The Church Militant
Trinity Twenty One Sermon 2010| October 24, 2010| 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 at rest. She rests from the labors of living here on earth. The doubts that plagued her, the sins that hurt her, and the death that stalked her are all gone forever. She is at peace with God.
The church on earth is also at peace with God. But she is at war. She’s not resting. She is fighting. If she won’t fight she’ll die. The church in heaven is the church triumphant. The church on earth is the church militant.
When you use the word “militant” in connection with a religious group one might think of fanatics who blow up buildings and wage war against civilians. But the war of the church militant is a spiritual one. It has nothing to do with guns, bombs, or even politics. It doesn’t rely on human strength or ingenuity. A spiritual battle is fought against spiritual enemies. A spiritual battle is fought with spiritual weapons.
The spiritual enemies are the devil and his angels. Satan is a real person. He isn’t merely the personification of evil or a vestige of an earlier pre-scientific age. He is a spirit. He is not a human being. He is a person with intelligence, will, purpose, and quite a bit of cunning. His goal is the destruction of God’s children. Our Lord Jesus described him as a murderer and a liar. He murders by lying.
Satan and his angels are our deadly enemies. Satan’s technique hasn’t changed in six thousand years of waging war against humanity. Since he knows that our source of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation is the Word of God, Satan employs his diabolical wit to one end: the falsification of God’s Word. “Did God really say?” he asks, as he solicits our attention, and then our consent, and then our will.
Luther may have lived at a time of superstitious fears, but his assessment of the devil was right on target when he wrote:
The old evil foe now means deadly woe
Deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight
On earth is not his equal.
In doing battle against the devil, St. Paul urges us to put on the armor of God. He proceeds to describe the armor of a Roman solider of his day, using the various articles to refer to the weapons we must use in our fight against the devil. The devil is not going to be defeated on our own ingenuity. We must put on the whole armor of God.
First, put on the belt of truth. This was a belt that kept the rest of the armor in place. The father of lies may try to falsify God’s truth but he can’t do it. Jesus prayed to his Father for us, his Church, shortly before he went to the cross to suffer and die for our sins. In that prayer he said: “Sanctify them by your truth; your word is truth.”
The belt of divine truth binds the breastplate of righteousness over the heart. The breastplate of old is comparable to the bullet proof vest of our day. It protected the heart and the vital organs. The righteousness that protects us from the devil is not our own integrity or morality. It is the obedience of Jesus. Christ’s righteousness protects our Christian heart. The word Satan means accuser. He tempts us to sin and then he accuses us with our own sins so that we would run away from God.
But he cannot accuse us when the obedience of Jesus is reckoned to us. When the devil throws our sins in our face we respond to him: “Satan, I defy you! The sins of which you accuse me are forgiven. Jesus took them off of my soul and bore them on the cross. I know my sins against God, but it is God himself who has washed them away and given me the righteousness of Jesus in their place.” We stand against the devil as God’s saints, protected by the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ himself.
And as saints we fight. The devil tries to trip us up and bring us to the ground, but we are wearing shoes that keep our feet firmly planted. The gospel of peace tells us that we are at peace with God and enjoy true fellowship with him. We can’t be brought down into the dirt by Satan. And should he trip us up, we get back up again for we are girded with God’s truth and protected by Christ’s righteousness.
We take up the shield of faith. The shield of the Roman soldier to which St. Paul here refers was tall and oblong, protecting the whole body. The enemy would shoot flaming darts or arrows with the intent to start a fire. Satan’s arrows start fires. As the one who led our first parents into sin, Satan understands sin very well. He knows that it doesn’t consist merely in doing bad and not doing good. It is rather the condition within – it is what we desire.
Christians must contend with their own sinful flesh. Our faith is never directed to what’s going on within us. Within us wages a spiritual battle, but the fight of faith is always focused on Christ. He is our salvation. The helmet of our salvation keeps our head clear. We can focus on our goal – where we are going. Can we Christians be sure of our salvation? Yes, we can. Christ himself has secured it by his obedience and suffering in our place. This is our helmet, keeping us clearheaded in face of the devil’s attempts to confuse us.
The last weapon the apostle mentions is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. It is the only offensive weapon listed. It is the only one we need. It encompasses all of the defensive weapons. The truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, and salvation are all brought to us by the Word of God. No other weapon is needed. No other weapon does any good.
We forget this at our peril. When we do spiritual battle with carnal weapons all hell breaks loose. Literally. We are not fighting against flesh and blood. The devil works through flesh and blood, but our spiritual battle isn’t against human beings. When Jesus told his disciples that he would be betrayed and suffer and die, Peter took him aside and said no, this must not happen. Jesus replied by saying to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus was not rebuking Peter, but Satan whose words Peter was speaking.
And so it is with us. We hear folks rejecting the authority of the Bible, saying it has myths and contains errors. We hear people denying the moral teaching of God’s Word, revising it to conform to current social teaching. We even hear people attacking the gospel itself, denying that Jesus is true God and true man and that we are forgiven of all our sins and delivered from death and hell by God’s grace alone through faith in him.
When we hear challenges to our faith we need to remember the source of such attacks. It isn’t the people who promote them. It’s the devil who wants to tear us away from our Savior. There is only one answer to him: the Word of God. When he tried to lead Jesus into sin Jesus responded with the words, “It is written.” Satan can’t stand to be corrected with God’s Word. It sends him running with his tail between his legs.
The Church militant does not fight with human weapons. Insults, personal attacks, rumor mongering, party spirit, and the like do the devil no harm and they do nothing to promote the truth. The best way to wield the sword of the Spirit is by speaking God’s word clearly, in love, and without compromise. The battle for the souls of those for whom Jesus died will not be won by clever politicking. God’s Word is almighty. As the hymnist wrote:
I know my faith is founded on Jesus Christ my God and Lord
And this my faith confessing unmoved I stand upon his Word
Man’s reason cannot fathom the truth of God profound
Who trusts her subtle wisdom relies on shifting ground
God’s word is all sufficient, it makes divinely sure
And trusting in its wisdom, my faith shall rest secure.
So we sing and then we turn around and doubt the power of God’s word. We doubt because we judge God by human standards. When we say something it doesn’t necessarily make it so. When we order something it won’t necessarily happen. But God’s word is different. Consider today’s Gospel lesson in which the nobleman with the sick son wanted Jesus to come to his home to heal his son. Jesus would not go. He spoke and that was enough.
And that has to be enough for us. When it is, we can defy all our spiritual enemies and put them to flight.
In doing battle against Satan and his fallen angels we need to keep one thing in particular in mind. He wants to destroy our faith in Christ. He may attack the reliability of the Bible, but the Bible isn’t his real target. He may argue in favor of amending God’s law to meet the requirements of political correctness, but the divine law is not his ultimate target. He hates Christ. He hates God’s mercy.
This is why, when we do battle against the devil, we do so always at the foot of the cross. There where Jesus suffered and died for us all is where the Church militant gets her strength to stand against the devil and all his lies. There is where we lay our sins. We confess to God that we have caved in. Not only have we failed to fight the battle, we’ve even chosen the wrong side and spoken lies ourselves. We make no excuses. We confess.
And God, for Christ’s sake, always forgives. His mercy is everlasting. Our sin is great but God’s mercy in Christ is greater. There is no sin so sinful that Jesus’ blood doesn’t blot it out. Jesus fought the devil on the cross and defeated him there. God’s forgiveness leaves no sin unforgiven. This is the mercy on which we rely and from which we live. This is the gospel that we believe, teach, and confess. This is how Christ’s Church militant does battle here below. It drives the devil away as the angels in heaven watch and rejoice. Amen