If we stay together in spiritual battle, we live.
But if we fight alone, we die. We’re susceptible to temptation anyway, but when we isolate ourselves, we weaken our defenses even more. Before we know it, our pride isolates us in our battle with the evil forces in the spiritual realm. If we’re not aware of what’s happening, it’s sometimes too late to win the battle, and we risk losing the war. That’s why Paul casts the vision in Ephesians 6 of a fully armed soldier.
Read Jim Putman and Chad Harrington’s The Revolutionary Disciple to learn about how to be victorious in spiritual warfare.
In light of the battle we face, he calls us to “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” (Ephesians 6:13). You might be used to thinking of Paul’s description of putting on the armor of God as an individual task. But Paul’s not writing to individuals; he’s is writing to the church. That’s why the church must fight together. As individual Christians and churches ask what’s next for the church in the US and beyond, we propose a scriptural and timeless answer: walking humbly in every area of life—as one.
How to Put on the Armor of GodWe emphasize unity in spiritual warfare because the church needs this important and neglected message today. Why is unity so important? For starters, we fight against spiritual forces (plural). If we fight alone against an enemy of many, we act foolishly. Plus, Paul speaks to us as a group using plural language: “You all put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:13, AT). Yes, there’s individual responsibility, but Paul writes to the church as a whole, encouraging and equipping us to fight together as one. This means we need each other to put on the armor and use it in battle. With this in mind, let us offer you some practical, boots-on-the-ground guidance for successfully navigating spiritual warfare with humility.
1. Go to God amid spiritual battle.Isolation threatens each of us, and we must learn to relate to God on a personal level, even when we don’t feel like it. We must first go to God with our challenges instead of just trying to deal with them ourselves. It is the armor of the Lord, so we must go to God to get suited up.
Pride keeps us alone.
And it keeps us thinking, “I can take care of myself.” We must reject this and go to God in prayer and through his Word to get wisdom, guidance, and strength. When we seek God in these ways, instead of relying on our own wisdom, we walk in humility in the spiritual realm.
2. Rely on the church as you fight.We might successfully go to God as individuals, but pride again whispers, You don’t need to tell anybody else about your life, your struggles, or your sins. You’ve got Jesus and prayer—that’s enough. But the truth is Jesus gives us his church to fight spiritual battles as the church. Otherwise, Paul, a powerful individual in the kingdom, wouldn’t need to write, “Pray also for me” (Ephesians 6:19). Like Paul, we all need to rely on the church by asking for help through prayer and by receiving all sorts of encouragement. When we go to other people and let them fight with us and for us, we say, “I can’t fight alone.” That sort of confession requires humility, but it leads to victory. And point number three:
3. Fight for the church.We know whom we fight against (the devil), but have you thought much about whom we fight for in spiritual warfare? Some people say we fight for God, which is true, but there’s more here in Ephesians. People also say we fight through evangelism to win people to Christ, which is also true. But when you look at Ephesians 6 in context, these verses are not primarily about evangelism (if at all). In Ephesians 6, Paul writes about the church, so we fight as the body of Christ for the body of Christ. Paul wasn’t the first author of Scripture to talk about the armor of God. He borrowed the imagery from the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 59, we learn the armor of God receives its name because it’s actually, you guessed it: God’s armor! Let’s look at the original context to see the full picture of Paul’s words in Ephesians.
Fighting for the Church: Allusion to Isaiah 59In Isaiah 59, Isaiah describes a dire situation for the people of God in exile:
The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. (Isaiah 59:15–17)In this passage, God is the one who comes to the rescue. We see the armor of God come into play here as God himself dresses for battle. God puts on righteousness as his breastplate and the helmet of salvation on his head (Isaiah 59:17). He puts on the garments of vengeance and wraps himself in zeal as in a cloak. Then notice for whom he’s fighting: Israel. This poetic description of the Lord going to battle ends with God coming to Zion and fighting for those who have repented (v. 20).
God is on a rescue mission, not a vigilante mission.
