The World, the Flesh, and the Devil

Chapter 8- Stand Firm

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. ~Ephesians 6:11

Part 1 and Part 2 of this book each had three chapters dedicated to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Part 1 laid out a biblical understanding of each of these enemies, so that we would know them better and engage them more fully. Part 2 showed how each of these enemies was decisively disarmed at the cross, and that the gospel is the main weapon we have in our fight. Part 3 is dedicated to some practical application of these truths, but if you looked at the Table of Contents, you may have noticed two discrepancies: Part 3 only has two chapters, and we’re starting with the chapter on the demonic first instead of last.

The reason for those two discrepancies is two-fold. First, as you’ll see in the next chapter, the strategy against worldliness and the flesh is actually one single strategy, one war waged at the level of desires. And the second reason we’re tackling practical battle strategies against the demonic first instead of last is different: I don’t want the last chapter in this book to be about Satan; he doesn’t deserve that place of honor. The last word in this book, as in all of life, should be Jesus: his glory, his beauty, his power. I want this book to end on a note, not of war, but of worship. And so we’re going to reorder this final section, just to put Satan in his proper place, and exalt Jesus to his rightful position.

There are many different directions we could go with this chapter. We could further explore how Satan can gain a foothold in your life through things like anger and unforgiveness (Ephesians 4:26-27). We could flesh out better prayer strategies against the demonic. But this book can’t be all things to all people, or it will end up being a thousand pages long. So I will content myself to unpack the central “marching orders” that we’re given in our fight against the demonic: the “armor of God” in Ephesians 6. What we’ll find in looking carefully at these battle strategies is that the call to put on the whole armor of God is nothing more than a call to equip yourself with the gospel. 

Finally, brothers, 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. For 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. 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, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. ~Ephesians 6:10-20

3 times there in the first 4 verses, Paul reiterates our orders as followers of Christ: stand firm. Did you see that? Verse 11- “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand.” Verse 13- “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.”

Stand! Withstand! Stand firm! Stand! The repeated insistence of this command tells me that this must be important. This battle that we are in is not primarily an offensive battle, but defensive. Victory will be achieved by standing firm, by holding our ground, by not surrendering or retreating. And to stand firm, we must be properly equipped- that’s why I want to spend the majority of this chapter just unpacking the armor that God has given us in this fight.

THE STRENGTH OF HIS MIGHT

But I can’t help point out one thing before we get to the armor. Look at the first command again: “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God.” The one who is on our side in this battle is God himself.

That might seem obvious again, but stop and let this sink in. The God who made heaven and earth with a word, the God who sustains the universe by the word of his power, the One who numbers the stars and the hairs on your head—he is on our side. The infinite, eternal, omnipotent, Almighty Lord of hosts. The One who spoke, and demons trembled and obeyed. The One through whom and for whom all things exist.

Consider what Colossians 1 says about his power. Speaking of Jesus, it says, 

“By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible—whether thrones or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”

Of all the things to specifically mention that were created by Jesus and exist for Jesus, Paul says, “Thrones, rulers, authorities—that is, the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness—even they exist for Jesus and will serve his glory.”

This battle is not a battle of equals. This is not a yin-yang duality struggle. On one side you have Satan, who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. And on the other side, the Sovereign Lord of the universe, in whose hand are all things, including Satan. He is the one who created all things and for whom all things, including Satan, exist; who disarmed the rulers and authorities on the cross, who gives us the victory. In 2 Thessalonians 2:8 it says that on the last day, Jesus will appear to finally do away with the anti-Christ and Satan and all the forces of evil. And this is how he’s going to do it:

“And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.”

Satan goes down with poof—a breath from the mouth of the Lord Jesus, and all evil is brought to nothing and annihilated by his appearance. All that Jesus has to do is just show up, and the brilliance of his glory will scatter darkness forever. That’s just one example of why, again, I didn’t want to end this book with a word on Satan but with a word on Jesus. At the end of history, Jesus blows Satan away with an effortless breath, and then reigns in uncontested glory forever. Satan doesn’t get the final word; Jesus does. That’s the note I want to end the book on in the next chapter.

