I invite you to turn with me to Ephesians 6, back to the armor of God passage we began to look at last week. It looks like we will be in Ephesians 6:10-18 for the next two Lord’s Days. You can tell by my sermon title that I was planning on talking about the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit this week, but the more I got to thinking, reading and praying over the shield of faith and the more help I received from C.S. Lewis and J.I. Packer, I wanted to share a great deal of what they had to say with you this morning; so, just the shield of faith today. We will briefly look at the armor of God in general and spend most of the time on the shield of faith.
Of all the metaphors that Paul uses for the Christian life none could be more sobering than that of Christian warfare. We know that war means sacrifice, privations, fear, danger, shock and death.
In spiritual warfare:
- Christians don’t enlist, they do not sign up. They don’t have that choice. At their new birth they were born as it were in the crosshairs of a skillful sniper.
- In spiritual warfare there is no such thing as a ‘support soldier’ out of harms way aiding the cause in some safety. There are only ‘combat soldiers’ behind enemy lines.
- Christians are not transported off to some great distant land to fight. Wherever they are they are at war. Whether it is a Christian High School or taking care of children at home.
- There is no such thing as ‘peace-time.’ There may be interludes between bullets and bombs, but the next round is surely coming.
- Soldiers are either training for war, fighting, wounded and recovering to fight again, or taken captive and planning their escape or hoping that somebody else will come to their rescue.
- The Christian cannot die, but he can be grievously wounded.
- The Christian encounters an invisible enemy with demonic powers, cunning schemes and who is relentless in his pursuit of the Christian.
No metaphor for the Christian life could be more sobering than that of warfare. Paul clearly means to sober his audience in Ephesus to have them pluck up their heart. Even though the battle is real and costly—the captain of our salvation, the captain of this army, the Lord of all the hosts of heaven—has provided everything necessary for the Christian to stand firm in the heat of battle and repel the enemy: yes, even the devil, with all his schemes.
What has the Lord provided for us for our protection? Please follow as I read Ephesians 6:10-18.
v. 10 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” I said last week that that involves putting no confidence in one’s flesh. Absolutely no confidence in one’s own abilities but believing in the truth and then acting upon and watching our God work as we obey.
v. 11 “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
v. 12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
v. 13 “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
v. 14 “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,”
v. 15 “and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
v. 16 “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
v. 17 “and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
v. 18 “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,”
With what has the Lord armed us?
In our passage Paul mentions six instruments of warfare. A belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet and sword in that order; representing in some fashion: truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation and the Word of God.
The significance of the pieces mentioned is not easily understood the more you think about it. Wouldn’t it make more sense that the helmet would not be the helmet of salvation but the helmet of truth? After all it is with the head that we are thinking and we want to fill and guard our minds with the truth. And what exactly is meant by v. 15 “and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace…” That is confusing. All the commentators I read are confused by it as well; one saying one thing, another saying another thing.
I have chosen to follow John Calvin’s advice which is, “We must not inquire too minutely into the meaning of each word for an allusion to a soldier’s kit is all that was intended. Paul’s design was to touch briefly on what was chiefly required in a Christian man.”
Sinclair Ferguson agrees when he says, “It would be unwise to be narrowly specific about what Paul intends us to understand by each piece of armor. But the main lines of what he says are clear.”
I would simplify the thrust of vv. 10-18 this way. We put on the whole armor of God and stand firm by believing in the truth revealed in Scripture. Believing in the truth, shield of faith-believing; the truth-sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. The two are inseparable.
This is John Calvin, “It is not without reason that Paul compares the chief instruments of warfare, a sword and a shield, to faith and the Word of God. In the spiritual combat these two hold the highest rank. By faith we repel all the attacks of the devil, and by the Word of God the enemy himself is slain outright. In order words, if the Word of God shall be efficacious in us through faith, we shall be more than sufficiently armed both for repelling and for putting to flight the enemy.”
II. The Shield of Faith
A. What is faith?
The authors of Hebrews 11 tells us that, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 Theologians tell us that saving faith is made up of three important ingredients: information, intellectual assent, and personal trust. All have to be present for saving faith.
1. Information or a body of knowledge. And not just any body of knowledge. It matters what body of knowledge we believe. We are living in a day and age that says, “No, it really doesn’t matter what you believe just so long as you are sincere and earnest in that belief, you will be fine.” We, of course, think differently. It matters profoundly what we believe because we can be sincerely wrong. I have been wrong, I am sure you have been wrong. I sincerely believed I was driving my car in the right direction.
I left my hometown in upstate New York early one morning and was merrily on my way to visit my cousin in Baltimore, MD. From NY you have to drive through Pennsylvania to get to MD. As I pulled into a small town in PA where Rt. 14 joined up with Rt. 15 the next phase of my journey, I stopped to have lunch, then got back into my car and started heading down Rt. 15 thinking I was going southbound.
