Monday, November 30, 2009

Onward Christian Soldiers

[These thoughts follow a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church. If you would like to listen to that message, just click here.]

Before we begin, it would be helpful to read Ephesians 6:10-20. Click here to read it if you don't have a Bible handy. (By the way, I have been greatly blessed and helped by the British pastor Derek Prime in this text, and if you are familiar with him, don't be surprised it this rings with familiarity. The sermon I heard him preach on this text back in 2005 is one I will not soon forget.)

Matthew Henry: "Is not our life a warfare? It is so; for we struggle with the common calamities of human life. Is not our religion much more a warfare? It is so; for we struggle with the opposition of the powers of darkness, and with many enemies who would keep us from God and heaven. We have enemies to fight against, a captain to fight for, a banner to fight under, and certain rules of war by which we are to govern ourselves."

John MacArthur - "The Christian who continually seeks to grow in his knowledge of and obedience to the Word and to serve the Lord more faithfully will not find [life] becoming easier. As the Lord gives mastery over certain temptations and weaknesses, Satan will attack elsewhere. Faithful witnessing, preaching, teaching, visiting, and every other service for the Lord not only will bring victories but will also bring their own special difficulties and opposition. A Christian who no longer has to struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil is a Christian who has fallen into sin or complacency. A Christian who has no conflict is a Christian who has retreated from the front lines of service."

These are strong statements, aren't they? What do you think? Do you buy into the notion that our lives are lives of warfare? That faithfulness in serving the Lord will bring inevitable conflict? Sometimes, it's tempting to assume that spiritual warfare is something that only applies to missionaries seeking to confront the occult in a distant land. It's only for pastors and church leaders. It only applies to personal evangelism.

While this is the temptation, Paul takes us somewhere else to find the context of spiritual warfare. Looking in the direct context of Ephesians 6:10-20, we see Paul applying the gospel to various situations. In 5:22-33, he speaks of wives and husbands. In 6:1-4, it's children and parents. In 6:5-9, slaves and masters...or employers and employees. Isn't this where the war is often fought? In our homes? In our workplaces? Wouldn't the enemy love to destroy our families? Wouldn't he desire us to be ineffective and compromised in our workplace? How are we to deal with such things? What must we know if we are to gain ground in spiritual warfare?

1. We must know where our strength is. Look at verse 10. Our strength is in the Lord. It is not in our accomplishments as Christians, it is not in the length of time we have believed in Christ, it is not in our knowledge of God's is in the Lord. God gives spiritual strength for our daily battle against the devil, and we must know this and rely on it if we are to be successful in the fight. Derek Prime said, "Trying to fight a spiritual battle in our physical strength is like trying to fight a nuclear war with bows and arrows." How true...we must know where our strength is.

2. We must know who our enemy is. Verse 12 - "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." We may have conflict with our wives or husbands, but they are not the enemy. There may be tension with our boss or our employees, but they are not the enemy. Our children may seem rebellious at every turn, but they are not the enemy. Even within the church, it is tempting to think someone within the congregation is the enemy, but he/she is not. There may be opposition in any of these relationships, but the real enemy is not there.

We must know who the enemy is. He is the devil...Lucifer...Satan...the prince of the power of the air...the god of this world. His schemes and tricks are many...they are flaming darts, according to verse 16. He will try to hit us with doubt, or he will seek to distract us from spiritual disciplines, such as daily time in prayer and in the Word. He will try to use reason to convince us to avoid what we ought to do (e.g. - "I don't really have time to..." or "There are a lot of people who can do that...they don't need me."). He will tempt us to abandon witnessing. Whatever his scheme and trick in your life or in mine, we must know who our enemy is.

3. We must know what our objective is. Our objective is to stand. In verse 11, we are to stand against the devil's schemes. In verse 13, we are to take on the armor of God that we might withstand him, and after doing all of that...we stand. We ought to be standing in watchfulness, withstanding his every move and not giving in an inch. We are to remain standing. There is no time for relaxing; there is no vacation from warfare. We know that all too well with our men and women being overseas. There is no moment when the enemy is not seeking whom he may devour (1 Pt. 5:8).

In the movie White Christmas, the opening scene pictures a group of soldiers celebrating Christmas with a little self-made variety show. Bombs are going off around them, but they're having a party. It is tempting to think we can take a holiday from spiritual warfare, but we cannot. We will never retire from this objective. We must stand.

