If you have your Bibles, please open to Ephesians 6. We’re continuing on our series “Weapons of our Warfare.”
Scripture: 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 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. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
In this series, we’ve talked about how our armor needs to be fastened together, held tightly with the belt of truth because all of these pieces need to be fitted together with truth from God, truth about God, truth about who we are in Christ, rooted in the Word of God. Then we talked about righteousness, and how that is something that is covering over us, protecting us like a breastplate. Righteousness is often misconstrued as a verb. It’s not something that we do, like fight with it or run with it on, it’s something that we are and have to put on. And therefore, it’s not something done out of our own strength.
Last time, I talked about being fitted with tightly-laced, cleated sandals for our journey readied by the Word of God and being shielded with faith that comes from our trust in God and that trust is written for us in the Word of God.
This week, I’ll be talking about the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Notice a pattern? The Word of God is all over this armor. Being ready, willing, and able to fight is going to be dependent on our knowledge and use of scripture.
So let’s start by examining the helmet of salvation. We’ve talked about how these pieces of armor were probably borrowed from Roman gear, but Paul borrowed this phrase from Isaiah 59, along with the ‘breastplate of righteousness.’ As Paul was referring to us wearing this armor, Isaiah was picturing God wearing armor. Verse 17 says:
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.
He prefaces this in verse one with one of my favorite verses: 1“Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.”
Isaiah was telling Israel that God can redeem them. The same principle is true today for any sinner who will turn to Him. The Helmet of Salvation is free and available and offered at any time to anyone who wants it.
Paul also used this reference when writing to the Thessalonians. Chapter 5, verses 8-9, Paul said: 8 But since we belong to the day (which is a reference to light), let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
I’m not going to get into speculating why Paul changed the breastplate in these verses to faith and love, the point is that like the breastplate, the helmet protects a very vital organ. Either the head or the heart is the main target of the enemy. If we have the breastplate of righteousness, it’s no good if we don’t have a helmet. Nothing is. No part of the armor will do us any good if we don’t have a helmet to go with it. The enemy will go straight for the head. That means Paul referred to the helmet as our salvation because it is our most vital protective covering.
Think about this, what good is it for us to even be on the battlefield, to begin with, if we don’t have a helmet? Have you ever watched the Avengers movies, especially the last one? There’s this great big battle scene where everyone gathered on a battlefield and practically no one wears a helmet. But in real life, no one is going to let a soldier out on the battlefield without a helmet.
Spiritually speaking, though, it happens. We’ve seen people who seem to have no real sense of salvation who not only go to church but even get involved in ministry. In some instances, they actually become pastors. Now, I don’t mean to be judgmental when I say that. Because, there are—believe it or not—some pastors who either end up atheists and leave the church or actually are practicing atheists and stay in the pulpit. ABC News did a segment on that in 2010, and CNN did a segment on that in 2015. There is even an internet atheist pastor support group called The Clergy Project.
Atheist pastors preach a mix of religious and secular humanism by twisting scripture to make it fit their own personal feelings and our current postmodern philosophical cultural beliefs, and throw out the rest. Some of them claim to be atheists because, believe it or not, their personal study of The Bible. They have had an inability to reconcile troubling passages in their own intellect.
I talked a few weeks ago about a pastor on Tik Tok who misinterpreted the story of Jesus and the Woman at the Well. He said that the woman confronted Jesus’ bigotry, stood up to his oppression, and Jesus finally repented of it. Now, I don’t know if that pastor is an atheist or not, but that’s a good example of what an atheist pastor would say.
For him and atheist pastors, Christianity isn’t about the gospel of salvation, it’s all about being better people. It might be about a form of repentance––but it is salvation that is the true premise of the entire Bible. The rise, fall, and redemption of humanity through the first, and eventually, the second coming of Christ.
Psalm 103, starting with verse 8, says this:
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
So where was I going with talking about atheist pastors?
