“…put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
– Ephesians 6:13
The Christian life is simultaneously one of war and peace, or perhaps better, peace and war.
In spite of what some have claimed throughout church history, God means for the Christian to know that he is at peace with Him (Rom. 5:1 and I John 5:12-13).
And God also means for the Christian to know that he is at war with the devil.
First, let’s talk about peace with God.
Amazingly, we are told that Jesus Christ defeated the devil at the cross.
The great Old Testament prophecy of Genesis 3:15 – that Eve’s offspring would crush the Serpent’s head – was fulfilled when, we are told, “having disarmed the powers and authorities, [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
(one without the eyes of faith might think that it was Jesus who was made a shameful public spectacle, but evidently not…)
So even though Satan introduced strife between man and God, the cross defeats Satan and restores man’s relationship with God.
Second, there is war.
With Christ’s earthly mission accomplished – “It is finished” – God’s Holy Spirit raised Him from the dead and poured out His Holy Spirit on His Bride, the Church.
For God uses His church as the “mop up” operations vs. Satan proceed.
Hence, right at the beginning of the book of Acts, we hear about the beginning of the end, as Christ’s finished work takes effect:
“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams
We are in the last days then, the end times, as the day of final judgement draws ever nearer. Even if Satan might be a defeated foe in these “Last Days,” he fights on ; God, for some reason, permits him to fight on…
Why does Satan bother? It is a mystery to me. Perhaps he thinks he somehow has a chance. Or maybe he doesn’t believe the prophecy of his final defeat. Or, does he simply try to cause as much pain and suffering as he can until his end comes?
In any case, he has his sights set on you.
In this guerilla war, you, believe it or not, are in his crosshairs.
Again, God means for the Christian to know that He is at war with the devil.
Have you ever heard the famous hymn “I Walk in Danger All the Way?”
It is a most appropriate hymn to talk about as regards our Epistle reading this morning. Just so we can be reminded of what we are dealing with out there.
In verses 2 and 3 it does not talk directly about the devil, but about what the Bible calls “his work” (I John 3:8), namely sin, disease, suffering and death:
2 I pass through trials all the way,
With sin and ills contending;
In patience I must bear each day
The cross of God’s own sending.
When in adversity
I know not where to flee,
When storms of woe my soul dismay,
I pass through trials all the way.
3 And death pursues me all the way,
Nowhere I rest securely;
He comes by night, he comes by day,
He takes his prey most surely.
A failing breath, and I
In death’s strong grasp may lie
To face eternity today
As death pursues me all the way.
The first verse of the hymn deals specifically with our foe, the destroyer:
1 I walk in danger all the way,
The thought shall never leave me
That Satan, who has marked his prey,
Is plotting to deceive me.
This foe with hidden snares
May seize me unawares
If I should fail to watch and pray.
I walk in danger all the way.
We are at war. As the Lutheran Study Bible puts it
“In these end times, evil forces battle against God’s children, who have been rescued from evil (2 Co 6:2).
Out text speaks about “the evil day”. What is this evil day?
The commentator Clinton Arnold says that it is an experience that “comes at various intervals throughout the lives of God’s people when the powers of darkness execute their strategies in an effort to cause believers to fall” (450, see Lenski also, 663).
Think of what Jesus says to Peter prior to his temptation to deny Jesus on the night of his betrayal: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31)
None of this is easy for us to understand – in Peter’s day and today as well. Oftentimes, we are perplexed about where to look, how to fight.
If Satan is trying to destroy me, if Satan is trying to destroy Christ’s Church, where specifically can I see this happening?
I will be extremely blunt here: It happens in so many cases and in every which way… The schemes, lies and subtle manipulations of Satan happen in hundreds of thousands of ways. And ultimately, Satan’s goal is to destroy your soul.
He wants you to leave behind the Gospel of Jesus Christ, particularly in your greatest time of need, perhaps as you near death. After all, above all else, that is what he hates!
And just what is that Gospel that Satan hates so badly?
It is something outside of you, and that thing by which
…you were delivered from all your oppression
…from where you draw all your strength…
…and that thing that no earthly power can match.
The Apostle Paul said that the Gospel is the power of God for all who believe and defined it quite specifically in I Corinthians 15:
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
Above all, Satan wants you and everybody else to
…ignore this message,
to minimize this message,
to not regard this message,
to fail to see its supreme importance,
and to even hate and fight against it with every evil impulse that is within you…..
