Nearly all Christians are familiar with the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10–20. But fewer are aware that the armor Paul describes traces its roots back to the Old Testament. In fact, the armor given to the Christian for his fight against the forces of sin and darkness is quite literally God’s armor — armor designed for and worn by God first and foremost. We fight and stand firm against Satan only in the strength that comes from the victory that Christ has already won for us.
This is why each of the various pieces of armor points us to Christ. The belt of truth is the belt that girds the messianic King (Isaiah 11:5). The breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation come from the divine warrior’s arsenal (Isaiah 59:17). The feet shod with gospel readiness are the feet of those who proclaim the arrival of Messiah’s kingdom (Isaiah 52:7). God himself is the shield of faith (Genesis 15:1). The sword of the Spirit, the word of God, is the weapon wielded by the promised servant of the Lord (Isaiah 49:2).
Christ Our Conqueror
In other words, God clothes us with nothing less than his own armor, the same armor that Christ has already worn on our behalf in his lifelong struggle with the mortal enemy of our souls, Satan himself. Jesus is no armchair general, who hands out the equipment but then watches the fighting from a safe distance. No, he has himself worn the armor and won the victory in our place! You are called to wear the Christian armor not because that’s what Jesus would do if he found himself in a similar situation to yours; you are called to wear God’s armor because that is what Jesus already has done, wearing God’s armor all the way to the cross.
Jesus stood firm against Satan’s schemes throughout his earthly life and ministry. Each of those specific temptations to which we have given in this week — lust, gossip, anger, pride, self-exaltation, lying, coveting — is a temptation he faced and stared down in your place. What is more, Jesus laid his life down at the cross for you, thereby accomplishing the victory that pours out God’s sanctifying Spirit into your life. Because of his victorious life, death, and resurrection, the same power that raised Christ up from the dead is now at work inside you and me through the ongoing work of the Spirit, raising us from spiritual death to new life. (In Ephesians 6:10, Paul echoes a trio of Greek words that he uses in Ephesians 1:19–20 to describe God’s power in the resurrection.)
Holiness Belongs to the Lord
However, the ongoing sanctifying work of the Spirit in your life is not ultimately under your control. In John 3, Jesus compares the process of becoming a Christian to birth. Just as a baby doesn’t have control over the time and circumstances of her birth, so God chose when to regenerate you and bring you to faith in Christ. But even after a child is born, he does not decisively control his own physical growth. He may wish to be taller or shorter, but wishing won’t make it so — or hasten the natural (slow) processes of physical growth. In the same way, we are not ultimately in control of the process of our spiritual growth. Sanctification is decisively God’s work from beginning to end (Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24).
That perspective is enormously encouraging in our daily struggle with sin and Satan. We often imagine we are fighting on our own in our struggles against sin. Not at all. That is why Paul reminds us that prayer is such an integral part of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:18–20). It is not enough to put on the armor of God; we need to be in constant communication with the God of the armor. The reality is that your victory over sin is ultimately up to Jesus, not you. His struggle was the decisive one, not yours. His victory on the cross purchased your complete sanctification, your ultimate holiness before God (Ephesians 5:25–27). His Spirit is now at work within you, growing you toward his goal of your complete purity. Your spiritual growth may be much slower than you might wish, but if you are in Christ, God will sanctify you completely.
That doesn’t mean that we’ll never have to struggle with sin, of course. Quite the reverse: Paul clearly expects us to be engaged in a daily life-and-death struggle with Satan in all of his awesome power. The imagery of armor and battle shows us that our fight against sin must involve blood, sweat, and tears — our blood, sweat, and tears, as well as that of our Savior. We too are to take up our cross and follow after our Master on the road of hardship and suffering (Matthew 10:38). We are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Yet Paul tells us to work out our own salvation precisely because God is at work in us (Philippians 2:13).
Christ’s wearing of God’s armor in your place and his triumphant victory over sin at the cross mean that your struggle against sin is never hopeless. God will ultimately sanctify you — he has promised to do so. On that last day, you will rise to new life in Christ and stand in God’s presence, made perfect forever. No Christian will be left behind, half-sanctified. Sin and Satan shall not have ultimate dominion over you (Romans 6:14).
Distant Triumph Song
This means that in the midst of the pain of the frustrating daily struggle against sin and Satan, you can plead with God to continue to advance that process here and now, whether strengthening you to stand against Satan, or by sometimes allowing you to fall, in order to grow your humility and dependence upon him (see Westminster Confession of Faith, 5.5). The knowledge that God is sovereign over your sanctification gives you hope to keep on trying, even in areas of your life where sin continually seems to have the upper hand. It reminds you that even when you are seeing real advance in your life, it is nothing you have accomplished and gives you no reason to boast. God’s Holy Spirit deserves all the glory, not you.
And he will receive the glory on that last day, when all of God’s weary, battle-stained children enter into the gates of the new Jerusalem, with their warfare, trials, and travails now a memory of the past, and a new song on their lips — a song of praise to Christ, the victorious Divine Warrior, who won their redemption through his fight. As William Walsham How put it in his song “For All the Saints,”
And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on his way.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon, to faithful warriors comes their rest.
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
Adapted from the forthcoming book The Whole Armor of God by Iain Duguid ©2019. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187.