So What’s the Point of the Armor of God?

In writing this, I realize that I might be confessing too much.  Sometimes I wonder if I’ve been buried under a rock.  How do I miss such important truths for such a long time?  At times, I seem to discover (to my shame) a truth that believers have understood for years.  Nonetheless, when I have that “eureka” moment, I like to share it.

So, here’s my confession: I have never really understood the point of the armor of God.  Pretty sad, huh?  I knew I was to put it on, and I knew what all the pieces were.  But like the guy who shops the bargain bin at the Army surplus store, I had no idea what to do with it.  Should a pastor have a good handle on this, maybe a few years before his ordination?  Probably.  But since I can’t get a do-over on the past 20 years, I’ll have to start where I’m at.  Good for you if you’ve known this. 

So, here’s what I learned: the fiercer the battle rages, the more timid the Christian becomes.  We have this innate sense that if I don’t hit the devil too hard, he’ll leave me alone.  “Don’t rock the boat” becomes the battle plan.  Don’t provoke the enemy.  The enemy will leave me alone if I avoid doing anything too valiant.

I think there is a certain safety in maintaining the status quo within our homes and families.  Remember that the armor of God is set in context with Paul’s instructions related to the family.  When husbands tolerate small insurrections and wives carry on subversive warfare and the children are passively rebellious, we know that any attempt to follow God in our family may result in an all-out war.  If a husband sits down with his wife to discuss a few things where he thinks she is in sin, he expects things to get ugly.  So, he avoids saying anything.  If a parent seeks to correct the kids, he braces for the temper tantrum.  So, we don’t rock the boat. 

We don’t want the fight, so we tolerate the sin.  We make an uneasy truce with disobedience and (sometimes) outright rebellion.  God gives us armor before He sends us out to fight.  But make no mistake: God provides armor because He wants us in the fight. 

And the battle is for holiness.  Three things to consider then…

The Risk of Holiness

Holiness isn’t our default setting.  Nor is it an act of nature.  We fall into sin by the force of gravity, but nobody “falls” into holiness.  Sins grow up like weeds in our life without any special effort; holiness requires careful cultivation.  The way to holiness is the upward way, winding up a steep pass over rocky ground and rugged terrain.  The way to destruction is the pleasing way, a gentle slope, no sudden turns or sharp drops.

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Maybe that’s why so many Christians have come to terms with their sins and have made an easy truce with them.  Because it seems to me that when you leave a sin alone and don’t try to fix it, it lurks in the background without causing too much of a fuss.  Bad habits and sinful thought patterns pester us without causing us too much disruption.  We can be “at ease in Zion.”  But confronting a sinful pattern in our lives is like poking a smoldering fire.  It is bound to flare up again. 

The Philistines secure their place in the garrison and are pleased to let you come and go.  But if you try to drive them out, they won’t leave without a fight.  And that’s why God gives us armor.  Because you will have to fight; it will cost you something.  You know you can’t drive out an entrenched sin without some pain and suffering and maybe a little embarrassment.  And we are all a little afraid of the damage we might suffer.

God gives us armor so we can confront principalities and powers as they manifest themselves in our own lives.  And we can overcome.  Our armor prevents our being overcome of evil and enables us to overcome evil with good.

When I was a teen, I heard Jack Hyles preach, “You can’t fall from a crawl.”  It rhymed, which made it extra persuasive.  He pointed to some of the great heroes of the faith – Samson, David, even Moses.  And he explained that they fell because they were running.  They were in the fight.  The guy who is doing something is the guy who falls.  You can’t fall from a crawl. 

Never mind that Jack was covering for himself and probably also for his son.  It is patently false that the guy who does nothing doesn’t fall into sin.  Nor is it true that the guy who is doing something is the guy who falls – as if running tends towards tripping.  Hyles made an art form of garbage theology.  But his message was popular because Christians worry about this sort of thing.  Hyles touched on the soldier’s fear – that he would shame his Master.  He tried to make people feel okay with shaming our Lord as if it were a mark of valiance.  That isn’t what Paul does. 

