Spiritual Warfare and a Vision
of the New Covenant Work (Part 2)
Sabbath Day Sermon: Saturday 16 February 2002
Click here for Part 1
"Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph.6:10-12, NKJV)
We looked at the realm of free agency and saw that there really is no such thing as complete freedom. We understood that we are very much bound by the circumstances in which Yahweh has placed us and have, in practice, a very limited number of choices. The real choices that we make, we understood, were mostly those on a local level, even though there may be less than half-a-dozen major choices that face us in the bigger picture of life. Finally, we saw that the only real choice we have is whether to follow Christ or not. Thereafter we are either walking in the path of His will or in the path of our own fallen desires.
We are therefore making choices which we think are our own but which may in fact not be. I was once of the opinion that we have complete free choice but now I see that we have only the choice to follow the path of light or the path of darkness. Whichever you choose, events are very much set for you, for salvation or destruction. This macro-management of our life is therefore in God's hands or the devil's, depending whom we choose.
But on the micro-managerial level we have complete free choice. No matter what our circumstances on the macro-level, we can decide how we are going to react to both the good and the evil times that confront everyone. We can choose a path of faith or of doubt, of obedience or rebellion, of love or of hate. These are all real choices and no-one can make them for us, even though we often blame others for them. In my ministry I work with a lot of people who have had the most horrendous experiences, particularly the victims of abuse. Their stories are often enough to make you want to break down in tears or to become violently angry towards those who committed the abuse. And that is itself a choice that faces me every day. I can choose to be stirred to compassion and love, or to let my emotions run wild and be filled with hate and anger. These are the real choices in life, and if we are believers, these are the choices that we will be judged for.
I am going to assume for the rest of my sermon today that everyone is a believer, for those who are not believers have already made a fatal choice. And even though they can reverse that choice, there is not much that can be done to help them face and cope with the vicissitudes of life. Their choice leads them down a path where they can find no comfort within and which leads to greater and greater uncertainty and fear about the future as they search for an anchor in life ... for meaning and hope.
As I said last week, it is not enough to believe. And for that matter, it is not enough to just vaguely "obey the commandments" as though these were some general idea like "being nice" or smiling at people. To be properly equipped to live a victorious life as a Christian requires a very clear set of military-like rules and regulations which anyone can, with a bit of self-discipline, understand and implement. And those rules Paul very clearly lays down. To begin with, he tells us:
"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" (Eph.6:13, NKJV),
or as the NASB puts it, "stand firm". Those of you have who read John Bunyan's book, or seen the film, Pilgrim's Progress, will remember that the author depicts the Christian as a mediaeval knight in armour. This image is very much the one that Paul conveys to us. Let us now take a look at this Christian armoury and try to understand how each of us can successfully prepare ourselves each day for successful and victorious living:
"Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints" (Eph.6:14-218, NKJV).
Those of us who are deliverance ministers know how very important all of this is so that we can successfully engage in spiritual warfare and disarm those invisible powers of which we spoke last week. Let's list the Christian's armoury:
1. The Girdle of Truth (v.14)
2. The Breastplate of Righteousness (v.14)
3. The Shoes of the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace (v.15)
4. The Shield of Faith (v.16)
5. The Helmet of Salvation (v.17)
6. The Sword of the Spirit (v.17)
7. Prayer in the Spirit in Perseverance and Alertness (v.18)
1. The Girdle of Truth
Our first item of weaponry is truth. Without genuineness, honesty, accuracy, loyalty and transparency, we are disarmed, weak and vulnerable. Not only are we unable to defend ourselves but we can't defend others either. Without truth, we are helpless, and none of the other weapons are of any use to us.
Now the opening expression of this verse is very interesting: "Stand firm, therefore, having girded your loins with truth" (v.14, NASB) This is a Hebrew expression which means "to get yourself ready with truth". In other words, this is how we are to prepare ourselves. Yah'shua (Jesus) said: "Be dressed in readiness" (Lk.12:35), or in other words, always be prepared. A disorganised person will soon discover how miserable life can be with things left undone to the point where it all seems to pile on top of you. A soldier who is not dressed and ready for battle at all times is going to find himself compromised at some point and likely killed. It is the same in spiritual battle. Readiness is essential. And readiness implies some sort of self-discipline. Notice also that this readiness comes before anything else.
