Faithlife Sermons

Battle Dress

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“Take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.”[1]

Marine recruits were each issued a service bag filled with clothing, in addition to a rifle, a cartridge belt, a bayonet, and a heavy steel helmet. Since those just arriving on base did not know how to care for themselves, recruits were also issued basic supplies for their hygiene needs—the so-called “bucket issue,” though the Corps had another name. Among the items of clothing were what were to become known as BDU—battle dress utilities. Until somewhat recently, BDU was an acronym referring to the combat clothing worn by American soldiers into battle. A marine would have various uniforms to be worn for different occasions. BDUs were issued to give the marine some advantage during combat. In the ancient world, battle dress included armour which gave a measure of protection from injury during combat.

We saw in a previous message that God has assigned His people to stand firm in the face of relentless assault by a vicious and ruthless enemy. The Lord did not throw His people into the fray without the means to defend themselves; God has provided His people all that is needed for protection against the foe. It will be beneficial for us to review God’s provision, learning to employ the equipment we were issued. The text before us provides both a review of the armour provided, and a statement of the purpose of each piece.

The Purpose of Our Armour — “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

The divine armour we have been issued is primarily defensive armour, though we are provided with a superior weapon that allows for vigorous defence when we are attacked. This is in keeping with previous studies that demonstrated that we are not commanded to attack the enemy; rather, we are to stand, defending the ground won by the Master.

Underscore in your mind that we Christians are commanded to stand, not to attack. The idea of the fighting fundamentalist, the concept of charging the devil’s stronghold, the thought that we are attacking evil is erroneous—we are charged to stand. I do not mean that we are to be tolerant of evil, but rather than mounting a noisy march to show our displeasure with social ills or attempting to generate a vigorous voters’ drive, we are to stand firm. Standing firm is nothing more than being holy and fulfilling the command that we have received.

The churches of this day are often seen as irrelevant, puerile in their efforts among the inhabitants of this dying world—they make little practical impact in transforming society. Feeling that they should “do something,” Christians attempt to evangelise through paying someone to conduct one campaign or another that demands little of the individual. The thought seems to be that we can pay an “evangelist” to do what we are unwilling to do on an ongoing basis. Or perhaps we imagine that we can organise a march or a demonstration, showing our displeasure and generating sympathy for our position. However, our silence during the remainder of our lives destroys any good we might otherwise have accomplished.

The armour God has provided equips us to stand firm on holy ground taken by the Master. In short, this means that we are to be engaged in holiness as a lifestyle, in godliness as a means of guiding our steps, in righteousness as essential to defining who we are. It means that church is not where we go for a couple of hours on Sunday, but it is who we are. It means that prayer is not an exercise we engage in when we need something from God, but it is a guiding principle for daily life. It means that reading the Word of God is not an occasional activity to salve a guilty conscience, but it is our guidance for our ongoing walk in the world.

Rather than stand firming and standing together, Christianity has been reduced to a spectator sport in which religious people go to a meeting on an intermittent basis to watch a performance. We rate the performance on how it makes us feel rather than whether we are equipped to act godly and to honour the Lord. When we “worship,” we demand a “worship team” and a “praise band” to provide lively music with a catchy melody and a speaker than gives a pep talk demanding little of us but making us feel good about ourselves—and the show only costs a little bit of time and a few dollars. We enter the building as individuals, and we leave as individuals, though we believe that because we shared the brief time together, we are a church.

There is a reason the enemy seldom bothers such congregations—they make no practical difference in the world and they change no lives. They are not a threat to the enemies of the Faith, for they are quiet when challenged and incapable of standing firm in the Faith. However, the congregation that dons the whole armour of God and stands together to resist the onslaught of the wicked one will find themselves opposed, and the major opposition will be from those who are professed believers in the Lord.

