When we think of sanctification, we tend to think of things like resisting the devil, living godly in Christ Jesus, studying to show ourselves approved to God, not being conformed to this world, being transformed by the renewing of our mind. We give attention to our walk with God, our time in the Word, our time of prayer. We focus on overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil.
But we pay little attention to the armor of God. At least, I haven’t given it much thought. Yet, God has armed us and equipped us for the battle so Satan cannot ultimately overthrow us. Of course, he can trip us up and stumble us. He can catch us in his snares. He can tempt us and cause us to fall. But he cannot pluck us out of the Father’s hand. And this is in part thanks to our armor.
Our Heavenly Father is no helicopter Dad, hovering above us to ensure we never have trouble. He is no Celestial Snowplow, clearing our lane so we can travel smoothly without disrupting our pilgrim way. Instead, God gives us legs and teaches us to walk. He infuses us with the strength of His grace so we might walk upright. God raises us into maturity so we have the strength to confront principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in high places. He declares us “more than conquerors.”
So, God holds us in His hand but doesn’t hold our hand. He sets us out to join the battle and confront the enemy while protecting us by His grace. The panoply of God is His grace surrounding us, protecting us, defending us.
And this armor is of practical value. It doesn’t exist merely in doctrinal platitudes. We should give careful attention to the whole armor of God because of the spiritual protection for the spiritual war it provides.
We gird on the armor when we maintain our relationship with God in vital spiritual arenas related to the armor itself. The sincere way we pursue the truth, our growing righteousness, our ever-deepening grasp of the gospel, our vibrant witness, and our taking hold of God’s promises and resting in them. By looking to Christ in the Word and growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, we keep the armor fitted properly and in good repair.
This might not be all that sexy to a generation accustomed to quick fixes, Jiffy Lubes, and row upon row of self-help books. But this is what God has provided for His saints so that we are armed for battle and ready to join the fray. So, we must be attentive to our relationship with God to be armed for war.
I wish I could write “10 hot tips for spiritual warfare.” I wish I could tell you practical things, like “Tell yourself NO! LOUD!” or “Spend 30 minutes in prayer before you read your Bible.” “Stay off sugar.” “Don’t watch YouTube after 10:00 at night.” No doubt, these things could be helpful. But God wants you to be attentive to His gifts of grace. Ensure your armor fits right, is all in place, and is in good repair. Be attentive to your salvation, sanctification, sincerity, and soul-winning. Not fun, not fluff, but fundamental.
The final two pieces of armor will complete the panoply. May God teach us to utilize His gifts of grace aimed at protecting us in this conflict.
The Helmet of Salvation
Before we consider the helmet, notice how the grammar changes at Ephesians 6:17. With the first four pieces of armor, Paul used participles to describe how we stand. “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness…” “taking the shield of faith.” But now, Paul uses an imperative: “Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.” He no longer describes the soldier standing, but calls the soldier to action. Grab your helmet, grab your sword, and let’s go!
The Roman soldier’s helmet was protective and decorative. It was made of tough metal – bronze or iron – and lined with felt or sponge to make the weight bearable. It fit snugly on the head so that only a direct hit from an ax or a hammer could pierce it. Roman soldiers decorated their helmets so they had a magnificent look.
Notice that the helmet is salvation. In I Thessalonians 5:8, Paul says,
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
Salvation is hope’s object. Justifying faith makes up the shield and the hope of salvation the helmet. And this hope, embraced by faith, protects the head from the wiles of the devil.
“Hope” isn’t wishful thinking. It is a sure thing, a lively hope, a certainty which faith lays hold on. And this confidence isn’t just a hope that when we die, we’ll discover that we have won the lottery. It is an anticipation that the things God has prepared for us are so far beyond our wildest imaginations that even now, we long for them.
So, the salvation that provides a helmet for our heads consists of the salvation we have already received and the salvation that awaits us in heaven. It is both present salvation and “full” salvation. Assurance of salvation protects our heads because God has already delivered us from the penalty of sin and the power of sin.
But there also awaits a full salvation when we will be finally delivered from the presence of sin.
Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. (Romans 8:21-25)
And this hope, this confident anticipation of both present and future salvation, protects us in the head from the wiles of the devil. Here’s how: the Spirit indwells us as the earnest of our inheritance. His indwelling assures us that the inheritance will be paid in full. This teaches us to expect that God will give us every good thing He has promised. It encourages us to wait for it patiently. And this protects our head, as Satan desires to deliver a blow to the head that will shake our confidence in Christ.
Suffering is one such blow to the head. We know that we are called to endure fiery trials.
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)
The helmet of salvation doesn’t prevent suffering. In a way, it invites suffering. The helmet becomes a kind of target for Satan’s blows. The helmet protects the head from sin, not from suffering. And we need this protection because temptation is always aimed at the head, and quite often at the glands. Someone defined temptation as “a tantalizing opportunity to do wrong.” If it isn’t tantalizing, it isn’t temptation. If there is no opportunity, it isn’t temptation. If we aren’t tempted to do wrong, it isn’t temptation.
Surely we all know the way temptation works on the head. It appeals to our desires and our reason – we rationalize it, justify it, dwell on it. And Satan uses suffering to open you up to these snares, to make you consider them. He gains an audience if he can get you to feel deprived and discontent with your circumstances.
Here’s how he works on you through suffering. You have been diligent in your pursuit of God. You have been dedicated to His work. You have followed Him faithfully. You have sacrificed; you have given. And look at your reward: suffering, persecution, ridicule, failure. Satan whispers in your ear: “Your King is neglecting you.”
James warned of the danger in “divers temptations.”