The apostle Peter says the same thing: "Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (Yah'shua the Messiah)" (1 Pet.1:14, NASB). To be prepared for action means mental preparation - we have to keep our minds exercised and not let them become idle or occupied with useless things. To gird our loins with truthfulness means that first of all we have to be alert and have our thoughts properly focussed on that which matters.
Mental alertness, advance preparation, sound organisation, and a complete and utter truthfulness are the very first and most important things we can do. All dishonesty and deceptiveness of every kind, be they half-truths, white lies, or anything that is not completely transparent, must go. Without this aspect of our lives sorted out, we can't even begin the Christian life. And notice that faith in Christ hasn't even been mentioned yet. It is useless to have faith in Christ if you are disorganised and dishonest - you might just as well be stillborn if you don't first take care of these issues.
2. The Breastplate of Righteousness
Would it surprise you to learn that Yahweh our Father also wears a metaphorical breastplate? In fact, He does more than that. Listen to what he told the prophet Isaiah:
"He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; and He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle" (Is.59:17, NASB).
Fortunately, vengeance is not one of the pieces of armour that we are to wear because only God is capable of carrying out righteous vengeance. The apostle Paul, quoting Deuteronomy 32:35 wrote:
"Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Therefore (Rom.12:19-21, NKJV; cp. Heb.10:31)
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head."
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good".
Vengeance is not, therefore, something we are permitted to clothe ourselves with. Indeed, we are commanded by Yah'shua (Jesus) to love our enemies, and to do good to those who despitefully use us (Mt.5:44; Lk.6:27,35).
We are to wear the breastplate of righteousness just as Yahweh does. We are supposed to be identically dressed in this respect. What this means, therefore, is that we are supposed to imitate God in righteousness. It's not something we can't do because we are humans. It is not only possible but absolutely required of the Christian that he be righteous.
Paul tells the Thessalonians about the importance of being alert and sober, and not to imitate the sons and daughters of darkness:
"Since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation" (1 Thes.5:8, NASB).
To be a righteous person - to wear the breastplate of righteousness, which is our second piece of armour, we need to be filled with love and faith. To be righteous or right doesn't just mean being correct about a doctrinal principle like honouring the Sabbath, but it means being in an attitude of faith and love. It is possible to obey without faith and without love. Then Yahweh's Commandments become a burden and even a curse because we have not understood what they are for, and don't trust our Heavenly Father to do what He says is best and right for us. We all know that stealing is wrong, and may well force ourselves - or be forced by others - not to steal. But that isn't righteousness. To not steal and be righteousness is to have a heart for those who are stolen from - to empathise with them and their sorrow when the labour of their hands is taken unrighteously from them. And it is to empathise with the heart of Yahweh who is sorrowful when His children are so abused. For theft is abuse of the person that has been stolen from.
To put on the breastplate of righteousness is not, therefore, to just be obedient, but to be obedient in love and faith. I can't stress this enough. Unless you love the Law of Yahweh (Ps.119:97) as well as obey it, you will come to despise and rebel against it unless you have a steely determination to be faithful. And so the question remains: how do we learn to love Yahweh's Law and therefore His righteousness? The answer is simple: by getting to know Him personally through His Son.
With preparedness, truth and a love of that which is right, we are now able to move on to our third piece of weaponry.
3. Shoes of the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace
What an interesting piece of equipment this is and yet how vitally important! It is so important, in fact, that Yahweh declared through His prophet Isaiah:
"How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" (Is.52:7, NASB).
Over the last few weeks I have been working with people in captivity to demons. One of the most wonderful things is to hear their cries of surprise and delight as they are delivered from bondage and are set free. And yet, minutes before their deliverance they were in agony of soul, miserable, crying, desperate and without hope. What did I do to deliver them and bring joy into their lives? Absolutely nothing, other than to be truthful with them by being transparent, teach them righteous principles in love, and then, finally, to point them to the instrument of their liberation, Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). My honesty, and the true principles I taught them, did not save them, but prepared the way. What saved them was faith in the Son of God. I brought the good news that they could be set free and know peace, they believed, and in a matter of just a few seconds, their lives were changed forever.
