The Armour of God
(From “Wheat in the Winepress”)
We cannot know “the day or the hour” of the culmination of God’s purposes on earth and the return of Christ, but we do know that we must be ready, with our lamps filled and trimmed, as the parable of the ten virgins illustrates. Some observers would say that many end-time prophecies are being or already have been fulfilled, and that the time when the Church is really thrust into end-time battle stations is nearly upon us. In our cosseted Western lives our condition is almost dreamlike: with bank loans and credit cards, who needs faith for God’s supply? (Note on 19/4/2020: I wrote this about three years ago) With drugstores and doctors, who needs miracles of healing? We have Google: who needs words of wisdom? We see TV documentaries: who needs to see the spirit realm? Ask those who were Christians in China in the 1980s. Ask the Christians in North Korea. Ask the brothers in Africa, where sorcerers call down lightning on Christian meetings. Ask those who have seen friends and family beheaded by Islamic State jihadists. Banks can fail, medicines can run out, and electricity can be cut off. We must wake up to the reality of the spiritual battle around us: we need to be standing in the purposes of God.
And He has provided His righteousness: it is perfect and complete; we cannot add to it with our talents, our knowledge or our religion. Psalm 85:13 tells us: “Righteousness will go before Him, and shall make His footsteps our pathway.” We cannot walk in His footsteps unless we are wearing His breastplate. If we go into battle without it, we will be mown down. If we think we’ve got it right, we haven’t: we’re embellishing the God-given garment of righteousness and making it unwearable. We are beginning in the Spirit, and then trying to make ourselves perfect in the flesh. (Galatians 3:2)
I cannot speak for others, but I know that I have always tended to personalise the rest of the armour of God when reading Ephesians 6. I have listened to, or read, teaching that paints a picture of Paul in his prison cell, looking at a Roman soldier on guard duty and likening the various aspects of our Christian walk with the armour he can see. We imagine Paul pondering on how the knowledge of our salvation is like a helmet that keeps our thinking on a godly track. We think of our faith extinguishing fiery darts of doubt and fear. We buckle our belt, keeping all our garments in place as we declare the truths of the word of God. Our faith, our helmet, our belt and so on – not so much the armour of God, but the armour of godliness.
But Paul’s pen is not the only one that the Holy Spirit used to tell us about His armour. Hundreds of years before Paul was writing to the Ephesians, Isaiah wrote prophetically of Jesus:
“He saw that there was no man,
And wondered that there wasno intercessor;
Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him;
And His own righteousness, it sustained Him,
For He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
And a helmet of salvation on His head.” (Isa. 59:16-17)
The helmet of salvation
We have already explored how we cannot wear our own righteousness, or do anything to add to what the Lord has provided; and we have seen that it is the Spirit, not us, who wields the sword of God’s word. It is clear from these verses that the helmet, too, belongs to the Lord Jesus. We do not wear “our” helmet of salvation: we wear His. Is this not a different level? The strength and the very existence of the helmet we wear does not depend on the level of our certainty, our detailed knowledge of the Scriptures or our understanding of reformist theology. It is not just a symbol that came to Paul to illustrate the condition of our renewed mind: the helmet of salvation is what Jesus wore when God’s “own arm brought salvation for Him”. It’s His helmet that He has given to us. As we face the enemy, the protection over our thought-life is the same as Jesus was wearing when He won the victory at Calvary. He removes it from His head and offers it to us, saying, “Here you are. This is for you.” It isn’t going to fail.
The shield of faith
God’s righteousness is our breastplate. The Holy Spirit wields His sword, the word of God. We wear the Lord’s helmet on our heads. The faith, our shield, is also not our own. The Greek used for Jesus’s words in Mark 11:22, “Have faith in God”, is better rendered as “Have the faith of God”. Ephesians 2:8 tells us: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” The faith that led us to salvation comes from God. We do not create faith in our minds: all faith is God given. We learn in Romans 12:3 that “God has dealt to each one a measure of faith”. When Jesus tells us to “have faith in God” He is telling us that God is giving us a measure of His faith – the faith that called the universe into being at the speaking of His creative word; “the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). This shield of faith, which extinguishes the fiery darts of doubt (“Did God say . . . ?) and fear, tells us that God’s word is truth and life. Like the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith is fashioned entirely by God: it is made of the very fabric of God’s creative power (the faith of God), and it is provided for us as a gift. We cannot go into battle without it.
The belt of truth
The item that “girds up our loins”, ready for action, is one thing that our post-modern world says does not exist: absolute truth. Paul writes to Timothy: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons .” (1 Tim. 4:1). In his second letter, Paul returns repeatedly to the topic of sound doctrine, encouraging Timothy to remain faithful to the truths that he has learnt, to continue walking in them, and to commit them to other trustworthy men who can pass them on (2 Tim 1:13, 2:2, 3:14). He tells the Galatians: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). This gospel of the grace of God through Jesus Christ is outrageous; it is astonishing; but it is clear and straightforward: God really did so love the world “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). We buckle “these truths” round our waists and we run with them in place, shod with the message of reconciliation that God has given us – “the shoes of the gospel of peace” – His peace (John 14:27), not peace as the world gives.
The point is this: all of the items in our armoury are not only God-given; they partake of the actual nature of God. Psalm 93:1 says, “The Lord is clothed, He has girded Himself with strength.” The armour that He is wearing is the armour that we put on. This is the Armour of God.
So like Gideon’s men, we take our provisions. We do not go into battle empty handed, but we take all the divine amour and every spiritual weapon that God has made available. We can ask for spiritual gifts like words of knowledge or gifts of healing, and by faith we can “take them in our hands”, believing that they will manifest when they are needed. We know that the righteousness of God is ours by faith in Christ, and we can go out and love our enemies wearing that righteousness as our breastplate, knowing that we have been freely forgiven and justified, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ. We equip ourselves with the word of God, and we allow the Holy Spirit to wield it. We take the helmet and the shield that He has fashioned and provided, clasp the belt of His truth round our waists and prepare ourselves to walk in His peace. Thus clothed in God’s strength, we look down onto the Midianites below us in the valley, and we pick up our trumpets.