September 15, 2014

Armor Mondays: the Sword of the Spirit

We've made our way through the armor and have reached the final piece.   A couple of weeks ago we talked about taking up the shield of faith.  Today, we'll discuss what we need to take up in our other hand:

"... the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."


A sword is an offensive piece of armor, not meant to protect but to allow the soldier to attack.  Sometimes Often, in the face of satan's attacks, I easily let him have the upper hand, not taking up the weapon God has provided me to use to attack him.

Jesus, our Lord and Savior, did no such thing. You may remember the account of His temptation in the desert from Luke's gospel,  (If you aren't familiar with it, you can read it here.)  Jesus came back at satan each time with the word, bringing a quick end temptation!  After three attempts, satan slinked away and Jesus began His ministry in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14).

God's word is powerful.  By His word, He spoke creation into being.  By His Word, He redeemed mankind.  In the armor passage, His word is called the sword of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, who lives in us from the moment we put our trust in Jesus, helps us to use this sword and reminds us to take it up when dealing with the devil and his evil schemes.

But you know something?  The Spirit cannot call to mind things that we have not been planted in our heads and hearts.  I appreciated something Jerry Bridges said this this effect in a book I read years ago.  The sentiment was that if we wanted to grow in the faith, we had to give the Spirit something to work with, i.e. we need to be reading our Bibles and getting God's word in our hearts!

I am often surprised by how the Spirit calls a random verse, or part of a verse, to mind.  Usually I have to open BibleGateway.com to type in the phrase to find where the verse is in the Bible, but it is years of reading and being connected to His Church that make those moments possible.  Almost every time, it is exactly what I need to hear and need to meditate on!  For example, this fall I am facilitating a Bible study group with some ladies.  I like to have a verse to pray for them as we go through the eight weeks together.  God brought to mind the phrase, Your word is truth.  After a quick search, I found that the verse comes straight from Jesus' prayer for believers that He prayed before His trial and crucifixion.  Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.  John 17:17  Throughout the study, this is what I am praying in offense for myself and the ladies.  God's word, His truth, is powerful and cuts satan deep.

What I love about God, the Son, and Spirit and the word is that they are full of mercy and grace, tenderness and compassion.  It is never too late!  I grew up in the church and *should* know more, but I didn't spend my younger years taking as much advantage as I could of the wonderful things offered to me.  The last decade of my life has been spent getting to know God and His word better because He loves me, not because I feel guilty.  And I am amazed at how regular time in the sword, so to speak, builds and grows and the Spirit makes connections in unlikely places and times.

It is never to late to get into the word and grow your offensive against the devils schemes!

The devil will keep coming at you, but God's word will always prove to be a powerful weapon of destruction to him.  Take up your sword today!

Sanctify us by the truth, Lord; Your word is truth.  Amen.


September 8, 2014

Armor Mondays: the Helmet of Salvation

"Maybe this piece is the most important.  No, maybe this one is."  With every armor post that I prepare, I think that we've got to be on the most important one!  Each serves a critical purpose in our defense against the devil and his evil schemes, so I think my desire to have one be "most important" is silly.  What stands out, is that the devil's desire to destroy us is so strong it merits all of the defenses God provides - truth, righteousness, Gospel readiness, faith, and today's focus, salvation - all at once.

Only five words are offered, Take the helmet of salvation, before Paul moves on to the final piece.  Few words do not mean little importance, however.  When I think of salvation, I think of Old Testament proclamations that salvation belongs to/comes from the Lord, then of Jesus and John 3:16.  My heartbeat quickens with meditation of the depth of love and sacrifice involved in taking man (me! you!) from darkness into the light.


Salvation.

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentary says the word take should be translated receive.  By God we are handed the helmet of salvation.  We receive it as a gift and we best hasten to get it on our head!  Did you know that salvation in Christ is sure?  Daily putting on the helmet reminds us of our sure, protected, rescued, blessed, and new relationship with the Lord.


All of the commentaries were used the words assurance in reference to salvation.

If you are saved, you are saved.  Don't doubt it; put the helmet on!


