The armor of God is a metaphor, and it is an amazingly apt one for Christians today. Eph. 6:10-18 reminds us that the battle we face daily is real, is spiritual in nature, and is not winnable in our own strength.
God knows we must fight, and he has provided all we need to win this battle. The image Paul used here to describe that help is that of an armed Roman soldier, fully prepared for battle. The Ephesians passage is the Christian’s call to arms, and contains a description of the protection provided and the weapon we need.
In Part 1 of this study I gave in depth information on the Roman soldier’s armor. Today we look at what the spiritual meaning of each piece of our God-given armor is. But first, some added notes.
Who Should Wear This Armor and Why?
We wear this armor as soldiers of God, so the first requirement for it’s use is belonging to the family of God, his army. Also, we cannot use this armor if we have a lifestyle of sin, one that separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2) and makes us unfit for service to him. As the passage warns, if we don't purposefully choose to follow God’s leading and direction, we can easily fall into the enemy’s traps.
Paul begins his description by making it clear this armor is designed and given by God. He designed it with each of us in mind, and he alone can give it. God is the Commander-in-Chief of this spiritual army, and it is for him we fight. Notice that all the pieces represent an aspect of our relationship with Jesus. When you give yourself to Jesus and “put on” his way of thinking and acting, you are clothed in the whole armor of God.
In 2 Corinthians 10:3, Paul notes that our armor is, spiritually powerful. That means no weapons created by human hands can be used effectively in this battle because it’s spiritual, and the enemy is supernatural (Isaiah 54:17).
Know Your Enemy
This battle is between the spiritual forces of dark and light, good and evil. No human can avoid this battle – we stand or fall in it, but we are all involved. God wants Christians to know we are on the right side, and we will be victorious! The enemies we fight, Satan and his demons, have one purpose for engaging in this warfare: to destroy the effectiveness of God’s children. This is the only way they can hurt God, their ultimate enemy.
The term "wrestling" in this passage implies that we are involved in a hand-to-hand struggle. We must have our armor always ready and be perpetually prepared for battle. Verse 13 states we must “put on” this armor. Just as Roman soldiers “suited up” daily in preparation for marching, so we need to be constantly training, keeping our armor in good repair and staying ready for surprise attacks by the enemy.
How the Enemy Attacks
Ephesians 6 speaks of “the schemes of the devil.” “Schemes” are tricks or manipulations designed to deceive, and Satan has perfected many of them. Here are just a few battle strategies we face on a daily basis.
-- Questioning God’s Word. Satan used this at the very beginning of time to convince Adam and Eve to ignore the clear direction of God. “Did God really say ...” By suggesting that we should rethink what we read in the Bible, Satan invites us to add our own interpretation and thereby nullify God’s will.
-- Challenging our identity. “If you were really a Christian, this wouldn’t happen.“ He wants us to feel discouraged and defeated; but God says we are loved and redeemed.
-- Twisting Scripture. A scheme the devil used against Jesus was to quote Scripture, adding a twist. Sometimes he leaves out key parts of Scripture he’s using to make its meaning something totally different, other times he just slightly alters the words.
-- Cherry-picking verses. This is a trap many believers fall into. We search the Bible for verses to back a point we want to make. But, by taking the verses out of context, we often change their real meaning, just to fit what we are trying to prove. I’m sure most of us who have done this didn’t even realize we were victims of our enemy.
-- Offering alternatives to total obedience. “You don’t need to go to church to worship God” is a prime example of this. The Bible tells us not to neglect gathering together as a body, but it’s easy to agree with the partial truth the enemy provides. True, we can worship God anywhere, but we are told to attend church.
With these tactics in mind, let’s look at the protection God has provided for us to win our battles. As we do so, keep that Roman soldier in mind to help you understand how the armor works.
The Belt (Truth)
The first piece of armor Paul mentions is a belt, which he tells us is truth. I must admit that when I first read this passage, I didn’t think a belt belonged in a list of armor. After all, a belt just holds up your pants – and often I don’t even need one for that.
