We Are Holy Warriors

Text: Ephesians 6:10-20

Last July, Campus Crusade for Christ announced that its U.S. ministries would be changing their name to the abstract syllable “Cru.” Cru is a name that some of the organization’s college ministries began using of their own accord as early as the mid-1990s. On its own website, one of the reason that Campus Crusade for Christ International for their name change is this: and I quote,“The word ‘crusade’ – while common and acceptable in 1951 when we were founded – now carries negative associations. It acts as a barrier to the very people that we want to connect with. It’s also a hindrance to many Christians who would like to partner with us but find the word Crusade offensive.”[1]

A crusade is a holy war, plain and simple. And a holy war is simply normal warfare that is carried out in the name of a deity. The word crusade is attached particularly to the Christian holy wars of the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries carried out by kings and popes in order to reclaim Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the grip of Muslim rule. They were waged in part in response to previous Muslim efforts at expansion from northern Africa into Spain and France.

The crusades were ugly, as all warfare is, and ultimately futile. What we need to remember is that the idea of a Christian holy war against a non-Christian enemy is as objectionable and offensive to those who are non-Christian as the idea of Iran or the Taliban carrying out jihad against us is offensive. There is a reason that the idea of constructing a mosque close to the site of the World Trade Center raised such fearsome objection. Those same emotions that our nation had concerning that mosque come into play for others with the idea of a crusade.

We don’t relish the thought of holy war. Often times, we rank those who carry it out in our day among what we consider the worst of humanity. The most familiar term for us are the jihadists of particularly extreme expressions of Islam. There is nothing about war – holy or not – that is endearing, pretty, or romantic.

And so we might approach this last great teaching of Paul at the end of Ephesians with the same weariness that Cru has in response to their former name. In his final encouragement to the saints in Ephesus to remain faithful to their belief in Christ, Paul uses what would have been the very familiar image in his day: that of the Roman soldier. The Roman soldier was ubiquitous. It was the might of the Roman army that held the empire together and maintained peace through highly divergent lands that stretched from North Africa to Germany and from the British Isles to modern day Iraq.

The image was familiar to Paul’s original audience, but however much we profess support for our troops who put themselves in harm’s way and pray for them passionately, we are thankful that we do not have the same familiarity with their garb that the people in the Roman Empire had of their soldiers. Our soldiers are not on every street corner. They do not possess the right to compel non-citizens to carry their garb for a mile-long march. They do not claim rights to our possessions and sources of income. We enjoy our distance from the rigors and realities of war. We are thankful to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, and even more thankful that our home doesn’t resemble pictures of Iraq, Afghanistan, or the West Bank that would have been all too familiar to pretty much any Roman citizen.

If we are frankly honest with ourselves, we don’t want to connect to war. We don’t want to wield a sword or handle a gun. We don’t want to have to think about shields and protecting ourselves. We don’t want to imagine collateral damage and potential loss due to the whims of battle. We prefer a quiet life where we can come and go as we please without constant fear of what someone else might do to us in the name of politics, geography, religion, or any other cause. We are fine to leave others alone and to be left alone.

So Ephesians 6:10-20 is unsettling for our modern, peace-accustomed ears. The pieces of armor that Paul lists out are as foreign to us as they were familiar to Paul’s original audience. Few if any of us has ever held the hilt of a sword made of anything other than wood or plastic. And while we may have handled a firearm, we likely have never pointed it at anything other than a practice target or an animal.

We don’t think of ourselves as a wartime people. Even with the activities in Iraq just winding down and the ones in Afghanistan continuing, war is not front and center of our attention. We do not think of ourselves in those terms, nor do we want to. But Paul reminds us that we who are believers should think of ourselves in those very terms. He reminds us that we are holy warriors. And we need to suit up and show up for the battle that is at hand.

The first thing that a war and its warriors need is an enemy. And this is just what Paul reminds us of in verses 10-12. We have an enemy, and our enemy is numerous and active. We must be strong in the might of the Lord because we are fighting in a battle with an enemy. “Put on the whole armor of God,” Paul says, “that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

This enemy showed up early, in the Garden of Eden. The word devil means accuser, as he would go on to appear in Job. The word Satan means adversary, and this is how he is described in Daniel and throughout the New Testament. He is also called a tempter (Eve’s nemesis!), a murderer, a liar, and a thief. He is compared to a lion and a serpent. Among his descriptions are the monikers the angel of light and the god of this age. He schemes, masquerades, accuses, intimidates, quotes Scripture, and utilizes any other method he can to convince us to stray from a path that leads us to God.

This is what we must remember: “A spiritual battle is going on in this world, and in the sphere of ‘the heavenlies,’ and you and I are a part of the battle.”[2] We cannot go about our lives pretending that Satan is not real or that he is not involved in our world. He is very much involved. The enemy is very real. And, whether or not we want to be part of spiritual warfare, spiritual warfare comes to us. We do not have the luxury of a war-free life. We have an enemy, and he is coming for you and he is coming for me.