This is the God who is on our side. It’s breathtaking. Romans 8:31 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” To which we might answer, “Lots of people! Satan is against me. People are against me.” But not successfully. If God is for us, then no one, not even Satan himself, can be successfully against us.

In this knowledge, then, hear verse 10 again: “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” Whose strength will win the day? God’s strength. In spiritual warfare, in your fight against sin and temptation and darkness, you do not fight alone. The arm of omnipotence is leveraged in the defense of his people.

We stand in God’s strength, and we fight in God’s battle. This is God’s battle, not ours. Reading this passage on spiritual warfare, I’m reminded of David fighting Goliath. On his own, he wouldn’t stand a chance. But he trusted in God’s strength, and knew that he was fighting God’s battle. 1 Samuel 17:47—“This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand… that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear, for the battle is the LORD’s.”

In Matthew 16, Jesus gave this spectacular promise: “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Note who is doing the building: Jesus himself. He is the one building the church that will crush the gates of hell. And, while we’re on the subject of hell’s gates, consider this: the only reason that the church will prevail over the gates of hell is because the church’s Savior blew open those gates from the inside out when he conquered death. This is his battle. 

THE ARMOR OF GOD

The strength is the Lord’s, the battle is the Lord’s, and the armor is the Lord’s too. “Put on the armor of God.” Do you see that? In the same way that this is God’s strength and God’s battle, this is also God’s armor. The phrase “armor of God” doesn’t just mean that this is the armor that God gives to us. This is God’s armor—this is the armor that God wears.

You see, for us to understand what these pieces of armor mean and how to apply them and wield them, we need to understand the imagery. Most of this armor imagery comes from the Old Testament, and in the Old Testament, it is God himself who wears this armor. Listen to these texts: 

“He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for his clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.” ~Isaiah 59:17

“Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” ~Isaiah 11:5

“His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” ~Psalm 91:4-5

And in Revelation, we see Jesus himself arrayed for battle and wielding the sword of the Spirit:

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God… From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” ~Revelation 19:11-15

This is God’s armor. Jesus wears this armor, and the way we put on this armor is, as Colossians says, to put on Christ. He is on our side and we are united with him. We are in Christ and therefore are a part of his battle against evil. Knowing that, we can now turn our attention to the command to put on his armor.

THE GOSPEL APPLIED

Verse 13 says, “Take up the whole armor of God—or, you might say, ‘all of God’s armor’—so that you may be able to withstand in the evil day.” We’ve seen that this armor is God’s armor, the armor that he himself wears and by which he reigns and makes war. So what does each piece of the armor mean, and how do we use it? Here’s what we’re going to find: each of these pieces of armor is the gospel applied.

That makes sense, if you think about what we’ve seen so far. We don’t fight in our own strength and abilities, but in God’s strength. Satan was disarmed and defanged at the cross, where all our sin was taken away. And this armor is God’s armor, not ours. It’s all of God; everything here is of God, God’s doing. And so it shouldn’t surprise us, as we start getting into the specifics of the armor, that the gospel—the good news of what God has done for us—stays central.

So let’s read the whole list again to get it before us, and then take them one by one:

“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, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayers and supplication.”

BELT OF TRUTH

First in the list is the belt of truth. The function of the belt in a soldier’s armor was to hold the uniform together, to hoist everything up and give the soldier mobility. If you’ve ever read in the Bible the phrase, “gird up your loins,” that’s “belt” talk. To gird up your loins meant to hoist up your robes and tie them with a belt so that you could run and move and fight.