No…I was going northbound. Here I am driving merrily along pleased with the good time I am making to visit my cousin. After about 45 minutes of driving deep into the heart of PA, so I thought, I came to a bridge. On that bridge hung a sign which read, “New York State Welcomes You.” But I was so sure that I was going in the right direction, I was so sincere in my belief that I had the map right, that my first thought was not, “Oh, no, I got turned around! What did I do? Where did I go wrong?” My first thought was, “What practical joker would put a NY state sign welcomes you in the heart of PA? And what idiot is going to believe him anyway?”
So sure that I was right I kept driving northbound. This highway took me through a small town and I recognized the name of that town because living in NY through news and weather reports and you see where it is hot down here in Watkins Glen and so forth in the various parts of the state, my path took me through Watkins Glen and my first thought was, “Wow, PA has a Watkins Glen too! Isn’t this interesting?” I was so sure I was right!
I came to my next little town Ovid. “Isn’t that interesting? PA has an Ovid too!” It wasn’t until the third or fourth little town that I went past the post office and saw the name of that town and NY all over the side of that building that I began to question myself!
It matters profoundly what we believe because we can be sincerely wrong. It matters whether we believe in the Book of Mormon or the Koran or the scientific journals or the Bible. That is the first element of saving faith, this body of knowledge, this information.
II. Intellectual Assent. The second ingredient of saving faith is intellectual assent. It involves recognizing certain things as true and affirming them because our hearts will not receive, embrace and rejoice in what our head rejects. It has to get through the mind. We have to accept it, embrace it and affirm it as true.
And yet, that is not enough for saving faith. James tells us that the devil believes in God, but shudders. The devil believes—that he has intellectual assent that God is real—but his intellectual assent obviously doesn’t save him.
And so, too, with those who came to Jesus and said, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy and cast out demons in your name?” Jesus said to them, “Depart from me. I don’t know you.”
Shockingly, it is not enough to give intellectual assent to affirm certain truths to have saving faith which leads me to the final ingredient personal trust.
III. Personal Trust. Personal trust is a complete going out of oneself to put one’s entire confidence in God. As Packer says, “It is a movement of trust going out to, and laying hold of, and resting upon, the object of its confidence.”
When I was young Christian and was being trained in sharing my faith this was the illustration that I was furnished with to help my audience discern between intellectual assent and personal trust. Perhaps you have heard it before.
Imagine a tight-rope walker pushing a wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls. A crowd gathers to watch him and he asks, “Do you believe I can push the wheelbarrow across and back?” Several people nod. He does it, gracefully. Upon his return he asks, “How many of you believe I can do it again?” They all raise their hand. He points to a particular individual and says, “You, with your hand up, do you really believe I can do it again?” “Yes!” “Then get in the wheelbarrow!”
If he refuses to get in the barrel, he only has intellectual assent. If he gets in, he has personal trust. It involves trusting one with the issues of one’s life, trusting another with one’s very life itself, putting your life into their hands.
Saving faith is a movement of trust going out from ourselves onto and laying hold of and resting upon the object of its confidence. So in picking up the shield of faith we are called to a life of faith. Not a one time expression of that faith but a continual movement onto God.
This is Packer, “The NT pictures it as a walk that is also a fight, since world, flesh and the devil constantly oppose us and have to be beaten back. In this fight it is for faith that we fight and resist the enemy by drawing strength from God through prayer with an energetic refusal to be crushed by strain, discouragement or perplexity. The life of faith is lived not on beds of ease but on battle fields.” J.I. Packer, 18 Words, Pg. 131
B. Examples of taking up the shield of faith.
When I first read this quote by Packer that “energetic refusal to be crushed by strain, discouragement or perplexity,” I was immediately reminded of Abraham our father of the faith and the three examples that the Hebrew writer uses in Hebrews 11. I want to show them to you and talk about them with you this morning.
The examples are of Abraham and in one case, Sarah, picking up their shield of faith to ward off the dart of strain, discouragement and perplexity shot by the devil himself.
The first example is from Hebrews 11:8 and we read, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”
Abraham set off on this journey not knowing where he was going. The trip from Ur to Canaan was about 1,000 miles the way the Lord led Abraham along the main waterways. Remember that Abraham was from the start a fairly wealthy man. He continued to get wealthier as time went on, but he had a large number of sheep and goats at the start. How many miles per day can you cover pushing sheep and goats? Without them I am thinking maybe 20 miles a day, but how many of those can you put back to back? Then add to that that you must stop for grazing and chasing after straying lambs, etc., maybe closer to 10 miles a day. If they average 10 miles a day, that is then 100 days on a journey not knowing where they are going and not being told where their final destination is.
Can you imagine the psychological strain that would be? Are we there yet? Can you tell me if we are half way there yet? I’m okay with this Lord, but it is really starting to bother Sarah, can you tell us how much more we have to endure? I am sure the physical and emotional strain was starting to take its toll before they found themselves in the land of Canaan.
And so we see in this first episode that fighting for our faith, raising our shield of faith, sometimes means trusting and obeying in spite of the unknown. Aren’t there things that you would love to know about tomorrow, or the next day, or in the Fall? What is it going to be like at my new college? Will I get along with my roommate? Will my classes be too hard for me?
