Message: The Devil is in the Idle | Scripture: Ephesians 6:14-17 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Set: Come All Ye Faithful; All Glory Be to Christ; Turn Your Eyes; All I Have is Christ.
The armour of God is both literal and metaphorical for the pervasiveness of his saving work for and in us. He has covered us by his own strength with his own character from head-to-toe and from the inside-out. It is our duty that as he works our faith into us that we work out that faith in every thing that we do. We are never striving without him, but we are never ceasing in our God-enabled effort to honour him. Make sure, then, that you are intentional about not only possessing this armour at all times, but being equipped with it at all times. Do your spiritual disciplines from a disposition of joyful obedience and remembrance. Consider that you were given this armour at great cost to God himself and in protection from God himself and his righteous wrath against your sinfulness. Resolve that, as one who has been saved, you no longer belong to the wiles of the devil and his ways, and do not give him [the devil] any reason to take up his residence in your heart again. The gospel has brought about a great exchange. You’ve received the armour that belongs to the Son of God and the Spirit of power, and your punishment for your treachery and sinful treason was absorbed by the defenseless Christ. Let his sacrifice for you move you. Let it move you to the point of resolution and ardour so that as you wade into the war that our God has already won, you won’t only acknowledge his victory, you’ll be there standing with him through it all.
- Now that we have been saved, are we at liberty to do anything we want as Christians? Why/why not? Do you live honestly/consistently with your answer? Why/why not?
- Why have we been given the armour in the first place? What is so significant about God dressing us with this armour than for us to dress ourselves with our own armour/our own understandings of grace/our own interpretations of the Bible?
- What is the relationship between truth and righteousness (side question: what kind of righteousness is Paul speaking of here in this passage)?
- What does it mean to have feet prepared with the gospel of peace? Are we intentional in “preparing our feet” such that it corresponds with what Paul means here in our passage?
- What does it mean to have faith (really explain it rather than using abstract Christian terminology), and why is it so integral to how we live in this world?
- What does reminding ourselves of our own salvation do to/for us? Do you see this effect in your lives on a regular basis? Why/why not?
- The devil seeks to press into us on every side and in our every weakness–what weakness is the he pressing into right now in your life, and how are you (1) staying accountable to someone for that weakness, and (2) actively seeking to counteract the devil’s attack by use of God’s armour (what does this look like practically)?
- Do you ever feel too lazy/unmotivated/too busy to do your spiritual disciplines (prayer, scriptural reading/study, meditation, giving, serving, silence and solitude, fasting, confession, etc.) because it’s something you “have” to do rather than something you’ve been strengthened to do/something that will protect you day-to-day? Why/why not? Do you have someone keeping you accountable so that you are doing these things?
- What is the promise that enables us to stand with God? Does this promise have an ending for us in this life? Do we ever act like it does?
- What is the significance of God’s promise as New Testament Christians (i.e. how have we seen this promise fulfilled for us specifically/especially in the New Testament)?
- Ultimately, Paul’s exhortation about the armour of God is an exhortation for our perseverance. How has it taught you about your own weakness this week while also providing you with additional fuel to persevere in ways you didn’t know how?
- What additional things did you learn from this sermon/from previous sermons that would be an encouragement to one another? How has what you’ve learned grown to increase your appreciation of the gospel in your life/the way you live out the gospel in your life specifically?
- How can we be praying for you this week in either victory or sorrow/trial or joy?
- Make sure to take time to pray for one another as you come to a close.
When I turned 16, my father took me to our nearest Service Ontario—Service Ontario is like the DMV here in the States, I was going to get my Driver’s Permit. Now in Canada, there are three stages of Driving Permits, which only involved taking a simple multiple-choice test. Now, to my embarrassment, I failed the first time I took it. I remember telling my dad that I failed, and he thought I was joking. But when he realized I wasn’t, he couldn’t understand. He said, “how can you fail that test? All you have to do is read the manual, look at the pictures, and you’ll do just fine!” And I remember turning to him and saying, “I never read the manual.” The Bible speaks of one place that no man should want to go, but let me tell you, there are two places, and this situation, right here, was one of them.
Despite being in the place of non-fiery torment, I had the audacity to ask my dad if he would bring me back later that afternoon if I went home and read the manual. Here’s grace, my brothers and sisters, he said, “yes.” Lo and behold, I went home, read the manual in 12 minutes, told my dad I was done, he brought me back, I passed, and I got my G1. Now, let me tell you that the Bible speaks of one place that no man should want to go, and the earlier part of my story tells you that there are two, but let me tell you there are actually three. The third belongs to the situation when my dad let me drive home only to find out that I really knew nothing about driving.