Israel had no hope against their enemies, so God himself stepped in to save his people. This was prophetic, though, as he saved his people ultimately through his Son, Jesus. We know Paul uses Isaiah in subtle ways throughout Ephesians, and this is another example. Thus, Paul describes the armor of God from this context in Isaiah. What a profound connection! Paul says the church, as the body of Christ, takes on the identity of God as a warrior. In humility, we accept this identity and fight with him. When we do this, God equips us to fight with him for the restoration of the church. But we don’t just fight with the church; we also fight for the church. That’s how we take ground. Fighting alongside God reminds us how Jesus invited us to learn from him as we walk with him in Matthew 11:28–30. Now we follow Jesus into battle as God fights for his church through his church. When we live into this high calling, we become the very hands, feet, and voice of Jesus to redeem his church from the throes of Satan. Remember, though, it takes humility to put on the armor, fight as a team, and go where the Lord commands. And we must also heed what Jesus said when we win in the spiritual realm: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). These words keep us grounded by remembering our salvation is the greatest victory.
Learning How to Use the Armor of GodNow that we’ve got our bearings straight about the nature of our battle in the spiritual realm, how do we fight exactly?
Tip #1: Put on the full armor of God.We could look into the imagery of each piece of armor, but for our purposes here, let’s look at the big picture and pick out a few high-level elements of the armor for spiritual warfare in general. We can leverage in battle the four tools we described early in The Revolutionary Disciple: serving, submitting, listening, and confessing. We use these tools in the spiritual battlefield. In this way, our tools become weapons in the five spheres. But we can’t put on our armor alone. God doesn’t give every one of us a set of armor. We all share one set of armor, and we put it on together—as one body! Remember Paul’s imagery from Ephesians 4:13 of the church as one man who has reached “mature manhood” (ESV)? And earlier Paul emphasized our oneness, saying, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:4–5). There’s only one body of Christ, and we all wear the same set of armor. It’s God’s armor, not ours, so when we put on the armor of God, we actually suit up each part of the body of Christ with this gear. This understanding changes our perspective entirely from how we typically think of spiritual warfare. Instead of fighting individual spiritual battles, we all help each other with the breastplate of righteousness to guard our hearts, we protect each other with the helmet of salvation, and we remind each other of the truth as we put it around our waist. These garments of battle are for the collective church, not just individuals who go to church.
Tip #2: Take off the spiritual mask and put on the helmet.What we’re learning here is not just to encourage others but also to allow others to encourage us. Here’s a true story of someone who was not being open about their struggles, which represents where a lot of Christians are today. I (Jim) met a visitor in our church foyer and decided to call him. While he hadn’t been coming to our church for long, he’d been there long enough for me to know who he was. So I called him that day and we connected. Soon after, I noticed that he had stopped coming to church, so I started calling him. For several weeks, he didn’t answer. So I kept trying. Finally, one day he picked up. I said, “How are you doing? I haven’t seen you at church. Are you okay?” “Oh, I’m fine. I’ve just been busy,” he answered. I’d heard this type of answer many times when someone’s not doing well. So I said, “Something’s going on with you. What is it?” He said, “Okay, Jim, I’ll just be honest with you. I can’t put on my Christian face right now.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “When I come to church, I can’t put on my happy face, so I’m just staying home. I can’t fake it.” “Why do you think you have to fake it at church? Shouldn’t you want to come to church when you’re struggling so you can be honest and get help? Who says you have to put on a face?” “Well, that’s not what I’ve been taught. I can’t just go down there and pretend like everything’s okay. So I won’t go back to church until I can put the Christian face back on.” He had been wearing a spiritual mask, but he needed help putting on a helmet.
The problem with pride and wearing a spiritual mask can go deep.
