The Lord's Day Evening
October 15, 2006
“God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (LVIII)
The Full Armor of God (2):
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd ask you to turn again to Ephesians 6, as we continue to look at this section called “The Armor of God” especially from verses 10 down to verse 18; but really, we’ll use this as our subtitle or theme title for the rest of the book, to the very end of verse 24.
Last week we began this new section. It's a very important and famous section of this book, and we concentrated on verses 10-12. In that passage we commented that though the Apostle Paul is well aware that we face a number of different kinds of challenges in the Christian life (our own sinfulness, the sinfulness of other people that we experience and have to learn how to forgive, the allurements of the world, or the opposition of the world), all of these things are part of the obstacles that we face in living the Christian life in a fallen world and in an imperfect church.
But Paul especially wants us to think in this passage about the satanic or the demonic opposition that we face in the living of the Christian life. He wants us to realize that our battle is not against flesh and blood, ultimately. It's very interesting – the Book of Revelation mirrors this kind of emphasis, because the first eleven chapters of the Book of Revelation focus on the opposition that the church faces from the world. But then the author of Revelation pulls back, and from the twelfth chapter to the end of the book his focus is on the conflict between God and Satan, and between Satan and the people of God in the church; so he draws our attention (John does) to this same truth: that our ultimate obstacle, our ultimate opposition, our ultimate context for living the Christian life, is not simply the world and the flesh, but it is finally the devil himself and his minions.
We quoted the great Thomas Brookes, the Puritan, who said:
“Christ, the Scripture, your hearts, and Satan's devices are the four prime things that should be first and most studied and searched. If any cast off study of these, they cannot be safe here, nor happy hereafter. It is my work as a Christian, but much more as I am a watchman, to do my best to discover the fullness of Christ, the emptiness of the creature, and the snares of the great deceiver.”
And he spends the rest of the book working out that third aspect — the snares of the great deceiver. He looks at various attacks that Satan makes upon his people and he gives the biblical remedies to those attacks in that book.
Now, as we looked at verses 10-12 of Ephesians 6, we saw four things last week that the Apostle Paul wanted to emphasize.
First of all, he wanted to emphasize that we're in a war. The context of our discipleship, the context of our growth in grace, is a war zone. That's where God has chosen to grow us up — in a war zone — and that's important for young people and old to realize. That war will never, ever cease, “…until the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” And so we recognize that from now until the coming of Christ the context of our Christian living is going to be in a war, and that is a life-changing revelation. If we expect peace in this world, if we expect dйtente with this world, if we expect some sort of a comprehensive peace treaty declared on the part of the world with us (and certainly, on the part of Satan with us), we are deluded. So when we face this kind of opposition we shouldn't be surprised or discouraged. We should just recognize that when that opposition comes that is precisely what God told us we would face in His word. It is yet another proof of the truth of God's word.
But the Apostle Paul also wanted us to understand that this war is a war in which we need the Lord's strength to win. It's not a war that we have the native abilities and capacities and equipment to win. Our strength is inadequate, and therefore the Apostle Paul will say in verse 10, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.” All the emphasis is on having God's strength in order to fight this war.
Thirdly, in verse 11, the Apostle Paul had emphasized that we needed to put on God's armor in order to stand against the devil. Notice his language: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” And of course that's the fourth point as well that the Apostle Paul wants to make: that this battle is one which is ultimately not against human enemies. This battle is ultimately against the powers, the world forces of darkness, against spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. We spent some time last week thinking about the implications of that for the living of the Christian life.
This week we're going to look at verses 13-17. Now we're going to cover very briefly in one message what many commentators have taken weeks and weeks, and months and months, to uncover.
Paul in this passage — Ephesians 6:13-17 — details six main pieces of a well-armed Roman soldier. He points us to his equipment: his belt; his breastplate; his boots; his shield; his helmet; and his sword. Tonight we're going to look at the first five of those, and then we’ll look at the sword next time when we gather.
Now these pieces of a well-armed Roman soldier — and you can imagine the Apostle Paul under house arrest would have had plenty of time to look at the armament of a Roman soldier, so you don't have to be Einstein to figure out where this illustration comes from, but he uses that as a picture, doesn't he, of the importance of six things if we're going to stand against principalities and powers in this world. And those six things are truth, righteousness, the good news of reconciliation, faith, salvation, and the word of God.