Here’s the point of my story: my dad had enabled me to do the thing I wanted to do: drive, but I also had to do the work that was required of me to drive. I had to read the manual. I had to practice under the supervision of someone who knew what to do. Neither of them would come without the work. If I didn’t do the work, I’d fail the test, or I’d crash the car. But you see, I couldn’t have even got to the point of doing work without the constant help of my dad.
In Ephesians 6:10-17, what is it that we learn? We learn that God has provided the strength, but his strength and his help isn’t where it stops. There is work that needs to be done. Today, we are looking at the work that needs to be done so that we do not waste the strength imparted to us—the strength to stand in opposition to the devil and to withstand his attacks. God gives the strength. We, then, do the work of standing, and we’re to stand in a specific way. Let’s read about that way now in Ephesians 6:14-17. TWoL.
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 o f salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Our take away from today’s passage is about the work we have to do so that we do not fall to the alluring vices of the devil and so that we might not mock God in his providence: do not be bound-up with the devil, rather stand with God. And there’s a specific way that we not only stand with God but that we continue standing with God, namely, by putting on his armour. So, we’re going to talk a little about his armour, what happens when we take it off, and why, in this life, we’re meant to keep it on. Let’s look at our first point:
1) The Instruments for Standing
My focus for this first section is actually our whole passage—verses 14-17, and what I want to do here is go over each of the pieces of armour that Paul lists intentionally because this passage tells us that God has strengthened us, particularly, for war, and as those whom he has strengthened—as those whom he has predestined—we, now, are not only called to be his people, but we’re called to be his people in a specific way. You see, the grace we’ve been given not a cheap grace. There is no license for a carnal form of Christianity. You don’t get to say you’re saved and then do whatever you want. Yes, the grace is free to you as a sinner—it cost you nothing to receive, but it’s also a grace that ought to change your life. It’s the indicative of grace that paves the way for the imperative of grateful obedience—it’s a joy to partake in the way of Christ because Christ joyfully gave himself for us. The facts of the gospel establish the command of God’s eternal law. The fact is God has saved and strengthened. The command is now to stand in a specific way.
The first way you’re to stand is by fastening on the belt of truth. Literally, the text says, “gird up your waist in truth.” Perhaps that doesn’t help you understand what Paul is saying. If I were to say this in a way that can be commonly understood, it would be like my mother on Sunday mornings as she’s trying to get us to church on-time, “Put your pants on.” Rule number 1, before you do anything else, put on your pants. It’s the foundational thing because without pants you’re left vulnerable in the worst possible way, and not only does it affect you terribly if your vulnerability is exposed, but it affects all future generations. In other words, Paul is saying don’t just protect your own life but protect your ability to give and make life for future generations. I’m not trying to be crass. I’m saying that Paul is telling us to put on pants—in war you’ve got to protect the most vulnerable parts of your body so that you don’t become a hindrance from avoidable wounds.
And what, in the Bible, is the equivalent to putting on pants? It’s the truth. Unless you have pants on, you’re exposed. Unless you possess the truth, you stand naked to all the temptations of the world. Paul has already told us to do these things in this book: Eph 4:25 put away falsehood, speak the truth to one another, Eph 4:15 speak the truth in love. Or consider the words of John in chapter 8:31-32: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” In other words, to be without the abiding truth in Christ’s coming, living, dying, and rising is to lack freedom. You want to roam around outside? You want to be able to do the things that are important to you, your family, and your friends without being victim to the dangers of the natural world? You want to protect those closest to you? Put on your pants. Take hold of the truth.
And here’s the rub: the armour isn’t only for our protection from the cosmic forces of evil. Yes, we wear them now for that purpose, but the reason we needed them in the first place isn’t to protect us from the devil—no, we were already enslaved by him. We needed the armour—we needed the truth because it is the only thing that can protect us from God himself. The fact of this war is that we were on the losing side, and God, at great cost to himself through the sacrifice of his own Son, saved us from that side, looked at us with compassion and decided not only to take us in, but to give us the highest seat of importance, clothing us with his own majesty, and calling us son or daughter. To be loved by God is not only the highest honour, it is a matter of life and death, and by God’s grace, he’s given us life in the true death and resurrection of his Son.
