Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Eph 6:10-12

“Difficulties, dangers, disease, death, or divisions don’t deter any but Chocolate Soldiers from executing God’s Will. When someone says there is a lion in the way, the real Christian promptly replies, “That’s hardly enough inducement for me; I want a bear or two besides to make it worth my while to go.” C. T. Studd

In an earlier newsletter, I wrote about viewing a video produced by the Marine Corp which depicted the challenging ordeal recruits face when they subject themselves to Officer’s Candidate School. It was so tough and gruesome I debated whether I would keep my wife from seeing it, for fear it would scare her to death. Last week end, our son Chad completed his third week of basic training and was given his first liberty. When he called us on the phone, I asked him what the school was like. He said that the video we saw was a PR job. The actual training was much more challenging and demanding than any video could depict.
I think we face a similar experience when we enter the fight for faith in Jesus. A simple reading of the biblical text clearly warns us that we are entering into a battle that will challenge us and change us at the core of our being. Then, we get off the bus, pass through the gates and enter the barracks. It isn’t long before we are on the obstacle course with some Gunny Sergeant screaming in our ears. In the midst of the pressure and the pain we are likely to find ourselves wondering what kind of army we signed up for.    

Paul is like a Gunny Sergeant, trying to toughen us up. For the first five chapters of Ephesians, he has been describing blessings and privileges that are ours because of God’s grace. Then, in 6:10, he seems to drastically change his direction and goes off to talking about battling “rulers” authorities” “powers” and “spiritual forces in heavenly realms.” Actually, Paul is not introducing a new subject. “Finally,” links what he is about to say with what has gone before. He is about to provide instructions that are crucial for living out and enjoying all that has been revealed in the earlier chapters. I am not far from the truth to assert that Paul is convinced that if we don’t get this section right, we will fail when our faith and joy are on the line. So, getting and applying the principles of this passage is not an option!

In chapters 1-3, Paul tells us who we are. He says we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. We are chosen by God to declare his praises by our faith in Christ and our obedience to his Word. It isn’t until we know who we are that he tells us what we are to do in chapters 4-6. Identity is the basis for morality. In the second section of Ephesians, we are told how we are to live a life worthy of the calling we have received [4:1]. As we imitate Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, Paul concludes that we will win the same victories and discover the same joy that he did. Then, in 6:10, he drops a bomb. He says that because of who we are and what we are to do, we will come under direct spiritual attack. Evil, spiritual forces, will train their weapons on us, seeking to destroy the grace of God at work in our lives. So, as a victorious vet of many spiritual conflicts, he asserts that knowing who we are and knowing what we are to do must be accompanied by knowing how to fight.

He begins our training by giving us general directions: “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power;” [10] and then, he moves toward detailed instructions: “Put on the full armor of God.” [11]. In the next seven verses, he will spell out how that is done. In future newsletters, we will attempt to show how we can arm ourselves with these truths. But, for the remainder of this article, I want to point out three observations that will prepare us for future instructions.

The first observation is this: Being “strong in the Lord” means that we are to “put on Christ.” Through the cross and the resurrection, Christ has defeated the powers of sin, death and the devil. By trusting in what he has done and by applying his truth to our lives, we take hold of the victory of Christ and release his power to work within us. In order for this to happen, we must pray for illumination. To rightly understand and apply God’s truth to our battles, we need the help of the Spirit, the One who makes truth come alive in our hearts. That is why the psalmist prays, “open my eyes that I might see the wonderful things in your law.” And, that is why Paul has prayed earlier that believers would be given the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation.” Both writers understand that they need the miracle of illumination to fully understand and apply spiritual truth to spiritual conflict. Ability to handle the scripture rightly is never more crucial than when we are locked in battle with the enemy of our souls.

The second observation is this: The reason we need to devour the details of this passage is that according to Paul, we are engaging an enemy that is far too powerful for our worldly weapons. The spiritual forces of evil are strong, corrupt and wily veterans of the strategies of deception and the nuances of spiritual war. So, a casual reading of this text will not get the job done. Paul catches the spirit of our task when he writes, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” [2 Cor 10:4-5]

The Christian pacifist will feel uncomfortable with the military language he uses, but Paul is committed to preparing us for war. He knows we are engaged in a life and death struggle. We are “wrestling” with spiritual powers in hand-to-hand combat. “Palee”, the term he uses for wrestling, comes from the world of athletic competition, where contestants win by throwing their adversary off their feet. These spiritual forces use argument and pretension to deceive and rob us of the knowledge of God and his promises to us. They attempt to knock us off our feet by distracting us from standing on the truth of God’s Word. That is why it is crucial for God’s soldiers to take captive every thought and make it obedient to the truth we have found in Christ. In other words, the nature of the battle demands deliberate, determined and disciplined engagement with God’s Word.

My final observation on this passage is this: Paul makes it crystal clear that we should expect to win. In Christ and with his truth, we have an answer for every move of the enemy. Lest we miss that point, three times Paul makes that claim: “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your [1] stand” [Eph 6:11]; and, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to [2] stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to [3] stand.” [Eph 6:13]

The solid basis of our confidence is founded on the sure and awesome truth that our Commander rules over all. Although he allows the enemy to attack us for a season, he and his cohorts are totally under God’s control. Luther said it like this: “The devil is God’s devil.” John Calvin added that demons serve God’s purposes and “they drag their chains wherever they go.” So, our situation is never hopeless nor is it pointless. No detail of our lives is too insignificant for our heavenly Father’s attention and no circumstance is so big that He cannot control it. God is in control and doing as He pleases- not apart from the struggles of our lives, nor in spite of them, but through them.

We may begin our walk in the hospital, but God will soon move us into the barracks. We may see ourselves as victims, but God won’t rest until we see ourselves as victors. Whether you know it or not, you are a recruit in God’s Officer’s Candidate School. Abraham Kuyper once wrote, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry “Mine!” He is right. God wants to rule over every area of our lives- for his glory and our joy. Jesus inaugurated that battle on the cross. He continues that battle in and through you and me. So, whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, get used to it. You are a soldier. Now, pick up your weapon and win the battle for faith and joy, today. The Marines are right! “Obstacles are everywhere. Get over it!”