So what does it mean to put on the belt of truth, to gird up your loins for this fight? I think 1 Peter 1:13 is a perfect description of how the belt of truth functions:

“Therefore, girding up the loins of your mind, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Gird up the loins of your mind, fasten the belt of truth, by setting your hope fully on grace. Putting on the belt of truth means getting the truth of the gospel in front of you and anchoring your hope there. Take the hope of grace and set your mind there. Just like a belt holds the rest of the armor together, this holds the rest of God’s armor together.

Practically, that means memorizing gospel texts, reciting gospel truths to yourself, preaching the gospel to yourself, living your life at the foot of the cross where your record of debt was nailed and Satan’s accusations were disarmed. Satan’s accusations and condemnations seem true, until you stand at the cross and see the record of your debt nailed there. Then you can know the truth: my feelings of condemnation are a lie. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Because of grace, I can repent and move on with thankfulness and increased humility.

THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

Next comes the breastplate of righteousness. To see the gospel connection here, all we need to do is ask a simple question: whose righteousness is this? Whose righteousness am I supposed to arm myself with? My own? Or his? We know from Romans 4-5 that we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ—that his obedience is credited to us. I do think that’s exactly the righteousness in mind here, because remember whose armor this is: God’s armor! This is God’s righteousness. Remember Isaiah 59:17—“He put on righteousness as a breastplate.” The righteousness of Christ is our breastplate, protecting us against all the accusations of Satan. No accusation will ever stick against those whom God has justified, because the obedience of Jesus is ours.

So what does this look like practically? Isaiah 61:10 is a good place to start:

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”

To put on the breastplate of righteousness means to train your heart to thrill and rejoice and exult in the gospel. There is no room for Satan’s temptations and accusations in a heart overflowing with gladness in grace.

SHOES

Next, “as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” This is an allusion to Isaiah 52:7:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news- gospel- who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Do you see the progression so far in the armor? Gird up the loins of your mind, setting your mind on the hope of grace. Then fill your heart with the joy of justification. And now, put that gospel on your feet and bring it to others. Satan is undone and defeated when the gospel of peace moves from our heads to our hearts to our feet, and we lay down our lives to cross mountains and cross the street with the testimony of God’s grace in our lives. That’s what Revelation 12:11 says- “The saints have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” When the blood of the Lamb is tracked across the world by fearless disciples who articulate the gospel in their testimonies, Satan doesn’t stand a chance.

SHIELD OF FAITH

Next is the shield of faith. “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” Peter identifies these “flaming darts of the evil one” as “fiery trials” which the devil, who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeks to leverage to your destruction. And the antidote? Faith. Faith protects us, guards our hearts, and helps us persevere through trials.

But I want some more concrete application here. So… faith in what, specifically? I think it’s really interesting that in Ephesians 6, it says the shield of faith guards against the arrows of the evil one, and in Psalm 91 it says, “His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night; nor the arrow that flies by day.” In Ephesians 6 the shield is our faith. And in Psalm 91 the shield is his faithfulness. It’s the exact same imagery; it’s probably the imagery that Paul is drawing on. Here’s what I infer from that: our faith is in his faithfulness. Our trust is in his ability and commitment to keep his promises. Peter says, “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to their faithful Creator.” That faith in his faithfulness takes every circumstance, every fiery trial, and sees that it is suffering according to God’s will. That faith in his faithfulness extinguishes all the enemy’s designs in your suffering.

HELMET OF SALVATION

Next, the helmet of salvation. In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Paul gives another, shorter list of God’s armor, and there he says, “Put on for a helmet the hope of salvation.” That sounds, again, a lot like 1 Peter 1:13—“set your hope fully on grace.” Put on the helmet of salvation’s hope; set your mind on grace, fix your mind on things in heaven, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Fill your thoughts with eternity, with grace, with Jesus. Soak your mind in God’s Word until, as the battle hymn “Be Thou My Vision” says, he is your “best thought by day or by night.”

THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT

The next object in our arsenal is the sword of the Spirit, the only offensive weapon in this list. This imagery of the Word of God being like a sword is found throughout the Bible. I love how Hebrews 4:12 puts it:

“The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

That verse shows us the first surprising way that the sword of the Spirit functions in spiritual warfare: by making war on us. Did you see that? “Sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Word of God is like a battlefield medic, removing the bullet of sin, amputating the hand that causes us to sin. God’s Word is a sword for surgery on our own treasonous hearts.

In fact, before the sword of the Spirit can attack Satan, it must attack us first. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” The only room that Satan has to gain a foothold in the believer’s life is through unrepentant sin. If, for example, you persist in anger and unforgiveness, your heart is an open door for the demonic to take the reins of your sinful desires and strengthen them into chains of oppression and bondage. Some of the persistent patterns of sin in your life—those things that you have struggled with and prayed about for years but can’t seem to break free of—may run deeper and stronger than mere idols and fleshly desires. These things may require a deeper, closer level of heart examination, prayer, and repentance. Where does that start? It starts with the weapon “sharper than two-edged sword, piercing and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” We need the word of God, often wielded in the gentle hands of our brothers and sisters, to probe our motives and sins and reveal where Satan may have taken a foothold. Only then can the Spirit’s sword be turned from surgical sword against us to offensive weapon against the demonic.

The second way the sword of the Spirit works is how we see Jesus using it in his dealings with Satan. Satan kept tempting him, and he kept responding with Bible (Matthew 4). Truth is a powerful weapon against the deceitfulness of sin and the alluring power of temptation. So know your Bible, and know your heart. Know what temptations you struggle with, and arm yourself with God’s words, God’s weapons.

PRAYER

And lastly, prayer. We often don’t think of this one when we think of the armor of God, but it’s here. In fact, this is the most important one practically, because the very grammatical structure of this list tells us that prayer is essential to every one of these pieces of armor. It’s a participle coming at the end of the list- “praying at all times in the Spirit.” That means that it modifies each of the phrases that came before it: Fasten the belt of truth, praying at all times in the Spirit. Put on the breastplate of righteousness, praying at all times in the Spirit. Take up the shield of faith, praying at all times in the Spirit. Take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit.

This is the practical outworking of each piece of armor. We gird up the loins of our mind and set our minds on grace, not just with Bible verses, but with prayer. We rejoice in the gospel of Christ’s righteousness by prayer. We use the word of God on our hearts and in defense of temptation prayerfully.

Prayer should characterize all of our lives. Look at how all-consuming and expansive wartime prayer should be: “praying at ALL times…with ALL prayer… with ALL perseverance for ALL the saints.” Do you get the picture? Prayer is the urgent, all-consuming voice of spiritual warfare. The Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards once said, “The one concern of the devil is to keep the saints from prayer. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks at our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.”

Why? It is because prayer is how we appropriate the omnipotent strength of the Lord’s might in this fight. Prayer moves us beyond our simple strategies and calls in the Almighty’s firepower. Prayer is asking him for his strength, his grace, his joy, his peace, his truth. A good way to test yourself as to how much you are relying on God is simply by asking: how much are you praying?

You see, prayer is our wartime walkie-talkie. John Piper said something great about this: “Prayer is a wartime walkie talkie for spiritual warfare, not a domestic intercom to increase the comforts of the saints.” One of the reasons we are so prayerless is because we think of prayer as a domestic intercom to summon our heavenly butler, instead of the wartime walkie talkie that it really is. We feel pretty comfortable and secure, and we’ve got plenty of money and resources to accumulate the comforts we want… and so, honestly, we just don’t see much urgent need for prayer.

But life is war. This world is not our home; we don’t live on the home front, but rather on the front lines of the battle. We’ve been slumbering in the trenches for too long, trying to use our walkie talkies to summon the butler and wondering why he doesn’t respond.

But the good news is that we have a heavenly General who has guaranteed our victory. Satan is a defeated, defanged foe. He’s dangerous, to be sure. But equipped with gospel armor, we have everything we need to take our place in the battle, and see the salvation of our God.

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