“Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
This Friday, we are going to take a look at James’ contribution to the topic of spiritual warfare. He says that we should submit to God and resist the devil. The result will be that the devil will flee from us. Here, we encounter Paul’s even more famous thoughts on spiritual warfare. How does what he says fit with James’ words? Let’s take a look at this together and set a context for what is to come.
Paul and James are often set against one another. This is mostly because of their supposedly differing views on grace and works when it comes to our receiving salvation from God. We have talked about before how to harmonize what they each have to say and why the conflict is only apparent, not actual.
When it comes to their views on spiritual warfare, while Paul’s are a lot wordier than James’ are, they are much more obviously on the same page with each other. James, again, simply says we should resist the devil as a function of our submission to God. Paul says we should put on the armor of God. If that sounds more aggressive than merely resisting, a closer look reveals it isn’t. Paul is simply more descriptive as to what that looks like.
First of all, the armor is to allow us to “stand against the schemes of the devil.” He’s not calling us to some grand quest. He’s simply calling us to stand firm in the strength of God (which comes from submitting to God and is mentioned in v. 10).
From here, he goes on to describe the various pieces of armor, which anyone familiar with the dress of a Roman soldier would immediately recognize. There is a belt, a breastplate, shoes, and a shield. These are, respectively, truth, righteousness, peace, and faith. These things are the weapons of our warfare.
The belt is truth, wrapped around our waist to hold everything in place. When we stand firm in the truth, when we are rooted deeply in real reality, we won’t be caught with our pants down. There are all kinds of invitations today to join in one fantasy world or another. The most popular fantasies right now are that the contents of a mother’s womb are not a fully human person from day one, and that gender is a functionally meaningless idea and varies depending on one’s feeling in the moment. Another is that sex is only physical and can be pursued freely and without consequence. There are others as well.
Whatever shape it happens to take, when we live in a fantasy world of any kind, reality is eventually going to begin pressing in on us. The consequences of our choices and actions will eventually come due. As John Stonestreet likes to say: Ideas have consequences and bad ideas have victims. Fantasy worlds are always rooted in bad ideas and they will never help us stand against the evil schemes of the enemy.
The breastplate is righteousness. Our heart should always be guarded and shaped by a right relationship with God and with others in light of that. If our relationship with Him is broken—if we are not fully submitted to Him—we will be open to all kinds of evil. And, a broken relationship with Him will play itself out in broken relationships with the people around us. We cannot be right with all the people in our lives if we are not right with God. Even if things happen to look right at the moment, our lack of a right relationship with God will eventually work itself out through them. And there is nothing like a broken relationship to leave us open to the devil’s schemes.
The shoes are the gospel of peace. Our shoes protect our feet and take us where we want to go. Our steps—that is, our choices—are always leading us into greater peace or into conflict. It is hard to stand firm when conflict is raging all around us. It’s even harder when we are a part of that conflict. If we are going to stand firm, we are going to need to be at peace with everyone around us so far as it depends on us. This means living with and in forgiveness to the extent we are able. It means developing the practice of assuming the best about the motives and actions of the people around us. We do that so we stay on the firm ground of peace and out of the quicksand of conflict.
The shield is our faith in God. When the devil or one of his surrogates (wittingly or not) fires a shot at us, our faith in the God who is truth allows us to deflect the blow. The deeper our trust in Him, the better able we will be to let the blows simply bounce off. They may come in fast and furious, but we let them bounce off and keep steadily, determinedly moving forward.
There is one final piece of Paul’s armor. It is the only piece that isn’t armor. This is the sword. The sword is for offense. And what is the sword? The Spirit. Our offense is the Holy Spirit. God does the fighting for us. We wrap ourselves by our submission to Him in His mighty armor, stand firm in our position, and let Him do the fighting. He undercuts the enemy’s advance. He attacks the hearts of our opponents to change them by His love. He parries and thrusts and jabs His way to victory. He is our weapon.
If we are going to step out into the stream of spiritual warfare, this is how we do it. It is not with fancy words or prayers or specific actions at specific times. That’s all symptomatic of magical thinking that will never work like we desire. Instead, we submit to God fully, trust Him deeply, follow Him obediently, and let Him take care of the rest. With this strategy, we can’t lose.