Now, as I say, many commentators have taken weeks and weeks and months and months to traverse this ground. I mentioned to you last week William Gurnall's classic work The Christian in Complete Armor. Here's the subtitle of that book: The Saint's War Against the Devil, Wherein a Discovery is Made of that Grand Enemy of God and His People in His Policies, Power, the Seat of His Empire, Wickedness, and the Chief Design He Hath Against the Saints; a Magazine Opened, from Whence the Christian is Furnished with Spiritual Arms for the Battle, Helped on with His Armor, and Taught the Use of His Weapons, Together with the Happy Issue of the Whole War.
Now, his book has 261 chapters, so I'm assuming that means that on these eleven verses he preached 261 sermons. Now next time when you think, “OK, Duncan is on the 58th sermon in Ephesians,” you just remember that William Gurnall's congregation could have said they were on the 258th sermon on Ephesians 6:10-18! Fourteen hundred and seventy-two pages he wrote in that book–and let me say, it would be a great devotional book for you to pick up some time and read, and slowly meditate through over the course of many months. But at any rate, we're not going to take that long as we look at this passage. It's not that the passage is not worth it, but very frankly every passage that we've done in the Book of Ephesians is worth that kind of elaboration and detail. And so view these things as spiritual hors d’eouvres to whet your appetite for more in your own study of God's word.
Now let's attend to God's word, and before we do, let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for this Your word. We ask that You would bless our study of it, that You would make it profitable to our souls. Lord, bring to our mind even as the word is illustrated and applied tonight…bring to our own minds illustrations from our own experience and applications to our particular situation. Grant that the explanation of the word tonight would be clear and helpful; that it would be convicting and encouraging; and that it would be exalting of Christ. We ask all of this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear God's word:
“Therefore take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
You see what the Apostle Paul's main point is in this passage. It's simply this: Arm yourself spiritually for what you are up against. He's tried to remind you that you’re in a war. He's already reminded you that you need spiritual weaponry and God's strength in order to fight this war. He's reminded you that your enemy is ultimately not flesh and blood, but it's Satan and principalities and powers and the world forces of darkness in the heavenly places; and so, he's saying arm yourself spiritually for what you’re up against; and the main thing that he wants to say to you is you need weapons that have not been forged by human beings. You need weapons that have been forged in the smithy or God. You need weapons that have been made by God and supplied by God to you, if you are going to be able to stand in this battle.
Remember that in the Old Testament God Himself is pictured as a warrior on behalf of His people. He is a warrior. He fights for us. He is a warrior who defends us and protects us, and in fact in the Book of Isaiah you’ll see some of this very same imagery — the helmet and the breastplate — applied to God. And the Apostle Paul knows that, and he expects most of his hearers to know their Bibles well enough that they’ll remember that as well. And so when he begins to speak to them about putting on their helmets and their breastplate and girding their loins with their belt and shodding their feet with their battle boots, he knows that they will remember that God has already done that for them, and so there is a sense in which they are simply being asked to take the armaments which God Himself has provided for them in order to fight the fight that they’re in. Notice again, especially in verses 11, 12, and 13, how over and over the Apostle Paul emphasizes what he wants you to do. He wants you to stand firm. When the assault of the enemy comes, he wants you to be able to stand firm.
Many of you have studied military history in the past and perhaps you have read of the Napoleonic wars, and of that climactic battle after Napoleon came out of exile and gathered up the veterans of his old imperial army and launched an attack on the united nations of that day that were under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, and fought the great Battle of Waterloo. If you’ll remember, though Wellington had more troops under his command, he had spread his troops out because he had such respect for Napoleon's ability to maneuver. And so Napoleon actually had more troops than Wellington did on the field of battle, and furthermore, Wellington, although he had some of his troops that had been with him through the whole Peninsula Campaign that were veterans, he had interspersed through his troops men who had literally never fought in a battle before and who had never fought under his command. And he was very frankly concerned at how they were going to bear up under the smashing of Napoleon's columns. You remember one of the things that Napoleon would do was launch these artillery barrages and break up the line of his enemy, and then he would throw columns of his troops into their line and break them apart. Well, in order to stand firm, Wellington would pull his men behind the hill so that the artillery couldn't hit them, and then he would form them into squares; and as long as they held their ground in those squares, Napoleon's army could not break their center. And so he, too, was concerned that they would stand firm against the onslaught.
Well, notice in Ephesians 6:11, 12, and 13, how often this is said. Look at verse 11: “Put on the full armor of God” — why? — “…so that you may be able to stand firm….” Notice again verse 13: “Take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist, and having done everything, to stand firm.” What's the first exhortation of verse 14? “Stand firm.” Do you think the Apostle Paul is concerned about our standing firm? Yes! Why? Because wobbly Christians who have no firm foothold in Christ are easy prey for the devil, and so he wants you equipped so that you are able to withstand, to stand firm, against the assaults of the evil one. It's not a question of if, it's coming; it's a question of when it's coming. And so he wants you to be able to stand firm. He wants you to be strong and stable in the midst of the assaults of the evil one. And so he takes up this picture of the full armor in order to equip you to be strong in the midst of these assaults.
