It is common to hear new believers say that life has become more difficult in certain ways. There are several explanations for this. At times, it is a consequence of having been offered cheap gracc by false apostles who promise elimination of problems, assurance of wants being met, and guarantee of a first-class ticket to heaven by just repeating a ‘sinner’s prayer.’ In such cases, there is no genuine peace or inner assurance which comes with true salvation. Furthermore, such preaching ignores Jesus’ demand for repentance as a condition for salvation, let alone forgiveness and they continue to carry a burden of guilt and shame regarding theit past (Luke 13:3; 24:27)).
Other times, life seems more difficult because sift teaching has failed to issue any warning about the cost of discipleship (Luke 9:57-62) and to expect suffering and persecution including even rejection by members of one’s own family (12:49-53). And as believers mature, they learn rather soon that Satan has placed a target on their back and to not expect suffering, sacrifice and even affliction is not consistent with the teachings of Christ and the apostles. So it is that the apostle Paul writes of suffering not so much as being a curse, but instead as a privilege that comes with the territory of being a follower of Jesus..
“For to you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake; having the same conflict which you saw in me, and now bear to be in me.” Philippians 1:29,30
Paul’s words to the Philippians are in harmony with those of Jesus who said to disciples on a hillside, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). We might well prefer to escape the persecution of those who say evil against us, but Jesus commands us to “Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (5:12). It is past time for people in the Church to focus on what the Word of God teaches and stop listening to workers of iniquity who pose as ministers of righteousness but are false prophets planted in the church by Satan himself (see 13:24-30; 36-39).
Suffering and persecution for the sake of Christ are inevitable for all committed to His lordship. But it is not that Jesus intends for us to suffer at the hands of Satan. As noted earlier, the reason Jesus came was to destroy the works of the devil, and not allow Satan and his minions to have reign over our lives. Yet Jesus is clear about the cost of following Him as a discipile. There is a price to pay for all who in truth would exchange carnal lives for eternal life in Him. It is a matter of willingness to deny self and take up a cross daily which implies self-crucifixion regarding those things which do not represent the ways of God. For we are told clearly that the kingdom of heaven experiences violence as it advances, not only from the world and Satan, but frequently from within the establishment of the church itself.
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).
Only those who forcefully deny personal ambitions, desires for worldly pleasures, and self-gratification can enter the kingdom of heaven. As Jesus said to the Pharisee Nicodemas, a man must be born again to enter into the kingdom of heaven (John 3:5). Entrance into the kingdom is not automatic with salvation whereby the power, glory, and authority of God is manifested in and through believers’ lives so that they are able to continue the ministry of Jesus in destroying works of the devil (1 John 3:8).. It is those who are violent in crucifixion of self who take hold of the kingdom by force and are used as warriors by God in spiritual warfare.
Prophecy is being fulfilled today but many will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead they gather around teachers who say what itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3). It explains the expanding development of megachurches where messages are soft and a form of godliness exists but there is a of lacking power to heal the sick or free those under oppression by demonic influence. It is exactly in part what the apostle Paul prophesied by inspiration of the Holy Spirit would occur in the latter days of the church age.
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud….lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God: having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” 2 Timothy 3:1-5
A “form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” takes place when operation of Holy Spirit to divenely heal, work miracles, and expel demons is denied as being in operation. Instead there is a doctrine of Balaam called eternal security claiming there are no consequences for unrepented sin. There is need to turn away from such as teach that doctrine . For such teaching is a doctrine of devils, ignoring the need for defensive weapons provided by God to stand in the face of attack as Paul outlines in Ephesians 6. The same is true of prosperity teachers who promote perversion. Because of faith, scripture tells of many who found themselves mocked, imprisoned, stoned, sawed in half, slain with a sword, and destitute (Hebrews 11:36-38). Prosperity teachers attempt to justify greed and self-indulgence by teaching what is unbiblical and they will be judged accordingly on that Day.
Faithfulness to God never guarantees comfort or deliverance from persecution. Quite the opposite is true. What God does promise is the grace and strength to endure suffering and persecution….and spiritual weapons to avoid being overcome by the enemy in days of evil which are certain to come. Grace to endure is needed due to hurtful treatment of believers, especially in nations where the prevailing religion is Islamic, Hindu, or Buddhist. Despite what political correctness says, these religions exhibit demonic intolerance of consecrated Christians not unlike the treatment of early Christians by religious leaders of the Jews.
Paul explains that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against forces of evil in heavenly realms. He encourages us that we have weapons with divine power of protection. The most complete description of what we might call defensive weapons is found in chapter six of his letter to the Ephesians. Here we find detailed the “full armor of God” which he urges us to have in place so “that you may be able to withstand in the evil day” (6:13). Days of evil will come and one must be ready to suffer the consequences if not protected by what makes up this armor.
