When I read this Paul’s final teaching in the book of Ephesians. It reminds me of George C. Scott in that classic movie “Patton.” He’s standing in front of an enormous American flag rallying the men to fight the battle before them during WW II. In he utters one of the best lines I’ve ever heard in a movie: “I’m not telling you to die for your country. I’m telling you to make the other poor [blankety-blank] die for his country.” Patton taught them how to fight and encouraged them that he’d get as many of them home as possible. He knew how to motivate. So does Paul.
He caps off his letter to the Ephesians with a call to arms. He’s instructed the troops, now it’s time to enter into the fray of battle. This leads to a good question to ask before we approach the text. “What is the battle we’re supposed to fight?”
We know from Ephesians that Satan and his cohorts are the enemy. His objective is to thwart God’s agenda. What is God’s agenda? According to the book of Ephesians, God is bringing everything in the universe under the leadership of Jesus Christ. As stated previously in this series, Christians are partners with God in this effort. As we live righteous lives, shining our light in a dark world, doing the good works planned before time began, marching into our call for the Lord we are privileged to partner with God in His agenda. Satan’s goal for the believer is to shut down their pursuit of God’s call upon their lives. If he cannot drag them to hell with him, his Plan B is to derail their unique calling.
He doesn’t accomplish this through physical attack. Satan assault the mind. Author Hank Hanegraaff writes:
“… the devil … does have access to our minds. He cannot read our minds, but he can influence our thoughts.”
Hank Hanegraaff, The Covering: God’s Plan to Protect You from Evil, p. 31
This evening I want to show you how to fend off the enemy’s assault and step into your calling. God provides a way in His word for us to be armed and dangerous. There’s a way to not only resist, but to go on the offensive against the enemy.
Eight Disciplines to Keep You Armed and Dangerous
1. Recognize that you are outmatched, but also empowered
In the days leading up to WW II one of the events that made Italian dictator Benito Mussolini unpopular with Allied nations and which drove him into the arms of Hitler was Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia. The Italians found a reason to go to war with the primitive nation, but really they wanted to settle a decades old score and flex their military muscle on a weaker opponent. Mussolini’s forces swept into Ethiopia quickly mopped them up. The Ethiopians were literally outgunned. In some cases they were fighting tanks with bows, swords, and spears. It was an easy kill for the Italians. In the end it made them overconfident.
We face a similar scenario with the devil, our enemy. We are outmatched. He is a supernatural being, with super intelligence from millennia of existence, super skill, and an immense satanic bureaucracy at his command. Here’s how Paul described the situation to the Ephesians:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:10-13
We live every day in a state of war against a satanic superpower. But we are not to give in or appease the enemy. Instead, Paul says to stand. In this case, stand doesn’t mean stay put and absorb the beating. It’s a military term calling us to stand and oppose the enemy. The only way we can do this is with God’s power. Yes, we human beings are outmatch, but remember we are also seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. The power of God is at our disposal to defeat the enemy. Satan and his minions are strong, but their power compared to God’s is like a flashlight to the sun. Here are the practical ways to appropriate God’s power to defeat the enemy.
2. Run a daily reality check
I’ve noticed that lots of Christians are taken out by Satan because they do not have a firm grip on reality. They don’t live in truth and that’s a problem because truth is part of our defense.
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist … Ephesians 6:14a
“When [para-rescue jumper, John] Spillane … treats injured seamen offshore, one of the firs things he evaluates is their degree of consciousness. The highest level, known as ‘alert and oriented times four,’ describes almost everyone in an everyday situation. They know who they are, where they are, what time it is, and just what’s happening. If someone suffers a blow to the head, the first thing they lose is recent events – ‘alert and oriented times three’ – and the last thing they lose is their identity. A person who has lost all levels of consciousness, right down to their identity, is said to be ‘alert and oriented times zero.’”
John Eldredge, Waking the Dead, p. 8
Many of us are taken out by the enemy because we’re “alert and oriented times zero.” Spiritually, we don’t know who we are, where we are, what time it is, and just what’s happening. We might have worldly answers to these questions, but the physical realm is not the whole of reality. Satan defeats us when we start believing his lying answers to these questions. He’ll get you to believe things like: If I don’t meet certain standards, I’m not pleasing to God; or If I fail I am unworthy of love and deserve punishment; or I must be approved by others to be valuable; or I am what I am and I cannot change, therefore I’m hopeless and God can never use me. We often believe these lies and live them out unconsciously.
We must fasten on the belt of truth by daily processing a reality check. Who am I? A child of God by faith in Jesus Christ. I am completely forgiven by God and fully pleasing to Him. I am deeply loved and totally accepted by God, no matter what. I am a new creation and God is in the process of perfecting me.
Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” We must have truth in the inward parts to stand against the enemy. Remind yourself of who you are in Christ daily. Surround yourself with fellow Christians who will tell you the truth about your blind spots and your identity in Christ. Live in truth.