I do not want anyone to imagine that I am trying to create a “little flock” syndrome or induce an Elijah complex among the people of God. Christians that seek to follow hard after the Lord are not alone, but they are not in the majority nor have they ever been a majority. They must not reject those who seek to honour God, however imperfectly their efforts might appear. Bear in mind, however, that minorities, not majorities, write history. It was Wilberforce, together with a small group of evangelical believers, who moved the British Empire to abolish slavery. The battle was long and the burden was great, but the goal was worthy of the effort.

Jeremiah Lamphier, a concerned layman announced a noon prayer meeting for September 23, 1857. Those praying were invited to meet on the third floor of the “Consistory” of the Old Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street in New York City. Christians were disillusioned and churches were sliding into marked lethargy. Preachers had ceased declaring the authoritative Word of the Living God. Cynicism reigned over much of Christendom as result of the wild-eyed excess of William Miller who had predicted the return of the Saviour on October 22, 1844. However, Lamphier was burdened for the nation and believed that through prayer, God would transform hearts. On the assigned day, only six people showed up to pray for the first prayer meeting. However, by spring, over 10,000 people met daily for prayer throughout the city. It grew to become the greatest spiritual awakening the United States ever experienced.

Athanasius was raised up by God to transform the churches at a time when they were following error to depart from the Faith. Arius had swayed the entire Christian world to the heretical view that Father, Son and Holy Spirit were separate entities. At the Council of Nicaea, Athanasius gathered a small band of men. Praying all night before he appeared before the Council, the prayer band sought the face of the Master. Athanasius stood to defend the Trinitarian position presented in the Word of God; and speaking the power of the Spirit, he led the assembled prelates to declare the truth that God is one. Always and ever, it has been minorities, and not majorities, that have written history and advanced the cause of Christ.

Our armour is given so that we can stand firm before the assault of the wicked one. We are charged to stand together, reaching out to as many as possible so that all whom the Lord shall give us will join us in standing firm against the evil one. We must not despise those who are now walking in darkness, but we must let our light so shine that we adorn the doctrine of Christ. Then, walking in the light, we shall turn many to righteousness.

The Armour Provided — “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

The belt of truth is the first item named. In the ancient panoply, the belt held everything together. The Roman warrior wore a leather belt that not only held his clothing out of the way, permitting freedom to move as required, but it held his sword and any other light weaponry he might be required to carry. Perhaps you have read, especially in some of the older Bibles, the command to “gird up your loins” or a reference to having the loins girded. It is a literal translation of the Hebrew and the Greek in a number of instances, when God wishes to convey the thought of making oneself ready for a task.[2] The long garments worn in that ancient day would be liable to get in the way whenever one was required to work, or more particularly, when an individual went into combat. Thus, the belt was important to the soldier as it enabled him to free his legs so that he could move rapidly during combat. This allowed him to respond to the enemy and to dodge his thrusts and parries. Wearing the belt gave the soldier a sense of fortitude and strength, as it held his weapon and was the evidence that he was prepared for combat.

The Christians’ belt that holds his panoply together is truth. Truth can refer either to Christian doctrine (“the truth of God”) or integrity (truthfulness). In Paul’s use of the term, he seems to have both concepts in view, since a Christian cannot segregate the concepts. Inner truthfulness begins with knowledge of God, who is truth; knowledge of the truth of God must, of necessity, lead to a change consistent with the character of God. Therefore, we are called to be truthful—men and women of integrity, but that truthfulness will only become evident as we fill our minds with God’s Word.

I believe it significant that Paul placed truth first in the list of Christian battle dress. Successful spiritual warfare begins with fixing the great doctrines of the Faith firmly in our minds. It is dangerous in the extreme to rush into battle without knowing what we believe or why we believe it. Yet, that is precisely what many Christians attempt to do.

The evangelical world is fertile recruiting territory for the cults. Many professing evangelicals do not know what they believe or why they believe it. Consequently, they are unable to answer the Mormons, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the Adventists, or the secularists. Because they are essentially ignorant of these great doctrines, they believe that all churches are identical; thus, they choose where they will attend and serve on the flawed basis of personal desire—what makes them feel good, rather than what pleases God.