4. We must know what our defense is. Our defense, according to verse 13, is the armor of God. God supplies is His defense for us. The order here indicates the order a Roman soldier would have put the pieces on.

A. The belt of truth (v. 14) - This is a picture of preparation. The soldiers would have had flowing garments that needed to be gathered up so they could be mobile. The belt prepared them for the action they must take. Truth is just such a belt for Christians. The word here (aletheia) can point to the Word of God, which we understand to be truth with no mixture of error. The word can also point to reality, or integrity. Both are necessary for the fight. If we misunderstand either, we can make terrible missteps. After all, we cannot do what is right until we know what is true (about the principles of God and about our situation).
B. The breastplate of righteousness (v. 14) - This is not the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. Remember, Paul is speaking to Christians, and it would make no sense for them to take up something they already have. No, this is the righteousness of daily life. It is daily obedience to Christ in mind, word, and deed. Derek Prime connects these first two pieces this way, "If, [based on what is true], we fail to do what we know is right, [then] we open a huge chink in our armor for Satan."
C. The gospel shoes (v. 15) - Shoes speak of readiness. Have your children ever told you they were ready to leave the house for a family outing, and then you saw they had no shoes on? Were they really ready? Our minds may comprehend the gospel, our hearts may love the gospel, and our lips may be willing to express the gospel. However, our feet must be ready to take us where the gospel is needed. After all, sitting targets are easier to hit than moving ones.
D. The shield of faith (v. 16) - Soldiers carried two shields, and Paul has the larger one in mind...the one meant to protect the whole body. In the battle against the enemy, faith is essential. We must daily exercise trust in God and dependence on God for all things. Self-reliance in our daily lives is equivalent to setting down this necessary piece of armor. The flaming darts will surely hit us.
E. The helmet of salvation (v. 17) - Again, this is not speaking of a past experience of conversion. Rather, it is the present, daily experience of the Lord's salvation in our lives. It is, as Jerry Bridges has said, preaching the gospel to ourselves. In addition to this, we hold on to what Paul calls the "hope of salvation" in 1 Thessalonians 5:8. This is that confident assurance of our ultimate victory and of God saving us from this present battle.
F. Notice there is nothing for the back. In The Pilgrim's Progress, Pilgrim enters the Valley of Humiliation, where he encounters the devil (i.e.- Apollyon). Apollyon is such a fierce creature that pilgrim wants to run, but he remembers he has no armor on his back. He realizes that the Lord must not have meant for him to run away. We run from temptation...we resist the devil.

We must know what our defense is.

5. We must know what our weaponry is. It is the sword of the Spirit (v. 17)...the Bible. The Bible was created by the Spirit for our spiritual fight and for our spiritual health. We need to know the it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it. Around the time of the new year, Bible reading plans will be available for those who attend Gray Road. Whether you choose to read through the Bible in a year or not is up to you, but we must be reading it and knowing it if we are to use it in the daily fight. In the temptation accounts recorded by Matthew and Luke, it was this sword of the Spirit that our Lord Jesus used against the devil. Let us follow in His steps.

Prayer is our other weapon mentioned here (v. 18-20). We must pray in the Spirit (v. 18), meaning we have a deep desire to pray (not just fulfill a duty), and we pray in accordance with the sword of the Spirit...the Bible. We also pray continually (v. 18), with perseverance...we must not ever give up praying (Read Luke 18:1-8 for Jesus' teaching on this matter). When we pray "your kingdom come, your will be done", it's a direct assault on the devil and his demons, just as Jesus' teaching in Mark 1:21-28 provoked anger and resistance from the demon. We pray with variety (v. 18)...prayer and supplication. We pray general prayers, such as the Lord's prayer, and we pray specific prayers for the needs of the saints. Finally, we pray in support of the gospel (v. 19-20)...for those who are preaching and teaching the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Iain Murray has said, "A normal preacher, with a praying congregation behind him, can do extraordinary things."


This is a very familiar passage, and I'm sure that nothing written here is new to you. However, it is necessary to be reminded of the reality of spiritual warfare. It is easy to forget because it is unseen. Let me finish with a memory shared once by Derek Prime. He grew up in England, and during the second World War, times were hard. Throughout London, where he lived, families had loved ones fighting and losing their lives in the war. Food and supplies were also being rationed at the time. He says that as people would begin to complain about their difficulties or the rationing, one phrase would remind people of reality. He said it was constantly said on the street, and with this phrase, I will leave you to fight the good fight. "There's a war on."