3. Renew your commitment to follow your Rabbi
Stand firm then, …with the breastplate of righteousness in place Ephesians 6:14b
Let’s have a theology 101 lesson again. When you placed your complete confidence in Jesus Christ by believing that He died to pay the penalty of your sins and rose from the dead after 3 days in the grave, the Bible says God accounted the righteousness of His Son to you. From that point forward He forever views you as righteous, i.e. morally right with Himself. All the right things Jesus ever did were placed on your account. All the rotten things you’ve done or ever will do were placed on His. God views you as righteous and calls you righteous.
Many Christians stop there. They hunker down with their “get out of hell free” card and that’s about as far as their faith goes. This is a refusal to put on the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate is metaphorical for living out the righteousness God has placed on your account. Living out righteousness only comes when we daily commit to following Jesus. This means following His example, as a disciple attempts to imitate their rabbi. Walking with Him daily molds your character to be more and more like His.
Failure to put on the breastplate of righteousness leaves our hearts wide open to defeat. Instead of following Christ we give our hearts to other pursuits. We don’t do the righteous deeds which characterized the life of Jesus. As a result, we gain a reputation as hypocrites and God’s name is sullied with us. In other words, Satan wins.
Following Christ is as simple as inviting Him in to everything that you do during any given day. It includes connecting with Him through prayer, study of the Bible, serving, getting in nature, engaging in activism, and worship. It may also involve spiritual disciplines like fasting, solitude, and connection to community. It is the denial of self and the exaltation of Jesus, your rabbi, in your daily life. Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 The imitation of Christ is the breastplate of righteousness.
4. Reaffirm your God-given mission
This point harkens back to the alert and oriented times four analogy. Why are you here? What’s your life mission? Paul says that one way to stand against the enemy is to reaffirm the mission you’ve been given every day.
Stand firm … with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Ephesians 6:15
Pay careful attention to the word “readiness.” That word helps us to understand this portion of the full armor. Our mission, it’s one given to every Christian, is to bear the gospel of peace. Paul has already mentioned this gospel. It is the good news of Jesus Christ which brings peace between humanity and God and peace between people. We are all called to be witnesses to the hope that we have in Christ, to lead lost people to faith, and to train new believers to express their love for God through obedience. And that’s all.
Something peculiar happens when we forget our mission. Max Lucado tells of a time when he and a few of his buddies went on a fishing trip. They parked the RV and went to sleep for the night dreaming about the next day’s catch. Unfortunately, when the morning broke the sky poured down rain. They made the best of it with board games and cards hoping for a better day to come. But the next day brought more rain. Disheartened, the made the best of it with more games, reading, talking, napping. But on this day they began to notice things about one another that irritated them. The way Sam smacks his food. The way Jim interrupts. The way Bill keeps a smirk on his face. Still, they struggled on and went to bed hoping for a better day. The rain continued falling the next day. Now comments were getting snippy. Angry glares were on the rise. Quarrels broke out. They were all cranky and hostile. Around mid-afternoon the sun broke through the clouds. Suddenly attitudes changed and enemies became fishing buddies once again. Lucado made this observation: When fishermen don’t fish, they fight.
Our mission is to be “fishers of men.” When we don’t prepare our selves to fish we fight. Churches and Christians begin to major in the minors and minor in the majors. Some people become complacent and passive about their faith if they don’t daily prepare to share it. If we have no sense of mission we begin to see one another as the enemy and the arm crawls to a stop. Satan has won when we fight each other or go passive in this battle.
Reaffirm your mission. Be prepared at all times to share your faith. Put on the shoes of the readiness of the gospel.
5. Repulse incendiaries with follow through and fellowship
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Ephesians 6:15
Our faith in Jesus Christ has protective qualities. When once we have believed God’s promise to forgive our sins, change our hearts, and bring us into an eternal relationship with Himself something changes in our outlook on life, or at least it should. We begin to believe that if God could love and save sinful creatures like us, He might also be powerful enough to use us for His purposes far more than we’d previously thought. Then He begins calling us to do risky, uncharacteristic things for Him and we respond. Our faith in God’s ability dominates our lives.
After we start taking risks for God the battle cranks up. The enemy will send volleys of arrows to discourage and defeat us. He tells us we’re not smart enough, not old enough, not young enough, not talented enough, not good-looking enough, not educated enough, not strong enough to do the things God calls us to do. I’m convinced that we all have a dream that God placed on our hearts at one time or another. Most Christians dismiss it. Those who go after it are immediately fired upon by the enemy and sometimes the flaming arrows take them out.
This is where the shield of faith comes into play. In ancient warfare the enemy would sometimes coat their arrow tips with pitch, set it on fire, and launch an attack. The fire was mainly for shock effect. The flaming arrow seems more deadly, but it’s really not. The Roman shield, which was about the size of a small door was designed to stop the arrow and extinguish the flame. As the fiery missiles crashed down there was always the possibility that a young soldier might lose their never, drop their shield and run. One historian reported a solider pulling 220 arrows out of his shield after a single battle. Fiery arrows are the accusations of the enemy that make you want to give and run away from your calling.
