The apostle Paul concludes his letter to the Ephesians by alerting believers to the malign spiritual forces they face.
Dr Lloyd Jones once wrote: ‘I am certain that one of the main causes of the ill state of the church today is the fact that the devil is being forgotten. All is attributed to us; we have all become so psychological in our attitudes and thinking.
‘We are ignorant of this great objective fact – the being, the existence of the devil, the adversary, the accuser, and his “fiery darts”.’
Ephesians 6:10-20 addresses three issues that we might be ‘strong in the Lord and in the power of his might’. First, Christians are to be spiritually strong. Second, to be strong they must be alert to the devices of the evil one. Third, this means they must be equipped with ‘all the armour of God’.
We have a powerful foe
Standing against the wiles of the devil is fundamental, if a believer is to be strong in the Lord. ‘For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age’ (Ephesians 6:12a).
There are behind-the-scenes, evil spiritual powers. These are fallen spirits or demons, the head of whom is Satan. They are finite in number and irredeemable (2 Peter 2:4). There are also un-fallen angels, who are finite in number and do not need to be redeemed. There is a war on between true believers and demons, and the Christian cannot escape it.
Demons are not stronger than the Lord. They are doomed to defeat. Nevertheless, they are a force to be reckoned with. This aspect of Satan’s power is indicated by the temptations of the Lord himself in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).
Satan can never defeat Christ, but he can play havoc with the church and with the lives of believers. Therefore we should be alert to his devices. Peter exhorts believers on that account to ‘be sober, be vigilant’ and to ‘resist him, steadfast in the faith’ (1 Peter 5:8-9).
We have a wicked foe
Just think of all the evil that has been happening in the world. Think of the moral and religious perversions so common in our day, and the widespread wickedness in society and terrible declension in the church.
Christian warfare has to do with wicked forces that we cannot see. They are called ‘rulers of the darkness’ and ‘spiritual hosts of wickedness’ (Ephesians 6:12b).
The unwary believer may well be lured by their wickedness into compromising the truth. We dare not on this account shrug our shoulders and excuse sin, on the basis that ‘it was the devil (or demons) that made me do it!’
We are to wrestle against them, with the armaments God supplies through his Spirit, for their whole intent is to undermine the people of God and kingdom of God.
We have a cunning foe
‘Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil’ (Ephesians 6:11). Paul speaks here of ‘the wiles of the devil’.
Satan would, if he could, deceive even the elect of God (Matthew 24:24). He and his hordes are deceivers. And they’re going at the people of God ‘big time’. They want to disrupt the harmony of congregations and churches. They want to stir up discontent and deflect believers from obedience and faith.
Here’s the first proposition then that believers must have firmly in their hearts and minds as they bear testimony to Christ and truth: that there is a devil and there are evil spirits active in this world and against us.
They are ‘behind the scenes’ in all movements of history. They are seeking to bring down the church and deceive Christians. One writer put it this way: ‘many, if not most of our failures and defeats are due to our foolish self-confidence when we either disbelieve or forget how formidable our spiritual enemies are’.
Believers cannot be strong and stand in the evil day if they are not equipped with armour from the Spirit of God.
The closer to Christ you are, the more fiery darts will come your way. A Puritan said that ‘he that standeth near the captain is a sure target for the archers’.
What is required? ‘Therefore take up the whole armour of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand’ (Ephesians 6:13).
There are a couple of things to recognise here. First, the believer is to have on all the armour. It is a weakness for any soldier to leave any piece off, however small. ‘In heaven [says William Gurnall] we shall appear not in armour, but in robes of glory, but here the pieces of armour specified are to be worn night and day; we must walk, work and sleep in them, or else we are not true soldiers of Jesus Christ’.
Second, you are to have the armour on all the time. As Gurnall put it, ‘the saints’ sleeping time is Satan’s tempting time; everything dares venture to creep on a sleeping lion’.
Belt of truth
Within this armour the Word of God is of central importance. The believer is to have on the belt of truth: ‘Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth’ (Ephesians 6:14a).
The belt was all important to the soldier. It kept everything in place. Having the belt on meant readiness for action.
What is the believer’s belt? It is truth, both in the objective sense as truth revealed by God in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments; and in a subjective sense, meaning one’s life consistently directed and informed by the truth of God’s Word.
If Christians are effectively to put to flight the evil one, they must know their Bible and its doctrines. And not just by ‘mental assent’, but devotionally. It may be thought that prayer should come first – and certainly verse 18 makes clear that prayer should pervade all our spiritual warfare – but true prayer itself springs from and is informed by the truth.
Martin Luther, the sixteenth-century Reformer, was brought up in the darkness of the Roman Church, before the Reformation. The Bible had been a closed book through those dark ages of spiritual captivity. It was only when he started to study the Word for himself that the light dawned and he became increasingly captive to the Word of God.
Why is our land in such a sorry state? How is it that churches today can be soft on major moral issues like homosexuality, and major doctrinal issues like the doctrine of hell?
The answer is that so many have taken off the belt of truth and become vulnerable to the assaults of the evil one. In his wilderness temptations, Jesus repelled the devil with the Word of God: ‘It is written … it is written … it is written again’.
Known by truth
Do we take the Word of God seriously? Have we lost sight of its necessity in equipping the believer for spiritual warfare? No wonder so many fail the Lord and are poor witnesses in this world!
Truth must be the Christian’s currency. The Christian is to live and breathe the truth of the Word of God, in order to repel the evil one and his minions.
The nineteenth-century historian J. A. Froude gave this significant tribute to believers in the biblical doctrines of grace: ‘The Calvinists attracted to themselves every man in Europe that hated a lie … They abhorred, as no body of men ever more abhorred, all conscious mendacity [untruthfulness], all impurity, all moral wrong of any kind so far as they could recognise it. Whatever exists at this moment in England and Scotland of conscientious fear of wrongdoing is the remnant of the convictions which were branded by the Calvinists in the people’s hearts’.
These were people with the belt of truth firmly in place. So today believers must gird their waists with truth! There can be no standing in the evil day apart from that. And that means knowing the Word – studying, applying, keeping and practising it.
Our desire should be that Christ, who is the truth, dwells in our hearts richly. May his Word be our constant meditation so that we will keep his ways, and so stand in the evil day!