He's pointing us to the outfitting of a heavily armed Roman soldier, and he is emphasizing the fact especially in verse 13 that this armor comes from God. It's supplied from God. That's why he calls it “the full armor of God.” And though we may focus on the specific parts of the armor, and rightly so, Paul at first wants us to remember primarily that this armor comes from God. It's God's armor given to us. Why does he want us to know that? Because only spiritual weaponry avails in resisting Satan. There's nothing that anything manmade can do against Satan and the world and the flesh in the evil day. Only that which is supplied by God will avail.
And so the Apostle Paul is concerned that we understand that if we are going to be able to stand in the evil day, if we're going to be able to stand firm and hold our ground, we need to have six things. Now we're going to focus on five of them tonight. We’ll come back to the last one because I just think it's so important. It's a summarizing truth about the word of God, and I want to spend a little time extra on that; but let's look at the five things that he points us to tonight: Truth; righteousness; the gospel of peace; faith; and, salvation. Let's look at those five things together.
I. We must have “truth in the inner parts” (14a)
The first thing that he says is if we're going to stand firm in the day of evil we must have truth in the inner parts. Listen to what he says in verse 14: “Stand firm, therefore, having girded your loins with truth….”
Now, does this mean truth in the sense of doctrine, or does this mean truth in the sense of integrity or faithfulness? The commentators wrestle with that, but which ever way we take it, I think it's important for us to understand that it is truth worked deep down into the inner parts of the Christian that produces integrity of life and faithfulness of service. In other words, we must have truth worked into our hearts, and that truth produce a sincerity of mind and heart — a wholeheartedness, an integrity — if we are going to be able to stand in the day of evil. In other words, the doctrine has to be worked right down to our bones so that it becomes a part of us and if affects everything that we are and we do, so that we are people of truth and integrity, and then we will be able to resist the devil in the evil day.
We hear people talk a lot today about how the Christian church needs authenticity. Now without getting into all the things that they may mean by that, I think it's a good point, and one reason this is so often emphasized is because many people in our generation have experienced the Christian church that is a faзade. It looks religious on the outside, but it is not devoted to the glory of God and to His word 24/7. And so people's inner life and the outworkings of that life in their external life don't jive. Externally, on Sundays they say one thing; externally the rest of the week, they say another thing; and that reveals that what they say on Sunday, externally, doesn't fit with who they are internally.
You've heard that old saying of the Puritans that what a man is on his knees alone with God, that he is, and no more. And the point of that is, of course, that the reality of our profession is directly tied to that inward experience of the living God and communion with Him, but that inward experience and communion with God flows out into every area of life. It's not just some sort of a private experience of piety that has no connection with anything else in life. From that inward communion with God flows everything that we do and are in life. And the Christian church needs authenticity, so that what we say that we are on Sunday we truly are in our inward parts, and that shows itself 24/7.
This is something, I think, of what the Apostle Paul is speaking of here when he calls our attention to being girded — our loins being girded with truth or integrity. What he's saying is that to resist the devil, truth must have so taken hold of us inside-out, so that what we are inwardly is what we are outwardly.
What is one of the first things that Satan attempts to do to you to break you down? To convince you that you are a hypocrite; that you say one thing, but you believe another. That you say one thing, but you do another. And the Apostle Paul is saying, you understand what your great weapon is against that temptation of Satan — against that device of Satan, against that accusation of Satan. It is to have the truth so rooted in your inward parts that you are on the outside what you are on the inside, so that when you hear Satan say that to you, though you know that that is true of you sometimes (because we're sinners), you know that ultimately it's a lie. Because of the grace of God at work in you, you have more and more become a person who is on the outside what you are on the inside. Authenticity…integrity…and the Apostle Paul says that's absolutely necessary in order to resist the assault of Satan, because Satan doesn't use bullets, he doesn't use guns and cannons and bombs. He attacks your conscience, and he attempts to break it down.
II. We must have a life characterized by holiness (14b)
The second thing you see in verse 14 again, and it's in the second half of that verse, is Paul's emphasis on righteousness: “…Having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” And here the Apostle Paul is saying that in order to stand firm in the day of evil, we must have a life characterized by holiness — moral righteousness and holiness.