Remember again the nature of the spiritual assault we face – “for we wrestle not against flesh and blood.”  We are in a spiritual battle, so we fear the kind of spiritual assault we will likely face when we confront an entrenched sin privately or publicly.  Probably more than a few Christians have a sense that their spiritual life is somewhat precarious.  We worry about letting down our guard at all.  Sometimes, we can become a little superstitious about our routines.  We feel how vulnerable we are to spiritual attack.  Against a personal threat, I can lock my doors and keep a gun handy.  I can work out and condition and prepare to defend myself.   But when it comes to spiritual assault, I feel defenseless and vulnerable.

If I try to do something for the Lord, that puts a target on my back.  When I leave the devil alone, he leaves me alone (at least, that’s how I rationalize it).  But if I take a public stand, I might be exposed.  If I speak up for Jesus, I might fail in some public way that brings both Jesus and ourselves into open shame.  This is why God gave us armor – so we can stand confidently.

Spiritual Armor for a Spiritual Man

This is precisely why God gives us armor and why that armor is spiritual.  God gives us these things to defend against a spiritual enemy.  And God gives us these things to infuse confidence as we join the fray. 

The armor strengthens us in our pursuit of holiness.  All these things – the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes for the feet, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit – make it possible for me to confront the enemy without suffering severe damage.  Remember, this is spiritual armor – not mystical, not theoretical.  These are the concrete ways that God’s grace at work in my life strengthens me.  As I conquer old, entrenched sins, I know God’s armor has equipped me for this work.

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The armor enables us to preserve our holiness.  The armor of God equips me as I go to war so that the enemy’s blows won’t do more damage than the sins I seek to uproot.  But the armor is still at work when I have conquered and begun to establish the right way of doing, to replace the sinful way I followed before. 

The holiness that God establishes in my life is protected by the armor of God.  As I sincerely embrace the truth (belt) and seek to establish a practical holiness (breastplate), my personal holiness is protected.  As I understand the gospel so that I am prepared to preach it to others (shoes), my holiness is strengthened and protected.  As I take hold of God’s promises, take God at His Word, rest in His promises, believe to the saving of my soul (shield), and appropriate His grace to my need, my holiness is preserved.  As I rest in God’s promises and use the means He has provided for the assurance of my salvation (helmet), my holiness is strengthened and defended.  And as I use the Word of God to answer temptation and unbelief and disloyalty (sword) – both in my own life and in my dealings with others, my holiness is preserved. 

The armor defends us when we stand for God.  I can be confident when I meet the challenges of unbelief around me.  I will come under the magnifying glass if I stand for God in the workplace.  People will be looking for me to fail the way they looked for Daniel to sin.  Some might even try to catch me in a sin or set a trap for me so that I’ll fall.  But I know that God has provided me with spiritual armor so I can successfully resist their efforts. 

Let this encourage you, believer…

Take Unto You the Whole Armour of God

Putting on the armor is a spiritual exercise.  It consists in rehearsing and re-applying the grace and power God has supplied us.  Every piece of armor is spiritual in nature – but (as I have been saying) that doesn’t make it make-believe or mystical.  The belt is put on by our sincere pursuit of the truth in God’s Word.  The breastplate is put on by striving to live godly in Christ Jesus.  The feet are shod by growing in our understanding of the grace of the gospel so that I can present it to others.  The shield is taken up by trusting the Lord for justifying grace.  The helmet is put on by making our calling and election sure, by examining ourselves, whether we are in the faith, by proving our own selves.  The sword of the Spirit is taken by letting the Word of God dwell in us richly.

Putting on the armor is a daily exercise.  When you open the Word of God in the morning, you put on the armor.  Be sure that you don’t wear it haphazardly or carelessly.  A significant purpose of your daily devotions is to repair your armor, ensuring that it fits correctly, checking that it is securely fastened in place.

Putting on the armor is a constant exercise.  The armor comes off by neglect.  If we are careless of our armor, if we let it take a beating and fall into disrepair, it will stop doing what God made it to do.  So we must be diligent about our armor, ensuring that it is worn properly, that it fits right, that it isn’t compromised or damaged. 

Putting on the armor is a vital exercise.  Your spiritual life depends on it.  Your enemy doesn’t rest.  He is always on the prowl.

Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.  For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.  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.  For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, (I Thessalonians 5:6-9)

Watch and pray, believer!  Be sober.  Be vigilant.  Make yourself ready in prayer.  And may God bless you as you take up His sword to fight.

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