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. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God… (Ephesians 6:13-17)
To win the spiritual war, we must put on Christ's war-clothes. Paul lists six pieces of the spiritual armor. Paul was, remember, imprisoned as he wrote. He had seen Romans soldiers and their armor up close. The Spirit showed him a parallel, for God has given spiritual armor to his people. This list is life, for with these elements we can stand against the attacks of the enemy. When we are losing in the battle, we can look to this list to see if we have set down any part of our armor, take it back up, and stand again.
First, We Have the Belt of Truth
The belt held the Roman soldier's garments together, enabling them to run. Sometimes, the belt secured their sword or other weapons.
Some have thought of the belt of truth, then, as the word of God which hold everything together and on which we hang other instruments of war. But, later in the passage, Paul will speak of the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). It seems the Bible comes later in our list of weaponry, so the belt of truth must be something else.
Truth is the opposite of a lie, so the belt of truth speaks of a “true” life, one filled with integrity and faithfulness. When duplicity enters our souls, our armor is compromised, for, as Christ said, we must be on guard against the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1).
We know this truth. Whenever we invite sin to dwell in our lives, we feel a loss of strength and power. David, while holding unconfessed sin, said, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Psalm 32:3). He had taken off his belt of truth and was living a duplicitous life, so his power waned. For us, whenever we put on a consistent life — not sinless, but clean and progressing in sanctification — we are putting on the belt of truth, free to run in God’s will and purposes.
Second, We Have the Breastplate of Righteousness
The breastplate protected the major organs of the soldier, and likely covered the front and backside from attack. The breastplate protected and defended the wearer.
Paul equates the breastplate with righteousness. For many, this signifies that significant protection in spiritual warfare is the imputed righteousness of Christ. He has deposited his righteousness into every believer, replacing our unrighteousness, which was as filthy rags. So his righteousness serves as a protection against condemnation, accusations, and despair.
However, there is a better and more satisfactory interpretation regarding the breastplate of righteousness. Later, Paul mentions the helmet of salvation. The helmet is the piece of armor which guards us against condemnation, accusations, and despair. So what is the purpose of the breastplate of righteousness? While the Bible does describe righteousness as something imparted to believers by faith, it also describes righteousness as a way of life. The righteous life is a good life and an upright one.
This interpretation makes the breastplate of righteousness the armor of right actions towards those around me, a sort of moral virtue. Where the belt of truth would be right actions towards God — or godliness — the breastplate of righteousness would be right actions towards man — or righteousness.
So, when at odds with others, we have the weapon of right actions. As much as depends on us, we must behave righteously toward all we interact with, especially those closest to us. When we do not, we lose some of our power, some of our strength, revealing a crack in our armor.
Third, We Have the Shoes of the Gospel
In those days, it was a significant advantage to the world's armies to have well-shoed soldiers. When their men had good traction, they could move more swiftly than the enemy. Speed led to advantageous tactical positions, which led to victory. Additionally, stable footing was also helpful once the battles commenced, for in combat a solid foundation is vital.
Perhaps Paul means that we ought to put on the shoes of the gospel and run to preach it throughout our world. This interpretation is possible, not to mention beautiful. We agree with Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (quoted from Romans 10:15). We are to be a witnessing people, testifying of what Jesus has done for us, who God is.
Perhaps, however, Paul spoke, here in Ephesians, of the sure-footedness which comes from the gospel. He does refer to it, after all, as the “gospel of peace,” a hint at what he expects the gospel to produce, not only in the new convert but the long-time believer.
In the fight, we need the gospel and the surefootedness it provides, because though there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, the devil sure tries (Romans 8:1). The gospel makes our feet strong, able to move, firm on a solid foundation. When condemned, we remember our standing in Christ, and we move on. For the attack of condemnation, so often attached to our own sin and limitations, we have the weapon of the good news, the gospel of peace.
Fourth, We Have the Shield of Faith
The shield Paul speaks of is the large, full-bodied wooden shield, not the smaller offensive weapon Roman soldiers sometimes carried. We know he's thinking of the larger shield because Paul expected it to absorb arrows, the fiery darts of the wicked one. In his day, soldiers would lock shields together as they approached a fortress, creating a protective ceiling able to catch the arrows raining down upon them. Wrapped in linen and leather, their shields were designed to extinguish the flaming darts.
To fall under the attack of fiery darts is a frightening proposition, and faith helps us through every fear of life. Satan’s attacks are wide and varied, but faith in God is a shield which enables us to quench “every fiery dart” Satan releases. Depression, opposition, and despair are all overcome by faith in God, a simple trust he is alive, able, and willing to aid us in our time of need.
Does fear make itself regularly known to you? Are the pressures of your life immense? Are you burdened, feeling the weight of attack? For all of it, there is faith.
Fifth, We Have the Helmet of Salvation
The helmet, as we would imagine, protected the head of the Roman soldier. It was a piece of armor of the utmost significance, for a head shot could quickly eliminate a warrior from the fight. If the head is wounded, the fight is effectively over.
Paul repeated this particular piece of the armor to the Thessalonian believers, telling them to put on, “for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). They need to cover their minds with a sincere hope of salvation, and so do we. In the Bible, there are three parts to salvation: our past salvation, our present salvation, and our future salvation. In other words, we are to thank God he has saved us (justification), will save us throughout life (sanctification), and is going to save us eternally (glorification). When insecurities and worries and doubts invade, we have the hope of our salvation to guard our minds.
Sixth, and Finally, We Have the Sword of the Spirit
The offensive weapon of the Roman soldier was the sword, and the offensive weapon of the believer is the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit, for the Word is the Spirit’s great instrument. He uses it within the lives of his people.
In the garden of Eden, Satan attacked the word of God. He asked, “Did God actually say?” (Genesis 3:1). It was his way of undermining God. He promised Eve, “You will not surely die,” which was his way of deceiving humanity (Genesis 3:4).
In the garden of Eden, Eve twisted the word of God. She answered the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die'” (Genesis 3:2-3). Innocent enough, until we note her addition, “neither shall you touch it,” her way of adding a legalistic twist to God’s word.
In the garden of Eden, Adam disobeyed the word of God. God told him not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Blatantly, he disobeyed. Everyone had the word of God, but it was no sword of the Spirit for them.
However, when Jesus came, not to a garden of paradise, but a wilderness of temptation, he used the sword of the Spirit. Driven into that wastelands by the Spirit, Jesus accurately applied the word while under the demonic attack of massive temptation. He used Deuteronomy 8:3 — “man shall not live by bread alone” — to conclude there was more to him, a man, than a physical need, but that he needed God’s word. He used Deuteronomy 6:13 — “him only shall you serve” — to conclude there was only one way for him to be satisfied now, as a man, and that was to serve his Father in heaven. He used Deuteronomy 6:16 — “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” — to conclude that God had been kind to him and that he would not test God's goodness as Israel had in the wilderness. Because Israel had unnecessarily tested God in their desert, after he had abundantly blessed them with the exodus from Egypt, Jesus knew he should not fall into the same error and test God’s goodness. The Father was already good. On each point, Jesus used the word of God accurately — it had become the sword of the Spirit.
Believers everywhere benefit when the serious study of Scripture becomes their lifelong habit. To belong to a church with a high view of Scripture in both confession and practice is of the utmost importance. To have a regular habit of personal Bible reading serves as a continual life flow. To regularly come under solid Bible teaching is an opportunity for mind transformation. The sword of God’s Spirit is God’s word, so we must allow him to use it in our lives.