Now again, commentators debate what kind of righteousness is the Apostle Paul speaking about here. Paul, as you know, loves to talk about the imputed righteousness of Christ to us — Christ's alien righteousness credited to our account. Is he talking about that, or is he talking about that righteousness which the Holy Spirit is working in us so that we are being morally transformed? Once we were sinners; now more and more we are becoming Christ-like.
Well, which ever the Apostle Paul has in focus, this is certainly true: that our growth in grace is never apart from the imputed righteousness of Christ to us, so that as we are grounded and accepted by God because of a righteousness that is not in us, so also more and more we grow by the work of the Spirit into being like Christ. And so the Apostle Paul is telling us, I think, that out of that righteousness of Christ that is credited to us – so that we are accepted not because of what we have done, not because of what we deserve, but because of what Christ has done and because of what Christ deserves – out of that imputed righteousness flows a life in which we are serious about growing in godliness, so that a devout and holy life, moral uprightness, is essential for the battle with Satan. Why again? Because he wants to attack our consciences.
Let's think about this in light of the story of David. When David sinned with Bathsheba, David was not apostatizing from the faith. We know this because we know the end of the story. Some friends we have seen have gone down a road of sin like that, and they've never come back, and it's let us know that they never really had grasped grace in the first place, because they've rejected repentance and they've rejected God's word, and they've lived like they wanted to live. They've worshiped themselves and their own desires, and they've not worshiped God. But in David's case, we know the end of the story. David repented. David was fully aware of the depth, the grievousness of sin, and he poured his heart out to God in repentance.
Let me ask you this: After David had sinned that sin, was he any less justified? Was he any less declared righteous by God because of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ than he was before that sin? No. But was he more assured of God's grace to him before he sinned that sin, or during the months between his sin and his eventual repentance? Well, David tells you the answer to that question himself. He says, “Before I repented of my sin, my bones waxed cold.” In other words, because of that unrepented sin, he lost the sense of the acceptance and forgiveness, and the transforming work and the forgiving work of God to him, based not on him but on God's grace. And yet because of sin, he lost that sense of fullness of assurance. If we don't have that sense of righteousness, that righteousness that flows from grasping the justifying work of Christ that accepts us as righteous, and then if we do not have that sense of being engaged in the life of sanctification in which by the Spirit we are being made more and more like Christ, then Satan again will say to us, “You’re a hypocrite. You say one thing, but you are a different way.”
And so ironically, our own growth in grace is both important for our assurance and for our ability to stand against the accusations of the evil one, so that just as David was able to regain a sense of his standing and acceptance with God and the assurance of his salvation after his repentance that he never could have experienced while he was in a state of temporary unrepentance.
III. We must have a readiness which flows from the Gospel (15)
Thirdly, look at verse 15. The Apostle Paul goes on to say that in order to resist the assaults of the evil one and stand firm in the day of evil, we not only need integrity, we not only need righteousness or holiness, we need gospel experience and gospel motivation. We must have a readiness which flows from the gospel.
Look at his words: “…Having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” Now again, the Roman half-boot was designed to enable their soldiers to have flexibility and yet stand firm in the day of battle. Just like football players wear cleats so that they are able to have a good grasp when they make various moves on the turf, the Roman soldier had these half-boots so that he was able to stand firm in the day of battle.
The Apostle Paul is reminding us here that our ability to march for God and to stand firm in the day of evil is wholly dependent upon our having experienced the effect of the gospel. What is the effect of the gospel? It is the realization that we have peace with God, that we are accepted by God, that He desires for us the fullness of His blessing, and that we are reconciled with all our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are in the same family. We love one another. We are at peace with them. We’re seeking their best interests, and they ours. And so the great effect of the gospel is peace with God and peace with our brethren; and that, in turn, impels us to share that gospel with others, because we want others to experience that peace with God and that peace with the brethren. And so the Apostle Paul is saying here that to resist the devil we must have experienced that peace with God and with our brethren that only the gospel can effect; and that peace, in turn, prepares us and motivates us to share the gospel with others so that they might enjoy that same peace.
What, again, does Satan do when he brings his accusations against us? He says, “God doesn't love you savingly. You've not been made right with God. You've not been reconciled to God. You still sin. You still sin. You still sin. He's too pure to look on sin. You haven't been reconciled to Him.” The Apostle Paul is saying you’re not ready to do battle with Satan until you know that you are at peace with God, because if you are at peace with Him there is no one left to fear – not even Satan. But if you are not sure that you are at peace with Him, then there is no situation more fearful. And Satan knows that, and he will exploit that.