The second way you’re to stand is by putting on the breastplate of righteousness. Don’t just cover the bottom, cover the top. Did you know that in Ephesians, every reference of righteousness includes a reference to truth? What does this tell us about the kind of righteousness that Paul is referring to here? It’s not the initial justification type of righteousness. It’s the righteousness that flows from possessing the truth. It’s the imperative that follows the indicative. If you have the truth, then your life will also be filled with righteous deeds. If you are convinced of the person and work of Christ, then your every desire will be to imitate and follow Christ with every diligence.
Third, you’re to stand by putting on shoes for your feet. Up to this point the armour that you’ve been called to put on is for defence, but here, Paul tells us that defence isn’t the only thing on his mind. Yes, shoes are good for digging in and making sure you don’t lose your footing when the enemy attacks, but shoes are also good so that you can get a grip on the ground and push back when your attacker falters. You see, in this cosmic war, your enemy—the powers that be, the devil himself—they’re expecting you to lose focus on the truth, they’re tempting you to do the things that are unrighteous. But when you cling to that truth, and when you continue in righteousness despite adversity, you do what the devil and his minions do not expect. It’s like that moment in those boxing or fighting stories when your opponent flinches, that’s your moment to attack. For us Christians, we know the devil’s been flinching ever since the cross. Make sure your feet are prepared for that moment because it’s a decisive one.
Both the NASB and ESV tend to give interpretations that make it sound like what you’ve strapped to your feet is the gospel of peace, but that’s not what’s actually taking place here. What the text actually implies is that when you’re prepared with the armour of God, and when your feet are adequately covered, they allow you to charge out when your opponent is weak equipped with the gospel of peace. See, you’re not just gearing up to bring peace to yourself—you’re gearing up so that you might be a vessel that brings peace to everyone. You possess the good news, and it’s the best news: the war is over. The devil has lost. Christ has won, and the world needs to know it. Ready your feet for battle because you are the means by which God’s victory is made known. Put on the adequate shoes of gospel peace so that there is nothing that the devil can do to slow your unstoppable advance.
Fourth, stand by always remembering to take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 tells us faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. And we’re called to take up this faith perpetually—it’s not a one-time thing. We need persevering faith, why? Because Paul is telling us that the devil is a sore loser. Just because you say you believe in Christ doesn’t mean that you actually believe in Christ, and he knows this. He knows our weaknesses. He knows our blind spots, and if he can expose them, then just maybe he’ll be able to show us that we never had faith to be begin with. But faith is assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
If we keep reading in Hebrews, we find out that the assurance isn’t just an empty or baseless hope in uncertain promises. Rather, it’s a hope that is rooted in a God who speaks, and he has spoken the creation of the cosmos into existence so that we might see not just his power but his character. Faith, then, is our belief in his awesome power and his unswerving character to do the exact thing that he says he’s going to do. He’s done it before by speaking creation into existence, and he will do it again.
In fact, he has done it again—for as he spoke the world into being, his very Word came to us in the form of a man to live, die, and rise victorious over that thing called sin, which the devil is trying to enslave us under once again. For us, for those of us who call ourselves Christians, we not only have the omnipotent God who speaks creation into existence as our assurance for his promises, we have the God who is his speech himself come into the world, which he created, in order to assure us that he is still that same God and that he has not forsaken us. Don’t you dare forget your shield. Don’t you misplace your faith because, by it, you render the devil powerless. By it, you carry with you the confidence found in the resurrected power of Jesus Christ
Fifth and sixth, take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. I think Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, is an absolute genius for linking the helmet with salvation. What I have had not had time to really go over is the fact that every single one of these pieces of armour is a reference to an Old Testament passage. In fact, almost every piece is a reference to a Messianic text in Isaiah. The belt of truth and the rod of the Spirit is found in Isa 11:4-5, the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation refers to Isa 59:17, the preparation of the feet and the bringing of good news—Isa 52:7. In other words, all of it points back to this figure who was to come and liberate his people from the oppression not only of worldly powers but of demonic power. This armour, spoken of in Isaiah, belongs to no one else but the prophesied Messiah, and this Messiah took off that armour for our sake, and he gave it to us. By putting on this armour, we affirm not only Christ’s satisfaction for us, we honour him by allowing his sacrifice to sustain us.
