The Bible often describes the life of someone following Jesus using the language and imagery of warfare. This is where the term “spiritual warfare” comes from. It refers to the ongoing struggle of living our lives in a way that puts pleasing God before pleasing ourselves or others. Spiritual warfare is also about recognizing that we have an enemy, the devil, who is battling to pull us away from God.
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:3-4, New International Version)
The spiritual realm is very real, and Christians must learn how to fight the battle taking place there. The good news is that God gives you every resource you need to engage in spiritual warfare. He wants you to have hope, because He has already won the ultimate battle through Jesus’ death and resurrection. He literally gives us His strength by giving us his Holy Spirit.
One of the longest passages in the Bible about preparing for spiritual warfare is in Ephesians 6.
Paul, the early Christian leader who wrote this letter to the church in Ephesus, along with much of the rest of the New Testament of the Bible, warns his readers to prepare for spiritual warfare, having previously described what a Christian life should look like and set the scene for the battles he knows we will all face.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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. 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. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
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. (Ephesians 6:10-18, NIV)
Paul wants followers of God to know how to fight in this spiritual battle and, ultimately, how to win.
So often, people struggle to recognize that the battles they face every day are not against other people but against spiritual forces. Human nature leads us to believe the conflicts we face in life are because people have wronged us. While sometimes that is true, there is also a bigger, spiritual enemy whom God wants us to focus on defeating.
So Paul urges you to put on spiritual armor.
God offers you the same armor He protects Himself with.
In the book of Isaiah, we are told, “He put on righteousness as His breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on His head” (Isaiah 59:17, NIV).
Recognizing and making use of the armor God gives you is part of becoming more like Him. So it is important to understand the different roles of each piece of armor God tells you to put on.
The armor that Paul describes is based on the typical armor of a Roman soldier — the elite fighters of the dominant military power during his time. Paul uses these physical weapons as a metaphor to describe the various characteristics and actions of those who will stand firm in spiritual warfare.
The belt of a Roman soldier sat around his waist and was used to keep the body armor in place. It also held a sheath for the sword to sit in, ready for the soldier to draw.
Wearing the belt of truth means protecting yourself with the truth of God. The devil is going to tell you clever and believable lies about God and yourself. You can defend against this attack by knowing and trusting the truth that God has told you through Christ and in the Scriptures.
The Roman soldier’s breastplate was his body armor. The body armor protected the soldier’s chest and heart and was tucked into the belt of truth. It was made of leather with a metal such as bronze laid over the top.
To protect yourself with the breastplate of righteousness means to claim for yourself the righteousness before God that only comes from Christ and then grow in obedience to Christ with His help. Jesus’ death means you no longer need to strive to be justified through your own actions. You simply claim by faith the righteous character of God made available to you through Jesus.
When we focus on right living, honoring and obeying God’s will, and saying no to sin, we are actively living out and experiencing the righteousness we have as followers of Jesus. Righteousness is something we are given by God and something we grow into. You are covered in Christ's righteousness that declares you innocent before God, and His righteousness allows you to grow in your own obedience as the Holy Spirit changes you.
Shoes were extremely important for a Roman soldier. The soldiers traveled long distances at a time, and their shoes allowed them to move quickly. The last thing anyone wants is to walk barefoot on hot, rocky or wet ground. I’m guessing the soldiers felt the same way.
Paul writes that the shoes Christians must put on are “the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” The key here is being fully prepared. What are you doing every day to bring peace to others? How can you share the good news about Jesus with people in your life? What are you doing each day to live as God intends you to live? Answering these questions will help you stay alert and ready to ward off spiritual attacks.
A Roman soldier would hold up his shield to protect himself from arrows. The shield was probably four feet tall and a foot and a half wide. It was made of wood and leather, with pieces of metal at the top and bottom. A shield would have been the Roman soldier’s greatest defensive tool against his attackers.
Your faith serves the same purpose. The devil will try to wound you by throwing lies, accusations or other negative ideas at you. The “flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 3:16) can come in many forms, so it’s important to know your faith in God will keep these arrows from wounding you.
A way to grow in trusting God is to begin each day by taking a few minutes to remind yourself what is true about God and what is true about you. Finding a verse or two you can meditate on throughout the day will help trust in God become your natural response to any situation. This is like taking up your shield for the day ahead.
A helmet protected the soldier’s head from attacks. The helmet was made of leather and metal and covered the soldier’s head and cheeks. It needed to be strong enough to give the soldier confidence as he went into battle.
The apostle Paul gives us a fuller description of this piece of armor in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, where he talks about the “helmet of the hope of salvation.” Paul is describing hope not in the sense of what you hope will be true but in the sense of what is certainly true about you when you trust in Jesus. The absolute certainty of salvation can give you the confidence to enter the battle and, if necessary, take some blows.
Read more about the helmet of the hope of salvation.
Your salvation is the greatest gift Jesus could ever give you. Meditating on the salvation you can never lose will help you overcome the fear that your thoughts or actions can ever separate you from God.
The sword of the Spirit represents God’s word, the Bible. This is the only piece of equipment designed for going on the offensive in spiritual warfare. A Roman soldier’s sword was among the most powerful weapons available for anyone involved in combat at that time. It was difficult to stop.
Paul describes the sword of the Spirit to remind you that you do not always have to be on the defensive in the spiritual warfare you experience. Just as Jesus used Scripture to ward off the attacks of the devil during His 40 days in the wilderness, we can rely on Scripture to fight back when we feel under attack.
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As a Christian, you can make choices that will make you less vulnerable to attacks from your spiritual enemy, the devil. One of the best choices you can make is to read Scripture and commit some of it to memory. When you ask the Holy Spirit to help you bring to mind passages of Scripture when you most need them, you can be confident He is ready to answer that prayer. This is why Paul ends his description of the armor of God by encouraging us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”
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Two other places in Scripture are especially useful in preparing for spiritual warfare. The first is Romans 13:11-14:
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. (NIV)
Paul writes of the “armor of light,” a metaphor about living an honest and honorable life. Paul suggests that hiding or keeping secret your sinful thoughts or behavior is like choosing to live in the dark.
Putting on the “armor of light” means being honest about the temptations you face and transparent with trusted friends about where you need God’s help. Living this way is worth it because the result is intimacy with Christ and readiness for spiritual warfare.
The second place in Scripture we have already mentioned above in relation to the helmet of salvation, but we want to look at it again from a different perspective. It is 1 Thessalonians 5:8:
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. (NIV)
Both the Thessalonians verse and the Romans passage talk about “the day.” This is a reference to when Jesus will return to earth and reign. The precise moment is unknown, so Christians are meant to live as if it could be any moment — to seize the day, so to speak.
A good soldier stays awake and “sober,” with his armor already on, ready at all times for the battle that is coming. If you belong to Christ, this means putting on the armor of God daily so that you are prepared when Christ returns.
God is faithful. He protects His people and equips His people for every spiritual battle. Remember, God the Holy Spirit lives within you. There is no better protection you can have than God guiding you from within and transforming your thoughts and desires so that you love Him and want to follow Him.
Find out more about the Holy Spirit and how you can experience God’s presence in your life.
There is no reason to fear. Instead, Christians have endless opportunities to clothe themselves with spiritual armor and grow in righteousness, hope and trust in God. While there will be troubles in this life, the Father provides everything you need to walk with Him for a lifetime.
“Faithlife Illustrated Study Bible” (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2017).
Snodgrass, Klein, “Ephesians,” NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1996).
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