What do these things do? They rob us of the boldness and the authority we ought to have in this world. You know, when the world sees a Christian with a clean conscience, at peace with God, knowing that what he believes is what God has written, what God has thought, what God has taught, and not what he has made up on his own, then that man, that woman is scary to the world, because that man, that woman, does not fear the world because they’re at peace with God.
And the Apostle Paul says you've got to have that knowledge of the peace of God if you are going to be able to stand against the wiles of the evil one.
IV. We must have a living trust in God (16) [Faith]
Fourthly, he says in verse 16 that “…in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” And so he points us not only to integrity; not only to righteousness; not only to gospel experience; but also to faith.
In other words, we must have a living trust in God if we are going to be able to stand against the evil one. Many of you (just having heard Paul say what he says in verse 16) because you know John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, you’re remembering that encounter with Apollyon, when Apollyon says to Pilgrim, “I'm going to spill you on the ground!” And then he launches one of his fiery darts, and what does Pilgrim do? John Bunyan tells you that he happens to have–guess what?–a shield. And he lifts up that shield and it deflects the darts of the evil one against him. Of course Bunyan is pulling that right out of Ephesians 6:16. So the point is, of course, that to resist the devil we must have faith in God. We must have trust and entire confidence in God.
Do you remember when the 84-year-old pastor from Ephesus, Polycarp, had been chained to the pyre by his Roman captors, and they were taunting him before they burned him alive, and they said to him, “Where's your hope now? Don't you want to call out for mercy to Caesar and to the gods, rather than die this horrible death?” And you remember Polycarp's response:
“Eighty-four years have I served Christ, and He has never done me wrong. Am I to begin not trusting Him now?”
His trust and confidence was entirely in Christ, and there was nothing that could make him fear.
So also Paul is saying if your trust is entirely in God, then exactly what circumstance–even what demonic circumstance in this world–can cause you to fear? Because “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” And so if your trust is in Him, and if He is the sovereign God over all things, what circumstance, what opposition can break you down? But you must have your trust in Him to stand, because I do not for a moment want to make light of the circumstances. You know, if I were simply to recount the circumstances and tests that have been endured by just the members of our congregation in this room tonight in just this last year or so, it would be enough to unman the most stalwart of pagans. But not the woman, not the man, whose trust is in God.
V. We must have a vital hope of salvation (17) [Assurance of salvation]
And then finally for tonight, in verse 17, notice that he tells us that we need to “…take the helmet of salvation.”
Now interestingly here, I think he is especially concerned to point us to the assurance of salvation. That is, Paul is saying that if we're going to stand firm in the day of evil, we must have a vital hope, a vital sense of God's having saved us–of our present and future salvation. The Apostle Paul is saying that the knowledge that we are saved and secure, the knowledge that nothing can pluck us from God's hand, the knowledge of Romans 8 that “…neither death nor life, nor angels, nor powers, nor principalities, nor nakedness nor famine, nor peril nor sword, can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus”; the knowledge that we are God's, that we belong to Him, that we are kept by Him, that we are saved by Him, that we are safe and secure with Him, is vital to the whole project of the Christian life.
In other words, to resist the devil we must be assured of our salvation. What does Satan so often do? He attacks Christians at the point of their assurance, and he leaves them all tied up in knots wondering, “Does He love me? Or does He love me not? Does He love me, or does He love me not? Am I saved, or have I fallen away? Am I saved, or have I backslidden right out the back door of the kingdom? Am I in Christ or out of Him? Am I justified or not? Am I God's child or not?” And the Apostle Paul is saying the helmet of salvation is to be assured of your security, past, present and future: that nothing can pluck you out of God's hand. And he's saying if you know that, just what is it that Satan can threaten to take away from you?
All these things, the Apostle Paul says, we need to have if we're going to be fully armored to take on the principalities and powers and spiritual forces of darkness in high places who are arrayed against us. But none of them–none of them–are a match for the armor that God supplies.
Our Lord and our God, grant that we would take these things to heart, that You would work Your truth so in our inward parts, and that we would have such a knowledge of our free justification in Christ and of the Spirit's work in us to grow us in grace, and such an experience of the peace which flows from Your good news — the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ — and such a faith, such a trust, such a confidence in You, and such an assurance of our salvation that all the temptations, all the accusations, all the tricks, all the devices, all the wiles of the evil one and all his minions, all the assaults of the world forces of darkness in high places, and all of these would be to no avail; and in the end, we would stand firm. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Stand for God's blessing.
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith through Jesus Christ our Lord, until the day break and the shadows flee away. Amen