Putting on your helmet every day does not mean that you have to ask the Lord to save you repeatedly.  Once you have confessed that Jesus is Lord and believed it in your heart, you belong to Him.  You need not doubt.  Putting on the helmet means daily embracing your salvation and living under every moment, letting it protect your vulnerable head from satan's attacks.  Stott says, God's saving power is our only defense against the enemy of our souls.  (p 282)  Doesn't that make you want to get that helmet on quick?!


As I thought about this, two things came to mind.  First, a conviction: What other helmets of "salvation" am I trying to put on?  Do I attempt to show the evil on my good works, my lineage, my talents?  Or in the face of temptation, doubt, and attack do I point to my head and say, Saved by the blood of the Lamb!  You can see yourself out, satan.

The second thing that came to mind is how the helmet of salvation not only protects us here, but is our ultimate defense on the day of judgement.  One day each of us will stand, alone, in the presence of our Maker.  If Jesus is our Savior, Lord, and Brother, we can confidently approach the throne and say, Lord, let me show you my helmet and let me praise you forever.  Thank you for saving a wretch like me!

Salvation is from the Lord in Christ, by grace alone through faith alone.  All other ground is sinking sand, the hymn says.  Take the gift of salvation freely offered in Christ!  Put on that impenetrable helmet!  And stand firm, today and for eternity!

Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Walk in His way.


September 1, 2014

Armor Mondays: the Shield of Faith

In addition to all this [the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and gospel of peace sandals], take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  ~ Ephesians 6:16

Perhaps you remember from previous posts and the verses that precede this one, that the purpose of putting on the armor is that when the day of evil comes we, as Christians, can stand our ground against the devil.  He would like to knock us down.  The Lord has provided for us to stand firm in the battle that is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual powers and forces.  Paul describes how God provides for us using the analogy of a soldier's armor.

What God provides is amazing.  He cares for us!

So, how about this shield of faith?  The verses indicate that faith can put out the flaming arrows of the evil one, which begs two questions.  One, what are these arrows satan sends our way?  And two, how does faith extinguish them?

I love how commentators were all on the same page with regard to explaining what the arrows are.  In fact, I'm sure if you thought about it for a moment, you would come up with a similar list.  Satan assails us almost constantly, and especially if we are working to move in God's direction, with temptation.  We are fiery-dart tempted to fear, bitterness, anger, doubt, lust, revenge, despair, hatred, false guilt, etc.*

Are you familiar with the burn of these fiery arrows?

I am.

If we're not holding up the shield, the arrows get to us and try to burn their way through the righteousness we have in Christ, covering our inmost parts, and through the truth that we have buckled tight around our waist to hold our armor together.  We begin to stumble, wobble, sway, and are disoriented by the temptations as we let them sink in.  We are in danger of collapse.  How can our shield of faith protect us?

Here's how!  When Paul talks about a shield, he's not thinking of a dinky circle, but rather a large rectangular shield made of wood and leather, soaked in water.  Fiery darts can't get through it and are, further, put out on contact.  Likewise, the darts of temptation sent our way by satan meet their abrupt end when we counter them with faith.

The fire of the arrows sizzle and pop messages at us: You are worthless; You are stupid; You are weak; You are unlovable; You cannot stand; You are a failure; You might as well give up, because you're beyond help - sin wins with you.

When we let go of faith that is a gift from God and our shield falls to the ground, we are in big trouble.  But God has given the gift to faith in Him, which is a most powerful protection against the devil's fiery arrows.  They come with their messages of despair, doubt, and defiance.  Faith responds with, You are loved; See what Christ has done for you; Remember how the Lord has worked in the past; Be strengthened by the truth that the Spirit lives in you; Rejoice in the hope you have in the Lord; Give thanks that you are not defined by the world or your failures, but by your membership in God's family and kingdom.


The soaked, impenetrable shield of faith stops the blazing, tempting lies of the devil, mid air! 

God hands us hope in the shape of faith.  Hold on tight!