The first piece of armor is to be “girded” with the belt of “truth” (6:14). The Greek word aletheia translated as “truth” has two distinct meanings. The first is simply that of truth itself, and in context refers to the Word of God. Jesus says in praying to the Father, “Sanctify them through Your truth: Your word is truth” (John 17:17). The second meaning is to be truthful, i.e., faithful to the truth. The word “girded” or buckled translated from the Greek means to be ready for service. So being girded or buckled with the belt of truth is knowing God’s Word and ready to act in accord with what God says. This implies having minds renewed by washing in the water of God’s Word, something that does not take place automatically. Study together with meditation on scripture is required to have this piece of armor in place in terms of protection from the attacks of Satan’s kingdom.
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Ephesians 6:11
The next piece of armor is the “breastplate of righteousness” (6:14), an insightful term in the Greek. The word translated as “breastplate” is thorax and refers to that part of the body containing the heart. A surgeon who operates upon the chest is known as a thoracic surgeon. The word translated “righteousness” also has two meanings as does the Greek for truth. One is righteousness received by faith in coming to Christ by grace through faith, and applies more appropriately to the helmet of salvation. The other righteousness is that used here as having a heart inclined to obey the teachings of Christ and reflected in life for the glory of God.
Knowing the truth of God’s Word and having a heart inclined to live righteously brings us to the next piece of armor which is having “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (6:15).This is not simply having a mind renewed with the truth of God’s Word and a heart filled with good intentions. The Greek for “shod” or fitted implies an active role in ‘walkng the talk’ by allowing the Word of God be a lamp for one’s feet and a light for one’s path in daily life (Psalm 119:105), and then walking on that path. This contrasts to ‘cheap grace’ which offers a divided Christ – that one can receive Jesus as Savior without submitting to Him as Lord. It is also in contrast to Jesus’ condemning hypocrisy of Pharisees who appeared righteous on the outside while harboring sin in their hearts. And the next weapon is what Paul describes as the “shield of faith.”
“Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” Ephesians 6:16
To describe the shield, let us first consider meaning of the word “taking.” There are several words in Greek translated into English as take. The word used here has the implication of receiving something done for us instead of something we do for ourselves. The reason is that the shield of faith depends on the first three pieces of armor being in operation: knowing the truth of God’s Word, a heart determined to walk daily in truth, and putting such into practice. The Greek translated as “shield” is a word thyreos used this one time in the NT. Thyreos is a shield which measures roughly 2 x 41/2 feet in size, not quite sufficient to cover a soldier from head to toe.
But kneeling behind the shield, symbolic of submission to Christ in obedient faith, the entire front is fully protected. And linked together with shields on either side, the sides are protected as well. However, there is no protection whatever for one’s back. Soldiers in the army of Christ must face attack by forces of evil with boldness and never retreat in fear by not dealing with spiritual issues which threaten to upset a life of obedient faith and trust in Christ.. So the shield of faith is trusting God to protect us from the fiery darts of Satan when living in righteousness.
When Paul commands us to “take the helmet of salvation” (6:17), a different word in Greek is translated as “take” than with the shield of faith. To “take” the helmet of salvation is something for which we are responsible. We must be secure in what Christ has done for us and not question the righteousness we have by faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9). The Greek translated “helmet” literally means the head, symbolic of the mind. The psalmist understood this in writing, “O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation, You have covered my head in the day of battle” (Psalm 140:7). We must know whose we are, and firmly believe “if God be for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31). We take up a helmet of salvation when evil comes be taking captive every thought and making them obedient to the teachings of Christ.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God….bring-ing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:4,5
“The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (6,17) is the weapon Jesus used against temptation by Satan in the wilderness. It is a weapon mighty through God with divine power. It is interesting that the Greek for “sword” is machaira, a short sword for hand-to-hand combat as was true with Jesus’ encounter against Satan after baptism by John and receiving baptism in the Holy Spirit. The Greek here for the “Word of God” is not the usual logos referring to the overall Word of God. It is the Greek rhema which refers to a Spirit-inspired scripture for a specific situation or circumstance, i.e., an uniquely anointed word.
The final defensive piece of the armor of God is “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereto with all perseverance” (6:18). Some would contend that praying in the Spirit refers only to praying in tongues, i.e. praying in one’s prayer language. I do not believe this to be the case as one certainly can pray in his earthly language and be led by the Spirit in doing. Neither do I believe praying “always” involves countless repetition of the ‘Lord’ prayer’ or any other prayer like a mantra. It involves Spirit-led prayer which is both fervent and persevering, fully alert as to an enemy at the door. Such was what Jesus exorted the disciples when He entered the garden of Gethsemane and asked them to pray just prior to His betrayal by Judas:
“Watch you and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:35
These are defensive weapons, mighty through God, for use in times of spiritual warfare. They are always to be ready at hand as when knowingly confronting a time of temptation or whenever finding oneself inclined to depart from the truth as revealed in the Word of God. More human good intentions and will power will never be an adequate substitute for these offensive and defensive weapons of spiritual warfare, lest we be deceived by Satan or false teachers and think otherwise. Our battle with forces of evil in the heavenlies will continue throughout our lifetime so let us be diligently faithful in applying what scripture teaches to our daily lives.