The Victory: In Standing Firm
Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (6:13)
It is easy for believers—especially in the Western world, where the church is generally prosperous and respected—to be complacent and become oblivious to the seriousness of the battle around them. They rejoice in “victories” that involve no battles and in a kind of peace that is merely the absence of conflict. Theirs is the victory and peace of the draft dodger or defector who refuses to fight. They are not interested in armor because they are not engaged in the war.
God gives no deferments or exemptions. His people are at war and will continue to be at war until He returns and takes charge of earth. But even the most willing and eager soldier of Christ is helpless without God’s provision. That is Paul’s point here: take up the full armor of God. We have His provision in being His children, in having His Word, in possessing His indwelling Holy Spirit, of having every resource of our heavenly Father. God is our strength, but His strength is appropriated only through obedience; His mighty armor must be put on (v. 11) and taken up (v. 13).
Every day since the Fall has been an evil day for mankind, and every day will continue to be evil until the usurper and his forces are thrown forever into the bottomless pit. In the meanwhile the Lord makes us able to resist in the evil day as we take advantage of the armor He supplies.
Our responsibility is to resist and stand firm. When Martin Luther stood before the Diet of Worms he was accused of heresy. After being condemned for declaring that men are saved by faith alone in Christ alone, he declared, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.… Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” Every believer who is faithful to God’s Word cannot do otherwise than stand firm.
Some forty years ago three men conducted evangelistic campaigns together in Ireland and saw much fruit from their labors there. Years later an Irish pastor who was converted in those meetings asked about the three men. He was told that only one was still faithful to the Lord. Of the other two, one had become apostate and the other had died an alcoholic. Some believers have done everything well in the Lord’s work, but they do not continue to stand firm. The issue is not in what a believer has done, but, when the battle is over and the smoke clears, whether he is found standing true to the Savior.
John warned, “Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward” (2 John 8). Paul’s one great fear was that, “possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). He was not afraid of losing his salvation but his reward and, even more importantly, his usefulness to the Lord. Countless men and women have faithfully taught Sunday school for years, led many people to Jesus Christ, pastored a church, led Bible studies, ministered to the sick, and done every sort of service in the Lord’s name—only to one day give up, turn their backs on His work, and disappear into the world. The circumstances differ, but the underlying reason is always the same: they took God’s armor off and thereby lost the courage, the power, and the desire to stand firm.
In the great spiritual warfare in which we do battle, we are only called to resist and to stand firm. As noted earlier, James says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Peter counsels us to “be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Pet. 5:8–9).
The greatest joys come in the greatest victories, and the greatest victories come from the greatest battles—when they are fought in the power and with the armor of the Lord.
Our Only Strength
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.
When I talk about the devil I try, as I did in the last study, to show that he is a finite, and therefore limited, being. He is not an evil counterpart of God. Satan is not omnipotent, as God is. He is not omnipresent, as God is. He is not omniscient, as God is. Consequently, he can only do what God permits. He can only tempt one person in one place at one time, or else operate through those legions of angels, now demons, who fell with him. He does not know the future. At best Satan can make shrewd guesses based on experience.
But none of this means that the devil is not dangerous. He may not be omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient. But he is certainly powerful, wicked, and sly. He is so powerful that, according to Jude, even Michael, the archangel, “when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’ ” (Jude 9). He is so wicked that he is described in the Bible as “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). He is so sly that we are in constant danger of being tripped up by his wiles. This is why Paul wrote even of an elder in the church that “he must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap” (1 Tim. 3:7). The devil is not all-powerful, but he is certainly much more powerful than we are. So if we are to resist his evil influences, it must be by the power and provision of God only.
That is why James wrote, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). It is why Paul says, “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” (Eph. 6:13).
