How Can I Resist Satan? Ephesians 6:16,17
Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA Feb 8, 1998
The time: December 1944. Allied forces, after advancing quickly in the summer months, have slowed. Low cloud cover and fog hamper the use of Allied air superiority. Hitler, perceiving an opportunity to divide British from US troops and spotting a weakly defended area near the heavily-wooded Ardennes, masses his troops and, on Dec 16, attacks. The US high command, after taking some time to realize that this is a major offensive and not simply a skirmish, determines that the area around Bastogne is key to stopping the German advance; the commanding general orders the 101st Airborne division under General Anthony Mcauliffe to move into Bastogne and hold it. They succeed in occupying the town, but shortly thereafter are surrounded by enemy troops. As an airborne division they have little artillery and after fierce fighting, ammunition is running out. Continued bad weather hinders all resupply efforts by airdrops. Medical supplies too are running out; wounded cannot be treated.
Imagine yourself as a soldier in that situation. The coldest winter in 50 years in Europe. Fog so thick German and American troops get confused and don't even know where battle lines are. Many of your buddies killed or wounded or lost in the last few days.
A delegation of Germans approaches carrying a white flag: This is their message: "You are surrounded. We know you have little ammunition and little artillery. We have massed our forces around this city; unless you surrender, we will annihilate you."
What would you have done in that situation?
What do you do today when faced with similar situations? Because we are in a war, we are all in a great war, as part of the army of God. And in this war, we can feel surrounded, we can feel as if the enemy is about to annihilate us; we can feel as if our fight, and the cause for which we fight, is hopeless.
Have you ever felt this way?
Paul is writing this section of Ephesians for those of us who experience these situations. We must realize that no matter what appearances may indicate, the outcome of the struggle in which we are engaged is assured: God will be victorious. He has decreed that he will utterly defeat the Enemy, and that we will play some part in that defeat. Our struggle is not in vain; just as Hitler was defeated within 6 months of this seemingly hopeless situation for the 101st Airborne, so Satan will be defeated, regardless of how hopeless our situation may appear at present.
This section of Ephesians is sometimes isolated from the rest of the book, as preachers focus on spiritual warfare. I believe, on the other hand, that this section flows from the rest of the book, that Paul's instructions here are based on the truths about our relationship to Christ that he brings out in the first three chapters, as applied to the interpersonal relationships Paul has been emphasizing in chapters 4, 5, and 6. So let's examine the context of this passage.
In the first three chapters, Paul tells us who we are in Christ: that we are chosen in Christ to be holy and blameless; that we are given the Holy Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing our redemption; that though we were dead in our transgressions and sins, God made us alive by his grace and seated us with Christ in the heavenlies. Furthermore, God has broken down the divisions among us, making us one in Christ, uniting us into one glorious church, that (3:10) will make known the manifold wisdom of God to the principalities and powers in the heavenlies.
Let me say that again; it's vital for understanding today's passage: God has united us into one glorious church that will make known the multifaceted wisdom of God -- to whom? To the principalities and powers in the heavenlies: to spiritual powers, to angels, both good and evil, so that all spiritual creation will see the church and be amazed at God's wisdom -- loving it if they are obedient to him, hating it if not, but amazed in both cases. That is what God is accomplishing through his church, through us.
So Paul then turns in 4:1 from stating these great truths about us to drawing implications for our lives:
4:1 Therefore I beg you to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
Paul is saying, "Your calling is so glorious! Live up to it!"
How does he tell us to live up to it? By escaping into the desert, living alone, sleeping on a bed of nails? No. By going to a mountaintop and living alone, reading the Bible by ourselves? No.
Paul's first examples here, clarifying what he means by living a life worthy of the calling, are concerned with the way we relate to other people. Patience. Forbearance. Meekness. We live a life worthy of the calling not by isolating ourselves but by being Christlike in the midst of the daily routines where God has placed us.
He then goes on to say that we are not left to our own devices in our attempts to build up others in the church, but that God has gifted each one of us specially and supernaturally, so that we might build each other up.
Then, in the latter half of chapter 4 and first half of chapter five Paul affirms that we must no longer live as the Gentiles, but must put off the old man and put on the new man. And look at the examples that he gives, beginning in 4:25: speak truth to your neighbor; do not let the sun go down on your anger; steal no longer; don't speak evil, but impart grace with your tongue; put away bitterness, forgive each other; be imitators of God; walk in love; avoid any semblance of fornication, impurity, or covetousness; redeem the time:
You see? Relationships, relationships, relationships. This is where we become imitators of God, this is where our Christian walk is tested.
