Equipped for spiritual warfare

The 40-day season of Lent provides believers with an extended opportunity for reflection and preparation before Easter Sunday with its celebration of the Savior’s resurrection from the dead. During the Lenten journey, when Jesus’ followers are feeling particularly vulnerable, Satan and his demonic cohorts are keen to launch their insidious attacks.


Against the backdrop of contemporary culture with its vaunted technological advancements and scientific discoveries, notions affirming the existence of the devil and his minions are commonly lampooned by atheists. Indeed, C.S. Lewis, in his novel, The Screwtape Letters, has the senior demon (appropriately named, Screwtape) declare the following in the seventh of his missives to his nephew, Wormwood:


“The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.”


In Ephesians 6:10–20, Paul dealt with the issue of spiritual warfare and believers being suitably armed for the battle that was certain to come. In verses 10–13, the apostle urged Christians to draw strength from the Son. Next, in verses 14–17, Paul directed his readers to stand firm with the Father’s armor. Finally, in verses 18–20, the apostle reminded Jesus’ followers about the importance of praying constantly in the Spirit.


Beginning with verse 10, Paul said that to withstand the devil’s attacks, believers must depend on God’s strength and use every item that He makes available. Then, in verse 11, the apostle exhorted his readers to “put on the full armor of God” so that they could withstand all the strategies and tricks of the devil.


Satan’s crafty schemes are evident in at least the following four ways: (1) enticements to sin; (2) sinful expressions of anger; (3) heretical teachings; and, (4) petty divisions among Christians.


We should not be surprised that Satan is deceptive, for Jesus called him a “liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Paul, too, said that the devil “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).


The apostle understood the power of evil as much as anyone. He had often been the object of demonic efforts to hurt him and hinder his missionary work. Also, he knew his readers were on Satan’s list of targets.


The battle Paul described is not a human one, but rather a supernatural one. It involves a hierarchy of evil rulers and authorities in the unseen world, along with wicked spirits in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12). The Greek words translated “rulers” and “authorities” indicate that demons have a certain amount of power and influence at this stage in history.


Even so, the devil’s power is far less than the Messiah’s. Furthermore, believers need not be dominated by demons, but instead are able to fight against them.


The ultimate goal of Satan and his horde is to destroy the relationship between God and humanity. Yet, one of the major themes of Ephesians is that the Son is the ultimate power in the universe. When His followers put their trust in Him, they can escape defeat by the ruler of this world (see 1:19–21; 2:2; 4:7–8).


So, if Christians fight Satan in God’s strength and not in their own, they can be victorious. In fact, Jesus’ death and resurrection ensure that eventually they would win.


As John explained, every child of God is able to prevail against this evil world; and the believers’ victory is achieved through their faith in the Redeemer (1 John 5:4). These are the same individuals who affirm by faith that Jesus is the Son of God (v. 5), namely, that He is fully God and fully human.


In Ephesians 6:13, Paul indicated that with the right preparation (and of course courageous fighting), his readers would still be standing and retain their ground when the battle was over. In fact, according to traditional military doctrine, the army in possession of the field after a battle is the victor.


As a prisoner in Rome, Paul was chained to a Roman soldier at all times. So, it was natural for him to see his guard as a model and to think of the spiritual struggle in military terms. That said, the Old Testament especially influenced the apostle, since the Hebrew Scriptures frequently used military images for spiritual realities (see Ps 28:7; Isa 11:4–5; 59:17).


As every Roman soldier knew, the time to put on his armor was not when the arrows began to fly. Before the battle, he prepared himself by taking up his armor and weapons.


In Paul’s discussion, believers are not told to take the offensive against Satan. When he attacks, they need to look to their God-given defenses and make sure they do not lose any ground to the evil one. After all, their spiritual successes have been hard-won, and so they should stand firm and fight to hold on to them.


Ephesians 6:14–17 describe six pieces of equipment that the Christian should take into spiritual battle. Paul listed the items in the order in which they would normally be put on by a soldier getting ready for a confrontation.


The first piece of equipment is the “belt of truth” (v. 14). A Roman soldier’s belt held in his tunic and breastplate, and became a place to hang his sword. For Christians, their belt is “truth.” This general term may refer to the truth of the gospel or to the believers’ truthfulness in everyday life (or both). Either way, Satan is a liar and hates the truth.


The second piece of equipment Paul described is the “breastplate of righteousness.” Roman soldiers wore over the entire front of their torso a large protective plate made of bronze, or, if they were wealthy, of chain mail.


The Christian’s breastplate is “righteousness.” As they draw on the Savior’s righteousness, they are able to live devout and holy lives. An upright life is an effective defense against Satan’s attacks.


Paul didn’t specify what the third piece of equipment is; but he was obviously referring to footgear. Roman soldiers wore strong sandals or boots studded with nails for traction while marching.


Similarly, Christians are to be shod with the “readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (v. 15). This phrase was probably meant to suggest that their peace with the Father, won by the Son, gives believers sure footing in their spiritual battle with Satan.