Elisha at Dothan
When I think of our need to stand against Satan in the strength of God, I think about the prophet Elisha at Dothan. In those days the northern kingdom of Israel was under attack from the Syrians led by their infamous king Ben Hadad. Israel was the weaker of the two nations, and she would have been overrun by the Syrians had God not been revealing the plans of the Syrian king through Elisha. Whenever Ben Hadad would set a trap for Israel, God would reveal it to Elisha, Elisha would tell the king of Israel, the plans would be changed, and Israel would escape unhurt.
Ben Hadad thought there was a traitor among his officers. So he called them together and demanded to know who he was. They told him the truth: “Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom” (2 Kings 6:12).
When he heard that, Ben Hadad decided that if he was going to make progress in his war with Israel, he would have to capture Elisha first. So he demanded to know where he was. He was told that Elisha was residing at Dothan. Ben Hadad got his troops together, marched to Dothan, and surrounded the city by night. It is an interesting picture: all the armies of Ben Hadad combined to surround and, if possible, capture this one true servant of God.
In the morning the servant of Elisha went out of the city and saw Ben Hadad’s soldiers. The story does not tell us anything about him, but I suspect that he was young and even somewhat sleepy as he set out to do his chores—probably to draw water from a city well. I can see him stumbling out of the gate with his eyes half-open, perhaps not even noticing the soldiers until he had first drawn a bucket of water and washed his face. Suddenly he saw them! His eyes opened wide, and, leaving his waterpot, he ran back into the city to tell Elisha they were surrounded. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” he asked (v. 15).
Elisha replied in what is surely one of the greatest statements of faith in all the Bible. “Don’t be afraid. … Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v. 16). Then Elisha prayed, and God opened the young man’s eyes to see the hills full of horses and chariots of fire around Elisha.
That statement by Elisha is a great statement of the principle we have been studying. On the one hand, it says that the enemy we face is greater even than the enemy we see. The enemy is “them,” in this case the combined armies of the Syrians under Ben Hadad. It is also “those who are with them.” In view of the revelation given to the servant, this enemy must be the spiritual force of evil that accompanied and stood behind the Syrian forces. But what is on the other side? So far as anything seen is concerned, there were only Elisha and his young servant—two unattended individuals. But, of course, that is not the whole of the equation. On the Syrian side were soldiers plus the spiritual force of evil. On the side of Elisha and his servant were the angels of God here described as “horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” From a human perspective the Syrians seemed more powerful, but when the spiritual forces were taken into account, God’s servants were stronger.
The Lord Our Strength
Paul is not referring to this incident, of course. But the theology of victory, which he is advocating, is the same. Notice how often Paul mentions the Lord in this passage. It is the way he begins: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (v. 10). When he begins to talk about the armor in which we are to resist the devil’s forces, he stresses that it is God’s armor: “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (v. 11). So also later: “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” (v. 13). It is only by the strength of God that we will be able to stand against these forces.
Although the word “lord” has many uses—it can, for example, be used of a mere human master, as was the case in the servant’s cry of alarm to his “lord” Elisha—“Lord” is the word customarily used in the Greek version of the Old Testament to translate the tetragrammaton, the great name for God (YHWH). This was the name by which God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush, explaining it by saying, “I am who I am” (Exod. 3:14). It is a name intended to stretch our minds as we contemplate the nature of God.
“Lord” teaches us that the God of the Bible, in whom we are to trust as our only defense against Satan, is self-existent and self-sufficient.
It is most important to see that God is self-existent, because this is what the name “I am” most naturally points to. Everything we see and know has antecedents. That is, it exists because something existed before it and was its cause. We are here because of our parents. They lived because of their parents, and so on. It is the same with everything else—everything except God. God has no antecedents. Nothing caused God. On the contrary, he caused everything else. Even Satan would not exist if it were not for God. We may be puzzled by this, wondering why God permits Satan and his activity. But even if we do not have the full answers to this question, the fact that God is self-existent begins to put our spiritual warfare in perspective. God, not Satan, is in charge, and in the end everything will be resolved by him and everyone will be answerable to him.
