Growing up, I tried my hand at a lot of different sports. I was horrible at playing basketball. I could barely return a serve on the tennis court. My skills on the gridiron led to my junior high team losing every game in the only season I played; at least that is what my coach told me.
But, the one sport I always loved was wrestling. Now, I’m not talking about the WWE kind of wrestling with the outlandish characters and steel chairs. I’m talking about quality amateur wrestling that dates back to the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. I was a heavyweight wrestler and I was about average. I won my fair share and I lost my fair share. I loved being around a sport that taught character and determination. Even after my knees gave out and I started to focus more time on my budding journalism career, I stayed involved and served as a ring announcer for high school tournaments and covered the sport in my sport reporting days. I would even serve as a referee.
If you’ve never been around the sport, one of the most unique things about it is the protective gear you have to wear. There are two key protective items you are required to wear. One is the headgear. It keeps a wrestler from getting cauliflower ear, which is the swelling of the ear that comes from excessive hitting. The other piece are knee pads. They give your knees support when going for a takedown or pinning combination.
I bring these protective elements up to ask you what protects you? Now, I’m not talking about headgears and sporting equipment, but I am talking about something much more important.
What is protecting your life and soul?
Every day we are engaged in a battle that is more important than any sporting event. It is a battle that we can easily miss. Every day we are engaged in a spiritual battle. It is a battle between the forces of good and evil. It is a battle between God and Satan. We are participants in this spiritual battle that takes place all around us. So, what is protecting you for this battle? What are you depending on to strengthen you as we participate in this spiritual war?
That may be a question many of us have never thought about. Admittedly, it is easy to ignore that we are in a spiritual battle. We can go through life believing that all the things that occur are simply the consequences of life. We don’t always consider that these things may be about a greater reality that we, as followers of Christ, are engaged in. That is this spiritual war between God and Satan.
Throughout our passage for this morning from Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul talks about how we are engaged in a spiritual battle. Paul says we must be prepared for our involvement in this ongoing battle. In Ephesians 6:12, Paul says what we often believe is simply a struggle against flesh and blood – the people and institutional issues in front of us – are really symbolic of this greater spiritual battle between God and Satan.
Revelation echoes what this battle is about. We are told, especially in Revelation 12, that Satan desperately wants to be God and even tried to lead a rebellion against the Lord. That rebellion was unsuccessful, but that has not prevented Satan from trying to claim a victory. Satan tries to get this victory by preventing people from seeing God at work in their life. Satan wants nothing more than to prevent us from loving God and going to the Lord for anything. So, Satan will throw anything at us, and use any means, to prevent us from receiving God’s gift of grace.
Those who want to follow in Christ’s footsteps are participants in this battle. As we try to live faithfully for God, we will be met with challenges, obstacles, and struggles that are there for no other reason than to get us to turn away from God and to give up on our faith. The closer we are to God’s grace the stronger the battle against our faith will be.
There is some good news for us. The good news is that we do not have to win the victory. Jesus has already won the victory, but until Christ returns Satan will attempt to believe and to convince us that Jesus has not won. That is where the battle lies, and we are called to be ready for the spiritual war in front of us. So, what is protecting you for this battle?
Once we realize we are in this battle we might be tempted to believe we can handle the spiritual warfare on our own. That we can get through anything Satan can throw at us by our own hands and our own might. The truth is that this might be the case for the short term. For a few moments, we might be able to persevere and overcome the challenges set before us. On our own, though, we will not be able to withstand this spiritual battle for the long term. By ourselves and in our own might, we cannot withstand the pressure Satan will apply on us.
Only when we are strengthened by the Lord’s power and grace will we be able to persevere and withstand Satan’s attempts to keep us from God. Paul tells us this happens when we put on the whole armor of God. What will protect us in this spiritual battle is when our entire lives are aligned by the very characteristics of God.