I love how the New Bible Commentary concludes its discussion of the shield:

Faith in this letter is the radical openness to God that allows Christ's full indwelling, and brings a deeper grasp of his unfathomable love (3:17).  Take up the shield of faith thus suggests a deliberate and positive holding on to the God revealed in the gospel; firm and resolute dependence on the Lord which quenches the fiery attempts of the enemy to harm and to spread panic.


Till next week, walk in His way!
Heather




*Examples from lists in all three commentaries: The Message of Ephesians, John Stott; The New Bible Commentary, InterVarsity Press; and The Jamieson Fausset Brown Bible Commentary.  They got their lists from the Bible.



August 25, 2014

Armor Mondays: Feet fitted with the Readiness of the Gospel

The last couple of weeks we have concerned ourselves with the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness.  Today we will be looking down at our feet:

... and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  Ephesians 6:15

Soldiers wear foot gear.  A foolish soldier would enter the march and the battle with bare feet!  The Christian, likewise, is foolish to engage the enemy without proper footwear.  What does Paul suggest we need to put on our feet?  He says to fit our feet with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

The Gospel of peace makes a Christian ready to stand firm in the battle against the spiritual forces of evil.

But what does that mean, the gospel of peace?  Well, the Gospel is the good news that despite the fact that we have turned our backs on God and can never return to Him in our own power, He loves us so much He made a way for us to return to Him, at His own cost.  Our sins needed to be atoned for so we could have a relationship with God and Jesus was that atonement!  He made him who knew know sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God.  2 Corinthians 5:21

Because of the Christ-bridge, which is crossed by faith and trust that He is the only way of forgiveness and life with God, we can know peace with God. Paul says it this way at the beginning of Romans 5,
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Reconciliation is complete!  The warring against God is over!  In Christ, you are no longer dead in your transgressions, an object of wrath, or an enemy of God.  Hallelujah!

That is the good news, the gospel, of peace.  However, by becoming a friend of God, we pick up His enemy.  Thus we find ourselves needing to be ready for battle, and God equips us well for it: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and now the blessed gospel of peace to secure our footing and to help us march far.  We do not despair or cower before our new enemy, because our present and future and even our past are safe and secure in the hands of Almighty God!

The strength for battle comes from the Lord -be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Eph 6:10  All the pieces of armor point us to Christ and point us to grace!  Strapping the Gospel of peace on our feet each day makes us ready stand firm, and it is purely a gift of God for those who believe!  (Does your jaw drop like mine does sometimes when you think of the wonder of it all?!)

Amazing Grace!

One final note before closing today.  I believe from the context of the passage, that we are to think mostly about how the Gospel enables us to stand strong in spiritual battle.  But strapping on the Gospel-boots, also readies us to open our lips to declare salvation not only to shut satan up and make him stand down, but also to invite others to know reconciliation with God.  Paul says it well in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, which is a great way to wrap up today's reflection.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The old has gone, the new has come; this is for all who will believe.
Have you got your shoes on so you won't forget it?*

Walk in His way.



*Alistair Begg asks a similar question in his sermon on the Armor, which you can find here.


August 19, 2014

Armor Mondays: the Breastplate of Righteousness

Welcome to this week's armor Monday - on Tuesday!  Sorry for the delay; I spent half of yesterday trying to conquer a migraine.  This week's post is about the second piece of armor Paul mentions in Ephesians 6, the breastplate of righteousness. If you missed the start of the series you can read the intro by clicking here or last week's post about the belt of truth by clicking here.


The Breastplate of Righteousness

Remember that the reason Paul draws the analogy of a Christian putting on armor like a soldier is because a battle is raging, not in the physical realm, but in the spiritual realm.  "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood," he says, "... but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."  The Christian must be prepared for that kind of encounter and needs more than mere brawn to stand firm.  We need God-given armor.

Today's piece on display might be my favorite!  Without this, we really are doomed.   The breastplate is like an exoskeleton that protects all of a soldier's vital organs, front and back.  Going into battle without this piece would be beyond foolish!  So what does it mean for a Christian to put on the breastplate of righteousness?



