The average woman in the U.S today can easily recite some fundamental fashion knowledge. She can probably tell you what colors she looks good in, what styles work for her figure and the foundational must-haves of a wardrobe. Some women might even be able to tell you what it takes to dress for success or how to accessorize effectively. But in today’s world the majority of women are ignorant regarding the most essential fashion basic of all – the spiritual wardrobe – offered to us by God himself. In the sixth chapter of Ephesians, the apostle Paul lays out piece by piece what every successful Christian should be wearing: a set of spiritual armor. Paul draws upon the image of the finest of ancient warriors – the Roman soldier – and dials in a picture of a Christian who would be spiritually “dressed to kill.”
13 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. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints – Eph 6:13-18 (NKJV)
Paul wrote this passage while he was a prisoner of Rome, chained to a Roman soldier. And although the soldier assigned to him probably was not dressed in full armor Paul knew exactly what that Roman soldier’s war gear entailed. His many imprisonments and multiple excursions in the company of Roman infantrymen had inscribed a mental picture on Paul’s mind. It was not an easily forgotten image and employing the illustration came naturally. Paul refers to our spiritual protection and weaponry as “the whole armor of God.” This simple phrase reinforces two important facts. First, our supernatural set of military hardware comes directly from God. And second, God has provided a complete set of spiritual covering for us, not a partial one. He has given us the “whole” armor of God. The phrase “whole” armor is taken from the word panoplia in the Greek and it pictures a Roman soldier who is fully dressed in his armor from head to toe. Everything the soldier needed to successfully combat his adversary was provided for “Rome’s best.” And God has similarly given us everything we need to successfully combat our opposing spiritual forces. Nothing is lacking. Paul specifically mentions five pieces of spiritual armor and two offensive spiritual weapons that God graciously provides to each Christian soldier so that we can effectively stand against our evil foe.
The loin belt or girdle of truth. The Roman soldier wore a loin belt which was also referred to as a girdle. Although it was the least impressive item amongst the soldier’s gear, it was the central piece because it held all the other parts together. The loin belt held the breastplate in place and the shield rested on a clip on one side of the loin belt while on the other side was another clip from which the Roman soldier hung his sword. In the ancient war garment, the girdle about the loins held in place every other part of the uniform. It was an essential. If the girdle was lost, you lost everything. The garments would fly open and the other pieces of weaponry would fall off the soldier and onto the field of battle. This integral piece of armor corresponds in Paul’s spiritual regalia with the belt of truth. Satan is “the father of lies” but the believer whose life is controlled by truth will ultimately defeat him. The loin belt holds the other parts of the armor together, and truth is that integrating force in the life of a Christian. A person who knows the truth and possesses integrity, with a clear conscience, can face the enemy without fear. The belt also held the sword and unless a believer walks in the truth he cannot effectively use the Word of truth. If a believer begins to live a life of hypocrisy – if lies and falsehood begin to permeate the life of a believer – everything begins to fall apart.
The breastplace of righteousness. The second piece of armor that every Roman combatant added to his collection was a magnificent breastplate. The breastplate was constructed of two large sheets of metal. One piece covered the front of the soldier and the other piece covered his back, and the two sheets were attached at the top of the shoulders by large brass rings. Frequently these metal plates were comprised of smaller scale-like pieces of metal that, when joined together, comprised a coating that protected the wearer’s torso from his neck to below his waist. This vital piece of armor covered the most vulnerable parts of the body and in Paul’s analogy the breastplate symbolizes the believer’s righteous life in Christ. Only the righteousness of Christ can enable a Christian to stand before God, but a heart that is well-protected is a heart that is not condemning the believer. It is very difficult to have sin in your life while at the same time trying to fight a spiritual battle. According to Ephesians 4:27, we are not to “give place to the devil.” What this refers to is that sin in the life of a Christian gives Satan a place of occupation; a stronghold to use against his foe. Paul instructed the Ephesians, “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception and…Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Eph 4:22-24 (NLT). Satan’s job description is that of the “accuser of the brethren” but he finds it much more difficult to accuse a believer who is living a godly life; one whose breastplate of righteousness is intact.
The shoes of the Gospel. The Roman soldier also wore a third piece of gear – a pair of treacherous looking shoes. These shoes were unlike the sandals worn by civilians which were merely flimsy soles held on by pieces of twine wrapped around the heel and the toe. The shoes that the Roman soldier wore were primarily made of metal. The first piece was called a greave. It was a tube-like piece of brass that wrapped around the soldier’s lower leg, beginning at the top of his knee and extending down past the calf, coming to rest on the top of the foot. The greave almost gave the appearance of boots that were made of brass. In addition, the top side of the foot was also encased in a piece of metal and on the bottom, the Roman soldier’s shoes were affixed with a set of spikes. The Roman soldier wore these shoes with soles that were thickly studded to give him better footing for fighting. Paul makes it clear that if we are going to “stand firm” in battle, our feet will need to be shod with the shoes of the Gospel. Shoes are necessary for standing. They speak of the foundation. In hand-to-hand combat soldiers are taught to make sure their feet are anchored. Romans 5:1 tells us, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” Because we have the peace with God that comes from the knowledge of the Gospel, we know that God is always on our side and we need not fear Satan’s attack. This assurance is the foundation we stand on.