Why is Paul, and by extension Isaiah, through the Holy Spirit, a genius? Because that thing strapped around our heads is a constant reminder that what we have is not afforded to us by anything that we’ve done. God, both literally and figuratively, wanted to make sure that our abilities to stand with him and withstand the attacks of the devil do not get to our heads. It is not something that we can boast in ourselves about. Let salvation be a constant reminder to everything up “here” (the head) because, in giving you his Son’s armour, he protects and preserves everything in “here” (the heart).
And how is it that we’re to remember that this helmet of salvation, and this armour in total belongs, ultimately, to the Messiah? It’s because we have the sword of the Spirit, which points us back always to what he’s accomplished for us as we thrust it into the heart of our enemy. Stand with God by putting on the full armour of God. Do not neglect any of the pieces. Consider his truth constantly. Live a righteous life intentionally. Declare and recite the gospel boldly. Look to the hope of your faith regularly. Be in the Word of God daily—even if you’ve memorized the whole thing. And by these things, be affirmed in the strength of your eternal salvation joyfully.
2) The Devil’s Opportunity
There’s this scene, in some movie I’ve watched before, I can’t remember which one, and I can’t remember all the details, but in this scene, there’s all this anticipated build-up, and the main characters are in the middle of a war or battle of some sort. And it cuts to this focus upon the soldiers who are approaching the spot where they think the enemy is. So, they inch closer and closer, and they’re right above or around the place where the enemy is supposed to be. BUT, lo and behold, when they jump down into the cavern or when they push back the curtain, there’s no one there. As a result, the soldiers leave that area, and they put their weapons and their gear down. They prop their feet up. They start to talk with one another and make jokes, taking their minds off the gravity of their situation, and just as things are getting comfortable something jumps out of the darkness and strikes right through the heart of one of our heroes, and the worst part is that the guy who just died was the guy you were expecting to make it to the end.
This is the depth and seriousness to which Paul is giving his imperative: put on the complete armour of God in verses 11 and 13 of Eph 6. Put it on and keep it on because the devil doesn’t deal with the truth, he is the prince of lies, and he wants us to cover our sin with more sin. Where we, as Christians, are supposed to confess sin to one another, Satan would have us hide it, keep it insulated from one another, and revel in our self-sufficiency. He does not support your moral righteousness, rather he wants to increase your rebelliousness. He mocks every idea of the necessity for peace both between us and God and between one another. He turns our minds to the thought of the discomfort and the taxing effort that we’d incur if we tried to share the gospel with unbelievers. Instead of fixing our eyes on the certainty of our present salvation and our future hope of eternity, he would rather turn our eyes to the thoughts of what is uncertain and tragic about this life and make us filled with anxiety and doubt. Instead of grounding you in the gift of your salvation, he’d rather you consider your discontentment—perhaps the strife you have with your friends, your job, or even your family, and he wants you to avoid the problem and let it seethe into your resentment instead of laying it before the Lord. Above all of these, he does not want you reading the Bible because it’s in this book where we find deliverance from his schemes. Everything that this armour represents is everything that the devil stands in contrast to.
And yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, very often we stand in contrast to it as well. Notice that without saying it explicitly, Paul tells us what our natural disposition is as those who do not bear up with the strength of God. He commands us to stand, which tells us that prior to God coming, saving, and displaying to us his character, our posture was one of immobility. Prior to God, we weren’t standing as those ready or prepared for battle, no instead we were lying on the ground, unable to move. Perhaps the analogy can be carried a little farther in that not only were we preventing ourselves from moving, but, maybe, we had willingly given ourselves to the devil. Maybe, we had willingly let him put us in the bonds and chains of our own sinfulness, and, maybe, we willingly lied ourselves down on the floor as he tied us to the whipping post and beat us into submission so that we might not have the strength or the resolve to stand back up.
Christians, I hope you know that I’m giving you this sermon, and Paul is saying what he says here in Ephesians 6, because we know that life is difficult. We, especially in this incredibly busy season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when our focus should be on the grace and wonder of God’s greatest gift to us of himself—we tend to let our guard down. We let ourselves get busy with all the rushing around, buying presents, organizing Christmas and other events, telling ourselves that we do these things for other people when, in fact, they’re excuses and distractions that tempt us away from what our focus should be on. We allow our spiritual lives and disciplines to become idle because it’s easier to focus on all the attractive pleasures around us than deal with the sin that engulfs our hearts.