But, after studying Roman armor, I realized it was much more important in that day. A Roman soldier didn’t wear pants, he had a tunic that hung over his legs like a dress. To make maneuvering easier, he had to “gird up his loins” by tucking the ends of the tunic into his belt making the tunic into “shorts.”
A soldier’s belt held all his other armor in place. It kept his breastplate tight to the body, held his tunic out of the way, and gave him a place to keep some weapons handy. In short, without his belt a soldier wouldn’t be very effective in the fight.
In the same way, truth is the piece of spiritual armor that holds all the rest together and in place. To remain effective in this spiritual battle, we must know the truth and live by it. It forms the basis for the entire Christian life, as well as our armor. As Jesus said, “the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32b).
Without truth, we can easily be sidetracked by those schemes of the enemy. Scripture calls Satan “the father of lies” (John 8:44), and this kind of assault can only be countered with the truth. Remember, one lie in the Garden of Eden was all it took for Satan to destroy the entire future God planned for mankind.
The biggest area of life in which most of us struggle is our sense of identity. If the enemy can convince us we aren’t good enough or smart enough or rich enough to matter, he can paralyze us into inactivity. But the truth is, God said we are so valuable he sent his son to die for us. Satan whispers that we are sinful, rotten and hopeless. The truth is, God’s love has freed us from our sin-filled past. Truth says, no matter what lies this enemy throws our way, he can never again enslave a soul set free by Jesus.
The only sure source of perfect truth is the Bible. Psalm 119:160 makes that very clear, and Jesus repeats it in John 17:17. But this piece of armor requires upkeep. We should regularly memorize scripture (the truth) so it is readily available to us when we need it. Find the method which works best for you (verses on note cards, writing verses over and over in a word processing program, vocal repetition, etc.) and keep at it. In the midst of a spiritual battle, you’ll be glad you prepared your belt.
This piece of our armor is specifically designed to protect our heart and soul from the enemy. Just as a Roman soldier’s breastplate guarded his heart, so does righteousness guard ours.
The term “righteousness” means “being made right. “ We know that there is only one way a sinner can get right with God, and that is through the righteousness Christ gives us (2 Corinthians 5:21). That “rightness” allows us to be a part of God’s family and provides protection that keeps our hearts from being wounded by sin.
The breastplate not only covers the heart, but it also shields the other vital organs. Christ’s righteousness protects us from Satan’s accusations and charges against us. It is not based in the good things we do (he Bible clearly states none of us are righteous), but is entirely the righteousness of Jesus. We receive this breastplate when we accept Him as our Savior, and it continues to cover and protects us from that moment on.
In Paul’s day, soldiers often dipped their arrows and darts in oil, set them on fire, then shot them at the enemy. In response to this, Roman soldiers would dip their shields in water before a battle. When the fiery projectiles hit, the wet shield would not only protect them from being injured, but would extinguish the flames.
Our shield is faith, defined in Hebrews 11:1 as, “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Like the Roman shield, faith is the main barrier between us and our enemy’s attacks.
The weapons of our enemy, spiritual darts, are things like temptation to be angry, lust, seek revenge, and so on. He wants to plant doubts in our minds about God’s word. The shield of faith wards off these attacks. When temptations strike us, faith helps us stand strong in following Jesus.
Often, Roman shields were painted with marks or symbols which identified to which group they belonged. So also, when a Christian takes up the shield of faith, he identifies himself as one who serves the Lord. It is a symbol of our allegiance. In fact, each of our shields are different, since the Bible states God gives each of us “a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). But it is also clear where the shield originates: Christ is the author and perfecter (Hebrews 12:2).