But there is good news. Because we are not just at war with an enemy. Paul goes on. You see, we have also been provided the proper equipment to fight this very war. We have the armor and the weapons that we need to fully engage our enemy and to withstand his attacks. Notice in verse 13 that we are simply to stand firm. We do not have to advance. We do not have to go on the offensive. We must simply stand our ground, and the armor and weapons we are given allow us to do precisely that. Our job is to withstand the devil, not to defeat him. That victory has already been accomplished, though the fight around us and for us still wages.

As we engage our enemy with these defenses, remember that our battle is already won. And yet, our enemy still actively seeks to take us down. We must not underestimate him. He is not compared to a lion and a dragon for no reason. And all we need to do is look to Job to see the full power that Satan has over body, home, health, and friends when he is fully permitted to wield it.[3]

So let us take up the full armor that God provides to us so that when – not if, but when – Satan’s attacks come to us, we can remain steady and strong in the faith in which we walk. Paul lists six parts of the Roman soldier’s armor and connects them to elements of our faith that we must be sure to carry with us everywhere we go, never knowing when our accuser and adversary may show up.

The weapons and defenses are first the Belt of Truth, which we find in the Word of God as well as in the world around us. A soldier’s belt held everything else together. Without it, a soldier would lose pieces of his armor and its accompanying power and protection. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth, and we must be avid pursuers of the truth so that our Belt remains secure and strong.

The second piece is our breastplate. This is our righteousness, which of course isn’t our righteousness at all, but the righteousness of Christ that God grants to us by His grace. Whatever Satan might accuse us of doing or remind us of having done, we stand firm and secure in the truth that the righteousness of Christ shields us from all eternal harm.

Third, we put on our feet the readiness of the gospel of peace. Isaiah said, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” We who bring the gospel have beautiful feet shod by the gospel that declares peace to those who had been adversaries of God. One writer suggested that the most victorious Christian is the witnessing Christian. As we are active in going into the entire world to proclaim this truth and to make disciples, we do God’s work and thwart Satan’s desires. The Gospel both carries us along and secures us in our place as we undergo attack. A Roman soldier’s shoes would have had nails in their soles to provide good footing during battle. So the Gospel does for us.

Fourth, we take up our shield. Roman shields were made in such a way so that they could interlock with fellow soldiers. A line of such interlocked soldiers could march as one wall into an enemy, with no fear of harm from even flaming arrows raining down against them. Our shield is our faith, and our faith is strongest when it is in community with others. As we stand together, trusting God amidst whatever goes on around us, we find ourselves strong and protected in fellowship with fellow believers.

Fifth, we wear on our heads a helmet to protect our heads and minds from the influence of our enemy. Sin was introduced by a twisting of Eve’s mind. Our helmet is our salvation, which we are to work out in all fear and trembling. It is this thought-out and developed salvation that we have worked on, understood, and grafted into our own lives that will protect our heads and our minds from being swayed by the devil’s schemes.

Sixth, the one weapon that our armor provides is a sword. Soldiers would carry small swords in their belts for close combat. Our sword is the Word of God. Our belt is found in the Word of God, but our sword IS the Word of God. We can see it wielded well in battle with Satan by no less than Jesus himself. Right after the high of his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus goes into the wilderness for forty days and is tempted by the devil. At each temptation, even as the devil employs Scripture himself, Jesus uses the Word of God as defense and sword to slay the devil’s tactics and stop him in his tracks. We must be familiar with our sword so that when it comes time, we can use it well. Spend time with the Bible daily so that you can be prepared for the time when you will need your sword to protect yourself or those who are close to you.

Remember this: we have an enemy, and we are provided with the armor we need to withstand him. But the armor itself is not enough. We must also engage in the battle, and we must do so relying on those who are around us. Remember, the faith that is our shield is designed to work in tandem with those who are around us. We do battle together. and we engage our enemy best together. As this is a spiritual rather than a physical battle, our engagement happens at the spiritual level, through our prayers. It is in prayer that we withstand, defend, and hold firm in our position. We must pray – that is, we must remain engaged – at all times, always praying for each other – the other saints Paul mentions. As we do so, we will find that our foe, who has already been defeated, will have no victory over us.

Here’s the truth I want you to dwell on today. We are holy warriors. We don’t wage our battle in flesh and blood, but we must wage it in spirit. Satan will always do all that he can to knock us off our feet and to make us think that we have been defeated. We must not succumb. We must stand firm, hold our ground, and remember that the victory is already ours. That has been guaranteed. So know our enemy, put on your armor, and engage the battle together and well.

Let’s pray.

[1] http://www.ccci.org/aboutus/donorrelations/ournewname/qanda.htm#1, accessed January 13, 2012.

[2] Warren Wiersbe, Be Rich, p. 165

[3] Wiersbe, p. 166

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