Paul proceeds to tell us to be filled with the Spirit. What does this mean? How does he exemplify this? Does being filled with the Spirit mean to go into an ecstatic trance? Or to sit and contemplate our navels? Or to repeat magic words over and over? Not at all.
Instead, he tells us that our being filled with the Spirit shows itself in the way we speak to each other, in the way we praise God in our hearts, in having a thankful attitude no matter what our external circumstances may be, and -- most importantly -- in subjecting ourselves to each other out of reverence for Christ. He then elaborates on this: How do we submit to each other in each of our most intimate relationships? In a lengthy passage, he tells us how to submit to each other in marriage, in family, in work. Paul is saying that someone who claims to be spiritual but is not a good husband, or does not honor his parents, or is not a good employee, is a liar; such a person is not filled with the Spirit.
This brings us to our present section, Ephesians 6:10-18. I want to read this now, and ask you to listen with fresh ears. Think of this section as flowing from the previous emphasis on redemptive interpersonal relationships, on acting out the love of God in our lives as we live a life worthy of our calling:
10 ¶ Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenlies. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and, having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you shall be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil [one]. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: 18 with all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.
So how is this passage related to interpersonal relationships? The key phrase in integrating this passage with its context is "our struggle is not against flesh and blood." Think about this phrase. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood -- but it sure seems like it is!
But Paul assures us here that these problems in interpersonal relationships are fundamentally spiritual problems. So that this advice -- STAND FIRM! PUT ON THE WHOLE ARMOR OF GOD! -- does not apply only to those parts of our Christian walk which are obviously a spiritual battle -- our attempts to pray regularly, our attempts to read the Bible regularly, which Satan surely fights -- but also WE MUST PUT ON THE WHOLE ARMOR OF GOD IN ORDER TO LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF GOD"S CALLING IN OUR PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS: in marriage, in our families, at work, everywhere.
Last week, Doug discussed having our loins girded with truth, having the breastplate of righteousness, and having our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. The picture here is of a soldier ready for battle. Remember, at this time the normal garment consisted of loose robes. In order to be ready to fight, the soldier must gather up those loose robes with his belt, put on the breastplate to protect his vital organs, and put on the Roman soldier's sandals. These sandals were tough, to protect the feet, but also were equipped with spikes in the bottom, so that the soldier could stand firm when necessary, and move with good traction when necessary.
Note the verb used with these parts of the armor: "Having". All these items are fixed to body. A soldier not actively engaged in battle, just doing his normal routine, would generally be wearing these parts of the armor.
What is the spiritual implication of this? If we are saved, if we are chosen by God before the creation of the world, then we are grounded in the truth; Jesus himself is the way, the truth and the life. Furthermore, Christ himself is our righteousness. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Third, we are at peace with God, as stated in Romans 5:1: Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
These three pieces of the armor are always there. When Satan attacks our emotions, our heart, when he frightens us, or makes us feel unworthy, we need to remind ourselves of that breastplate of righteousness, guarding our heart -- but we don't have to take it up, we are already righteous before God.
But note the contrast with verses 17 and 18. Here the verb is "take up." The image is one of entering the battle. The soldier has been doing his normal routine, wearing the breastplate, the sandals, and having his belt around his robes. Imagine a soldier hearing the battlecry. Should he run out to the battle equipped only with his breastplate, his belt, and his sandals? No. He must remember to take up his shield, his helmet, and his sword. We are to take up the full armor of God, not try to resist the forces of darkness only half-prepared.
In Ray Stedman's series of sermons on this passage, he suggests the armor can be thought of as an elaboration of Jesus' statement in John 14:20: You in me, and I in you. The first three pieces of the armor represent us in Christ: Christ as the source of all truth, as our righteousness, as our peace that satisfies and calms us amid the world's tribulations. And the last three represent Christ in us, Christ appropriated to deal with the specific situations we face, as we take him up and wield him, to do as Paul says in Colossians 1:29, "striving with all his energy which so powerfully works in me."
So now let's consider the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
The Shield of Faith
The word for this type of shield comes from a root that means "door." And the standard Roman shield was almost as big as a door, measuring 4 feet by 2.5 feet. It was made out of wood, but was covered in the front with metal, so that it could deflect attacking projectiles. A Roman phalanx could cover itself in front almost completely with a wall of shields, or if bombarded with flaming arrows, protect itself from attack by holding the shields up high. Armies would use flaming arrows like an artillery bombardment, frequently not aiming at any particular object, but trying to cause confusion and panic prior to an infantry assault by causing terror, starting fires, and even catching robes on fire. The shields were designed to fend off such attacks, so that the soldiers would maintain discipline and remain prepared to defend against the full assault which was yet to come.
