Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. In our traditional services this weekend we sang this popular refrain:
“Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus,
Going on before.”
Is that what we are—Christian soldiers marching off to do battle with the enemy? Throughout the Scriptures, there certainly seem to be indications of this reality to life in the Church Militant. Perhaps the best example is when Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18, ESV). Gates, of course, are a defensive weapon. So if the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church, Jesus implies that the Church must be storming the gates of hell!
But not in Ephesians 6. In our epistle lesson today, the posture of the Christian soldier is not offensive, but defensive. If we want a picture, Ephesians 6 is less like Joshua and the armies of Israel marching around the walls of Jericho and more like the righteous King Hezekiah holding out in Jerusalem against the Assyrian army, waiting for the angel of Yahweh to act and destroy his enemy.
Our “marching orders” in Ephesians 6 are not about marching at all. Rather, St. Paul tells the Church to do one thing: stand. Stand! “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:10-11). In verse 13, Paul encourages us to “withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to sand firm.” “Stand, therefore,” he says in verse 14. Not charge! Certainly not retreat! But stand!
In Exodus 14, the children of Israel are caught between the Egyptian Army and the Red Sea. They are stuck and, seemingly, have no place to go. They cry out against God and Moses, questioning why Yahweh would deliver them from slavery only to slaughter them on the beach. But then Moses speaks this powerful Word: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again” (Ex. 14:13). God didn’t tell them to fight or flee. He told them to stand. And then Moses stretched out his staff, parting the waters of the Red Sea. The Israelites crossed to safety on dry ground, but when the Egyptians pursued them, the waters returned to their place and drowned the enemy. The Lord worked salvation for them because the battle belongs to the Lord. All they have to do is stand and watch! So stand!
Not only must we remain mindful of our orders (“Stand!”), but we must also remember who the enemy is: not people! Inarguably, American culture has changed. Our post-modern, relativistic culture has little love for orthodox Christianity. In fact, the world is openly hostile to the message—and messengers—of Jesus. We can try to parse all the sociological, political, and theological reasons for this. And we can get ourselves worked up by listening to all the talking heads on the cable news channels. But reality remains: our real enemies are not human beings, whether they are the promoters of political correctness, politicians, political parties, Hollywood, the NFL, foreign dictators, or even Islam. And while it is true that Satan can use wicked people for his purposes, our real enemies are still not “flesh and blood.”
The Apostle Paul reminds us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:13). Ever since the serpent slithered into view and tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, we have been in a pitched battle against the hordes of hell.
Unfortunately, most people—including Christians—deny the existence of the devil today. According to the Barna Group, only about a third of American Christians (35%) believe that Satan is an actual, malevolent entity. Yet the devil and his minions are real. Paul calls them “rulers,” “authorities,” “cosmic powers,” and “spiritual forces of evil.” This present darkness is a spiritual threat. The demons continuously assault our consciences with temptations, guilt, fear, and despair. The name Satan means “accuser,” and Satan accuses our conscience night and day, trying to get us to give up and give in to his schemes. And he is ruthless. The apostle Peter says that our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:9). Pray that you don’t become prey! “To that end, keep alert with perseverance” (Eph. 6:18).
Against this fearsome enemy, it might appear that we are mercilessly outmatched. But the Bible says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). Satan may have his demon hordes, but we have the God of angel armies on our side! I am reminded of an obscure battle account in 2 Kings 6. In that passage, the king of Israel trembles in fear when he gazes upon the Syrian forces arrayed against him. The prophet Elisha’s servant is also afraid. But Elisha cheers him by saying, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). Elisha prays that his young man would see the truth. “So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (v. 17). The Lord struck the Syrian army with blindness, and Israel was delivered that day.
Just as Jesus does not leave us alone on the field of battle, so also he does not leave us defenseless. In fact, he arms us with the very best weapons of war. St. Paul writes, “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 firm” (Eph. 6:13). Take out the full-color insert from your bulletin illustrating the Armor of God.
Let’s take a brief equipment inventory. First, the belt of truth (Eph. 6:14). God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). So is Jesus Christ, who is himself “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). We stand with God’s truth—and not the world’s ways or opinions of men—firmly girded around us.
Next is the breastplate of righteousness (Eph. 6:14). Unfortunately, the description on your diagram is misleading, because it states, “Righteousness is being honest, good, humble, and fair to others” (Rose Book). But the breastplate of righteousness that guards our heart is not earned, but given. In Greek (and Latin) the word for righteousness is related to the word “justified.” To be justified means to be made right with God—even to be declared right with God by judicial fiat. According to Romans 3:28, “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” In other words, we are righteous not because we do good things, but because Christ has made us good. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). What guards our heart is the righteousness Christ won for us and delivered to us—not what we supposedly do for ourselves!
The next pieces of armor are our Gospel shoes—“the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (6:15). The Gospel is the Good News that Christ died for our sins and gives us eternal life, not because we deserve it, but simply because he loves us. So also we are ready to share this Good News with others to comfort their consciences and assure them of God’s salvation.
Our greatest defense against the devil’s attacks is “the shield of faith” (6:16). Faith is a gift from God (2:8). Faith clings to the promises of God. It believes and receives his forgiveness. When the devil is at his worst, your faith in Christ will give you hope even when hope seems lost.
The “helmet of salvation” (6:17) protects our heads. We have been given the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). And so we do not think about or see things in the same way the world does. The Word of God guides our thoughts and speech so that we “seek the things that are above, where Christ is” (Col. 3:1).
Finally, we come to our last weapon—and only offensive weapon: “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” In the Book of Revelation, God’s Word is said to come out of Christ’s mouth like a mighty sword. This same Word has been entrusted to us. It points us to Christ, who is our hero and the defender of our faith.
These are the weapons Christ gives us. They are all the gifts of God (cf. 2:8). We do not earn, win, or purchase them. They are ours by right of our baptism. In fact, the very language of “putting on” the armor of God has the dual meaning of “being clothed” in other places of the New Testament (Greek: enduō). In fact, earlier in Ephesians 4, this language is used to describe the putting off of the old, sinful self and being clothed with Christ in Baptism (Eph. 4:22-24; cf. Gal. 3:27). In Baptism, we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ that covers all our sin. We are clothed with Christ, our one defense and our righteousness (Rev. 7:9-14; 19:14).
We are clothed with Christ and covered with prayer (Eph. 6:17-20). We stand firm against the devil and his schemes because Christ himself has given us the armor of God. And Christ himself has put it on us. Indeed, the only reason we can stand against the devil is because Jesus stands with us—he who once took his stand on the cross, where he destroyed the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and chained the dragon forever (Rev. 20:1-3).
The Good News for us in our spiritual warfare is that even though the devil is called a raging dragon and a dangerous lion, he is chained. Martin Luther likened Satan to an angry, rabid dog tied to a tree. He may bark and growl and foam at the mouth, but he cannot harm you (not really), unless you come too close. For the devil is tied up. Ever since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Satan is a chained dragon and a caged lion. So no matter what he throws against you, stand!
Stand, because we do not have to strategize and figure out how to win the war. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph. 6:10). The victory’s done, the battle won. From the cross Jesus declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). And so it is. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of + the Holy Spirit. Amen.