The Twenty First Sunday after Trinity| November 9, 2014| Rev. Rolf Preus| Ephesians 6:10-17
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:10-17
The church in heaven is the church triumphant. She rests victorious over sin, death, and the devil. As we sing:
They now enjoy their Sabbath rest
The paschal banquet of the blest
The Lamb, their Lord, at festal board
Himself is Host and Guest.
The church in heaven is the church triumphant, but we’re not in heaven yet. The church on earth is the church militant. She fights. She is at war. Every single Christian fights. St. Paul wrote to Timothy:
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12)
In today’s Epistle Lesson the Apostle Paul teaches you how to fight the spiritual battle to which you are called. When you were baptized, you were asked: “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?” You said, “I do.” You joined a holy war.
We hear a lot about holy war these days with radical Islam on the rise in various parts of the world. Islam is a false and carnal religion, grounded in earthly values, sensual pleasures, selfish goals, and demonic lies. Islam cannot distinguish between the spiritual and the carnal. They join their spiritual goals together with their political goals into an unholy and death-dealing alliance producing totalitarian tyranny that enslaves millions.
We Christians have been delivered from demonic lies by the Spirit of truth. Our spiritual battles are not carnal. That is, they are not fought with flesh and blood against flesh and blood. Our spiritual battles are fought against the devil and his demons, as St. Paul writes:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Jesus referred to the devil as a liar and the father of lies. St. Paul speaks of the doctrines of demons. It is by means of false teaching that the devil seeks to enslave us and use us for his evil purposes. The greatest power the devil has is the power of deception. It was by means of deception and lies that he led our first parents away from the divine truth. His tactics haven’t changed in six thousand years. The devil and his demons control the minds and affections and thus the actions of their victims through manipulative lying. We are at war with the devil and his demons. When we were baptized we were enlisted as soldiers in this cosmic war that will continue until the end of the world.
We don’t fight from our own strength. St. Paul writes, “Brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” The strength, the power, and the might belong to the Lord Jesus. What is his is ours through faith. We receive from him the strength to fight.
St. Paul teaches us how to fight this battle. He illustrates the battle by comparing our spiritual weapons to the weapons used by a Roman soldier of his day. He lists six weapons, five defensive, and one offensive. The five defensive weapons are: first, the belt of truth; second, the breastplate of righteousness; third, the shoes of the gospel of peace; fourth, the shield of faith; fifth, the helmet of salvation. The single offensive weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
The Roman soldier’s belt protected his private area. It was the first thing he put on as he prepared to do battle. The truth is where we always begin in spiritual battle because we are always fighting against the father of lies. We wear the belt of divine truth. God’s truth is unassailable. In God there is no falsehood. In the Holy Scriptures there is no error. God cannot lie, and we belt on his truth.
The strategy of the devil and his demons is to ensnare their victims in their own sin and use their sin against them. The devil strikes for our hearts – where the lifeblood flows through the body. He manipulates our guilt quite cleverly. He begins by laying a false claim on us and conning us into disobedience to God as we follow the lure of his con. Once conned, he points to what he conned us into doing as the new reality that defines who and what we are as if to say, “You’re a sinner. Now act like one.”
There is only one defense against such an attack. It is the breastplate of righteousness to protect our heart. We place before our hearts a righteousness that the devil cannot penetrate, with which he cannot find fault, for there is no fault to find. We cover our hearts with the righteousness of Christ. When the devil accuses us and lays claim to us on account of our sin – as if our sins have delivered us over to his side – he finds our hearts protected by Christ’s righteousness. He cannot break through.
The shoes of the soldier are described in our text with the words, “and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” The gospel of peace is the good news from God that sets us at peace with God. It was announced at Christ’s birth when the angel said, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” It was proclaimed by Jesus when he said,
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
It was given to us when Jesus, after dying on the cross and rising from the dead, appeared to his fearful disciples who were gathered together behind locked doors and said to them: “Peace be with you.” The gospel of peace enables us to fight the right enemy. Instead of railing against the good and righteous God who loves us, we do battle against the devil and his angels. When we are at peace with God we are secure in our relationship with him. We can move here, there, anywhere without losing the confidence that he is with us in our battles. So we can fight.
The shield of faith not only stops the fiery darts the devil fires at us; it extinguishes them. Faith is not self-confidence. It is confidence in God’s word. When God’s word tells us that Christ’s death and resurrection have defeated the devil, bound him in chains, crushed his head, silenced his tongue, and delivered us from his power – faith grasps these promises of God’s word and holds them up as a shield against the devil’s lies. Faith is a shield because it holds God’s word in its hand. No other defense is necessary. No other defense is effective. Faith directed to the crucifixion of Jesus where he fought all the powers of hell and prevailed can keep the lies, accusations, and attempted deceptions of the devil from cutting into us and burning us.
The last defensive weapon is the helmet of salvation. When you’re struck a blow on your head you become disoriented and unable to stand. Your feet may be fine and your heart well protected and all the armor firmly in place – but when your head is damaged you fall prey to the attacker. The helmet of salvation is our assurance that we are saved. Salvation is not an allusive goal, ever out of our reach, so that we, like Sisyphus, must keep rolling the heavy boulder all the way up the hill only to see it roll down the hill every time we roll it up. Salvation is achieved. It is accomplished. As St. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9,
For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast.
Listen to these words. “For by grace you are saved, through faith.” It doesn’t say, “For by grace you were saved but maybe not anymore,” and it doesn’t say, “For by grace you will be saved, maybe, but not now.” It says, “For by grace you are saved.” It refers to an event in the past that affects the present. You were saved, you are saved, and you will be saved. Jesus is your Savior and he has rescued you from the power of darkness and he has delivered you into the light of God’s truth and he has secured for you victory over all evil and he has guaranteed you eternal joys in heaven and all of this belongs to you right now. This is your helmet. The certainty of salvation keeps our head clear when doing battle against the father of lies.
Finally, we wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. This is the only offensive weapon we have. All of the other weapons are defensive. But defending ourselves is not enough. If we want to drive the devil away and defeat him we must fight offensively and the only weapon at our disposal is the Word of God, which is written down in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
This is why we read the Bible. This is why we go to church. This is why we attend Bible classes. We cannot do battle against the father of lies unless we are thoroughly grounded in God’s word. We are at war. The devil’s lies must be refuted. Otherwise, they settle in and take on the sanctity of the truth. How many soul-destroying deceptions float around in the religious air we breathe! We take them in without even thinking. We need to do battle. For this, we need to arm ourselves with the Word of God.
If you think you have more important things to do with your time than to attend church, Bible class, and read your Bible on your own, who do you think has put this notion into your head? Oh yes, he’s a real person. And he’s a real liar. Theological ignorance is spiritual suicide. Unless, of course, the devil is but a myth and not a real live enemy whose power of deceit is far greater than any spiritual power you have. You’re at war! Immerse yourself in the written Word of God. Seek out instruction in it. Arm yourself with it and fight. Fight as your Lord Jesus fought, responding to every demonic lie, false promise, and false teaching with the words: it is written! The word of God that is centered in Christ our righteousness and written in the Holy Scriptures is the sword of the Spirit that drives the devil away from us straight back to hell where he belongs. Amen