As we mentioned, the devil loves to keep us away from the church because he knows God’s people can speak into our lives through the church. People believe lies that keep us quiet: “I can’t show any weakness. I can’t show that I’m struggling.” They think people will judge them, or they will be a burden to those who already have enough troubles. They think people will try to fix them—or worse, embarrass them. People ensnared by these devilish traps come to church only when they can appear happy or things are going well. But that doesn’t allow others into their lives, and it doesn’t allow the church to speak into their lives to fight for them. It’s subtle, but their pride is keeping them away. If Jesus, the Son of God, asked his disciples to pray with him in the midst of his great battle in the Garden of Gethsemane, then we can ask for help in our battles too. If Jesus could say amid his struggle, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38), then we mere human beings can admit our struggles too. Taking off our spiritual mask, being real, and showing our struggles or sadness in front of others takes humility. If we can’t show our true self at church, then where can we show it? In Christ, we have the safest place on earth. It’s called the church, and it’s the only place where we can take off our spiritual mask and replace it with the helmet of salvation. When we remove our spiritual masks, we gain spiritual freedom. Read this blog by Jennifer Barnett to learn about the “first freedoms” we have as Christians.
Take Up Arms in Spiritual WarfareIn Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, God calls us to take up arms and fight an important battle against the devil. This means we must first fight our internal enemy—pride. Only when we lay down and die to our pride can we truly take up the full armor of God in the body of Christ and effectively take ground in the spiritual realm. Victory in the spiritual realm sphere relates to victory in every area of life. The revolutionary disciple surrenders their agenda for God’s agenda and lives to serve. They listen to others and confess when they need help (and they help others too). This is walking humbly with Christ. The spiritual realm sphere brings together all of the others. When we have a close relationship with Christ, we receive help from him (Sphere 1). Then we help others grow in Christ, which builds up the church (Sphere 2), impacts our home (Sphere 3), and helps us walk out our faith in the world (Sphere 4).
So put on the full armor of God, church!
Take up the light and easy yoke of Christ and the sword of the Spirit. Let’s engage in the battle of the Lord “so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” (Ephesians 6:13). And after we’ve done everything, we’ll still be able to stand. Sometimes all we can do is stand our ground, and that’s okay. We don’t always have to take ground or be the one giving of ourselves to others. And we don’t always have to feel strong enough to fight. Sometimes all we can do is just stand. We’re fighting together, so when we admit our weaknesses, others can fight with us and for us. It’s okay to show weakness—to be humble and say, “I can’t do it on my own.” Because in Christ we can. In humility, we can grow up together in Christ and become mature.
That’s truly revolutionary—to have a whole group of people walking humbly and fighting for each other.
Pride keeps us as spiritual babies tossed back and forth on the open waters, but God wants us to be filled up into “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” living as a “radiant church” (Ephesians 4:13; 5:27). God wants us to be strong and mature in him. The choice is ours. If we learn from Jesus, we win, but if we don’t learn how to navigate life in this sphere, we’re dead in the water. We’ll remain divided, immature, and weak as disciples. Perhaps that’s where you find yourself right now. Perhaps you’re battle-weary, having lost fight after fight. But you want to fight again. We’ve been there. So let us remind you that in Christ, there’s hope. If we stand, God doesn’t just give us the armor to fight; he fights for us and with us. Christ leads the way, fighting our battles, and we can look toward the final battle, when “out of his mouth comes a sharp sword” with which he will defeat all evil once and for all (Revelation 19:15).
We know that in the end God wins.
If we remain faithful to following Jesus, we know we’ll not only stand as brave warriors but also as the unified, powerful, and radiant bride of Christ. God, through the church, shines into the darkness of this world and brings forth a new dawn. And so we say with Paul from Ephesians 5:14 to those in Christ:
Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.When we experience this type of revolution as the church, we reflect God’s glory into the world. As we mentioned before, Paul says that “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3:10). As we stand together as one church, united in Christ, we shine like a multifaceted diamond in a dark world, showing off the great light of Christ to the powers that exist in the spiritual realm all around us. So we become strong and beautiful, and our beauty reflects God’s glory. That is how we fight. That is how we win. That is how we walk humbly with Jesus in every area of life.
Learn more about how be victorious in other aspects of spiritual warfare by reading Jim Putman and Chad Harrington’s The Revolutionary Disciple: Walking Humbly with Jesus in Every Area of Life.