The shield of faith. A fourth important piece of protection, a large, oblong shield which measured about four feet by two feet, was carried by every Roman warrior. The shield was shaped like a door and was made of multiple layers of animal hide tightly woven together. The outside rim of the shield was framed in meta and the shield’s size alone provided good coverage. As the soldier held it in front of him, it protected him from spears, arrows, and “fiery darts.” Faith is a defensive weapon which we can take up as a shield to protect us from the fiery darts of the enemy. The actual “fiery darts” were arrows dipped in pitch and set ablaze. In the spiritual realm Satan gives no mercy as he shoots all types of “fiery darts” at the hearts and minds of Christians. These flaming missiles come in many varieties: blazing lies, profane fixations, hateful combustible thoughts, smoldering doubts, burning passions; the list goes on and on. Satan utilizes all their forms and enjoys pelting us with on-going assaults. Failing to quench these “fiery darts” with the shield of our Christian faith can spell disaster. A blazing arrow – a strategic attack on the mind or heart – can cause a fire which can quickly spread and the internal inferno that results has the power to change a vibrant disciple into a charred and ineffective believer. We never know quite when Satan will shoot a well placed dart at us, so we must walk by faith, holding steadfastly to our beliefs, effectively wielding the shield of faith.
The helmet of salvation. Every Roman soldier also wore a helmet. This all important piece of armor protected the soldier from receiving a fatal blow to the head. The helmets of the Roman troops were made of brass and ornately adorned with feathers or animal hair. Satan always wants to target the mind. It was the initial way he defeated humanity as he came to deceive Eve and he has used it ever since. The helmet of salvation refers to the mind protected and controlled by God. It is sad that many Christians believe that having a strong mind and intellect for Christ is unimportant. A keen God-controlled intellect plays a vital role in Christian growth, service, and living. The Christian who studies the Bible and learns the meaning of Bible doctrines is not going to be easily led astray. We are to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The Apostle Paul, when he ministered, always made it a priority to teach new converts the truths of the Word of God regarding their salvation in Jesus Christ. He did this because he knew that this “spiritual” helmet would protect them from Satan’s lies. Likewise we all need the helmet supplied by adequate study of the truths of the Gospel; we should not approach life and the spiritual warfare it brings without protection for our minds.
Two offensive weapons: the sword of the Spirit and Spirit-led prayer. In addition to their basic armament all ancient warriors were also equipped with at least one offensive weapon – and the weapon of choice in the first century was a sword. Although there were many kinds of swords, the blade that the Roman soldier most often carried was a very heavy broad sword specifically designed for jabbing and killing. Hebrews 4:12 compares the Word of God to a sword that is sharp and able to pierce the inner man just as a material sword pierces the body, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Heb 4:12 (NKJV) A material sword pierces the body, but the Word of God pierces the heart. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, Christ used the sword of the Spirit and defeated the enemy. Three times Jesus said, “It is written” (Luke 4:1-13) in thwarting the enemy’s attacks. Satan also quoted the Word as he tempted Jesus but he did not quote it completely or use it accurately. Satan tries to use the Word of God to confuse us, so it is important that we familiarize ourselves with the Word of God and that we study it regularly and thoroughly. The better you know the Word of God, the easier it will be for you to detect Satan’s lies and reject his offers—it is your sword of the Spirit.
Last but not least, the final piece of spiritual armor and our second weapon of offense that is listed in Ephesians 6 is prayer. Paul tells us “pray at all times in the Spirit.” While no part of the armor is given to correspond as a symbol of prayer, prayer is nonetheless an important part of every Christian soldier’s weaponry. And “praying in the Spirit” – as Paul refers to it – is not just turning in your grocery list to God. Praying in the Spirit underlines the fact that you and I recognize our enemy and that we are seeking to lay hold of God to provide the spiritual resources that He knows we need. Paul was reminding them not to forget to ask God to back them up in their attempts at spiritual combat. As soldiers in God’s army we can never afford to be without the cover of the big artillery that God alone can provide.
Finally, as we come to the end of Paul’s listing of our spiritual weaponry, it is important to realize that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is not his only NT reference to the need for spiritual readiness and protection. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he also warns those disciples about their need for spiritual armor. He writes, “It is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” Romans 13:11-12 (NKJV). Paul told them, wake up, cast off your sin, and “put on the armor of light.” As believers today we can choose to heed Paul’s cry to arms and put on the armor, or like ostriches we can choose to bury our heads in the sand and deny that there is even a war on. Can you hear the trumpet sounding, calling you to spiritual battle? If you can, be obedient, don’t delay, get up, get off your bed and get dressed. Find that belt and breastplate. Pick up your shield. Put on your helmet and don’t forget your shoes. Grab your sword on your way out and, above all else, don’t forget to pray. You must not remain asleep another minute because the battle is real and you are on the frontlines!