There is no doubt that believers are under fire. They are under fire from the world, that opposes Christ, truth and morality. They are under fire from temptations that bombard even the godliest mind in a world steeped in so much sin. They are under fire from a spiritual enemy intent on their destruction, not just of their faith in God, but of their very lives and eternal destiny. As Christian discovered in his journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, the journey is not an easy one, and it is full of pitfalls, misunderstandings, trials, heartaches, enemies without and within, and temptations that seek to divert us from the will of God. Errors are easily made and laziness and apathy are ever present.

Paul called the danger of failing as a believer making shipwreck (1 Tim. 1:19). It is as though the ship has run aground on some rocky outcrop, battered and destroyed by the waves that beat against it. It is as though the storms of this life, of disappointment, hurt, discouragement, sin, temptation, misunderstanding, broken lives, broken hearts, broken relationships and frustration all conspire to sink the vessel that has set sail for God.

Jesus warned his disciples that to follow him would mean they would have to take up a cross (Matt 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). At the very least Jesus meant that his disciples should expect to suffer hardships in their pursuit of him. He did not promise it would be easy, and he did not insulate his followers from the reality of such difficulties in the Christian life. As the Synoptic Gospels all attest, Jesus himself was tempted when he was at his most vulnerable in the wilderness (Matt. 4, Mark 1; Luke 4). John describes the numerous occasions when Jesus was challenged, rejected and had his life threatened, and was finally crucified (John 2:12-25; 5:16; 6:60-71; 7:1-5, 20-24, 25-52; 8:52-59; 10:31; 11:45-57; 12:23-28; 18:1-19:37). However, the New Testament nowhere makes the case that spiritual defeat is inevitable. On the contrary, it makes a persuasive and strongly argued case for ultimate victory, and for the success of the believer even in this life, despite opposition (cf. Rom. 8:28-39; Heb. 12:1-11).

In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul tells his readers to arm themselves with the attitude and expectation of standing firm and prevailing over opposition. He tells them that they should be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. How can a believer be strong and what does he mean in the Lord and his mighty power? The word translated be strong, can also mean to make someone able, or to strengthen them (Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.). New York: United Bible Societies). It has as the underlying idea becoming strong. The KJV’s translate, be strong in the Lord, may be a better translation here. The idea seems to be that in their spiritual battle, which Paul will describe next, they are to become strong in the Lord, and through his mighty power. Paul answers the question where is the power going to come from to win the victory? It comes from God.

Paul locates the power to gain spiritual victory in the Lord, by which he undoubtedly means Christ. His exhortation is tantamount to saying that they are to find their strength or ability to stand and the victory in the Lord. The victory over the opposition they face is found in the Lord, and they are to derive their strength to overcome it from him. The language in Christ, in the Lord, and other similar expressions are particularly characteristic of Paul. Paul locates the life of the believer in the sphere of his relationship with God in Christ as a result of salvation. To be in Christ means to belong to him in a relationship that was initiated in salvation by faith and the forgiveness of sins, and continues as a matter of faith and obedience to God. The relationship is particularly characterized by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who has made the body of the believer the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19-20). There are a number of ways the New Testament describes the relationship between God and those who belong to him through salvation and redemption. They are called God’s children. Believers are said to walk with God, that is conduct their lives with reference to him and in close association to him in relationship. There is a deep sense in which salvation joins the believer to God on the level of a genuine and ongoing relationship that involves immediate fellowship and access to God through prayer. So Paul calls upon his readers to enable themselves to stand up to opposition through maintaining their relationship to Christ. They can and will prevail while they are connected to him (John 15:1-16). Indeed they are exhorted by Paul (imperative) to avail themselves of the relationship, to engage it, to nurture it, because it will enable them to stand up to the opposition they face.

They are to take their stand by joining themselves ever more firmly to Christ in terms of an ongoing and deliberate attempt to deepen their relationship with him. It is the location of their spiritual life, the sphere in which it operates that guarantees their victory, not there own fortitude. The firmness and resilience of their position is not posited in their own power, but in the mighty strength of the Lord. It is his might, and the fact that they have located themselves in him that provides the assurance and guarantee of victory.

The putting on of the armor is the NOT the foundation of their victory, but the added pledge of their protection from assault by the enemy and moral spiritual failure as a result. The foundation of their prevailing power is their relationship to Christ, that they can be found in him, joined to him, firmly connected to Christ, whose mighty power is unassailable. Indeed one could almost make a case that putting on the armour of God depends on the being properly connected to Christ (cf. 11). Those who are in the Lord are exhorted to put on the armor of God. They are in the Lord first and are encouraged to put on the armor of God because they belong to Christ. However, the armor is not without its merits, it promises to shield them from the schemes of the devil.

The armor is describes by Paul in metaphorical terms as various pieces representing different element of the gospel or or salvation (cf. 13-18). Surely, Paul means that just as surely as they are located in Christ through an ongoing relationship with him, that an ongoing appreciation and experience of these elements of the gospel and of salvation provide protection against the enemies opposition to them in this life. It is not the acknowledgement of the elements, just as a simple acknowledgement of Christ is not the point; it is the ongoing experience and interaction with these elements of salvation that provides protection. So for instance when Paul says the breastplate of righteousness, he is underscoring the protective value of maintaining righteousness with God in one’s life (14). When he speaks of the belt of truth, he means to have truth as an ongoing and real part of their lives, so that falsehood, hypocrisy and lies do not undermine their salvation (14). The shield of faith is surely not a single exercise of faith, but the ongoing confident trust in God who saves and keeps (16). When faith is exercised as a matter of the ongoing practice of one’s life and relationship with God, it quenches the fiery darts of the wicked one (16).

The discussion of the armor following the initial instruction to equip themselves by firmly locating themselves in the Lord, is interspersed with the assurances that when it is done right, they can prevail against the spiritual opposition they face. They are to stand, to make determined effort at maintaining their relationship to Christ, and to exercise and ongoing experience of the elements of their salvation and the gospel (14a). The struggles we face may be manifested in all sorts of material trials and adversarial people in this world, but it is not with flesh and blood that we really wrestle (12). Our battle is against spiritual wickedness in the heavenly realms whose goal is not to simply make life difficult for us, but to oppose, depose and overthrow our confidence in God and his salvation. The enemy seeks to rob us of our faith, and therefore our confidence in the salvation of God. He is, as Jesus said, out to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).

Paul’s description of the forces marshalled against the child of God is foreboding. There is a well organized army drawn up in battle array against the kingdom of God and against those who belong to God’s kingdom (12-13). The way the apostle describes the enemy army, it is a hierarchy of forces that reach to highest places of the world we live in, influencing and manipulating the world. It because of this strong opposition to God, operating in the world, that the New Testament refers to the world as evil and opposed to God. Creation is God’s. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness of it (Ps. 24:1). But the world is also under the authority to some extent of a fallen humanity, manipulated by God’s enemy, and theirs. For this reason a great many things have gone dramatically wrong with the world, and since creation has been subject to the effects of man’s moral failure and rebellion against God (Rom. 8:20), it has resulted in a great deal of suffering for everyone who lives in this world, even for the believer. Satan uses this world’s misery, along with temptation to undermine the confidence and faith of those who believe in Jesus Christ. So Paul calls his readers to stand firm in view of the opposition they face.

Still the overall tone of the passage is that those who firmly stand by maintaining their connection to Christ, will prevail. This is not the dark and discouraging passage many think it to be. It is an encouragement to the reader that provision has been made to prevail. This is where victory comes from!

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