God is also self-sufficient. Self-existence means that God has no origins. Self-sufficiency means that God has no needs. No one can supply anything that God might be supposed to be lacking. No one can teach God anything; he knows all things. No one can stand in for God in any place; he already is everywhere. No one can help God out; he is all-powerful.
When I think of the power of God my mind often goes to the first chapter of Jonah which has a funny little play on words in it relating to God’s power. In the fifth verse, after we have been told that God sent a violent storm after the ship that was carrying Jonah to Tarshish, we read that the sailors were “afraid.” That is reasonable enough, of course. Who would not be under those circumstances? They were in danger of losing their lives. But then, just five verses later, in verse 10, after Jonah had been brought up on deck and had identified himself, saying, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord , the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land,” we read “this terrified them.” The older versions read, “Then were the men exceedingly afraid” (kjv).
Why is it that in verse 5, when they are in danger of losing their lives, the sailors are said to be only “afraid,” when in verse 10, after hearing Jonah’s testimony, they are said to have been “exceedingly afraid”?
I think it is because these men already knew something about Jonah’s God. They were sailors, after all, and sailors get around. They had been in and out of the major ports of the Mediterranean Sea and had heard the port gossip. In the Egyptian ports they would have heard how Jehovah had delivered his people from slavery. He had brought plagues on Egypt: turning the waters of the land to blood, multiplying frogs, gnats, and flies, afflicting cattle, destroying crops, calling out swarms of locusts, eventually blotting out the sun and then killing the firstborn. Nor was that all. When the people prepared to leave Egypt God divided the waters of the Red Sea, making a path for them to pass over. Then he caused the waters to come back and drown the pursuing Egyptians.
Perhaps the sailors heard how Jehovah had cared for his people in the desert—how he had given them manna to eat and water for them and their livestock. He had sent a great cloud to cover them by day, protecting them from the fierce rays of the sun; it turned into a pillar of fire at night to provide both light and warmth. At last God had divided the river Jordan for Israel to cross into Canaan and had destroyed Jericho. He even stopped the sun and moon while the Jewish armies wrought a total destruction on their foes at Gibeon.
This is what the God of the Jews was like. So when Jonah said, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord [Jehovah], the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land,” they were terrified and said, “What have you done? … What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” (Jonah 1:10–11).
This God is our God too. Only his strength is greater even than that displayed in overpowering Egypt and bringing the Jewish people into the Promised Land. God is the God of all power. Nothing can stand against him. So although we cannot hope to stand against the forces of Satan in our own strength even for a moment, we can successfully stand against them and defeat them in the power of God. God is our only strength, but he is the only strength we need.
The Armor of God
Still, victory in this spiritual warfare is not automatic, which is why Paul admonishes us to “put on the full armor of God” and “stand [our] ground” against Satan.
Where did Paul get his thoughts about this armor? I suppose that I have never heard a sermon about the Christian’s armor that did not point out that Paul probably began to think along these lines while being chained to a Roman guard during his imprisonment. It seems quite plausible. We can imagine him looking at the guard’s armor, thinking of the Christian’s spiritual warfare, and wondering what the various parts of the guard’s armor could illustrate.
It is entirely possible that Paul came by his ideas about the Christian’s armor in this way, but I am inclined to think that in this case, as in many others, Paul got his ideas from the Word of God. Paul had filled his mind with the doctrines, words, and images of the Old Testament, and he would have known that in Isaiah 59 there is a picture of God putting on his own armor. Part of it says,
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head (v. 17).
Since those phrases are the exact ones we find in Ephesians 6, I think that Paul got his idea here. That is important, you see. It means that when Paul speaks of the “armor of God,” as he does in Ephesians 6, he is not thinking of it only as the armor which God supplies—his in the sense that he gives it—but rather that it is God’s own armor, that which he himself wears.