Paul uses a common rhetorical tool to point this out. One of Paul’s most common themes is the idea of being clothed in the characteristics of Christ. He uses it here through the analogy of putting on what a Roman soldier would wear during a battle. In Paul’s days, what you wore identified you to other people. It was the first way someone would use to identify another person. What Paul conveys is that we should take on the vary characteristics of Christ for our own lives.
The characteristics of God are the very things that help us to experience the Lord’s love and holiness. The armor of God, then, is God’s own life working in us and through us to be presence of strength, hope, and love no matter what may come our way. That is the only thing that can help us to withstand the challenges of this spiritual warfare.
The armor of God are expressions of God’s characteristics that we are all called to put on and make be what defines us. Every element Paul describes is done through a process of how a Roman soldier would be prepared for battle. A soldier would start by tightening up their belt. It was a significant action that suggested they were ready for the challenges ahead. Paul says that our belt is God’s truth. It is the message that nothing Satan can throw at us is real. God’s love and grace is the only reality that is true. Paul says that should be what secures us for the challenges to come.
Next, Paul moves on to the body armor. The body armor was used to protect the soldier’s chest from things that would be thrown at them. Paul says our body armor is God’s righteousness. God’s holy nature and love is what protects our entire body. Scripture tells that God is holy, loving, and known by the Lord’s righteousness. By putting on this body armor, God’s righteousness, we are announcing our desire to be “holy as our father in heaven is holy.” We seek to live lives that are defined by God’s love, grace, peace, and holiness so that we may be people and witnesses of love, grace, peace, and holiness.
The shoes were next. They would be the protective covering for feet that would walk several miles during the battle. They have to be able to withstand any challenge. Our spiritual shoes are needed to help us as we face the challenge. Our spiritual shoes need to give us a reason for being in this battle. Our shoes, Paul says, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The message of Jesus’ love and presence, of his death and resurrection, is the good news we share in our engagement with the world by our words actions and deeds. We do not go out to proclaim ourselves. We go into this battle to proclaim to the spiritual forces that seek to deter us that the battle is. Satan lost and God wins.
The last piece of protective armor the solider would put on was the helmet. A piece that would protect their head from incoming attacks. Our helmet is our faith that comes through Christ’s victory. We go into the battle to proclaim that we believe that Jesus is there with us no matter what life may through us. That we will cling to our faith, and the promise of God’s everlasting presence, in the difficult and challenging moments of life. If we want to withstand, then we never let go of our faith and the promise that God will never leave us or abandon us.
All of what Paul mentions in this armor are defensive in nature. We do not take anything that is offensive in nature into this spiritual war except for our sword, which is the word of God. The truth of God is what we proclaim in love through our words, actions, and deeps. It is the word of God that encourages us in difficult times. It is the word of God that we speak into in places of darkness and injustice through our actions. It is the word of God, the very power of the Lord’s name, which will defeat and has defeated the power of evil in this world. We go into this battle armed with the greatest tool ever given to defeat evil and that is Jesus: His name, his truth, and his love.
The battle is personal in nature. It is also corporate in nature. As we seek to be the church that God calls us to be, we will face challenges and obstacles that will seek to keep us from being the people of love and service that God wants us to be. This battle is not easy, yet it is one that is around all of us. We cannot ignore it. We cannot hide from it. We who seek to live for Christ fully with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength must engage it.
We must do so by praying for one another. Paul is right to conclude his words by asking for the people to pray for him and each other. We cannot engage in this spiritual battle without the prayers of the church strengthening and supporting one another. I need your prayers as I seek to pastor you. We need each other’s prayers as we engage in the battles that are all around us. This church needs your prayers as we seek to do the difficult and press forward through faith.
The battle will be hard. It will be a daily battle until Christ returns and “we feast at his heavenly banquet.” Until that day comes, let us clothe ourselves in the very characteristics of Christ so that we may be a witness of God’s truth in a dark and broken world.
What truly, my friends, is your faith being clothed in and protected by?