2 Corinthians 10: 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
These are the kind of thoughts against salvation that Satan will come at us with. Thoughts that we need to protect with our helmet. These worldly thoughts such as being good enough, or not needing salvation at all, can be convincing if we do not have the helmet of salvation on our heads. In an earlier chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul said: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
I remember when I was a student at Elmira College, and I was in a humanities class that combined art, history, literature, philosophy, psychology, and a little bit of science and religion all into one course. There was plenty of emphasis on thoughts like, “God is Dead” and “God is a myth.” Maybe you’ve seen the movie, “God’s Not Dead” or heard the song on the radio. Caleb wears the T-shirt here at church quite often.
The ideas and philosophies and arguments as to why God is a myth are not dumb and unintelligent. It’s a very persuasive argument and might have convinced me. But why didn’t it? Because I had salvation and redemption and the living presence of The Holy Spirit and had heard the many testimonies of others.
Gotquestions.org said Any idea, opinion, or worldview that asserts that Christ is unnecessary is reflective of the devil’s pride. Such thoughts must be taken captive and made obedient to Christ. Those who know the truth must confront error with the weapon we’ve been given, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).
And that leads us to our next point: The Sword of the Spirit
When giving his armor comparisons to the spiritual realm, Paul gives us our shoes to lace up and get ready with; our protective covering like the breastplate and shield, and our helmet. Now we get to the good stuff. The part we’ve been waiting for. The sword! My Bible has a picture of a sword on the front, and on the back, it says, “Life is a battle, here’s your sword.” But wait a minute…It’s kind of flimsy for a sword.
And it kind of puts you to sleep doesn’t it? So why does Paul refer to The Word of God—a soft, light, flimsy paper and ink with long, irrelevant historical stuff as the exciting, swashbuckling, adventurous, dangerous part of our armor? Well…
Hebrews states in Chapter 4 : 12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Like I said earlier, God is not dead. And one indication of that is His Living Word. The Word of God is not like anything else. It is alive and active. The NIV Application Commentary states that the Word of God “is not static and passive but dynamic, interactive, and transforming as it interfaces with the people of God.”
I know. It’s hard sometimes to open up the Word of God, isn’t it? Like I said, it seems so huge and cumbersome. I mean, at least in Paul’s day, they were individual scrolls, not a big heavy book. And some passages, like the one I just read—even some books entirely—put you to sleep, and you wonder, why am I reading this? What’s the point to Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy?
But even when reading through big, bulky books of the Bible like Deuteronomy, you can feel the Spirit of God flow through. That’s the book Jesus used to combat the Devil—we’ll get to that more in a minute. But there are a couple of things I’d like to say first.
Like a sword, The Bible penetrates our soul. Maybe you don’t get anything out of The Book of Numbers. I’m okay with that. It definitely has its place. It is absolutely necessary in the grand scheme of things. But I understand, the Book of Numbers is not usually what you would want to use for daily devotions. Even so, it’s still refreshing.
But not only can the Word of God be refreshing, it can also be piercing. As stated in Hebrews, “it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
And depending on our attitude towards scripture, we can accept or reject its piercing. And when we use scripture with others, they have the choice to accept or reject its piercing.
Like I said earlier, there are those who cannot reconcile troubling scriptures about judgment and wrath; or about little insignificant differences from one book to another. It drives them absolutely crazy to not have everything all figured out with their own minds. Whatever they do believe, it is very common that they believe just grace. Or maybe they reject the politically incorrect passages because they’ve bought into the lie that we’ve suddenly become more enlightened and sophisticated in the 21st century. Or they’ve learned in higher education about how all religions are a myth.
But if we let it, the Word of God will pierce us with truth and grace. If we understand its intentions, guided by The Spirit, the Word of God will convict us through judgment and love.
Paul said in an earlier chapter in Ephesians if we do this: “14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
I don’t want to dwell too much on this because it’s easy to digress, but truth and grace is a strange dynamic. And I’d like to go further with this in a sermon of its own someday. But when you read the gospels, you’ll see that Jesus was the perfect balance of truth and grace. He was harsh to his critics, but shockingly merciful to others. He was blunt about hell and judgment, yet he told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
In his gospel, John said, “17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
Pastor Eric Mason of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pa., said this about his experiences doing ministry in the city:
“When we authentically experience the Lord Jesus, we become contagious. We become more willing to spread our experience of grace with our families, friends, workplace, and in our communities.
