell it (Pr 23:23). God’s Spirit dwelling within us is described as the Spirit of truth (Jn 14:17). Paul says we are to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). We’re told God desires all people … to come to the knowledge of the truth (1Ti 2:4).
Maybe Paul is vague about what he means by truth for a good reason. Truth is truth. Whether we are talking about the truth of God’s word, the truth that is Christ himself, the truth of the gospel message, or simply becoming the honest, authentic people God has called us to be, truth is truth. Strap on all of the above. Fasten around your waist the truth of the gospel, the truth of God’s word, the truth of Christ, the Spirit of truth, and a truthful behavior. In other words, maintain both a truthful character as well as a knowledge of the truth.
The belt of truth will serve us in battle in a number of ways (Eph 6:14). At the risk of carrying Paul’s symbolism too far, a soldier’s belt had several functions as I mentioned. First, it kept the soldier’s tunic from hindering his movement. We can’t fight the good fight without truth. If we don’t have a knowledge of the truth, we have no grounds to fight. If we don’t have a truthful character, our witness is ruined, so a knowledge of the truth won’t matter. We can’t move without the belt of truth.
Second, a soldier’s belt was used for protection. Without a knowledge of the truth, there’s nothing to prevent us from believing the devil’s lies. We couldn’t defend or protect ourselves in spiritual battle.
Third, a soldier’s belt was used to carry a sword. Do you see the logical connection between the two? Without the belt of truth, we can’t carry the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph 6:14; 17). If we’re not concerned about truth, why would we care about the word of God?
Several months ago, a college student asked me to help her with an assignment. She was supposed to collect wisdom from people in her life. I understood her to mean she needed pithy statements related to some of the big lessons we’ve learned and would pass along to a younger generation. Here’s what I wrote back to her:
I don’t know how anyone makes sense of life apart from the existence of an almighty, divine Creator who sovereignly rules this world with a higher purpose. If there is a God, then knowing all we can about him is the most critical pursuit of our life.
It was essentially my summary of the book of Ecclesiastes. Truth begins with God. As we learn more and more about God, we learn more and more about everything. We learn more about his will, his plans, ourselves, the world around us, human history, and even the future. But a lot of people aren’t pursuing the truth. There are people in the church who aren’t pursuing the truth. Why else would the Bible say, “Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity”? (Her 6:1). Just before that verse, the author of Hebrews says:
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
We commonly see new Christians rush headstrong into battle before they have time to put on their belt. They have tenacity. They have passion. They have a lot of zeal and energy, but they don’t have discernment. They can hardly distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:14). They’re charging into battle with little more than a vague sense of God’s will and they’re bound to trip over their tunic.
On the other hand, the church has her fair share of established members who presume to know all they need to know about truth. They can have an appearance of truth—I’m not sure what else to call it—but either they don’t really know the truth or they don’t care.
I remember talking to a woman once who disagreed with me about something I preached, so we sat down to discuss it. I opened the Bible and tried my best to show her what Scripture had shown me. Her response was disappointing at best. I wasn’t expecting a long theological treatise or even a list of proof texts, but I was hoping to hear some evidence that she cared about the truth above all else. Instead, she said to me, “I just want things to be exactly as they were when I first joined the church. I’m afraid you might change things.”
Let me share with you something I’ve learned along the way. You can’t grow without change. You can’t mature without admitting you’ve been wrong. You can’t become skilled in the word of righteousness unless you’re learning things you didn’t know before (Heb 5:13). Our pursuit of truth never ends. Our desire to know all we can about God does not have an expiration date.
I should also point out that hypocrisy is excluded when we wear the belt of truth (Eph 6:14). Again, Paul likely means both a knowledge of the truth and a truthful character. The Pharisees, for instance, appeared to have a knowledge of the truth. They appeared to care about and practice the truth, but Jesus said of them, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Lk 12:1). The truth should thoroughly characterize us as believers. We should know the truth, speak the truth, and live the truth in every sense.
Next, we are to put on the breastplate of righteousness (Eph 6:14). Roman soldiers wore a piece of metal or possibly chain mail over their torso to protect all their vital organs, especially the heart. Similarly, God gives us protection against the devil’s attacks in the form of righteousness.
According to the book of Romans, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Ro 1:17). Paul spends the next several chapters explaining and proving that point. In Romans 3, he says, “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Ro 3:21-22).
When we hear the words, righteous and righteousness, we may think of personal merit. If one is to become righteous, he must do righteous things. Paul’s argument, however, is that we can’t become righteous on our own. None is righteous, no, not one (Ro 3:10). That is why he doesn’t talk about our righteousness being revealed through faith. It is always the righteousness of God (Ro 3:21). God reveals his righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ (Ro 3:22).
The very thing protecting our heart in spiritual battle is the righteousness of God imputed to us. Let me explain that word, imputed, because it’s an important word. God does not merely give us the ability to act righteously. He doesn’t simply pretend we are righteous when we’re not. No, he takes our unrighteousness and imputes it to Christ on the cross. Then, he takes Christ’s righteousness and imputes it us through faith. He condemned Christ for our sin and justifies us for Christ’s obedience.
Let me explain it another way. Isaiah says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isa 64:6). We’re wearing filthy clothes, so Jesus put on those clothes as though he’s a sinner himself and suffered the punishment of God in our place. Isaiah also says, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD … for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isa 61:10). When we receive the gift of faith and turn to Christ for salvation, God puts on us the robe of righteousness. Christ takes our clothes, and we take his in a transaction we call justification.
The word righteousness, though, does imply righteous behavior (Eph 6:14). Earlier in this letter, Paul said, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). We not only receive the righteousness of God, but we also begin to act righteously.
We become the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life (2Co 2:15-16). Believers will recognize us as fellow soldiers in the same army while the enemy will identify us as enemies. The good news is, righteousness will protect us. The even better news is, it’s not our righteousness; it’s God’s. We are protected by the righteousness of God. God himself gives us a breastplate to wear in battle which Christ forged when he died for our sins on the cross.
God gives us his truth which we are to believe and live. He also gives us his righteousness on which we are to depend and, again, live. By doing so, we may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Eph 6:11). Truth and righteousness are not the whole armor of God, but they’re vital pieces. Would you want to go into battle without a belt and breastplate?