How does this apply to our life? What are some of these fiery darts of the evil one, and how does our taking up faith, our exercising faith offer further protection than our breastplate of righteousness? While we will be examining this issue in Sunday School in some detail during the next two weeks, here let me suggest a few of these attacks.
First, Satan attacks us by filling our mind with doubts. All Christians experience this at times; some of the greatest Christians have left records of the ways Satan has attacked them by suggesting doubts. These doubts include questions such as:
Satan also likes to attack our personal position before the Lord, to get us to doubt our salvation:
Alternately, Satan can appeal to our pride:
In addition, Satan will fill our minds with imaginations: lusts, desires, envy, anger. These are the attacks in the area of interpersonal relationships, when Satan tries to get us to believe that our fight is against that particular person who wounded us, or let us down, or has something that is "rightfully" ours.
All of these attacks cause confusion, cause panic, and serve to soften us up before a more specific attack.
Brothers and sisters, let me assure you: this is common. You are not alone. Peter tells us as much in 1 Peter 4:12: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you." These ordeals cause us to grow, to prove who we are, when we use the shield of faith appropriately.
John writes similarly of our shield in 1 John 5:4: "This is the victory that overcomes the world: even our faith." As Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, "faith here means the ability to apply quickly what we believe so as to repel everything the devil does or attempts to do to us." We have to be nimble, we have to recognize the attack for what it is and call upon the resources God has given us to repel the attack. So faith points us back to the fact of Christ being in us, to the fact that the power of God is in us. Our faith is not a conjuring up of positive thoughts about human potential; it is not a faith in faith per se. Rather, our faith is in Christ. We sang this morning, ON CHRIST THE SOLID ROCK I STAND; His oath, his covenant, his blood support me in the whelming flood; When all around my soul gives way he then is all my hope and stay.
Paul puts it this way when discussing Abraham in Romans 4:20:
He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
What God promises, he is able to perform. Know that; rely on it
The Helmet of Salvation
The second piece of armor Paul tells us to take up is the helmet of salvation. A helmet clearly is designed to protect the head, the mind. So the helmet of salvation is intended to protect our mind, our thought life, protecting us from Satan's attacks on our thought life. But how does this piece of the armor differ from the breastplate of righteousness? After all, salvation and righteousness are intimately linked.
Paul elaborates on this thought in a very helpful way in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, where he writes, "Put on for a helmet the HOPE of salvation." The hope of salvation! That's what protects our minds, our thought life, from the attack of Satan.
It is helpful in this regard to consider the three tenses of salvation: past, present continuous, and future. There is a sense in which those of us who are Christians can think of our salvation as something in the past, something that has already occurred. We were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world; we have been justified; our position before God is one of being holy and righteous, as we appropriate the righteousness of Christ.
But there is another sense in which our salvation is present continuous: we are in the process of being saved, of being made righteous. This is our sanctification. God is not done with us; the good work he has begun in us is being carried out to completion. God is scraping off the rough edges, maturing us, refining us, purifying us, so that we are ever changing from glory to glory, becoming more Christlike.
In addition, there is another sense in which our salvation is not complete until we stand in the presence of Christ and God the Father clothed in His robes, pure and spotless, never to sin again, to rejoice in His presence eternally. This is our glorification. We're not there yet; but these epistles, indeed the entire Bible, holds this out as a hope: a hope for the time when Satan is utterly defeated, when there will be no more crying, no more pain, when justice will have been accomplished and all wrongs righted, when we will be living in the New Jerusalem, with new, incorruptible bodies, praising God.
The hope of this glorification is the helmet we are to take up. This hope, always held before us, motivates us, helps us to see the final outcome when all the world around us appears to be going to hell.
Think again of an individual soldier of the 101st Airborne Division surrounded in Bastogne. All around is confusion: in the heavy fog, you are unaware of the position of the lines; you don't know when you might stumble upon the enemy, or when explosions might start all around you; you know supplies are low but don't know how long they may last; you know the Germans have marshaled all their available resources to attack YOU. What's the logical conclusion in these circumstances? The logical conclusion to reach is "We're dead meat!" And the result: panic, hopelessness, surrender.
But although that attitude would have been logical for an individual soldier, it would have been incorrect. The individual soldier could not see the big picture. He could not know that the cloud cover would break and supplies would be dropped by air. He did not know that even at that moment General Patton was on his way, determined to relieve the division. Furthermore, he did not know that within 6 months Hitler would be dead, the war ended.
The situation is different for you and me. As bad as our individual circumstances may appear, WE KNOW THE END OF THE WAR; we know that God will be triumphant.