The second item named is identified as the breastplate of righteousness. As was true for the concept of truth, so righteousness can imply two separate concepts. Theologians sometimes speak of imputed righteousness, which refers to the righteousness of the Master that is reckoned to the believer’s account. This imputed righteousness enables the child of God to stand before God. It is this imputed righteousness that is in view in Ephesians 1:3, 4. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” Alternatively, “righteousness” can refer to specific acts, or we might speak of personal holiness.

Focus for a moment on the third chapter of the prophecy of Zechariah [Zechariah 3:1-5]. There, the Lord rebukes Satan before commanding other angels(?) to remove Joshua’s filthy clothing, replacing them with clean vestments and a clean turban. Those who are commanded by the Lord act in accordance with His command. This is a picture of Christ’s righteousness which is imputed to the believer. The clean clothing is not something that Joshua acquired himself; it was given to him. This is the same thought that is found in the Apocalypse when the Master promises to clothe those who prevail in white garments [Revelation 3:5]; and just as the redeemed of this age are seen clothed in white garments [Revelation 4:4], so those saved out of the Great Tribulation are also given white robes [Revelation 6:11]. The fact that we receive white garments from God pictures the truth that we have no righteousness of our own to present to God, but rather we receive righteousness from Him.

However, looking once more at the passage in Zechariah, notice the seventh verse. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in My ways and keep My charge, then you shall rule My house and have charge of My courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here” [Zechariah 3:7]. Though God declared him to be righteous, Joshua the High Priest was still responsible to act righteously. The implication is that imputed righteousness cannot be divorced from practical righteousness. Because we are made righteous we are now responsible to live righteously.

In the context of the passage before us, it seems best to understand that Paul is challenging believers to be righteous, to be holy, to be godly. The reason for this understanding is that because we have faith in the Son of God, we are already righteous before the Father; however, we must put that righteousness into action here and now. This is the reason John is insistent that we examine the lives of those who profess to know the Saviour.

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” [1 John 1:5-10]. John also writes, “Everyone who makes a practise of sinning also practises lawlessness” [1 John 3:4].

Facing the cross, the Master said, “The ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on Me” [John 14:30]. Knowledge that we would shortly be tested by the wicked one would chill any of us; however, if we have donned the breastplate of righteousness, we will be able to affirm, “He has no claim on me.” Tragically, each of us affords ample opportunity for Satan to grab us. We must be careful not to yield ground to him; we must work to maintain righteousness.

Shoes are necessary because the warrior cannot know the terrain in which he will fight. Thus, Paul names as shoes, “the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” Paul uses an awkward phrase here, for he might be speaking of peace, of the gospel or of being prepared to give out the message of peace. The grammar doesn’t really help. However, on the whole, it seems best to understand that he is encouraging the child of God to be prepared to make the Gospel known. My rationale for saying this is that any Christian would already know what the Good News is because they received it as the Good News at the point of salvation. However, just as shoes are used to move the warrior from place-to-place, so readiness allows us to respond to the need as we see it develop.

This raises the question of whether we are ready to tell others of Christ the Lord. When it requires more than three score church members to bring one person to faith on an annual basis, something is dreadfully wrong. In the apostolic church, every member was involved in telling the Good News of Jesus. I am always impressed by Doctor Luke’s account of the early church. “There arose on that day [as Stephen was executed by a lynch mob] a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” So the Jerusalem congregation was dispersed by persecution. Note, however, the verse that follows. “Those who were scattered went about preaching the word” [Acts 8:1b, 4]. It was the “laity,” though there was no such entity in the apostolic church, that did the witnessing. Intuitively, these believers implemented Peter’s instruction to “always be[] prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” [1 Peter 3:15].

This is the day of the specialist. Christians refrain from telling others of their faith and of the goodness of the Master because they do not consider themselves to be experts. Who is better prepared to teach children—whether morality or mathematics, whether goodness or grammar—than their parents? Parents are the true educational experts. Similarly, who is more capable of telling of the love of God than the Christian who has received that love? Who is better prepared to speak of salvation than the one who has received the forgiveness of sin? It is you who are Christians who are the experts; and it was to each of us that the Master gave the commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” [Matthew 28:19, 20].