There is a lot about the future that we’d like answers to today! Will I choose, will I choose to trust and rest in who God is and obey what he reveals in spite of the unknown?
Our second lesson of taking up the shield of faith is more on Sarah’s part than Abraham’s part. In Hebrews 11:11-12 we read, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. [Our faith is only as good as the object that it is placed in. She placed her faith in the appropriate object.] Therefore from one man and him as good as dead were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven…”
Abraham was promised that he would be the father of all nations when he was 75 years of age. Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years of age. Sarah was 65 when all this got started and was 90 when Isaac was born. They lived 25 years with God’s “unfulfilled” promise to them. Can you imagine the monthly battles with discouragement as the devil would fire that dart?
And so we see from these two that fighting for our faith and taking up our shield sometimes means trusting and obeying in spite of bleak, bleak circumstances. Everything seems contrary.
As I thought of that I was reminded of another letter from Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Remember last week I read to you an excerpt from a letter written from the devil’s perspective. Uncle Screwtape is giving his nephew, Wormwood, advice on how to compromise his patient, the Christian. In letter 8 he says this:
“My Dear Wormwood: …you must have wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of his power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree he chooses and at any moment…He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of his presence…which seem great to them with emotional sweetness and easy conquest over temptation. But…sooner or later, he withdraws from their conscious experience all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature he wants it to be…He wants them to learn to walk [may I insert the word ‘fight’ here?] and must therefore take away his hand; and if only the will to walk [fight] is really there he is pleased even with their stumbles. Wormwood, our cause is never more in danger than when a human no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and yet still obeys.” C.S. Lewis 40-42
The devil’s dart of discouragement was warded off because Sarah raised the shield of faith. She considered him faithful; she put her faith in the appropriate object.
One more example, vv. 17-19 in Hebrews 11. Abraham was about to sacrifice his one and only son even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
When God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to say that he was perplexed would be a gross understatement. “Lord, if I kill him, my one and only son, he can’t have children. I don’t know how I can both obey your command to sacrifice him and believe your promise to raise up offspring from him. You are confusing me!”
Taking up our shield of faith sometimes means trusting and obeying even when things don’t make sense to our rational minds; when we encounter mystery, when we come up against apparent inconsistencies in the Scripture.
I don’t know how Jesus can be both 100% God and 100% man, but I believe the Bible to teach it. I don’t know how God can be absolutely sovereign over his universe governing all his creatures and all their actions and yet hold man completely and entirely responsible for their actions and decisions, but I believe it to be taught on almost every page of Scripture.
In these three episodes we see Abraham show us how to walk by faith and to take up the shield of faith and refuse to succumb to the devil’s darts of strain, discouragement and perplexity.
What I don’t like about Hebrews 11 is that it makes it all look so easy and that has certainly not been my experience. I doubt it has been yours either. We know all too well that it is battle, it is fight, it is scars, wounds! Why can’t my faith go from strength to strength day by day? Part of the answer is that we are not merely rational beings, but emotional creatures subject to mood swings. Our feelings come and go, strong and weak and persuade our minds to think otherly.
This is C.S. Lewis again:
“But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for Christianity, I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie…or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair, some moment in fact at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. And once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments when a mere mood rises up against it.”
Fighting this good fight of faith with shield up means holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.
And then Lewis offers this helpful advice about strengthening our faith. How do we go from a weak faith to a strong faith? “I believe, help me in my unbelief!” How do we move in the right direction?
Lewis says: “…unless you teach your moods ‘where to get off’, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the sate of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith…
The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines should be deliberately held before your mind (for some time) everyday. That is why daily prayers and religious reading and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed.”
And that is why we have a special Christmas Eve service—to keep the doctrine of the incarnation alive and well in our minds and hearts. That is why we have a Good Friday and Easter service—to keep the doctrine of the death and resurrection of Christ alive and well and fanned into flame. It is why we observe the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day—to keep that doctrine aflame.
Lewis goes on: “It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most simply drift away?” Mere Christianity, 140-141
“So recognize that while our moods change the object of our faith does not. Regularly rehearse some of the main doctrines of our faith: go to church, fellowship, being with those of like-minded faith.” That’s Lewis. Mere Christianity
One last piece of advice from J.I. Packer: “How can weak faith be made strong, and little faith become great? Not by looking within to examine your faith; you cannot strengthen faith by introspection, any more than you can promote growth in a plant by pulling it up to inspect its roots. You strengthen your faith, rather, by looking hard at its objects…’
And that is the message for next week. Our faith is only as good as the object that it is placed in: the eternal Word of God—the Sword of the Spirit. The shield and the sword belong together. The captain of our salvation has given us everything necessary to be more than conquerors in our battles. He gives us faith; it is a gift from him in the form of a shield. He trains us in it and expects us to use it in the strength of his might.
He gives us his armor: truth, righteousness, salvation, faith and so on to gird us. Let us put it on and use it and wield it in his strength.