During the Roman era, swords had a dual purpose in warfare. They were used to fight off the enemy during an attack, and also to injure or kill that enemy, rendering him useless. Our sword, as defined by the apostle Paul, is the Bible. Since it is called the “sword of the Spirit,” we can deduce it is provided by the Holy Spirit, the one who inspired the writers of the Bible (2 Peter 1:21).
The sword of the spirit is the only offensive weapon included in the list of spiritual armor, and it is the only one we will ever need. It is the one tool we know can defeat the enemy, even if our protective gear gets weakened.
The most often quoted reference to scripture as a sword is in Hebrews 4:12, where it is described as “living and active and sharper than a double-edged sword.” The fact that our sword has two edges makes it easier to penetrate into the enemy, then from there to cut in any direction. The idea is that God’s word reaches the “heart,” and reveals the motives and thinking of those it touches.
The best use of this sword was demonstrated for us by Jesus when he was in the desert and tempted by the devil. Every temptation Satan threw at him was repelled by scripture quotes. This should be our pattern for how to use this weapon. That’s why it’s so important to study the Bible, become familiar with its truths, and memorize verses for use when the enemy’s darts hurl toward us. We need to be prepared.
When a soldier suited up for battle, the last piece of armor he put on was his helmet. It was his final preparation for the fight. A helmet was (and is) vital, as it protects the brain, which controls the entire body. If the soldier’s head was badly injured, he could no longer fight, and it didn’t matter what other armor he wore.
In the same way, our helmet is the most important piece of armor to wear all the time. The assurance of salvation is our impenetrable helmet, which can resist anything the enemy throws at us. It insulates us against the thoughts and desires Satan might try to use against us.
It’s interesting that the helmet is mentioned together with the shield of faith. These pieces of armor, salvation and faith, are inseparable. Salvation is extended to us the minute we place our trust in Jesus and his death and resurrection as the payment for our sins. But scripture also teaches that salvation continues throughout our lifetime in a process called “sanctification.” As we journey through life, Jesus works that salvation into our thoughts, changing us from the inside out.
Shoes (Gospel of Peace)
The order to “stand firm” is repeated 3 times in the Ephesians 6 passage. Our ultimate goal in this spiritual battle is to keep standing so we can fight effectively during the entire battle. If we fall, we lose. The warrior shoes in our armor provide a solid base which helps keep us standing.
The “gospel of peace” is the message Jesus gave to everyone who puts their trust in him. It is the assurance from God that we are no longer his enemies, but we have been adopted as his children – we have peace with him, and peace in our hearts as a result. It includes the promise that nothing can snatch us out of His hands (John 10:29).
In the original Greek, “peace” means “oneness or wholeness.” The shoes of our warfare assure us that we are one with God, untied together through our faith in Christ. This surely should produce peace.
Paul notes that the shoes keep us prepared for coming battles, knowing whatever we are called on to do, God is preparing our way and backing all we do. It marks us as ready to march into battle as a Christian soldier.
In a war, the enemy sometimes places mines and other traps in the path of advancing soldiers. We need to enter Satan’s territory carefully, aware of his traps, but prepared to face whatever he sends our way.
Tapping the Source for Help
I have often heard the comment that, in this passage listing our armor, there is no piece to cover the back. This certainly implies we must never turn our back to the enemy or give even a little ground through retreat. And, again, our best line of defense is preparation, studying the Bible, memorizing passages and praying regularly.
Although prayer is not one of the pieces of armor listed here, Paul closes his list by saying, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18). It is obviously one of the ways we keep our armor ready for battle and stay prepared. Prayer is just communication with the Father, our Commander-in-Chief. Prayer is the means by which we receive strength for our warfare. Without prayer this our spiritual battles can never be won.
Whether we know it or not, we are all engaged in a spiritual battle every day. Christians are assured of help in the strife, and protection from the enemy. Satan and his demons are continually seeking to worm their way into our hearts and minds. They are looking for cracks in our armor, and they are very skilled at finding them. The wise believer puts on his spiritual armor every day, and keeps practicing to win.