Yes, the thing he wants to kill most is the consciences of Christians. He wants the church dead and unawake to His word, particularly His Gospel.
He also is looking most forward to seeing all manner of chaos and destruction, in some ways it seems like a horror movie…
Disorder and disarray… Mayhem and murder… Luther grasped this a bit:
“The wickedness of the devil is so great that no man can grasp it, nor is it possible for any human being to be so wicked in his own nature. For although a man is very wicked and intensely angry and does his very worst, he thoroughly wreaks his vengeance, pours out the vials of his wrath and rage, and then stops. But to be so wicked as to find one’s pleasure and delight only in the misfortune of other people, in their lingering hunger, thirst, misery, and want, in the perpetration of nothing but bloodshed and treason, especially in the lives of those who neither have done nor could do one any harm, this is the hellish and insatiable rage and fury of the wretched devil, of which human nature is incapable. For no human being could of himself be so desperately wicked as to be delighted and pleased to see a young, innocent child stabbed to death before his eyes without any reason or an entire city of both young and old people innocently murdered…” (1156, p. 394, What Luther Says)”
Somedays I wonder if Luther here underestimates the capacity of human nature to find pleasure and delight in other’s misfortunes.
My mind goes to various atrocities that I know have been committed by men….I think of the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky writes a novel called “Demons”, or, alternatively, “The Possessed”.[i]
…and years later the Russian revolution leads it’s most zealous adherents to commit unspeakable atrocities that I will not, well, speak of in this place.
Sometimes I wonder if it is only people like cowardly, status-seeking, and obsequious university academics who are willing to cover for such evil, cover their eyes to such evil….
In any case, I really do hope that Luther is basically right, somehow… That some evils are so great most no man or women can abide them for long… or live in peace with the knowledge of them until death swallows them up forever….
In any case, an important point needs to be made here.
Satan indeed loves extreme evil. And yet, the most subtle kinds of evil are the ones that are most likely to fool most people. His clever lies are those things which are most insidious and deadly to our faith…
How insidious and deadly have his lies been?
Well, consider that even now as Christian hope springs up elsewhere in the world, for instance in China and the “Global South”, Christ’s church has been more or less decimated in Europe, in England, and increasingly, in the whole “Western world”…
Well, the spiritual battle can be raw and intense – as when actual demons reveal themselves – but again, Satan is often far more subtle than that. Here in the world, and in the “Western world” in particular, we know the battle is really one of our minds.
The Apostle Paul’s words can be of great help here…
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The power of the lie is so strong, and comes in so many forms!
The lies, the idols Satan tempts us with the world over, are so many! Let’s look at some…
If your land has peace, prosperity, and suffers no war – if your own household suffers no war — you must have peace with god or the gods!
Or how about this?:
God will redeem America because it is His chosen nation, much like Israel was God’s chosen nation in the Old Testament!
What about this one?:
Good works are what I am all about! If I obey the 10 commandments to the best of my ability God will surely reward me for my efforts, and bless me with blessing in this life and salvation in the life to come!
Or more subtly:
If I turn from my sin and decide to follow Jesus – and work very hard and read my Bible and pray, I know I don’t get my salvation that way but I do know that earthly blessing – “thrivetime” – is very, very likely to come! There are exceptions like Job of course, but even he got it all back in the end.
If you are a Christian you will be healthy, happy, wealthy, and wise – suffering will not come to your door – or at least it you won’t end that way on earth!
Or this one?:
If we simply obey Christ’s commands more strictly. If we devote ourselves to total non-violence in the form of Christian pacifism… and if we condemn the contrary… we will heal the world and make it a better place!
This one seem seems popular today:
If we devote ourselves to the cause of racial justice and insist that in order to follow Christ we must completely open up our nation’s borders to let the floodgates come in, the blessings will flow as well! After all if we are merciful God will be merciful to us.
Satan wants our souls dead forever, that is clinging to anything other than the simple Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners.
He is particularly pleased when the Church picks up the word of God, and yet – having calloused and deadened consciences – fails to be shaped by it even as it looks to shape it itself…
In other words, not really listening to what the Word says and letting it have its way with them, but, often taking this or that passage out of context, wielding it as a weapon en route to fulfilling their own goals.
The goals that they believe will give them survival, satisfaction, and even salvation.