Commentaries suggest it means two things, either being covered by Christ's righteousness or acting morally righteous.  I believe the first is of most importance for our defense, though the second cannot be ignored, because it is a byproduct of the first.

Christ's Righteousness, Our Breastplate 
The Breastplate of Righteousness is God-given righteousness through faith in Christ, i.e. THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS OF THE GOSPEL!  Not only are our sins forgiven when we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, but Christ's righteousness is also given to us.  We are disrobed of our sinful identity and re-robed in Christ, or as the Bible says, the old has gone, the new has come!  We put on the breastplate by placing our faith in Christ or, one might say, by taking God at His word.  There is that amazing verse in the story of Abraham that says, Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.
We put on the breastplate of righteousness by waking up in the morning and putting our faith in Jesus and His works: our sins are completely forgiven and that the Lord sees Christ's beautiful perfection when He looks at us.  No matter how we feel our righteousness in Christ does not ever change once we have placed our faith in Christ.  Theologians call this justification.  So I guess the true truth is that once we are in Christ, the breastplate is stuck on us!  See, I told you it was good news! 

The Protection of Righteous Living
The best of the best news we will ever hear is that we are made righteous in, by, and through Christ.  Trying to stand on our righteous acts alone and saying that what Paul means by putting on the breastplate of righteousness would be a hopeless proposition.  Nevertheless, John Stott points out, in his commentary on Ephesians in the series The Bible Speaks Today, So the Chrsitian's breastplate may be of righteousness of character and conduct.  For just as to cultivate 'truth' is the way to overthrow the devil's deceits, so to cultivate 'righteousness' is the way to resist temptations.  (p. 279)  Being protected by the breastplate of righteousness does not eliminate our need to also pursue righteous behavior.  I love what The New Bible Commentary says on this, even if they did completely ignore the aspect of God-given righteousness!  Paul is saying that the church's basic equipment in the spiritual battle is integrity and righteous living, and they are effective because these qualities bear the stamp of Jesus and the new creation He brings.  (p. 1243)  Being made righteous will motivate us to live righteously and even help us to do so, because we have been made new!

The battle is not easy.  The Lord knows that standing firm is impossible for us alone.  Not only do soldiers go into batter properly protected and armed, but also together.  Paul doesn't talk about that specifically in Ephesians 6, but he does talk a lot about the church other parts of the book and in other letters.  We, as individuals, need to clothe ourselves in the armor God has given and we need to spur one another on in the battle.  Remind a friend today about truth and righteousness, our call to live in them and especially how God has given them to us.


You have been made new, dear friend.  You are clothed in righteousness!

Walk in His way.

August 11, 2014

Armor Mondays: the Belt of Truth

Welcome back!  Today we will take a peek at the first piece of armor that Paul mentions in Ephesians 6, the belt of truth.

Before getting to that, a quick review of why we need this armor:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 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. 13 Therefore 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. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, ...
Or enemy is not human; he is the evil one, bent on destroying us.  He is, to borrow from John Stott, "powerful, wicked, and cunning."  We are up against an enemy we cannot survive or defeat without the strength of the Lord.  And the Lord provides: Himself and His power!  The armor will enable us to STAND against our enemy when evil comes.  The Jamieson Fausset Brown commentary calls standing "the grand aim."  The Lord gives us His armor and His strength to achieve "the grand aim."


The enemy is powerful, but evil.  Our God is more powerful, and good.


With that backdrop, let's take a look at the first piece of armor, the belt of truth.*

What do you think of when you hear the word belt?  I think of something that keeps my outfit together: shirt tucked in, pants up.  A belt frees me to move around with out fear of my clothes separating or falling off.  With my belt properly fastened, I can turn a cartwheel without concern!

Now, how about truth?  The first verses that came to my mind were Jesus saying, "I am the way, the truth, and the life ..." and You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.  Truth and Jesus are closely linked, in fact, they are One and the same.  To know Truth, we need to get to know Jesus, and the Father and the Spirit.  Having the truth of who God is tightly buckled around our "loins," as some translations state, keeps us together, standing firm and strong in Him.