What do we need if we are to fight against Satan? Is it truth? Yes, we need truth, but not just any truth. We need God’s own truth: the truth of God, which we find in Scripture. Do we need righteousness? Yes, but not just human righteousness. We need the righteousness of God. The gospel? It is God’s gospel, God’s good news. Peace? It is God’s peace. Faith? It is faith from God, a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Is it salvation? God is salvation. We must be armed with him.
Are you armed with God’s armor? The wonderful thing about this, as you will see if you avail yourself of it, is that the armor of God is perfectly suited to us. When we put it on we find that it is just what we need.
When David went out to fight Goliath he was just a young man, and Saul was unwilling to have him fight without armor. So he offered him his own. Saul put his helmet on David’s head. He put his breastplate on David’s chest. He gave him whatever other pieces of armor he had, but they were all too big. Clothed in Saul’s armor David must have looked like a Muppet in William Perry’s uniform. So David took Saul’s armor off and went out to fight Goliath with his sling.
Only his sling? Yes, in the sense that the sling was the only thing to be seen. But in reality David went out in God’s armor. For if ever a man was clothed in God’s truth, God’s righteousness, God’s gospel, God’s peace, God’s faith, and God’s salvation, it was David. And he was invincible. In God’s armor David was prepared, not only for physical battle, but for all spiritual battles as well.
Four Great Battles
Some years ago at an early Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, the theme was the biblical terms for salvation, and Dr. John H. Gerstner spoke on “The Language of the Battlefield.” In developing this theme Gerstner spoke of four great spiritual battles: (1) the battle of Satan against God early in the history of the universe, which Satan lost; (2) the battle of Satan against man (Adam) without the God-man (Jesus), which Satan won; (3) the battle of Satan against the God-man, where Satan thought he had won by killing Christ, but had actually lost; and (4) the battle of Satan against a man (Peter) who was joined to the God-man (Jesus), where Satan was also defeated.
The chief contrast in this message was between the second of these battles (Satan against Adam) and the fourth (Satan against Peter). In the first one, Adam seemed to have everything he needed to prevail. He was without sin and had every possible inclination to goodness. Yet he fell, because (we must assume this) he did not avail himself of the strength of Jesus Christ, the God-man, which was certainly not withheld from him. In the second battle Peter seemed to have nothing. He was sinful, weak, proud, vacillating. He even had the arrogance to tell Jesus, “Even if all fall away, I will not” (Mark 14:29) and “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). Peter did fall. He denied his Lord three times, just as Jesus predicted he would. Yet that was not all that happened. Jesus foretold Peter’s defection, but he added, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31–32).
In other words, Jesus told Peter, “Peter, you are weak in yourself. Left to your own devices you will certainly fall. You will be no more permanent than chaff when the wind blows upon it. But I am for you. I am on your side; and since you are united to me by saving faith, I have prayed for you, and because of my prayer you will not be destroyed but will instead be strengthened. You will fall, but you will not fall away. You will be turned aside, but you will also be turned back, and when you are you will become a pillar of strength for your brothers.”
Gerstner pointed out that there is a hymn we sometimes sing that goes, “Lord, we are able.”
“That was written by Peter,” Gerstner said. Peter said, “Lord, I am able.” But when he was tempted by Satan and fell, Peter discovered that he was not able. So he revised that hymn to read: “Lord, we are not able.” He learned that only as he was united to Jesus Christ could he stand his ground and be victorious.
Gerstner adds, “That man, in all his pristine glory, made in the spotless image of God with holiness, righteousness, and knowledge, was able to be brought to ruin by satanic temptation proved that we never of ourselves are posse non peccare [able not to sin]. But no matter how weak our faith, how meager our discipleship, how much we shame the name of Christ and have so often to repent and turn home again—no matter how we fail, because we are united to Christ with a love which will never let us go, Satan with all his craft and power cannot stand against us and we can conquer him. … Even in our best condition we cannot meet Satan; but in our weakened and debilitated state, sinning far more than we live virtuously, we are able to conquer him because Christ has given us the victory.”
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 343–344). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (pp. 236–242). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.