Sadly, we as believers aren’t often known for our grace, but more broadly for our stances on certain “issues.” There is nothing wrong with standing for truth, because Jesus was full of both grace and truth (John 1:17). Truth lets people know where you stand, but grace lets people know you love them. Grace creates an environment for truth to be heard and either accepted or rejected.
Grace and truth are the key ingredients for God to be glorified and unleashing the contagious nature of the gospel.”
The sword of the Spirit is not intended to verbally vanquish every human being who is not a Christian—or even ruthlessly win a debate with people who are Christians. Just because someone disagrees with us, we cannot take the Bible and ruthlessly brandish our sword just to prove them wrong and ourselves right. I had a passenger just the other day. Someone I had never picked up before. When he came out, my first impression was, “Oh, this guy’s a native American.”
I went to fill out the paperwork––pick up address/pick up time/drop off address––then turned around to have him sign the paper, and staring right in front of me was a star in a circle on his facemask, and I recognized it instantly as a symbol of the Occult. We started talking. I didn’t say anything about his mask, just things like the weather and so on. Then he asks me if this is what I do full time. I tell him I’m also a pastor. “Oh cool,” he said. “Nice.”
Then he asked about the congregation and so on. Turns out, just because he’s following the occult doesn’t mean he’s anti-Christian. I asked him about the star and circle on his mask and that’s when he told me he was Wiccan, which is a popular form of paganism or witchcraft, though don’t tell anyone it’s witchcraft because they’ll correct you on that. But for all intents and purposes, that’s what it is. And he was telling me that his sister was shocked that he became Wiccan and he had to reassure her that he is not a devil worshipper.
Well, we know that he is unintentionally a devil worshipper. But did I say that? No. We continued talking. I asked what made him decide on becoming Wiccan and he told me his story. Turns out, he grew up Catholic, and left Catholicism to a very strict, overly legalistic church where women had to wear hairnets, men couldn’t have long hair, single women couldn’t talk to single men, there were seating arrangements in the church. And eventually he was kicked out for smoking cigarettes.
So you could imagine what would have happened if I just wielded that sword and told him he was a sinner and was unintentionally worshipping the devil. It wouldn’t have helped matters. Instead, I made a friend and built trust. So if I ever do see him again, maybe I can slide in a little bit of truth and grace.
That’s how we use the sword. In love, in mercy, and with respect. When we feel the need to share the Gospel, to simply answer a question or stand up for our beliefs, we do as Peter said,
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
Though we should, like a warrior, use our sword with honor and respect toward others; the sword is a sword. So as we speak the truth in love, let it do its job. Let it pierce if it must. Let it pierce others, and let it pierce us if needed.
But now, how do we use the sword when fighting the Devil? We go back to what I mentioned before about how Jesus used it. Like we said last week when it came to the shoes being readied with the gospel of peace. He had the Word of God memorized well enough to have it on his mind and ready right when he needed it.
Satan’s schemes against Jesus in the wilderness were real temptations. Jesus had been fasting, he was in a hot, dry climate and was very hungry when Satan tempted him to turn the rock into bread. But isn’t it interesting what Jesus said to Satan in reply? He said, “4It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Jesus knew the scriptures, and knew that the scriptures were what he needed at that moment to truly strengthen him.
When we read through the temptation of Jesus, you’ll notice that Jesus only had to say one verse each time. I could be wrong, but I don’t think it was quite so simple. I think the gospel writers abbreviated to make a long story short. Have you ever had to fight off the Devil? It’s not so simple as preachers or the Bible make it out to be.
Have you battled anger, hatred, unforgiveness, depression, anxiety? Have you been kept up at night over something that wouldn’t let you go? Have you spent years battling something maybe for yourself, or maybe for a loved one? It isn’t easy.
After doing some research, I found out how a sword was used in the Roman Empire during Paul’s day. Think about how it applies to scripture and the way Jesus used it in the wilderness:
The gladius weighed about 1kg and was slightly longer than 2 feet. The word ‘Gladiator’ (or swordsman) is derived from ‘Gladius’.
Even though the blade was sharp on both edges, the part of the gladius that was used most often was the sharp, tapered point.
The stabbing movements could be dealt swiftly, and for prolonged time periods while fighting.