There is no greater joy for a believer than sharing the Good News of Christ. If he is occupied with pleasing himself, he has missed the entire point of Christianity. Witnessing someone become transformed from despair to peace is one of the most satisfying things I have ever experienced. My reward is to gain loyal and loving friends in Christ whom I know will be with me in all eternity in the family of Yahweh.
So the third stage of equipping is to share the Good News with others ... the good news of peace and happiness which comes from being in Christ. It is the good news not just of laws and principles, important though these are, but of real liberating life. It is the experience and power of divine love in action. It takes Christianity beyond the dry theoretical concepts of salvation and into the joy of the saving experience itself.
4. The Shield of Faith
I think most of us know what faith is. It is believing ... trusting. Not just in anything, but in the truth that we started off with, which is exemplified in Yah'shua (Jesus) our Redeemer. But the faith of which Paul speaks here is a rather special kind of faith with a purpose - and that purpose is self-defence, for with that shield we "will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one" (v.16, NASB).
Even if we don't want to admit it or face the facts, Satan and his demons are at war, and they are at war with us. They are at war both directly and indirectly viâ other people.
I want you to notice the imagery that Paul uses here. The missiles are not just ordinary spears or arrows but flaming spears and arrows. He wants to set us on fire. And once a fire gets going you know how hard it can be to put out, especially if it has been allowed to spread. So what fires did the apostle have in mind? There are many fiery weapons the devil uses - impure sexual lust, jealousy, anger, bitterness, revenge, hate, violenc, and many others. All of these have the tendency to spread quickly and destructively if not put out right away. And that is why the scriptures warn us again and gain to avoid them.
But why, the apostle argues, should we even allow ourselves to catch fire with destructive negative thoughts, feelings and actions in the first place when we have a shield called faith which prevents these things even getting started? The truth is, painful though it may be to admit, the moment we allow any of these ungodly expressions of the devil to set us on fire, we have demonstrated a lack of faith. And not just any old faith - but faith in the ability of Christ to deflect these dangerous demonic weapons away from us. Once we allow our faith in Him to deflect these missiles, they will simply go out on their own and be rendered harmless.
The soldier would anciently wrap a small piece of rag around his arrow and dip it in oil, setting it on fire before firing it. Dangerous though that fire is, it is limited in its duration. The oil doesn't last long. Someone else's evil intent toward you is usually limited in duration. An outburst of temper usually dies down quickly if left alone. But if you feed it by getting angry yourself, then the destructive fire can just go on and on until it has utterly consumed you and perhaps led you to an evil deed like physical violence.
The message here is that we don't need to react negatively to other people's evil. We can deflect it harmlessly away as with a shield by simply yielding our mind and heart to Christ and allowing Him to keep us calm and undisturbed. Because vengeance is God's, we are not required to take the spiritual disciplining of another into our own hands using the weapons of evil. If you really want to help someone who is ill-tempered, silence is by far the best course of action. It takes more self-control not to react to some evil provocation than to simply start swinging your firsts. That is real strength, and not weakness as the devil would wish you to believe. For if you then repay evil with love and kindness, you will invariably disarm your opponent peacefully.
I don't how many times I have learned this lesson just from secular history. Time and time again I have read accounts of how forgiveness turns your enemies into friends. After Germany was defeated in the last war, it was divided up into two nations. One part, West Germany, was treated kindly and given economic aid. The other, East Germany, was brutally repressed and punished. I will always remember a saying of Winston Churchill, which so clearly reflects this Christian ethic, when he said that one should pursue one's enemy vigorously until he is defeated, and then afterwards show magnanimity (generosity). And that's exactly what the Americans did with the Marshall Plan in 1945 by pumping millions of dollars into the shattered German economy. And in so doing, it won an ally and a friend, just as it did with a defeated Japan.
Let us be generous with our enemies and so extinguish the fires of their hatred so that it never even touches us. Let us allow Christ to take those fiery darts on Himself, which is why He died for us.
