Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.
Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. (Ephesians 6:10-12)
As we reflect on this passage from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, let’s look at our goals as well. “Is it my goal to believe in the truths of the creed and attend Sunday Mass? Is it my goal to do some good works of service or ministry? Is it my goal to put my energy into my work, my ministry, and my family?”
Faith in the creed, service to others, caring for loved ones, and trying to have a pure disposition are, to be sure, important dimensions in our lives. Yet did you notice that these virtues are not the primary tools that St. Paul tells us to take up so that we can “stand firm” against the devil? While they are good and necessary, focusing on these elements alone can leave us unprotected. We still need God’s own wisdom and power so that we can stand up against the wiles of the devil. We need the armor of God.
Spiritual Armor. Paul’s catchy phrase “the armor of God” comes from his experience. Both as a Roman citizen and later as a prisoner under Roman guard, Paul had become quite familiar with the soldiers of Rome. He regularly saw them in their military outfits: helmets, breastplates, belts, foot guards, and shields, all intended to protect against enemy attack. He knew that the relatively smaller and lighter swords the Romans used gave them a competitive advantage over other soldiers with their long, heavy swords. He knew about the platoon, a small, nimble group of soldiers who could respond quickly to military situations. He knew that Rome had conquered most of the world in part because they had trained their soldiers well.
Paul took this military imagery—which most of his readers would have known—and applied it to the Christian life as a way of teaching how to fight against the lies of Satan. He wanted believers to learn how to hold their spiritual ground so that they could stay close to God. For Paul, this meant that they needed to protect their eyes, their ears, their minds, and their hearts. Of course Paul expected people to go to work, raise their families, and do good works. But he also expected them to know that they were in the midst of a spiritual battle.
In Paul’s mind, people needed to bring the spiritual dimension of life to bear on their normal, everyday lives—things such as education, work, family, health, and finances. In his experience and in his dealings with other people, Paul saw the correlation between putting on the armor of God and our ability to recognize and resist Satan’s deceptions. He saw how those who did not take such a stand were more vulnerable. He knew that those who gave in to the devil’s lies became further separated from God, forgot what it was like to experience his love, and lost sight of God’s power to transform them.
Stay in Touch with Heaven! The demands of life are real and can be very time-consuming. But as challenging as life is, God has given us a marvelous opportunity that extends beyond the immediate nature of this world. We all have been brought to life with Christ. We all have the potential to know “the immeasurable riches of his grace” and to become his “handiwork” here on earth (Ephesians 2:5, 10).
Each of us can join the great saints of the Old Testament, people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They all longed to be with God so much that it felt as if they were aliens and strangers here on earth (Hebrews 11:13). They knew the joy of friendship with God, and they longed for even more of his presence.
We all long to have good friends. We all want our family members to prosper and be happy. We all want to be productive at work and in our parishes. We all want to help the needy. But we should always ask ourselves, “Do I have a deep desire to be with God? Do I long for Jesus to come again? Do I feel like a foreigner here on earth?”
One main reason why we tend to be more in touch with the longings and hopes of the natural world—both the good and the bad—and less familiar with those of the spiritual world is that we tend to be more immersed in this world than in our heavenly home. What’s more, Satan is waging a war upon us, and the battleground is our minds. The impact of his lies upon us in the day-to-day skirmishes of life can wear us down and leave us consumed with our responsibilities. All this leaves us weary and clouded in our minds as we lose sight of the full benefits of our relationship with God.
Using this military imagery, Paul tried to teach the Ephesians how to find a right balance between this world and the next. It’s the same thing he once told Timothy: “A soldier does not become entangled in the business affairs of life”( 2 Timothy 2:4). He does what he needs to do in order to be responsible in civilian affairs, but his main concern is with his military duties.
We can learn this balance as well. Satan wants to cloud our thinking. But if we can hold on to our clarity about who God is, what he has done for us, and what he has empowered us to do, we have a very good chance of staying in God’s presence all day long. Our spiritual balance will help us pray without ceasing and grow in our desire for Jesus to come again and establish a new creation.
Spiritual Defenses. Using the image of the armor of God, Paul gave the Ephesians a strategy for standing firm and defending themselves against Satan. Drawing not only from his experience of Roman soldiers but also from the Hebrew Scriptures, he told them to “stand fast” with their “loins girded in truth” (Isaiah 11:5); to put on “justice” as their “breastplate” (59:17); to have their feet fitted with the “gospel of peace” (52:7); to “hold faith as a shield” (Psalm 28:7) and “take the helmet of salvation” (Isaiah 59:17); and finally, to take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (49:2).
Did you notice that out of these six images, five are defensive pieces of armor? Only one—the sword of the Spirit—is an actual weapon. Paul understood that a sound Christian character grounded in truth, honesty, and integrity is the first line of defense against the temptations of Satan. The second line of defense is our experience of the grace and peace of God at work in our lives. And the final line of defense is our ability to wield the word of God like a sword as we slash away at Satan’s mind-dulling, tempting rhetoric.
The glorious truth is that through Christ, God has given us everything we need to win the battle for our minds. Our ability to stand firm depends in part on our resolve to fight against Satan whenever we detect his threats and his activity. But our human efforts are not enough. We also need to rely on the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. He is with us to show us the way to God and the light of God. He can teach us how to distinguish the truths of God from the lies of Satan.
It Is Possible. Jesus repeatedly warned us about Satan. When he walked this earth, he fought Satan and his demons over and over again—especially during his fast in the desert and as he hung on the cross. In all these situations, Jesus never lost a battle.
Now, Scripture is filled with stories of people who lost their fair share of battles. Moses and David were responsible for the deaths of innocent people. Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah had their share of doubts. Even the great apostles Peter and Paul were divided against each other for a time. They had their moments of sin. Yet in spite of these setbacks, they persevered. They found their way back to God and eventually overcame their obstacles.
Brothers and sisters, we can become like these great heroes. With the armor of the Lord, we can stand up to the lies of Satan. You can grow closer to the Lord. You can know God’s love in new and life-changing ways. It really is possible—if you are willing to take your stand against the spiritual forces of evil.