In Ephesians 6:13-18, the Apostle Paul lays out the full armor of God with which the Church must fit herself as she struggles against the forces of darkness. We are to stand firm in the Spirit and the Gospel, says Paul, by putting on the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness, donning the helmet of salvation, wielding the sword of the Spirit, carrying the shield of faith, and utilizing prayer at all times.
Some Christians have assumed that these armaments are merely metaphors for the personal tools of faith that the individual believer uses to fight a private battle against the devil. Others see these implements as biblically-mandated weapons for the visible Church to wield political or military power against mortal enemies. But such viewpoints limit or distort the profound meaning that Paul is trying to convey to us in this teaching. The equipping of the prophetic full armor of God upon the Church is much more startling and humbling in its significance.
To truly understand the point of Ephesians 6:13-18, one must see the striking similarities between Paul’s description of the armor of God and the instruments of warfare that the coming Messiah is shown to be wearing in the Old Testament, specifically in Isaiah 11:5, Isaiah 49:2, Isaiah 52:6-7, Isaiah 59:16-17 and Psalm 35:1-3. Paul’s use of this Old Testament messianic imagery in Ephesians is no small coincidence, and it would serve us well to take notice of it.
When we read these Old Testament passages, we are told of the Messiah who will one day come and wear these items on His Body: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the helmet of salvation. Does this armor sound familiar? It should, because when the Body of Christ is discussed in great detail in Ephesians, Paul teaches that the Church (aka the Body) is to clothe herself with the very same things that were prophesied to be worn on the body of the coming Messiah.
What does this mean? It means that the Church is not simply an army of Christian soldiers metaphorically clothed for spiritual battle; we are actually united with Christ as His Body. In other words, if Jesus is to do His work through His Body, then Christians must be corporately vested with the same spiritual armor as the Messiah, Who is our Head and the Captain of our Salvation.
As pointed out in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament:
“Paul transfers ‘the whole armor of God’ from God himself, or from his Messiah, to God’s people in this passage because… he knows that the victory of God’s people over the devil is not yet complete” (pg. 832).
Indeed Christ has work yet to do through us, His people!
This truth should shake the Church to her very core and inspire us to greater and bolder work in spreading His Kingdom message despite the persecution that will come against us for doing so. We need to fully embrace this great mystery of the Church’s intimate, spiritual union with Jesus Christ and lay hold of the power and victory that is innate in that holy identification. To think that the Church can just toss off one or more of these elements of our God-given armor in order to avoid confrontation with the world is a stunning betrayal of our Savior. To do so is to eliminate the unique identifying marks of the very Person whom the Church represents.
Jesus Himself spoke of this mystical union with His Church in Matthew 25 and Acts 9 when he saw the acts of negligence and violence perpetrated against His disciples as crimes against His very Person. Why else would Jesus confront Saul, one of the Bible’s most notorious tormentors of the early Christians, and say to him, “Why are you persecuting Me?” Surely the Church is ordained by God to be in the unique position of bearing Christ-likeness to the world.
We should, therefore, make no apologies to the world for Christ and His Gospel and stand firm as the Church… the Body of Christ. This is the Church that Jesus promised would not be overcome by the gates of Hades. We must gladly display our spiritual armor and be prepared to be vilified by the world just as Christ was vilified, and to suffer just as He suffered. Remember, the world is not really directing their attacks against us, they are directing their attacks against Jesus, their Stumbling Stone and Rock of Offense.
Indeed we are engaged in a spiritual battle that will undoubtedly have temporal consequences for us, both individually and corporately. We need look no further than the example of Stephen and his martyrdom to see how this war will often play out when we fight with Truth and Love and the world fights back with the demonic weapons of intimidation and brute force. But just as Jesus promised, the Church in all her godly armor will prevail and bring glory to Him. On this point there is no doubt.
May God grant us the strength, confidence, and boldness to rise up in the full armor of God and proclaim the glory of the Gospel no matter what the cost!
Inspired by the exegesis from a sermon by Pastor Steve Ward