Did you know that there’s a spike in anxiety and depression during this particular season? Why is that? It’s perhaps the most ironic, yet the least surprising fact because at the height of God’s call for our holiness, humility, and submission to him, our natural, sinful instinct is to gird ourselves up not in truth but in lie, to take up not the breastplate of righteousness but suits and ties for lavish occasions, not putting on war boots to go out with the gospel of peace, but to run in every other direction avoiding those among us most in need. I think you get the picture.
Don’t let your guard down—don’t take off the armour. You might say to me, “well, Stephen, sometimes the armour gets heavy, and I get tired, and I just want to put my feet up rather than keep standing.” And to that I say, with all the grace and kindness that I can muster, “it’s a good thing, then, that you’re not standing by your own strength. It’s a good thing, then, that you have a Saviour who’s taken on the weight for you by dying upon a cross.” Don’t neglect the armour of God. Don’t give an inch to the devil because he will, assuredly, take a mile. Remember the strength that sustains, strap up your boots, and stand with your Lord.
3) God’s Character Upheld
There’s one more thing that I want you to notice about our passage. Look at each of the adjectives. Notice how all of them, truth, righteousness, peace, faith, saving power, and the Spirit, they do not only describe the qualities of the armour of the Messianic figure in Isaiah, but they describe the very qualities and characteristics of God himself throughout Scripture. God is truth. God is righteousness. God is peace. God is faithful. God saves. God is our Word and our Holy Spirit. What I mean is that when Paul tells us to put on the armour of God, he’s not telling us to put on something external to God, he’s telling us to put on God himself as the means of our protection and of our attack. God enables us to have God.
This is why when we fall, when we allow the devil to take hold of us, and we fail to put on the armour that we’ve been equipped to wear, we can still take heart—we can still persevere and turn back to the truth in God because God is the one constantly drawing us back to himself.
The command to stand in verse 14 is not one that is left unaccompanied by a promise. The promise is one we’ve already seen in verse 10: “Be strengthened.” How is this a promise? It’s a promise because I told you last week it’s in the passive. When something is in the passive, it means that something is happening or has happened to you. Someone or something from outside of you has given you the strength to stand. The promise is in the passive—God has worked for you, God has brought you to himself, so do the work, and bring yourself to God. Take comfort that the strength you’ve been given, and this armour that you’re called to dress yourself with, it is not from a feeble source, and it doesn’t reflect a feeble warrior. No, both its source and its warrior are the same. Both its source and its warrior are God himself.
What I didn’t mention last week is that this passive promise, be strengthened, is also in the present tense. It’s a present passive verb. So, while the passive highlights that you don’t do the action yourself, the present tense highlights the continuing nature of the action. It’s not only that God has strengthened you, and now you stand on your own without additional help. No, God is with you in your strengthening, God is with you in your standing, God is with you in your putting on of armour, and God is with you as you wade into the war dressed in his character. And where is it that we see, most prevalently, how God is with us? “All this took place to fulfill what YHWH had spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which means, God with us” (Matt 1:22-23). God gives us God to show us God to be with God to know God and to fight alongside God regardless of how bleak our situation and our sin is—regardless of how dark the night of the devil seems to be. And he , that is God, does all of these things for us at the climax of history by sending his own Son into the world to be the wrath-absorbing, sin-defeating, death-destroying conqueror for those whom he calls beloved.
Brothers and sisters, when we stand, we do not stand on our own, nor are we the same person that was unable to pick themselves up off the ground while strapped to that whipping post. No, when we stand, we stand as those imbued with the presence, power, joy, and fortitude of God himself because he’s picked us up off the floor, and in exchange, Christ took our place and was laid low. He was strapped to the whipping post on our behalf, and there on that post, it was not the devil that struck him, it was God himself. Don’t be bound-up with the devil, rather stand with God who’s given his own Son in order for you to do so. Persevere when it seems like every evil force is acting upon you because God has given you that struggle so that you might turn back to him, rest in his provided and promised strength, and stand confident that the devil cannot and shall not overcome you. We stand strengthened by an omnipotent God who reigns supreme as the transcendent Lord of every cosmic power. We stand strengthened by an intimate God who drew near to us, condescended and weakened himself, and he did this even to the point of death upon a cross so that those cosmic powers might have no more sway over us. Our sin has been vanquished. The power of the devil has been silenced. And we stand as those who can say that he is my strength and portion—in him is my boast forever and ever.