When we take risks for God that’s the temptation we’ll face. We won’t necessarily abandon our faith in Christ, but we might abandon the call on our lives, which comes from faith. The enemy will send incendiary accusations to shut us down. He’ll remind you of failures and weaknesses and stir up your fears. That’s the time to rely on the shield of faith. You must reaffirm your belief that the same God who was powerful enough to save you and make you holy will empower you to accomplish the call He’s placed on your life.
Also, keep in mind that the shield of faith is incomplete when you’re by yourself. In this fight, you cannot stand alone.
“Two-thirds [of the shield] covered his body and one-third covered his comrade to the left. This brilliant innovation encouraged tight ranks, since each fighter was in part dependent on his neighbor for protection.”
A. Skevington Wood, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 408-409
As we embark on our call, we need the protection of a close fellowship. We need brothers and sister who will extend their faith to protect us during the initial phases of the battle. The enemy will accuse because that’s his nature and tactic. We need others to help us stand and fight. That is the shield of faith.
6. Remember the hope you had from the beginning
The next piece of armor guards your head when the battle get most intense. The enemy is perilously close and the fighting is hand to hand.
Take the helmet of salvation … Ephesians 6:17a
This piece of armor is so simple that it’s easy to dismiss. It will absolutely protect you when the battle with Satan gets intense.
Several years ago I received terrible criticism and accusation from some folks I really loved at a former church. Simultaneously the church experienced a major downturn in attendance. In many cases I discovered that I was the reason some folks left. It was a miserable period in my life, perhaps one of the darkest. Yet, I didn’t sink into despair. I think the only reason the helmet of salvation. God kept reminding me that no matter what happened, I was still His. My mind turned to God’s promised salvation and it sustained me.
A good friend experienced the same thing during a crisis in his marriage. The relationship reached an all time low, but his hope in heaven and the God who would get him there sustained him. During this phase he found himself more often praising and worshipping God like never before. Today his marriage is great and he and his wife are about to embark in a radically challenge ministry effort. If he hadn’t been wearing the helmet of salvation I’m certain he wouldn’t be walking in his call today.
7. Retaliate in God’s voice
Thus far the armor has provided defense only. The next piece allows you to go on the offense.
Take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17b
What is the sword of the Spirit? Paul says the word of God. Some scholars conclude that Paul is talking about the Bible here. I think they’re partly right. The Bible is the word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit. Knowing and quoting scriptures provides a powerful weapon against the enemy. In Matthew 4 and Luke 4 we find Satan trying to derail Jesus’ call, tempting Him to fulfill it in illegitimate ways. Each time the devil made an attempt, Jesus quoted the Bible and defeated him. The written word of God is a sharp, two-edged sword that the enemy fears. He will run if you know how to use it.
But I think Paul has more in mind here. I leave open the possibility that God can speak into the situations we deal with. There are times when the Bible doesn’t speak to particular circumstances. That’s when we must seek a word from God Himself. He must speak into the situation. The sword of the Spirit can be accessed as simply as asking, “Lord, what’s going on here?” and then listening for Him to speak. There is no verse in the Bible that says God is now silent except for what’s written. And, think about it, how can you have a love relationship without conversation?
8. Reclaim stolen territory in God’s name
Paul concludes with the greatest offensive weapon in God’s arsenal: prayer.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Ephesians 6:18-20
Paul was a man who lived in God’s armor all the time. He wielded the sword of the Spirit like few other human beings. He entered the battlefield and engaged the enemy through his calling. But Paul knew that he needed the prayers of the people of God to take back stolen territory. He need the armor and prayer to unleash the hosts of heaven against “the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil.”
Whatever dream God has set you to dream, when you armor is fully in place, pray constantly for its fulfillment. Enlist others to pray for its fulfillment. Dream big because God is big. Pray big. You’ll need God’s battle plans and weaponry. The only way you’ll get it is by asking.
I view our prayers like the air war which precedes the ground war. The bombs and missiles soften up the enemy so that the ground troops can march in and mop up. Brothers and sisters of Antioch, if we’ve accomplished one thing during my brief stay here it is a renewed commitment to pray. Please do not let it go. Make it a priority. The battle cannot be won through this church without it.
God created you for a calling, but you’re going to have to fight for it. You are on this earth to participate in His redemptive plan for humanity. You are called to enter the battle to unite all under the generalship of Jesus Christ. God created you for a calling, but you’re going to have to fight for it. Put on the full armor of God because you do not have the strength or the wisdom to face down the enemy on your own. Satan will do everything in his power to sideline you, shut you down, drive you to dismiss the very thing you were made to do. You must have god’s help and you must have one anther watching your back. God created you for a calling, but you’re going to have to fight for it.