One of the remarkable things about our God is that He will very often take things that seem to be major setbacks and use them for the furtherance of His own purposes. For example, the Apostle Paul was destined, in the will of God, to spend a considerable amount of time in captivity, guarded by the soldiers of Rome. It might have seemed that the truth of God had been restricted along with the servant of God, but in actual fact the very reverse is true: out of Paul's close contact with the soldiers who guarded him came what is perhaps one of his most well-known illustrations - the armour of the Christian. There are three passages in the New Testament that mention the armour of the believer, and in each of these a different spiritual enemy is in view. In Romans 13 the armour of light is given to us to help in our battle against the flesh; in 2 Corinthians 6 it is the armour of righteousness that we wear in our war with the world; and in Ephesians 6 our attention is directed to the whole armour of God that will protect us against the attacks of the devil himself. Let us look at each of these in turn.
Romans 13.12: The armour of light
The flesh is perhaps the spiritual enemy with which we have the greatest trouble. It is present in every one of us, it is not improved by conversion, and it will never leave us until the day we get to heaven. The effect of the flesh is to turn our attention away from spiritual things, to keep our thoughts and ambitions rooted in time and on earth, rather than in eternity. However, says the apostle, we must remember that we are not on earth forever, and therefore our lives ought to reflect this. The best way of doing this is to put on the armour of light. Note the things that characterise this armour. First, we are not to be characterised by "reveling and drunkenness" (v.13, RSV). This is extremely practical, perhaps particularly so for those who are younger - in a world where so much time is devoted to parties and entertainment, the young believer is called to live for a different world, a world of eternity. It is not good for any believer to be in the habit of attending occasions characterised by drunkenness - we are called to live in light of the fact that the night is far spent, and the day of our eternal joy is at hand. Is this true of us all?
The second thing that we must avoid is "sexual impurity and promiscuity" (v.13, Holman Christian Study Bible). Again, the relevance of this in the 21st century is remarkable - we live in a world where morality is seen as a matter of individual preference, where there are no absolute standards, and where anything is acceptable so long as it causes no harm to anyone. The follower of Christ, however, must stand apart from all this: the requirement of the New Testament is to "Flee from sexual immorality" (1 Cor 6.18, ESV). Note that we are not to stand against it, far less to engage in brinksmanship with it - we are to turn resolutely from it and flee. Third, we are to avoid strife and envying. Note that the Spirit of God has now moved from the outward manifestations of sin and is now looking into our hearts. Am I envious of my brethren? I ought not to be - "godliness with contentment is great gain".
Observe, finally, the great antidote to all these besetting sins - "put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh". The closer I am living to that perfect Man, whose self-disciplined walk is the perfect example for us all, the more my life will be what it ought to be.
2 Corinthians 6.7: The armour of righteousness
In this passage, Paul is dealing with the fact that not only do we have an enemy within (the flesh), but we are called by God to live as His ambassadors (2 Cor 5.20) in a world hostile to Him. In light of this we must live in a way that brings no slur on the testimony (2 Cor 6.3). The world outside is very quick to pick up on any failures among those who profess to be Christians, and we must therefore see to it that our lives give no such "occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme" (2 Sam 12.14). Rather, we are to "commend ourselves in every way" (v.4, ESV) - in other words we must ensure, by the holy lives we lead, that we make the gospel an honourable thing. This was true of the Lord Jesus, and it can be true of us, even in going about our daily business, for servants are exhorted to "adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things" (Tit 2.10). A life of practical righteousness clothes the believer with a good testimony, and protects us against the accusations of the world. Note, however, that the apostle does not envisage that the believer will go through life unaccused: in v.8 he speaks of "dishonour...evil report...deceivers". It is to be expected that anyone seeking to live by the principles of the Word of God will attract the criticism and slander of the world. This was how the Lord was treated, and we can expect no less. The important thing is that we as believers give no basis for such accusations. In a world and a nation that is increasingly anti-Christian, our duty is to live in a way that commends the gospel.
Ephesians 6.13: The whole armour of God
Finally, there is the whole armour of God, given to the believer to defend us against the attacks of the great enemy of souls, whose unswerving aim is to ruin the usefulness of the child of God, either by subtlety or by violence. Here the Apostle takes the three layers of defence used by the Roman soldier, and outlines their spiritual counterpaarts. First, in vv.14-15, there are three items of armour that every soldier put on every day: the belt, the breastplate, and the studded sandals. Second, in vv.16-17 there is the armour to be taken up when the attack is imminent: the shield and the helmet.¹ Third, when the enemy has broken through and the combat is hand to hand, there is the short sword to be used as the last line of defence in the heat of the battle. Let us review our own lives in the light of this metaphor. Do I daily immerse my mind in the truth of Scripture? Is my heart protected by the wonder of imputed divine righteousness² - no matter what Satan may tell me, do I rejoice in the fact that I have been made "the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor 5.21)? Am I involved in taking the attack to the enemy by being involved in the preaching of the gospel? What about the occasions when I am conscious of some particular attack of Satan? Do I then trust in myself, or do I take up the shield of dependence on God? Is my mind protected by the divinely-given helmet of salvation?
As a final point, when the moment of crisis has come, let us rest in this - the Holy Spirit will bring to mind just the right word of Scripture for the occasion, allowing us to repel the attack of the enemy. What a wonderful armour we have! Let us therefore see to it that day by day we are acquainting ourselves with this armour, so that when the evil day comes upon us we are no strangers to the use of the armour that has been provided for us by God Himself.
To be continued.
¹ The soldier himself took up the shield; the helmet would be placed on his head by his centurion. This accounts for the different Greek verbs used in these verses.
² Note that all these things are a defence against the attack of Satan, therefore these things are doctrinal in nature (e.g. in v.14 it is the doctrine of justification, not practical righteousness that is in view). A life of practical righteousness may defend me against the slander of the world, but against the great enemy of souls I need a defence that does not rest on the actions and character of failing humanity.