The fourth piece of equipment is the “shield of faith” (v. 16). Roman soldiers carried large shields made of wood covered with hide and bound with iron. These shields provided effective protection from blows and even from the flaming darts fired at them by their enemies.


“Flaming arrows” were often used in sieges of cities. Bows and arrows would effectively hit targets from long range (about 300 to 400 yards).


If a soldier became terrified of flaming arrows stuck in his shield, he might throw down his shield and be more vulnerable to attack. Therefore, shields were sometimes dipped in water to extinguish flaming arrows. Faith is more effective than a Roman shield in defending believers against Satan’s attack, especially as Jesus’ followers steadfastly maintain their trust in Him.


The fifth piece of equipment is the “helmet of salvation” (v. 17). Roman soldiers wore helmets of bronze and leather to protect their heads. Also, just as Roman soldiers received their helmets from their armor-bearers to put on, so Christians receive salvation from the Lord to use in their conflict with Satan. They look forward to a time when their salvation would be complete and Satan would be utterly defeated.


The last piece of equipment in the Christian’s armory is the “sword of the Spirit.” For some reason Paul did not mention the long spear that was the Roman soldier’s chief offensive weapon. Instead, the apostle referred to the short two-edged sword Roman legionaries carried.


Paul compared the preceding weapon to the “word of God.” When the Son was tempted in the wilderness, He used Scripture as a weapon against Satan. The Spirit can also help believers use God’s Word against the same foe.


Beginning with verse 18, Paul shifted the focus to prayer. Technically speaking, prayer is not a piece of spiritual armor for believers. They are not to use prayer just when under attack, but rather they are always to keep in touch with God through prayer, as well as receive strength from Him.


Accordingly, Paul urged his readers to pray “in the Spirit.” This means either to pray in communion with the Spirit or to pray in the power of the Spirit (or both).


Simply put, praying is talking to God. The act of praying does not change what God has purposed to do. Rather, it is the means by which He accomplishes His will.


Talking to God is not a method of creating a positive mental attitude in believers so that they are able to do what they have asked to be done. Instead, prayer creates within them a right attitude with respect to the will of God. Prayer is not so much getting God to do the Christians’ will as it is demonstrating that they are as concerned as He is that His will be done (see Matt 6:10).


Paul described four qualities associated with prayer in the Spirit. First, it is frequent. Jesus’ followers are to pray “on all occasions” (Eph 6:18) and “always keep on praying.”


Second, prayer in the Spirit has room for variety. Christians are to pray “with all kinds of prayers and requests.”


Third, prayer in the Spirit is well informed. Believers are to “be alert,” that is, on the lookout for the needs of others.


Fourth, prayer in the Spirit is unselfish. Jesus’ followers are to pray not only for themselves, but also “for all the saints,” meaning for all Christians.


As an example of a believer for whom the Ephesians could pray, Paul offered himself (vv. 19–20). He did not ask his readers to pray for his release from prison. Instead, he requested prayer for a courageous spirit in proclaiming the gospel while imprisoned.


When Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner about AD 60, he was not kept in one of the civil or military prisons. Rather, he was permitted to rent his own home, to receive visitors, and to preach the good news (see Acts 28:30–31).


Soldiers belonging to the Praetorian guard, the emperor’s bodyguard unit, took turns watching Paul while chained to him. He was able to share the truth about the Messiah with these soldiers as well as others associated with his case (see Phil 1:12–14).


Paul’s imprisonment lasted about two years. During this period, the apostle wrote Philemon, Colossians, Philippians, and Ephesians.


Ambassadors are usually afforded the privilege of diplomatic immunity from arrest. Even though Paul was “in chains” (Eph 6:20), he saw himself as an ambassador for the Savior. There was no doubt in the apostle’s mind that his imprisonment was a God-given opportunity.


The incarceration would enable Paul to convey the good news to officials high in the Roman government—people he would not otherwise have had an opportunity to meet. The emperor might even have heard the apostle’s case personally.


Since the government officials had the power of life and death over Paul, he naturally felt some anxiety. Yet, he didn’t want unease to prevent him from preaching the gospel clearly and powerfully. So, his primary prayer request was for fearlessness and reliance upon God when it came time for the apostle to witness, even at the risk of his life.


When it comes to combating evil and sin in our world, our real power is in the sovereign Lord of all creation. So, to be victorious, especially during the season of Lent, we must put ourselves in God’s hand. When we do, He promises to give us all the spiritual resources we need to stand our ground when the day of evil comes.

Dan T. Lioy

Professor Dan Lioy (PhD, North-West University) holds several faculty appointments. He is the Senior Research Manager at South African Theological Seminary (in South Africa). Also, he is a professor of biblical theology at the Institute of Lutheran Theology (in South Dakota). Moreover, he is a dissertation advisor in the Leadership and Global Perspectives DMIN program at Portland Seminary (part of George Fox University in Oregon). Finally, he is a professor in the School of Continuing Theological Studies at North-West University (in South Africa). Professor Lioy is active in local church ministry, being dual rostered with the Evangelical Church Alliance and the North American Lutheran Church. He is widely published, including a number of academic monographs, peer-reviewed journal articles, and church resource products.