5. The Helmet of Salvation
The two most vulnerable parts of our body are our head, which controls the rest of the functioning of our bodies, and our torso, where most of our vital organs are located. We can tolerate the loss of a limb but heads and many organs are generally irreplaceable. The breastplate of righteousness guards out heart but the helmet of salvation guards our head. And the two pieces of armoury which we share in common with Yahweh are the helmet and the breastplate (cp. Is.59:17).
In order to set a wayward heart straight, you have got to get your thinking straightened out first. Wrong thinking leads to wrong feelings, and wrong feelings lead to wrong deeds. Learning to think straight - and to think as Yahweh thinks - should never be neglected. Mental laziness is the source of a lot of unnecessary trouble.
It is no accident, therefore, that despots do not like to educate their citizens to think for themselves. They prefer brainwashing. The communists did it, the nazis did it, and false religions still do it. A brainwashed people are a basket of vegetables, unable to take the initiative in anything. True believers are free thinkers, meaning they have a genuine freedom to accept or reject the truth. Forcing someone to accept the truth results in them not only not knowing what the truth is - since truth, as we have seen, is also a matter of love and not just ideas - but ultimately in rejecting it. The only truth that makes a soul free is the truth which is presented as an invitation and not pressed on others. Truth forced on another ceases to be truth but a form of slavery.
The salvation that Paul is talking about is, of course, the salvation of Christ. But the original meaning of this, as recorded by Isaiah, was much broader. Salvation in the Old Covenant was principally one of physical rescue or deliverance. The helmet of salvation should therefore be seen both in terms of spiritual rescue from falsehood and demonic bondage and physical rescue from disadvantageous physical circumstances. This will in part be achieved by us thinking correctly and making right mental decisions. The helmet of salvation is designed to protect that thinking, so that it is clear, aligned to the Word of God, and free of worldly philosophy and vanity.
A Christian cannot neglect his mental education, and if he does so, it will be at his own peril. I have seen many Christians spiritually shipwrecked because they allowed false doctrines and philosophies to replace the simple truth of God's Word. Let us learn to think clearly and to think straight, as God thinks with His own helmet of salvation.
6. The Sword of the Spirit
And now we come to our first and only offensive weapon with which to attack others. So far everything has been defensive - helmet, breastplate, and shield. The one and only weapon of offence comes sixth in rank. Whereas the carnal nature reflexly strikes when attacked, the Christian is not supposed to be operating out of this realm of thinking, feeling and acting. He is principally to act defensively by allowing Christ to do His defending! But when the time to attack comes, as it does, we are not to use carnal weapons of any kind. The only weapon of attack is the Ruach haQodesh - the Holy Spirit.
And now the real problems start. How do we know what is of the Spirit and what is of the flesh? For these two contradictory powers are frequently confused by Christians. And the reason they are confused is because they have not followed Paul's precise instructions to put on all the other armour first. Using the sword of the spirit both for self defence and for attack is our sixth action, not our first. And when you place it first, the chances are it is of the flesh.
Now the Sword of the Spirit isn't just the "Spirit" - it isn't the impressions which Yahweh may, from time to time, place on your mind. Nor is it inner feelings which Yahweh may, from time to time, impress on your heart. Specifically, the Sword of the Spirit is "the Word of God" (v.17).
What this does not mean is that we are to simply hurl scriptures at people. Hitting people over the head with scriptures is going to give them a headache, not lead them to salvation. Paul told the Corinthians that Yahweh has made true believers "sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor.3:6, NKJV). The scriptures can only be used as a weapon when they are alive, and to become alive they have to be animated from within. And to be animated from within, the one delivering them must be filled with the Spirit himself. And to be filled with the Spirit one must be prepared, committed absolutely to the truth and nothing but the truth, be filled with righteousness, be gladly sharing the Gospel to bring peace and liberation to those in spiritual captivity, be operating out of complete faith in Christ and not in self, and be filled with Yahweh's thoughts and not his own. In short, he must have all the other armour on already. Miss any one piece of it, and a false spirit will creep in.