Which also, at the same time leads them to quickly condemn others around them, and to quickly deny the Christianity of those around them… for not seeing things in the same way….
But they do not understand that Christ gives real peace to His real people up front.
That He means for them to be driven to do good because they know that God is not only Good, but that He has been good to them personally in Christ!
That He means for them to fight not to gain salvation but because they have been given salvation in Him!
Again, Romans 10:1-4 – featuring the Apostle Paul’s earnest words to his own Jewish brothers and sisters – unveils the errors that so many of the most morally earnest people today miss, namely that “it is finished” in Jesus Christ:
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes….”
Jesus Christ forgives sinners of all their sins: past, present, future!
He forgives me! He forgives you! Even now in this moment!
So guard your mind and your conscience!
Remember who you are in Jesus Christ!
Be aware of the more subtle lies of Satan!
And also don’t forget this:
That even as he might flatter human beings with the temptations to use their reason and to produce high-falutin’ ideas, there is ultimately something much more basic, base, at the bottom of it…
Hence, the Apostle John warns us of “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16)
Do not let them consume you!
Do not let life’s riches, cares, and pleasures distract you!
Do not envy those in the world you have so much, and yet have in effect sold their souls to the “the powers of this dark world” and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms…”
And “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Remember, the beachhead has been established!
The flag of the cross has been planted!
God’s Holy Spirit goes from Jerusalem, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth like ripples in a lake from a stone….
And the victory has already been won!
So keep your conscience clean.
Live, and grow by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Remember always that Jesus said my words are spirit and life!
In this war, be comforted!
4 I walk with angels all the way,
They shield me and befriend me;
All Satan’s pow’r is held at bay
When heav’nly hosts attend me;
They are my sure defense,
All fear and sorrow, hence!
Unharmed by foes, do what they may,
I walk with angels all the way.
5 I walk with Jesus all the way,
His guidance never fails me;
Within His wounds I find a stay
When Satan’s pow’r assails me;
And by His footsteps led,
My path I safely tread.
No evil leads my soul astray;
I walk with Jesus all the way.
6 My walk is heav’nward all the way;
Await, my soul, the morrow,
When God’s good healing shall allay
All suff’ring, sin, and sorrow.
Then, worldly pomp, begone!
To heav’n I now press on.
For all the world I would not stay;
My walk is heav’nward all the way.
And God has given us armor for this journey. We need to take a look at it also…
What is it?
First of all, we might recall the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13:
“The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day has drawn near. So let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14Instead, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh…”
As we “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,” essentially reminding ourselves that we are the chosen ones of God, the baptized (see Winger, 748-753, see Gal. 3:27), we do so with this armor God gives us.
A little background on this armor from the Concordia Self-Study Bible:
“The armor represents both a promise of divine protection and an exhortation to battle. Like a general encouraging his troops, Paul tells us that the victory is certain because Christ has already won the war, and He has made us well-prepared to stand with Him to face any last-ditch assaults. In ancient legends, the weapons and armor of a hero could give certain victory to anyone who wore them (1 Samuel 17:38).[ii]
While in this mortal coil, we are going to experience evil, and must battle against it. Here, the ride never ends because the devil is no mean commander, and knows his game (Lenski, 658).
So put on the armor of God, receive the real power, the success, the invincibility that He gives you.
“One little word can fell him,” that is, the devil. So speak the word to yourself and others!
Pray… look to Him… cling to Him… on all occasions!
The devil is the Father of lies, but Jesus Christ is[iii] the belt of truth that protects our midsection, loins, and thighs…[iv] Do not let the false promises of the world affect you at your center, but keep in mind your identity in Him and live with integrity in the truth.
The devil is full of wickedness and unrighteousness but the Lord Jesus is the strong breastplate of righteousness that brings redemption to His people (Isa 59:20), closely covers them with His protection (Isa 59:14), and guards our hearts from demonic attacks.
Satan is the strife-producer and accuser who calls us unworthy and guilty but our Lord Himself is the one who fully embodies “the readiness to announce the good news of peace” that covers our feet. “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isa 52:7)
Satan fires fiery arrows of temptation at believers, attempting to lodge this or that evil thought or lie in our heart, but Jesus Christ is the large shield of faith, or panoply of faith, whereby these attacks are easily and effectively quenched. Trust Him. As many in the Old Testament put it, the Lord “is a shield for all who take refuge in him” (Ps 18:30)[v]
The devil is the one who aims to keep you and your neighbors blind: to cover eyes with his dominion of darkness. Christ is the helmet of salvation (see Isa 59:17) that allows us to see with the eyes of faith that the cross does indeed bring victory – and the new creation! And to also protect the knowledge we have of Him as our rescuer who has brought us into His Kingdom of Light.
