“Rosemary’s Baby” (1968). “The Exorcist” (1973). “The Shining” (1980). Dated, but still- popular horror movies. Evil powers, however, aren’t limited to the silver screen. They exist in the real world.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places . . . “ (Ephesians 6:12).
But, according to the Scriptures, God exalted Christ to reign over them. “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church . . . ” (Ephesians 1:19b-22). His triumph is “already”, so we believers need not live in fear of them. But it’s “not yet” finalized; so we must be equipped by Christ and the Spirit to hold our ground against them.
To do that Paul urges us to, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). In 6:14-17 Paul names the parts of the“full armor”.
“the belt of truth”
The Roman soldier’s “belt” was really a leather apron that protected his lower body.
The Christian’s “belt of truth” is the truth that Jesus revealed in himself and in his word. Paul wants us to stand against Satan’s lies about God and our identity in Christ with “the truth that is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21).
“the breastplate of righteousness”
The soldier’s “breastplate” reached from the base of his neck to his upper thighs, covering his body’s trunk.
Paul wants us to stand against the evil one’s temptation by doing what is right in God’s sight.
“feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace”
The soldier’s military sandal was studded with hobnails underneath for stability.
Evil powers seek to undermine our peace with God and sow division between believers. Paul wants us ready to speak the gospel that promises reconciliation with God and with one another.
“the shield of faith”
Roman soldiers carried a wooden shield about 4 feet by 2 feet. It was covered with linen, then hide, and bound on top with iron. They used it to defend against arrows dipped in pitch, then set on fire and shot.
Paul urges us to block the evil one’s most incendiary attacks by trusting in the truth of God’s word and in the trustworthiness of God himself.
“the helmet of salvation”
The soldier’s helmet was iron or bronze lined inside with a sponge.
Evil powers attack our minds, especially to cause us to doubt our salvation. Paul urges us to stand our ground with the assurance of God’s saving work in Christ. Romans 8:31-38 will help in the fight.
“the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”
Roman military carried a 12-14 inches straight sword for close combat.
Paul exhorts us to the offensive (all the other armor parts being defensive). In the power of the Spirit we are to pierce this fallen world’s darkness by proclaiming the light of the gospel. Paul usually uses the Greek word logos (the content of the word); but here he uses rayma (speaking the word). “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
* * *
Okay, I know, we shouldn’t give evil powers undue prominence. But we have to recognize they’re real, though restrained by Christ. Even so, we’re urged to “put on the whole armor of God.” That armor, however, is not some extremist costume. It’s speaking the truth Jesus revealed. Doing right before God in a fallen world. Talking the gospel that brings peace. Believing God’s promises and trustworthiness. Filling our minds with the assurance of God’s salvation in Christ. Openly speaking the word of God in this evil-dark world.
But it seems to me we don’t take “the spiritual forces of evil” as seriously as we ought. We don’t really live as if we’re caught up in a spiritual war.
I see a TV commercial with a couple walking the beach on ocean’s edge. How I’d love it to be Lois and me! I have a long list of those “how I’d love it to be’s”. They nag at me. My wheelchair depresses me. Unanswered prayers plague me. I’m tempted to believe God has sovereignly chosen a hated path for me. What good is praying?
Paul reminds me that somewhere in my despondency evil powers lurk. My choice to believe or disbelieve is not just my battle. It’s part of spiritual war in the heavenlies fought on earth. It’s not just about me. Choose unbelief and Satan wins the battle. Choose faith and God is glorified.
This hymn may sound archaic; but that just reminds us that the battle’s been raging for thousands of years. Time to get dressed, get in the fight and sing it again . . .