And yet, why won't people believe this? Who do they continue to insist that they can preach Christ on their own terms and in their own strength? Why is it that they end up teaching different gospels (2 Cor.11:4)? It is because they have failed to equip themselves with the first piece of armoury - they do not love the whole truth.
I am dealing with one such pastor now. He believes he has the discernment of the Spirit and so doesn't bother to see what Scripture says. He is convinced he doesn't need the Word of God ... or at least only those parts which suit him ... and ignores all the rest. But truth, by its very nature, is not just parts of the truth, but the whole truth. It must therefore either be all the Word of God or none of it. We do not have the right to pick out what we like and ignore the parts which we don't. Such always results in a "different Gospel" - a half-Gospel, a false Gospel. As one writer once said, half-truths are more dangerous than open lies. Open lies are more easy to detect - half-truths are able to camouflage themselves as total truth. It's false Christians who are ultimately more dangerous than outright unbelievers because they are in the flock and doing the work of destruction from within.
7. Prayer in the Spirit in Perseverance and Alertness
We end with prayer. Only now are we equipped to pray properly! And not just any old sort of prayer. Paul says:
"With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints" (v.18, NASB).
When we pray, we can pray in one of three spirits: (1) The Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit); (2) our own human spirit or flesh, or (3) The spirits of demons.
What's important is not so much praying in the Spirit, but in the Spirit - Yahweh's Spirit, and not some other. And sadly, this is one of the biggest problem areas in Christendom. People think they are praying in Yahweh's Spirit when they are not.
There is one sure test as to whether a person is praying in the Spirit or not, because if he is, he will be given a unique gift, which Paul explains in the next verse:
"Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel" (v.19, NASB).
The revelation of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) is hidden to all but those who have been transformed inside by Him. It is a mystery that unbelievers cannot ever understand. What is why I have experienced so many times now when people are saved that they suddenly say "Wow!" or are in some other way amazed at the contrast between their old unsaved life and their new one. And that experience is not based on what they do in good works but is the initial awareness that a dramatic change has been supernaturally wrought inside them. It is so special and unique that it can't be compared with any other life experience, not remotely.
There is no way that I can convey the mystery of a life in Christ to an unbeliever. He can see that "something" has happened to me - that I have something that he doesn't - but can't get a handle on it. Paul tells us what the usual reactions are:
"Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor.1:22-25, NKJV).
It is foolishness to them, incomprehensible and meaningless. And because it doesn't make sense to them, they are afraid of it, and poke fun and scorn at it.
A believer who has been touched by the mystery of Christ starts feeling things he never did before. He has an overwhelming compassion for other people, and especially those who are lost, and wants to help them. He desires, more than anything else, to be together with others who know the same mystery. It says in the New Testament that the first believers couldn't bear to be separated from one another. Every day they came together to worship and study - not just on the Sabbath, and not because they were forced to or expected to - but because in the deepest recesses of their soul that's what they genuinely wanted. And they didn't care what race other believers were from, or how old they were, or whether they had social status or not. This mystery levelled all prejudice and simply filled believers with love, as it does today.
This is the good news of Christ and this is what makes us want to devote our lives to sharing the Gospel. This is what fills us with hope, peace, and gladness. It's not something artificial but intensely real and alive. It is a power, and it works.
But if only works if you organise and prepare yourself properly. If you don't do it Yahweh's way, you will be deceived because you will come to put your faith in a powerless gospel that has come from your flesh and not from the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). And if you do that, you will cease to believe in it anymore and convince yourself that the false gospel you created and believed in was the one preached by the Bible and truly saved Christians, and so reject the truth.
The responsibility to live the Gospel in the way the Bible reveals it, is ours, and ours alone. If we adapt it to our fleshy wants and traditions by compromising any part of it, it will ultimately fail us unless we repent and do it right. It is easy to blame Christians, Christianity, the Bible and God when we change the Gospel to suit our own carnal ends, but if we do, we will not be held unaccountable at the last day.
The mystery of the Gospel of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) is a genuine liberating power that has eternal repercussions. It's yours for the asking. Do please choose wisely before it is too late. Amen.
This page was created on 8 February 2002
Last updated on 8 February 2002
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