Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Armor of God


There seems to be no end of devotions, Bibles studies and sermons whose sole purpose is to teach or encourage you to pray on the armor of God. But why? When, exactly, does the Bible exhort us to pray through or pray on the armor of God?

Before we tackle that question, lets take a quick review of the book of Ephesians.

Ephesians begins with a background of who we were and now are in Christ:

In verses 1:1-14, we see the creation of the Body of Christ, how it was planned (1-6), purchased by the Son (7-12) and preserved in the Spirit (13-14). Paul then prays for the Church, that we might grow in His knowledge, understand our wonderful future in Him and the greatness of His power, and the position of Christ in relation to God the Father.

In verses 2:1-3, and 11-12, we are reminded of who we were before salvation (dead, under wrath, without God, etc) and reminded of what God did by saving us (4-6). Paul discusses how God performed salvation through grace and that we have been created in Christ to do good works. 

Paul then goes on to explain the mystery of God (which we know to be Christ in us, 3:1-13). Paul then again prays that we will be strengthened in our inner being by the Spirit of God, that Christ will be at home in our hearts, and that we might be able to grasp the full dimensions of God's love. 

Once we get into chapter 4, Paul begins to explain the Church (the body of Christ) is to be unified. Apparently they had the same problems of religiosity and bigotry that we have today through our walls of denominational boundaries. He says that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one Faith, one baptism of the Holy Spirit and one God and Father. We are then encouraged to avoid an immoral life style and adopt a spiritual lifestyle instead (4:17-32). He continues by outlining how people should treat one another, as directed to children, husbands and wives (5:1-6:9) 

In summary, the entirety of the book of Ephesians (up to this point) explains how one should live, how one should believe about who they are in Christ, and how one should relate one to another. It's about living out our life in Christ, as fully functioning members of the Church (the Body of Christ, not the local club on the corner - you know what I'm talking about, the one with the pulpit, the cross and the steeple on top).

The question I have then, is why do we assume that the armor of God is something we should "pray on" rather than "live out" through our lifestyles and relationships with God and others?

So let's walk through the armor of God:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 
This isn't about praying, this is about being: just as Jesus said, we "shall be" His witnesses (Acts 1:8), not "you shall do witnessing." The former describes the state of being, whereas the later portrays how scripture is typically and incorrectly taught. The encouragement here is to "be something" not to "do something." However, we cannot ignore what comes next, which is an act of doing. But, the attitude of being comes before the action of doing. In example, consider David fighting Goliath: He was not strong in the Lord because he was victorious, rather he was victorious because he was first strong in the Lord. The state of being comes before the action.  And the action comes next:
Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
This is one of the places where we incorrectly trade "putting on" for "praying on" the armor of God. This is correctly seen as something we do: we are not to "be the armor" but to "put on the armor." The act of doing, at this juncture does not mention the word "pray" or the phrase "pray on the the armor of God," rather it mentions our struggle, that which we fight against:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Paul now explains the reason for the first 6 ½ chapters of his letter to the Ephesians – we have a struggle, and it's not against each other, rather it's against Satan and his minions. So, while Paul was encouraging us what to believe about our position in Christ and how to treat others, he was really telling us how to defeat Satan's schemes. When we fully understand who we are in Christ, then life really comes about being, rather than doing. Anyone can "do" religion, but only a Christian can bear the fruit of the Spirit, not because of what they do, but because of who they are.  This is the core difference of Christianity and any other religion: Christ changes us from the inside out, while man (religion) attempts to change us from the outside in.
Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
How do you take up something through prayer? You don't. In example, if one is to "take up" salvation, they must act in faith towards God with repentance of their sin. Contrary wise, the person who confesses all of their sin but one, is in rebellion due to that which they refuse to relinquish. Therefore, to "take up" the armor of God means that we choose to discard the negative things Paul has previously talked about and then put on all of the positive things. And how do we put on? By first being strong in the Lord. Admittedly, being strong in the Lord only comes through our seeking Him in a personal relationship - which of course involves prayer - but not the kind that says "I'm praying on the shield of faith ... etc, etc." Rather the shield of faith is born out of our trust, belief and knowledge of God (of who He is) and our knowledge of who we are in Christ.
Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth,
This statement reflects a result of the previous actions.  Since we have done all that comes before, we can therefore stand firm.   Next consider the phrase "having girded your loins with truth."  What is truth? Jesus said that the He is truth, the Logos of God, the Word of God (John 14:6): Jesus said, "sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." (John 17:17) We don't gird our loins, or gird our strength through God's truth  or God's word by prayer, rather we gird and strengthen ourselves in truth by reading, memorizing and absorbing God's word. We receive the "word implanted" (James 1:21):
Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You. Blessed are You, O LORD; teach me Your statutes. With my lips I have told of all the ordinances of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways. I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word. (Psalms 119:11-16)
Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)
Do you notice how the passage in James fits so nicely with the previous themes of Ephesians?  That's not just a happenstance.
and having put on the breastplate of righteousness
Having put on is past tense, it is a thing we have already done.  Although we are imputed righteousness by God,  there is the commandment that  we are to be Holy, because He is Holy. When we are saved, we have the breastplate of righteousness – it is imputed to us. However, when we live by the Spirit, we put on His righteousness – this breastplate of righteousness - for He says, "walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." (Galatians 5:16) Living by the spirit is not something you pray into your life, it is something you must choose to do. And in so doing, we put on the the breastplate of righteousness.
How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit! (Psalms 32:1-2)
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)
and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
What is the preparation of the Gospel of Peace? It is an understanding what the Gospel is and what it is for. Again, this is not something you receive through prayer. You don't ask God to fill your head with verses, the 10 Commandments, a 5 point sermon and the Romans Road. Rather, you study the Bible, you learn how to make friends and lovingly help them understand their guilt in lieu of the law and how the Good News helps them.
in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Faith is your choice to believe and trust: "and without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) While it is certainly permissible to ask God to help your unbelief, faith is still something you must chose to exercise.
And take the helmet of salvation,
Salvation is something you already have, and here it is referred to as a helmet. This means that we must understand that salvation spoken of in the earlier chapters of Ephesians is something that has the power to protect our minds, but only if you're willing to believe the Word of God, and believe that God is God. A lot of times this involves us discarding the "God Box" we have created in which we make God exist for ourselves.
and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
We can't pray the Word of God into our lives. We learn the word of God by reading it, studying it and meditating upon it.
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 … (Eph 6:10-18)
Finally, we're encouraged to "pray at all times in the Spirit", as a normal course of our life in Christ.

When we view the armor of God in the context of the rest of Ephesians, we see that it is concise restatement of those things which we have been exhorted to believe and act upon.

So, don't pray the armor of God onto yourself, live the armor of God.

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