Contrast that with Rome’s enemies, like the Gauls and the Germanic tribes, who relied on long and heavy swords. Their longswords had to be lifted above the heads and then brought down with tremendous force to hack into a Roman legionary. A single blow from a longsword could maim or kill a Roman. But it was impossible to sustain this lifting and hacking movement over long hours into the battles.
As a result, Rome’s enemies tired easily.
By using a gladius in battle, the Romans demonstrated that their technique and choice of short stabbing weapons proved superior to the weapons of their enemies.
Short, stabbing points. Used over and over and over again. I’ve used the word piercing earlier, and to borrow from Frank Peretti, what we’re doing is like the title of his second novel, “Piercing the Darkness.” I remember being taught memory verses in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. Well, a few days after remembering those memory verses for a prize of some kind, I ended up forgetting those memory verses. I was supposed to remember those verses for a lifetime.
Why did I forget them? Because there wasn’t an emphasis on why I was supposed to remember them. We were just told to memorize a verse for the following Sunday and we’d be given a sticker or something. Mostly, I did it because I didn’t want to look bad in front of my friends. It was a competition and really nothing more. Same thing with sword drills. Anyone ever do “sword drills” in church when they were younger?
Now as I get older and life gets tougher, I have a reason to memorize verses again. Now I know why there was an emphasis on learning where something was in the Bible and why it was important to be able to look it up so quickly.
Maybe it takes one or two verses at a time, or maybe several verses. Maybe you have to say those verses over and over and over again. But it’s the memorization, the knowledge of knowing where to look, and the use of reading, speaking, and believing the truth of scripture over your thoughts, feelings, and situation—and sometimes you just have to address the Devil directly and out loud when you say it. That’s what combats the enemy’s attacks of lies, fear, and discouragement.
And now, it’s easier than ever to Google verses on subjects, go to a site such as biblegateway.com, or find books on just Bible verses related to certain topics. Keep a pocket version with you or on your nightstand to start your day off and read before you go to bed.
Charles Spurgeon wrote in a sermon back in 1891 that, “In contending against the powers of darkness, “The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.” “It is written” is his master-stroke. Words which God has spoken by holy men of old, and has caused to be recorded on the sacred page-these are the battle-axe and weapons of war of his Spirit. This Book contains the Word of God, and is the Word of God; and this it is which the Holy Ghost judges to be so effectual a weapon against evil that he uses this, and this only, as his sword in the great conflict with the powers of darkness.”
We can pray to avoid conflict. That would be nice. I thought I could live life avoiding conflict. I thought that was kind of the point to the Christian life. But that’s like a soldier being drafted during wartime, being sent to the battle zone and expecting to not see combat. We are born into a war zone. Jesus tells us that in this world we will have trouble. But, He has overcome the World. The Book of Revelation tells us that rewards await those who overcome. We can’t overcome if we don’t have a sword to fight with, or a helmet on to protect us.
No matter who you are or how old you are, we all need to sharpen our swords on a regular basis. And I want to finish today by asking you, how will you sharpen your sword? Maybe you have a bit of dust on your Bible. Maybe you don’t even have a Bible. Maybe you have a hard time reading your Bible. There are a lot of Bibles out there. Take your time and look through some if you get a chance to go to a bookstore. They have plenty of different study Bibles in easy-to-read plain English. There are books and websites of just study plans and devotionals. Maybe it’s best for you to listen to the Bible. That’s perfectly fine. Maybe you need one of those books with just the verses to help you memorize or pull out of your pocket.
Whatever type of sword you need, go ahead and get it. No pressure as to what kind is better than another. Just get whatever sword you need to combat the enemy.
Or maybe it’s salvation. Do you have the helmet of salvation? Maybe you’ve thought your salvation was earned. I was talking with someone yesterday who also grew up Catholic. He talked about how the Catholic Church teaches that you go to Heaven by being good. Only there’s no standard by which to measure ourselves. So you just hope you’re good enough. Maybe if you volunteer and give money to charity, you might make it or shorten your stay in purgatory.
But that’s not what the Bible teaches. All you need to do is accept the salvation that God is offering to you right now. Just pray and invite him to come into your heart.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on First Baptist Church of Watkins Glen