Satan, who disguises himself as an “angel of light,” is the one who would deceive us though his own voice, and urge us to listen to him. Christ is the very Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God in human flesh who not only comes into our ears and gives us life, but animates us as we counter the other powerful voices in the world (Isa 11:4).
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa 40:8)
So stand like a victor, for that is your business (Lenski, 662).
Remember who you are.
Pray in confidence and faith![vi]
Because God stands for you.
Because God remembers you.
Again, think of Jesus saying to Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). Shortly thereafter he says to those who come to seize Him, “This is your hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53)
But when Jesus told Peter Satan was to sift him like wheat, what did He then go on to immediately say?:
“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Don’t doubt that Jesus Christ Himself prays for you too, as He did for Simon.
So, friends, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, put on the full armor of God, because He cares for you.
[ii] It continues: “The armor Paul describes is not simply from God; it is God s own armor, what He Himself wore in battle. Dressed in Christ’s armor, we look remarkably like Christ, for through Baptism we are clothed with Him” (Eph. 4:24; Rom. 13:12-14; Gal. 3:27).” (Lutheran Study Bible)
Also from the Lutheran Study Bible: “stand against” The picture is defensive; Christ defends us against the devil on our behalf.” (Lutheran Study Bible)
On the other hand: “The Greek used here does not necessarily imply only a defensive resistance to attack; it can be used to speak of an aggressive stance against one’s opponents. Psalm 21:11 [20:12], for instance, describes enemies who devise a wicked scheme, but ‘they are not able to stand;…. That is, they are not able to carry out their hostile plan against David. Similarlly, Ps 18:38 [17:39] depicts David at war against a horde of attacking enemies, but aided by God’s strength for battle, he strikes them doewn so that ‘they are not able to stand.’ In other words, their ‘standing’ implies aggressive attacks against the kind. Finally 1 Chr 21:1 notes that the devil ‘stood’ in Israel to incite David to sin by taking a census. In Ephesians, as we will see, believers are summoned to take both defensive and offensive postures against their supernatural enemies (Clinton Arnold, 445)…
Finally, Winger makes a strong case that defense is the main focus and that certainly, it is always the “Lord himself [who] will fight for us” and that our job “is to stand firm and watch him win the victory, to entrust oneself completely to the Lord’s strength.” See 737-738, 746,
[iii] Note Jerome (!): “From what we read of the Lord our Savior throughout the Scriptures, it is manifestly clear that the whole armor of Christ is the Savior Himself. It is He whom we are asked to put on. It is one and the same thing to say, Put on the whole armor of God and “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Our belt is truth and our breastplate is righteousness – but the Savior is also called truth and righteousness. So no one can doubt that He Himself is that very belt and breastplate.
On this principle He is also to be understood as the preparation of the gospel of peace. He Himself is the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. He is the sword of the Spirit, because He is the Word of God living and efficacious, the utterance of which is stronger than any helmet and sharp on both sides.”
Commentary on Ephesians 3.6.1, found here: https://melkite.org/faith/what-is-the-armor-of-god (also in ACCS, 208); quoted in Winger, 744, as well (see 742 also).
[iv] See Chrysostom in ACCS, 210.
[v] Arnold: “The most relevant informing passage… for illustrating the dynamic between faith ad divine strengthening is [Eph] 3:16-17. In this prayer for a realization of God’s empowerment, Paul juxtaposes his request that they may ‘be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner self for Christ to dwell through faith… in your hearts.’ Faith is thus explained as the medium by which one can gain divine empowerment and experience a greater measure of the exalted and victorious Christ’s presence” (457)
[vi] Found online in a Bible study: “The best identity protection comes through prayer. Martin Luther wrote both a morning prayer and an evening prayer. Each prayer asks for protection from the evil one. Your goal for the week should be to pray the evening prayer each night and the morning prayer each morning. They are both printed below, and your leaders have a card for you that you can carry with you if you desire. Closing Prayer Close with the prayer that is appropriate for the time your group is meeting. Morning Prayer I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen. Evening Prayer I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.”