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:2-3, 13-17)
If you don’t have the hope of salvation securely fastened on your head, these suggestions will make you consider indulging in disloyal acts. William Gurnall argues,
It is hard to draw him into any treasonable practice against his prince, who is both well satisfied of his favour at present, and stands also on the stairs of hope, expecting assuredly to be called up within a while to the highest preferment that the court can afford or his king give. No, the weapons of rebellion and treason are usually forged and fashioned in discontent’s shop. When subjects take themselves to be neglected and slighted by their prince— think that their preferments are now at an end, and [that they] must look for no great favours more to come from him—this softens them to receive every impression of disloyalty that any enemy to the king shall attempt to stamp them withal. (p. 924, emphasis mine)
In the face of hard trials, we think we deserve a little fleshly indulgence. But God provides a gracious protection for our heads – the helmet of salvation. Notice where Peter points us:
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. (I Peter 4:12-13)
Anticipating the good things God has in store for us will guard our heads when bad things happen.
The Sword of the Spirit
You can wear the best armor made from the best metals and cover your most vital parts, but you still need a weapon. My armor will protect me against the enemy’s blows, but I need some way to fight back.
Aren’t you glad God doesn’t send us into battle wearing nothing but our armor? Instead, he gives us a sword, so our hands can fight. Without a sword, we become glorified punching bags. What good are passive warriors? When we enter the fray, we must engage the enemy.
The sword of the Spirit arms us for battle. With it, we can both counter the enemy’s blows and strike back with a bang or two of our own. The sword is made for offense and defense. The rest of the armor protects us passively, but the sword gives us an active kind of defense.
There is good news in this. We don’t have to endure Satan’s abuse, hoping the armor minimizes the damage. God arms us so we can fight back. The shield of faith absorbs the fiery darts. But when the enemy attacks with temptation, we strike back with truth. When the enemy attacks with false teaching, we strike back with truth.  When the enemy offers rationalizations and excuses, we strike back with truth.
Now, the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. That “Word of God” is not Jesus Christ, though He is the Incarnate Word. As the Word, Jesus reveals God to us in the fullest and most meaningful way. But Jesus is not the Holy Spirit’s sword. In fact, John tells us that the Word of God has a sharp sword in His mouth.
And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: (Revelation 19:13-15)
The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God revealed, for God reveals Himself in the written Word. So, our sword is the writings of Scripture, the inspired words, the kept words, the living Word of God.
The sword of the Spirit is the Word believed. The Word isn’t a weapon if it is nothing more than a collection of curiosities to us. It isn’t a weapon if we treat it like a textbook to make us sound more intelligent or sophisticated. The Word becomes a weapon when we embrace it and make it our life.
The sword of the Spirit is the Word preached. God’s Word instructs us for life, so we preach it in season and out of season. We must be instructed, corrected, and exhorted, not from men’s opinions but God’s Words. When we are armed with these words, we are armed against the devil.
The sword of the Spirit is the Word practiced. When I put God’s Word into practice, then it becomes a weapon. The transforming power of God’s Words becomes a sword in my hands.
The sword of the Spirit is the Word applied and empowered by the Spirit. Our Lord Jesus taught us how to use the Word against Satan’s devices. There, we see the power of the Word rightly applied (and we learn to apply it rightly through faithful preaching).
William Gurnall points out that Jesus wasn’t the only one to use Scripture against Satan.
Ask David what was the weapon with which he warded off the blows this enemy made at him, and he will tell you it was the word of God. ‘Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer,’ Ps. 17:4. That is, by the help of thy word I have been enabled to preserve myself from those wicked works and outrageous practices, to which others, for want of this weapon to defend them, have been harried. (p. 1004, emphasis mine)
The sword of the Spirit is the Word furnished by the Holy Spirit. Notice that the weapon is described as the “sword of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit moved those holy men of God who spake forth the Scriptures. And the Holy Spirit teaches us all things and guides us into all truth. He did this immediately after Christ ascended to heaven by bringing all things to the disciple’s remembrance, whatsoever Jesus had taught them (John 14:26). Through their sacred writings, the Holy Spirit also teaches us all things. So then, the Holy Spirit works through us who believe the Bible and boldly proclaim it.
This sword is a powerful weapon, a two-edged sword, cutting both ways.
“Striking some with conviction and conversion, and others with condemnation.
Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty. And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things. Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee. (Psalm 45:3-5)
But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. (Isaiah 11:4)
Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand; To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; To execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints. Praise ye the LORD. (Psalm 149:6-9)
The Critical Commentary reminds us that this word of wrath (Isaiah 11:4) has become the gospel of peace in Christ. What a powerful weapon this sword of the Spirit is. It has the power to subdue and overcome our enemies and make them gladly submit to Christ. God’s Word is a weapon of defense and offense: it neutralizes the enemy and sometimes converts him so he becomes a friend. William Gurnall points to four ways the Word of God is a mighty sword.
FIRST. It hath a heart-searching power, whereby it ransacks and rifles the consciences of men. SECOND. It exercises a power on the conscience to convince and terrify it. THIRD. It has power to comfort and raise a dejected spirit. FOURTH. It hath the power of conversion, which none but God can effect.
So, God’s Word is a mighty sword. It persuades us to resist the devil and all his temptations. It shows us the way to victory. It teaches us to overcome. It effectively answers the temptations Satan throws at us. It guides us in the right ways of the Lord. God is good to give us such a weapon as this.
You might wonder why I omit “all-prayer” with the armor of God. I don’t believe prayer to be part of the armor, but rather to represent the soldier’s readiness, his attitude towards the battle. I will save that for the next installment.
 Turner, M. (1994). Ephesians. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1244). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 358). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.