Spiritual Armor for Spiritual Warfare
“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” (Ephesians 6:10-11).
Be Strong In the Lord
Before Paul embarks on his famous description of “the armor of God” in the sixth chapter of Ephesians, he emphasizes our need for it by insisting that we are—whether we like it or not, and in fact, rather we realize it or not—engaged in a spiritual war.
Paul emphasizes the spiritual nature of this battle in verses 11-12 by informing us (or reminding, if we’ve forgotten) that our enemies are not primarily evil or wicked people—although they can certainly be effective instruments of the enemy—but rather our chief battle is with the spiritual powers of the devil and his demons.
Now I know I (and Paul) may have lost you there because you are a child of modern times and modern thinking and you know better than to believe in tall tales, tooth fairies, and the devil. If this describes you, you are sadly not alone. A recent Barna survey revealed that, while 78% of self-identified Christians believe in God as described in the Bible, only about one-fourth of them believe that the devil is a real and living being.
However, this is a terrifyingly naïve when we consider that Jesus himself told Peter that Satan desired (a very personal verb!) to have him so that he could sift him like wheat. What a great coup, then, for Satan to have so many convinced that he’s not real! The reason that camouflage and stealth-technology exist is that any military strategist knows, or learns quickly the hard way, that the best weapon against your enemy is to convince him you’re not even there.
Doubtless, this is part of the reason Paul begins this whole discussion with the admonition to “be strong in the Lord.” No matter what popular opinion may tell you at any given time, you must trust in God’s assessment of your enemy before you will put on the right kind of armor.
But also Paul wants to remind us that, no matter who we are or how long we’ve been Christians, we clearly are not strong enough to stand on our own against the super-human powers of evil. Yet, with God—and with God’s armor—you can prevail. So be strong, yes, but always and only “in the Lord, and in the strength of his might.”
As we’ve already mentioned, this spiritual battle against spiritual enemies is real. If we believe in the Bible, we must believe in this battle: it wages back and forth across every page of Scripture—from Garden of Eden to Garden of Gethsemane.
The princes of Persia and Greece battle with angelic messengers in Daniel 10; Satan fights with the angel Michael over the body of Moses in Jude 9; Jesus casts real demons out of a man, as a herd of swine soon discover for themselves in Luke 8; Paul casts a spirit, which brought real gain to its masters, out of a damsel in Acts 16; and Satan hinders Paul’s visit to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:18). If you believe the Bible you have to believe in Satan and in Satan’s war against the saints.
However, this battle is not only real: it is also personal. The word that Paul uses for “wrestle” in Ephesians 6:12 refers to hand-to-hand combat. This is not, in other words, a battle that your parents or pastor can fight for you; you must be engaged in it yourself. The war, as we’ve mentioned already, is raging already and we were born into it when we came into this world. But when we became Christians and proclaimed our faith in Jesus Christ, we consciously took sides—and, Paul says, it’s high time we started living like it!
We wrestle with this enemy whether we like it or not. Unlike popular portrayals of Satan, he is not “for” anyone really. Although he is chiefly opposed to Christ and his kingdom, Satan delights to bring anyone down. So, while some people certainly are the servants of Satan, Satan himself assists no one and is happy to hurt everyone he can.
When Paul warns that our enemy is “spiritual” he is not, of course, denying that there will be physical foes, including people who will oppose, all along the Christian way. He is simply pointing to the greater battle, the greater stakes, and the greater wickedness that exist beyond any personal human conflict.
Of course, the world today says just the opposite: forget about devils, demons, and arguments over truth and focus attention on poverty, hunger, environmental issues, and cultural oppression of certain people groups. While these concerns can certainly be legitimate, in order to truly or rightly battle them we must first recognize that they are only the symptom of the much deeper and greater problem of sin. Therefore the real and lasting solution will not be money or food or conservation or political rights; the great and only solution for the underlying problem of sin is the gospel of Jesus Christ! Without that vital ingredient, any help we give is only temporary and ultimately deceptive.
How many of us take to heart the warning that Satan, like a roaring lion, is hunting throughout the earth for anyone he can devour? It should sober us to consider our enemies are described by Paul in Ephesians not only as spiritual but as powerful. The Bible tells us of six individuals who were personally tempted by Satan—Eve, Job, Jesus, Judas, Peter, and Ananias—and four of these gave way under the temptation, including sinless Eve! And even Job didn’t last the whole course, although he successfully endured at the time of Satan’s attacks.
It is time we recognize the malice of our enemy and equip ourselves accordingly. Devils recognize no white flag, no Red Cross, no Geneva Convention. They give no quarter; they take no prisoners; they share no sense of value, decency, or fairness. They attack your children at school, your spouse at sleep, your mind in church. They attack new converts, weary travelers, the physically afflicted, and people trying to turn over a new leaf. They will, if they can get between a husband and his wife, parents and their children, brothers and sisters in the church, and pastors and their flock. And, like professional football or boxing, each match is carefully tailored to the opponent’s weaknesses.
It is time we recognize the malice of our enemy and equip ourselves accordingly.
Since the rest of the articles in this issue will be unpacking the particular pieces of the armor of God that Paul speaks of, let me simply say this. Paul tells us to “put on” the armor, so simply studying about it or understanding how it works is not sufficient. We must sleep in it, work in it, play in it.
Every piece of armor points us back to God as our great need. After all, it is the armor of God! And, while we cannot face the supernatural, spiritual, invisible, powerful enemies of darkness in our own strength or cunning, in the power of Jesus Christ we can stand successfully and even advance consistently.
One Christian, plus God, is greater than a host of wicked men, plus all the demons in the universe. We see this reality in the struggles of Elisha with the Syrians, Jonah with Nineveh, Moses with the Egyptians, and Paul with the Jewish leaders. When we walk and live and fight in the strength of God, and with the tools he has given us, we are actually on the offensive as the kingdom of God advancing invincibly throughout the world and in every generation.
So, “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.”
Justin Huffman has pastored in the United States for over 15 years and has contributed articles to Third Mill and Fathom Magazine, authored the "Daily Devotion" app (which now has over half a million downloads), and recently published "Grow: the Command to Ever-Expanding Joy” with Day One. He blogs at justinhuffman.org. Justin has been married for over 20 years to Chau, and they have four children: Edmond (from Russia), Ransom and Avery (from Vietnam), and Eva (from Arkansas). He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary.
Follow Justin on Twitter @justinohuffman