The Practical Value of the Armor of God, part 1

I’ll be honest: I’ve never understood the practical use of the armor of God.  I’ve always considered it pie-in-the-sky, metaphorical not meaningful armor.  If that sounds heretical to you, it does to me as well.  But I took a little truth serum before writing this, so I’m being completely candid with you.  I have known that the armor is there and that God says I am to take it so that I can withstand in the evil day, “and having done all, to stand.”  But I have never understood how, practically speaking, “the helmet of salvation” or the “shield of faith” would help me in the hour of temptation.

Then, I took a good look at it.  I should have looked thirty years ago.  Maybe I did – you forget a lot in thirty years.  But recently, I had the opportunity to preach through the armor of God. In doing so, I was struck with the practicality of it.  Christian armor gives us real-world help in the face of trial and temptation.

Satan is the original Wile E. Coyote.  We are not ignorant of his devices (2 Corinthians 2:11).  He has had thousands of years to hone his skill at deceiving, has developed an entire system for enslaving, and has wounded many mighty.  We shouldn’t think that anything in our Christian experience – regardless of how long we have been standing or how faithful we have been – will exempt us from his attacks.  We must take unto ourselves the whole armor of God, or we will fail in the day of battle.

But how does the armor of God give us practical help?  What is the use of it?  I hope I can encourage you to consider the value of each piece of the armor of God.  We’ll cover two pieces of armor here.

The Belt for the Armor

The belt is not for you.  The girdle is for the armor.  Maybe that’s why Paul starts with the belt though we would typically dress in a different order.  The practical purpose of the belt is to keep the armor firmly in place – to hold it together.  We don’t want the breastplate riding up or getting twisted in the heat of battle.  And besides, we need a place to keep our swords and tuck our skirts so we might gird up our loins like a man. 

So, God gives us a belt.  “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth.”  And this “truth” refers to the combination of two things.  First, and most obviously, God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).  Jesus Christ is truth (John 14:6), and God’s Word testifies – tells the truth – of Jesus (John 5:39).  The truth of God’s Word testifying of Jesus forms the fabric of the belt.  And the Christian must gird his loins with that truth.  Paul’s point in presenting the armor of God is not to tell you what to do with each piece of armor.  Paul tells us to stand – “Stand therefore” – so that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Then, he uses a series of participles to describe the way we are to stand.  Notice: “Stand therefore, having….” That’s the participle.  “Having your loins girt about with truth” is how you will stand. 

So, while the truth of God’s Word testifying of Jesus provides the fabric of the belt, it isn’t how you gird your loins.  Perhaps you notice that the text doesn’t use the definite article to refer to “the truth,” which would be the gospel. Instead, the Bible tells us to stand having our loins girt about with truth.  Girding the loins requires that you put the belt on, and the belt of truth cannot be put on in a fake or dishonest way.  The belt of truth is worn in sincerity, the authentic Christian sincerely holding to the truth of God’s Word testifying of Jesus.  God desires truth in the inward parts (Psalm 51:6).  In case you are interested in the Greek nuance, Paul uses the locative/instrumental preposition that means “in” or “by means of” truth (thus “with”).  So, the meaning here can be “having your loins girt about utilizing truth.  You gird your loins when you embrace the truth sincerely, without hypocrisy or pretension.  Your sincerity holds the rest of the armor in place.

Without the truth of God’s Word, we could not know the difference between sincerity and hypocrisy.  And without the Bible, sincerity has nothing to lay hold on.  Plenty of people have been very sincere in their unbelief.  Sincerity without Bible truth is sincerely wrong.  The only way truth can gird your loins is if our conviction about the truth of God’s Word is held honestly.  We must have truth in the inward part, or the truth will be like an unbuckled belt, pulling the pants down instead of holding them up.

I highly recommend William Gurnall’s classic book The Christian in Complete Armor, written in the 1600s.  He reminds us, “It is the Christian’s duty to labour for an ESTABLISHED JUDGMENT in the truth.”

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; (I Peter 1:13)

The Plate for the Vitals

If there is one piece of armor that the soldier should value above all others, it is the breastplate.  It is the first piece of armor the soldier puts on and the one that makes him feel protected the most.  Without it, we will feel vulnerable and exposed. This is because the breastplate of righteousness covers the soldier’s vital organs, particularly his heart.  “Keep thy heart with all diligence,” as the Bible teaches.

The breastplate is made of righteousness.  We know that God does not accept our righteousness, for all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.  We must have a righteousness that God will accept, one that meets the glorious standard of God’s impeccable holiness.  The only righteousness that can meet God’s holy demands would be the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And therefore, we are tempted to think that this breastplate of righteousness must be the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which the believer must put on.

We probably have this same temptation with each piece of armor – to equate the armor with Christ and to think that what we must do to put on the armor of God is to put on Christ.  And I certainly believe that putting on Christ is essential to putting on the armor of God – for who could think that the armor can be put on apart from Christ? Indeed, putting on the righteousness of Christ is essential to putting on the breastplate of righteousness: necessary, but not the same.

Photo by Anastasia Lashkevich on

The righteousness of Christ is imputed righteousness – Christ’s righteousness savingly applied to me, credited to me, so that I might be justified.  When Christ’s righteousness is imputed, I am absolved of my sin, officially declared “not guilty.”  The penalty of my sin is removed from me and placed on Jesus.  There is no more condemnation.  And these things most certainly protect and defend me against Satan’s slanderous attacks.  My sins are laid on Christ, who absorbs the wrath of God against them.  Through Christ’s righteousness placed on my account, God accepts me.  I am forgiven, redeemed, and adopted, having all the rights of a son and an heir of God, a joint heir with Christ.

