Our involvement in healing prayer ministry and intercession has brought us into contact with a number of different ideas about the meaning of Paul’s injunction to put on the full armour of God.
During our early training we were encouraged to go through the daily motions of putting on the armour, while visualising a Roman soldier with all of his equipment. We understood it then as a mnemonic device to help us remember the equipment needed, and each piece was generally explained in terms of its function. However, as with any such approach, it easily degenerates into a ritual, perhaps with magical overtones. The implication is that if the armour is not put on religiously each morning then the person is at risk.
Such a ritualistic approach to life is common in religious people, but is a far cry from the way Jesus and his early followers lived. It betrays a lack of trust in God.
So, what was Paul intending when he outlined each piece of the Christian’s equipment in this fashion? Let’s read the passage:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:10–18 (NIV)
Clearly, Paul has in mind defence against a spiritual enemy here. What is the principle nature of this enemy’s attack? One of the principle ways a demon interacts with a believer is by suggesting fears, doubts and lies into their mind.
How, then, is a person to resist such subversive suggestions? Certainly not by erecting some magic mind barrier called ‘the helmet of salvation’. The defence against such attacks is to have a sure and certain knowledge of your salvation, how that salvation was attained, and what that salvation means for your future.
The intent of such an attack is to either make a believer unsure of either the certainty, or the effectiveness, of their salvation. Can Jesus really keep them safe if they take a risk? Or will he even care whether they fall or not? Are they really saved? Such doubts limit the effectiveness of a believer’s work for the Kingdom of Light. Instead, they will be focussed on their own state, trying to find ways to strengthen their walk, engaging in disciplines, memorising and quoting verses, obsessed with works, going from one conference, crusade or evangelist to another, seeking reassurance. What a waist of time – which is exactly what the devil wants!
To ‘take the helmet of salvation’, then, really means to first make sure you are saved, and once that is settled for ever, get a good grasp of what it means, so that when the doubts come you have a ready answer with which to refute them. What did Jesus say?
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:27–30 (NIV)
Did you hear that! You can not be destroyed! This makes it possible for a believer, knowing this, to live in faith, which might be translated as ‘taking a risk’. If you are a believer, then whatever happens, whatever the enemy throws at you, no matter how scary or uncomfortable it gets, you are safe. This knowledge is the ‘helmet of salvation’.
We could make similar examples for each of the pieces of armour. How then should we understand these items?
- “with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” == Be truthful in all things and at all times, otherwise the enemy will embarass you when you least expect it.
- “with the breastplate of righteousness in place” == Keep short accounts with God and others. Always do right. If you sin, confess and repent. Do not give the enemy a place to stand in your life.
- “with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” == Be ready at all times to be able to give an account of your faith. But do it in love, not stirring up arguments but demonstrating a heart that is at peace with God and man.
- “take up the shield of faith” == Don’t shrink back from anything the Lord asks you to do. Be faithful to him, and instantly obedient. Otherwise, the enemy will accuse you about your failure.
- “take the helmet of salvation” == Be sure of your salvation and what it really means for you: that you cannot be destroyed, nor subverted by the enemy, unless you choose to turn your back on salvation. And even then, Jesus will pursue you!
- “and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” == This is the only weapon you possess. Things are brought into being, or destroyed, by words. Being in the image of God, who created with a word, our words too have power. Of course, the word of God includes a sound knowledge of the Bible, however, this verse would be better translated with a capital ‘W’ for ‘Word’. The Word of God is Jesus, and every word that comes out of his mouth. It is speaking under the direction of the Holy Spirit that has true power. Even the devil can quote scripture (see Luke 4), but we can speak the Word of God!
- “and pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” == I believe this is related to the previous point, giving an example of speaking in the Spirt. It is prayers motivated by the Spirit of Jesus that are the most certainly answered. But do not stop praying. Just as you sleep in your armour, so to does a believer pray without ceasing. Haven’t you ever woken in the morning to find yourself praying in tongues? I have!
One last point. I have heard people say that they put on the armour first thing every morning. My question to them is, why did you take it off the night before? Did you spend the night not being truthful, or righteous, or a peacemaker, or faithful? Weren’t you saved while you were asleep? Don’t you sleep with you sword at your side ready and alert at a moments’ notice to spring into action? The waking up speaking in tongues I referred to above is an example of this. My spirit will be alert to any prompting of the Spirit, even when my mind might be daydreaming, asleep, or even unconscious or in a coma.
It is while we are asleep that our mind is least alert, but our spirit is wide awake. The forces of darkness love these night hours. Why do you have bad dreams? Of course, this is the time when the Holy Spirit is also most able to get past our mental barricades and speak into our heart. He speaks to us in dreams and visions when we are least able to add our mental “But …!”. You need to go to sleep in the assurance of your safety with Jesus, and that he will minister to you while you rest.
If you must have a sleep ritual to reassure you, rather than putting on the armour in the morning, leave it on all the time and go to sleep with the last thing in your thoughts being a prayer of love and thanks to Father God for the adventure of the day, and a request for his presence and angels to guard you as you enter the darkness. Just as Jesus, when he was about to descend into the very darkest realm, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46, NIV), how much more sure we can we be of his holding us while we sleep.