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” The Roman Legions had two types of shields. For hand-to-hand combat, the soldier used a small, round shield that permitted him to manoeuvre readily. The shield was relatively light, permitting him to deflect the thrusts and blows from the enemy as they closed for close combat. The other shield was a large, oblong shield, about four feet long and two feet wide. This shield was designed to cover the soldier’s body completely. As the Legions advanced, the enemy was faced with a solid wall of shields. These advancing columns, identified as a phalanx, were terrifying to those facing the Legions of Rome. It is this latter, massive shield that is spoken of in the text. It was not for mobile assault, but for defence as it was planted in the ground to protect the Legion and against which the enemy would break.

If we apply the Apostle’s imagery, he is saying that faith should cover us so that not a portion is exposed. Just as the shields of the legionnaires were linked for common defence, so our faith should be linked to others so that together we present a solid wall of defence. Therefore, faith will make every arrow fired by the enemy ineffective. It is the presence of the Master, a presence that we enjoy by faith, that turns aside every dart hurled by the enemy.

“Fear not, Abram,” said the Living God, “I am your shield” [Genesis 15:1]. Just so, He is the shield for all who look to Him in faith, as the Psalmist has said: “You, O Lord, are a shield about me” [Psalm 3:3]. Each Christian can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my strength and my shield;

in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped.”

[Psalm 28:7]

We need not fear anything that the enemy may hurl at us, for God has provided His people a means of safety in the midst of danger. Did you notice that you must “take up the shield of faith?” It is not simply that you can say you believe God is with you; you are responsible to employ the shield of faith. We will be tempted in various ways by the wicked one; the fiery desires of our own flesh will threaten to destroy us. However, we are responsible to exercise the faith God has given us—faith in His promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” [Hebrews 13:5]; faith in Him,

“The Lord is my helper;

I will not fear;

what can man do to me?”

[Hebrews 13:6]

Did you notice that Paul did not speak of “the shield of the Faith,” but rather of “the shield of faith?” What is in view is not the body of Christian doctrine, which was addressed with “the belt of truth.” He speaks of our confidence in God, of our willingness to look to Him in all things, trusting that He will provide and protect. Our shield against Satan’s slings and arrows is our confidence that God hears us, that we are walking in His will, and that He protects us.

Paul also writes of the helmet of salvation. This is not the first time that the Apostle has written of salvation as a helmet. In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Paul speaks of Christians as “having put on … for a helmet the hope of salvation.” In light of what he wrote in this earlier letter, it seems best to understand that the Apostle is telling us to look forward to that for which we are destined rather than focusing on the present situation. It is in anticipating what is promised that we will protect our heads in the midst of combat.

This is very much akin to what the Apostle of love has written in his first letter when he writes, “Little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” [1 John 2:28-3:3].

The modern pulpit often tells those learning of the Faith that they will never have a problem if only they become Christians. That was not the experience of the Apostle. He wrote, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” [2 Corinthians 4:8-10].

“Afflicted … perplexed … persecuted … struck down … always carrying in the body the death of Jesus.” These are not words designed to give us comfort. However, the Apostle saw each of these conditions as momentary setbacks, not the end. Moreover, they are never defeats. The same Apostle said, we are “not crushed … not driven to despair … not forsaken … not destroyed.” Shortly, he writes, “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” [2 Corinthians 4:16-18].

Finally, the Apostle reminds us that we have the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. It is not the lógos that is “the sword of the Spirit,” it is the rhēma. Many times in the New Testament, we read of the lógos, a word that is applied to Christ because He is God’s final word. This is the meaning of John’s opening testimony, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” [John 1:1-3].

Paul, however, uses rhēma, a word that could be translated as “saying” or “that which is said.” The use of the word points to a particular, specific portion of God’s written revelation. For instance, Ephesians 2:8, 9 is a rhēma; Galatians 2:20 is a rhēma. What Paul is saying is that we are to overcome Satan through specific use of particular portions of the Word. Paul was likely thinking of the manner in which the Master withstood satanic temptation as an example to us when we are attacked in that manner.

