Every day we are confronted by conflict in the world. However gloomy it looks, the Bible assures us that, “There is no wisdom, no insight, and no plan that can succeed against the LORD; the horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD” (Proverbs 21:30, 31). So no human wisdom or understanding can outwit God, and whatever preparation we make, in the end victory lies in God’s hand. We are told too that, “to do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3). How do we live a life that is “right and just”?
Firstly, we must make sure we’re on the right side. The central pillar of the bible story reveals how a just, merciful and loving God, brings self-centred people like ourselves into a right relationship with himself through the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ. When we come into a right relationship with God we obtain a new identity and a desire to be “right and just”. We desire to forego our selfish orientation and become Christ-centred, living life by his principles.
Yet becoming Christ-centred is not a simple matter. As Paul reflects in Romans 7:25, “In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin”. Paul was thinking only of his inner struggle, his internal civil war – but today’s Ephesians passage shows that we have an even more challenging struggle which comes at us from all sides.
In the first section of this letter Paul explains the new identity believers have in Christ. In the next section he applies the rules of godliness to relationships in the Christian community, in home life, and in social life. In Ephesians 6:10-20 Paul confronts us with a startling revelation: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). This is a difficult passage. Its content does not sit easily with us western Christians, whose reliance on science has dulled our senses to the spiritual realm. We must not underestimate the power of the forces of evil against us for they are from an intelligent strategist who is frequently deceptive.
We don’t face this struggle alone. A loving and perceptive God knows our human weaknesses in this cosmic battle. He provides armour that can keep us firm in our resolve and upright in our actions, with the reassurance that when we have put on this armour we will be still standing when the struggle is over (6:13). God designed the armour, so we can be absolutely certain that it is suitable for the job. He provided it, but it is our responsibility by a conscious act to “put on the full armour of God” (6:11, 13).
The armour imagery is of a first-century Roman foot soldier. To survive the battle we need to put on all of these components:
- The belt of truth. Sincerity and integrity – which contrasts with the deception of the devil.
- The breastplate of righteousness. Uprightness of character and conduct.
- Feet fitted with readiness. Roman soldiers had spikes in their sandals so they would not slip or slide in battle. Our “spikes” are the “peace of God that guards our hearts and minds” (Phil 4:7).
- The shield of faith. A body-length oblong shield. Reliance on the promises of God in times of doubt and temptation.
- The helmet of salvation. Assurance of our present position of adoption into God’s family, and of future and final salvation.
- The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. This can be used for defense or attack and is our only offensive weapon. This is the written Scriptures, God’s revelation which is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12).
- Finally, Paul wants us to, “be alert and always keep on praying for the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18). Prayer is not an optional extra but is a natural component of the armour, since prayer shows our dependence on God as we put on this armour and our unity with those battling alongside us.
Something to work on: the Sword of the Spirit plays a vital role in the daily life of a Christian. Do we keep it sharp by reading the Bible and pondering its meaning (Psalm 119:11)? By discussing its content with other Christians (Proverbs 27:17)? Since our inner being is “deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:4), do we allow the Holy Spirit to constantly correct our vision through our growing knowledge of God’s Word. Have we brought this biblical knowledge to bear when thinking of the values we absorb from the society around us? How much have society’s values affected our values? Do we know enough of the bible’s principles to refute the values of our culture?