A couple of commentators highlight that the belt Paul referenced was not an outer belt, but part of the under armor.  The belt would need to be put on first, before all of the hard outer armor.  I think this is important for us to note.  We need to strap the belt of truth around us first thing: the truth of who God is, the truth that we are engaged in battle this side of heaven, the truth of salvation through Jesus Christ, the truth that we are loved beyond measure by Almighty God, the truth that the Spirit lives in us, the truth that we will never be abandoned or forsaken!  I'm sure you can think of even more truth to add to this list.

Imagine standing up each morning, groggy and foggy, and thinking to yourself, Hey, I'm alive in Christ.  God loves me as His child.  He has equipped me and strengthened me for all I will encounter today.  He forgives my sin and makes me clean.  I have life, hope, joy, and peace.  Satan cannot defeat me because I belong to the Lord!

Truth, a belt to keep our thoughts tucked in and pulled up around what is true, enables us to stand firm and be strong in the Lord - the Lord who is the way, the truth, and the life.

One final word before sending you off to the week ahead of you:  The belt of truth frees us, but it won't put itself on us.  The Spirit will remind us and God will help us, but we have to put on the belt.  John Stott expresses it better than I by saying Paul's two commands, Be strong in the Lord and Put on the armor, express the balanced teaching of scripture which speaks of "divine enabling" and "human cooperation."  The Lord provides and equips, we must take and use.

Tighten up that truth belt today, friends!
Be strong in the Lord and stand firm against the devils schemes!





August 4, 2014

Armor Mondays: Series Introduction

I mentioned in a previous post that I would consider writing a series on the armor of God.  So here I am, having prepared little, ready to take on the project for a couple of reasons: I want to learn more and I want to write more.  Here, I can do both!

Since Mondays can be like, well, Mondays, let's make Mondays "Armor Mondays."  Over the next many weeks, I will share some thoughts about a piece of the armor each Monday.  My hope is that we will be strengthened and feel empowered by knowing better how God has equipped us, for our battle is not against flesh and blood.

You know, I have been feeling the intensity lately, aware that I'm up against a foe greater than I first imagined.  The enemies of ingrained (bad) habits, habitual sins, and crippling guilt are shooting fiery darts at my heart and mind, while they cackle with delight.  If I don't put on the helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, and hold high the shield of the faith, I'm doomed.



Praise the Lord!  Because of Christ we are not doomed!

 May this series serve to remind us that we are not doomed: God is good; we are held together by truth and covered by salvation, righteousness, and faith; we carry the Word-of-God sword and have the gospel of peace to share!


Here are our verses for Armor Mondays, my friends - Ephesians 6:10-18.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 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. 13 Therefore 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. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Two things to highlight before closing:
  1. Paul goes into very little detail about these things.  He must assume that the Ephesians would know what he meant by truth,, righteousness, faith, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and word of God.  Do you?  We'll unpack them in this series!
  2. Twice as many of the pieces of armor are defensive as offensive.  God provides us with so much protection from the evil one, things we cannot muster up on our own - truth, righteousness, salvation, faith - but must put on (claim, take advantage of) if we are to emerge victorious from the battle!  He also seems to think that all we need to fight back are His Word and the Gospel, which is part of the Word, so maybe it is better to say we only need one thing to fight back the enemy, God's Word.

A soldier is always ready.  A soldier puts on the armor his commander provides.  A soldier knows the risks of battle and prepares.  A soldier trusts his commander and follows his commands.

Christian, are you always ready?  Are you daily putting on the armor God has provided?  Do you know the enemy and are you prepared for battle?  Do you trust God and follow His commands?

Our gracious God has provided for us so we can be strong in Him and His mighty power and stand firm against the devil and his schemes.  I don't know about you, but I am in awe of God's thorough provision and care.  I am also hungry to learn more and be strengthened, because my answer to all those questions above is, "No."

Let's do it!  Will you join me for Armor Mondays?  Grab a cuppa, pull up a chair, and open this site.  So simple!

See you next Monday,
Heather