But the breastplate of righteousness was never intended to protect me against the wrath of God. Instead, the breastplate of righteousness protects me against the fiery darts of the wicked.  Christ’s righteousness imputed to me will not do this – or temptation would be gone, and the grip of lust would hold no power over me.  Though justification breaks Satan’s iron grip on me so that the power of sin is broken, I find that my heart is still deceitful, and my lusts are still very much alive. 

I must be justified, or I have no hope; I can have no peace with God.  I have no place for righteousness.  But justification is not the armor.  Justification gives us shoulders to hang the armor on, but it does not arm us against the wiles of the devil.  The “righteousness” which makes up the breastplate is not imputed righteousness but imparted righteousness – the righteousness that comes from sanctification.

So, the breastplate is not composed of the righteousness of Christ, but the righteousness that is produced in us as Christ is formed in us.  When the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the saint, it will also be imparted to him.  Christ’s righteousness is not a blanket to cover our guilt.  It is a seed planted in our lives that will bear fruit.  No fruit, no seed.  No life, no light. 

The righteousness of Christ will grow into a tangible righteousness.  And the fruit Jesus produces in us as the fruit of our salvation is the righteousness that arms us against the wiles of the devil.  Legal righteousness sets us right with God.  Moral righteousness keeps us right with God – not by keeping us saved, of course.  But the righteousness produced in us by the work of God’s grace provides real protection against the wiles of the devil.  As I strive to live godly in Christ Jesus, my heart is turned more and more to Christ and, therefore, more and more away from the lusts of my flesh and mind.  In this sense, moral righteousness keeps us right with God. 

The breastplate is not made up of the standards that you hold.  You can have high standards and strong convictions without moral integrity.  The breastplate is not made up of the rules you live by but of your living by those rules with integrity.  The Holy Spirit’s mighty, transforming work in us, which causes us to “study to show ourselves approved unto God,” becomes our breastplate.  By His operation, there comes to be more and more obedience toward our Lord.  Our desire to obey the Lord and to live by His Word in happy obedience to all He commands forms the fiber of this breastplate.  And the breastplate is strengthened as we learn to deal rightly with our failures and shortcomings and as we learn actually to obey what God says.  So, as desire turns to performance, our breastplate protects us more and more. 

Paul describes the breastplate differently in I Thessalonians 5:8 

But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love…

As Matthew Henry explains,

Faith and love include all Christian graces; for by faith we are united to Christ and by love to our brethren.[1]

The breastplate of righteousness consists of the believer’s diligent effort to observe and do every duty towards God and men faithfully.  In the spiritual man, the soul and the conscience must especially be protected.  And “imparted” righteousness, the righteousness of sanctification, is the protection.  William Gurnall points out that sin is a much greater weapon than persecution for Satan. 

He had rather see saints defiled with unrighteousness and sin than defiled with their blood and gore.  Persecution, he hath learned, doth but mow the church, which afterward comes up thicker for it; it is unholiness that ruins it.  Persecutors do but plough God’s field for him, while he is sowing it with the blood that they let out; but profaneness—that roots it up, and lays it all waste, consciences and churches also.

This might explain why Satan doesn’t use persecution at this time in history – when so many professing Christians betray their profession through their perversions.

Why do we need the breastplate of righteousness?  Because righteousness – positive righteousness and moral integrity in the believer’s innermost self – defends the conscience.  It gives you courage, even in the face of bloody persecution.  They say sheep are scared by the clatter of their own feet as they run.  So is the sinner with the din of his guilt.

Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.  (I John 3:21)

 Of all the pieces of armor in the panoply of God, this piece must be the most direct defense against Satan’s devices.  For one thing, his fiery darts are aimed directly at the breast of the believer.  For another thing, all of his assaults are in order to make us ungodly and unrighteous.  Therefore, we must crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts.  The old man must be put off.  The breastplate of righteousness cannot fit him.  The old stony heart cannot be protected from the wiles of the devil, no matter what breastplate is used. 

We must put on the new man.  The new man has a heart of flesh, a heart that desires to obey the Lord, delights in Him, and seeks those things that please Him (which is the substance of righteousness).  By pursuing righteousness, the Bible teaches that we not only please the Lord, but God enables us to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  This is the beauty and practical value of the armor of God – my efforts to turn from evil and do good protect me from the snares Satan lays for my feet and from the wiles he employs against my heart.

Give sin a wide berth.  Gurnall points out that the dove not only flies from the hawk; he will not so much as sniff a hawk’s feather.  We don’t eat the dung of the dunghill – that would make us beasts.  But we also avoid getting any of the dunghill on us.

Abstain from all appearance of evil.  (I Thessalonians 5:22)

Reading what he wrote in the 1600s, you would think he was a fundamentalist:

Liberty is the Diana of our times.  O what apologies are made for some suspicious practices! — long hair, gaudy garish apparel, spotted faces, naked breasts.  These have been called to the bar in former times, and censured by sober and solid Christians, as things at least suspicious, and of no ‘good report;’ but now they have hit upon a more favourable jury, that find them ‘not guilty.’ Yea, many are so fond of them, that they think Christian liberty is wronged in their censure.  Professors are so far from a holy jealousy, that should make them watch their hearts, lest they go too far, that they stretch their consciences to come up to the full length of their tedder; as if he were the brave Christian that could come nearest the pit of sin, and not fall in…


Keeping grace in exercise, maintaining our connection to Christ, and giving constant attention to our walk with God serves as a sturdy protection for us as we enter the fray.  God wants us on the battlefield, and we can engage the enemy with confidence that his blows and fiery darts will not ultimately ruin us because God has equipped us with spiritual armor for a spiritual battle.  Our job is to keep our armor in good repair, ensuring it is fitted properly and in the right place to provide the spiritual protection God intended it to give. 

We will consider more of God’s armor soon.

[1] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2319). Peabody: Hendrickson.

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