It is so easy to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the problems we face, to be overcome with hopelessness. Life is indeed difficult; this world is full of real tragedies. We can stand before God and wonder,
But when we ask these questions we are allowing the details to overwhelm the big picture that God has given us in his Word. So much of the Bible is written to help us in times like these. The Book of Hebrews, for example, was written to Jewish Christians who, facing persecution, apparently facing the end of the period of many miracles, were tempted to go back to Judaism, to renounce their faith. Wouldn't it be easier to admit that Jesus is not Lord, and just worship at the temple? That was good enough 40 years previously; why not now? But the author of Hebrews challenges them, proclaiming,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
Similarly, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4 that he was troubled, perplexed, persecuted, and cast down. He had all these problems. YET he was NOT in despair, NOT forsaken, NOT destroyed. Why? He writes,
"we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that he who raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise us up also by Jesus. . . . for our light affliction works for us an eternal weight of glory."
This is the hope that is ours: the eternal weight of glory. Jesus says in Matthew 10:22 "He that shall endure to the end shall be saved." Our cause is right and the outcome is certain. Even individually, while tragedy may occur in this life, the true nature of reality is that we will all as a triumphant church glorify God for eternity, rejoicing in his presence, living in a world made perfect by the blood of Christ. So do not be terrified, do not be discouraged: Our God reigns.
The Sword of the Spirit: The Word of God
The final piece of armor that Paul tells us to take up is the sword. Now a sword is both an offensive and a defensive weapon. In our battle with the spiritual forces of evil, we are not only to resist them but to defeat them. Peter tells us, "Resist the devil and" what? Not "resist the devil and you won't fall into sin," but "resist the devil and he will flee from you." The sword is the weapon we use to utterly defeat Satan, to make him turn heels and run.
Note the link between the Holy Spirit and the word of God. The Bible is the Holy Spirit's book; the Spirit moved men to write this book. We need the Spirit's help to open our eyes that we might see the truths in this word; we need the Bible to teach us about our God, and our life, to keep us from being deceived by Satan. The Spirit and the word go together.
As an example of the use of the word as a sword in our battle with Satan, Jesus' temptation in the wilderness is useful. For every temptation Satan threw his way, even when Satan tried to quote Scripture, Jesus retorted with another Scripture. Jesus knew the word; he had spent hours and years learning the word as a boy, and when temptation came, his sword was sharp and ready both to defend and attack.
How can we be similarly prepared? We must know the word, we must feed upon it, we must ask the Spirit to open it up for us. This is true both in general and in specific ways. In general, we must have a knowledge of the word in its entirety, so that we can understand specific verses in the context of God's entire revelation. Satan, as in the case of Jesus, will try to twist Scripture to his own purposes, and the history of cults is full of cases where he has confused millions by so doing. So we must read the entire Bible, hear preaching on all sections of the word, and become familiar with the overarching themes of this great book.
But we must also know where we are most vulnerable to Satan's attacks. What lies has he successfully deceived us with in the past? What types of sins have we fallen into? After answering these questions, we should learn particular Scriptures that we can use against Satan the next time temptation comes our way. For example:
And for serious temptations, don't learn only one verse. Memorize as many as possible! Don't just parry the devil; rout him. Use your sword, which is the word of God.
Let's return to Bastogne 53 years ago. The Germans have demanded surrender, threatening annihilation. How does General Mcauliffe respond?
With a one word reply -- now the shortest entry in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: "Nuts." (The Germans were confused upon receiving this reply, and had to ask what it meant.) General Mcauliffe saw the big picture; he did not know that he would be rescued, but he saw the proper role for his division in the overall scheme of things. He would hold Bastogne at all costs.
General Eisenhower had been a bit more loquacious at a staff meeting a few days previously, when the extent of the German advances had first become apparent. As he entered the room, he saw that all his senior generals were looking glum and discouraged. He took one look at them and gave an order: "The present situation is to be regarded as one of opportunity for us and not of disaster. There will be only cheerful faces at this conference table."
And that proved to be the case. The Battle of the Bulge was the last gasp for Hitler's forces. After the losses sustained there, the Wehrmacht was finished, and the end was assured.
And for you? "Consider it pure joy, my brethren, when you face trials of various kinds." Whatever the results in your part of the battle, whatever the appearance of the triumph of evil here or around the world, we KNOW that the Battle is the Lord's; we know that we are part of the Lord's army, and while we may fail individually and evil my triumph locally, in the end, God will be triumphant, his church victorious. Each and every Christian will be a part of that triumph.
So put on the full armor of God. Stand in the day of evil. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. "The body they may kill, God's truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever."
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 2/8/98. This sermon draws even more than usual on the wisdom of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Ray Stedman; see the Lloyd-Jones book on this section of Ephesians, and Ray's sermon on this passage at thePBC web site.
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