You recall the incident that is recorded in Matthew 4:1-10. “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,” and

“On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”’

“Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”’”

Every assault by the evil one was met by a rhēma—a citation of the Word of God. Jesus, the Son of God, responded to satanic temptation, not by cursing Satan or trying to outwit him, but by pointing to the Word of God. If Jesus had to know Scripture in order to avoid being tripped up by Satan, how much greater is the need for you and me to know what is written! Perhaps you imagine that you generally know what the Bible says. My question to you is simple and direct: do you know the specific words of Scripture? Can you apply Scripture as needed? Ephesians 6:17 says that we are responsible to know the specific sayings of Scripture. If we are to know these sayings, we must memorise them. Failure to memorise what is written can only lead to loss as you are called to resist Satan. Do not expect to live victoriously if you are ignorant of the written Word of God.

What a great motive for Scripture memorisation! It should be the determination of each Christian listening to commit to memory as much of the Word as is possible. Learn one verse. If you can only learn one verse each week, that is one more than you now know; and if you stay with it, by year’s end you will have committed to memory fifty verses of God’s Word (allowing yourself a two-week vacation). However, I believe you are capable of much more than that; I believe that as you begin to memorise the Word, you will find yourself wanting to know more of it which will lead to yet more memorisation. In learning the Word, you are honing the sword of the Spirit, preparing yourself for combat with the minions of evil.

This “Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” [Hebrews 4:12]. We are convinced on the authority of God`s Word that, “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” [2 Corinthians 10:4, 5].

If we will defeat Satan—and we must—we will take the words of the Living God into our minds where we will permit His Spirit to work as He wills. Then, we must pick up this sword of the Spirit, wielding it forcefully and accurately at His direction. For the sword to benefit you, you must take it and use it. It does not do to say that you believe it to be a pretty sword—it was not given you for us to admire; it was given us to employ to the glory of God. This is a wonderful Book and it indeed contains wonderful words; however, we must make them ours. David said of the words God gave:

“I have stored up Your Word in my heart,

that I might not sin against You.”

[Psalm 119:11]

In the same way, each Christian must store up God’s Word in her own heart if she will avoid sinning against the Master, and if she will be victorious against the devil. There is yet one thought that I must press ‘ere the hour is complete.

The Armour is Comprehensive and Complete — “Take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Paul writes of “the whole armour of God.” It is not sufficient for an individual to don one piece of God’s armour and imagine that he is fully protected; only when worn together will the armour fully protect God’s warrior. Likewise, without the weapon God provides, the armour is incomplete.

There is nothing lacking when the Christians is dressed in God’s armour. There is no part of the equipment that requires some specialised training, though all requires constant use or it becomes ineffective. Truth—integrity, righteousness—holiness, readiness to tell others of all that God has done for you, faith in God’s presence and in His goodness, the hope of His return—all this is given immediately at the time of salvation. To be completely equipped, the child of God need but begin now to memorise the Word of God.

However, you can lay claim to none of this armour if you are yet lost. Christ Jesus came to die because of your sin, and He rose from the dead to make your righteous before the Father. Therefore, the Word of God boldly promises, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” That passage concludes with a wonderful promise that states, “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved” [Romans 10:9, 10, 13].

And that is our prayer for you. Believe that Jesus died because of your sin. Believe that He is risen from the dead to make you right with the Father. Call on Him, receiving His salvation. Do it now. Amen.


[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] E.g., Luke 12:35 (“Stay dressed for action” (ESV) contra “Let your loins be girded” (RSV)), or 1 Peter 1:13 (“Preparing your minds for action” (ESV) contra “Gird up the loins of your mind” (NKJV)). Similar usage will be found in Jeremiah 1:17 (“Dress yourself for work” (ESV) contra “Gird up your loins” (NASB), or 2 Kings 4:29 (“Tie up your garment” (ESV) contra “Gird up your loins” (NRSV)).

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