Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Armor of God Revisited

While out sharing the gospel today, I encountered something that is a common experience for me: professing Christians who believe they are headed to heaven as a result of their church attendance, good works, and moral behavior. In one conversation today, I asked a question I ask to many who tell me they are headed to heaven because of their religious works:

"You've told me a lot about what you are doing to get to heaven ... can you tell me a little about who Jesus is and what he did for Christians?"

The most common response is exactly what you'd expect: "Jesus died for our sins."

While this answer rolls off the lips of many church-goers, it is astounding how many leave Jesus out of their path to heaven until explicitly asked. Their discussion of how they live their lives betrays the reality that they are trusting in themselves (at least a little bit), and not in Christ alone.

Often when I ask the follow-up question: "What does a guy who lived and died 2000 years ago have to do with us and our sins today?" I get a nervous chuckle and a head-shake, with the eventual response, "I'm not really sure."

Heart-breaking.

When people take issue with our ministry of raising awareness of the vacancy of the office of evangelist in the local church, many people wonder what the big deal is. They think we live in a "Christian nation." They think everyone is familiar with the gospel, or at least has every opportunity to hear it because there is a church on every corner.

The problem is, many of the churches on these corners are churning out generations of professing Christians that are trusting in their own religious works, church attendance, and moral behavior to get them into heaven. Many of these churches are churning out generations of professing Christians that have no idea what Jesus was really doing here 2000 years ago, or what he is doing today (He is just as alive today as He was back then, ya know?).

If they do know what Jesus was doing, often they are completely incapable of expressing this important truth to others. Some Christians I meet can't verbalize these things, but after I verbalize it they agree, "Yeah, that's what I believe!"

I don't say this as some broad generalization. I say this as someone who has witnessed to many thousands of people personally over the past several years. If there are large numbers of mature Christians who are well equipped to verbalize the truth of the gospel - the truth of foremost importance in Christianity, and the truth by which we are saved according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 - then I haven't found many of them.

It is not for want of searching, I assure you!

I don't say this to try and condemn Christians (remember Romans 8:1). I say this because I love the church and want every member of Christ's body to be properly equipped and mature, because this is God's will for His people.

The book of Scripture that our ministry is built from is the book of Ephesians, where Paul discusses God's eternal purpose in His church. Paul outlines God's purpose in Christ and the structure of the church. Paul makes amazing claims about God's plans to do more than we can ask or think through the church in every generation. Paul describes the leadership the risen Christ gave, which includes some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints.

I'll let Paul speak for himself:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Eph 4:11-16 NASB)

The body of Christ must be built up until we all attain unity of the faith, knowledge of Jesus, and become mature according to the stature of the fullness of Christ.

All of us.

In order to achieve this, Jesus himself gave us leadership for the equipping of the saints and the building up of the body. The apostles and prophets laid the foundation, with Christ himself as the corner stone (see Eph 2:19-3:13). We have this foundation through the traditions of the Apostles and the inspired word of God (i.e., the Bible).

The apostolic and prophetic foundation only needed to be laid once (Jude 1:3; 2 Pet 3:2). Christ only needed to be sacrificed once (see Hebrews).

The on-going work of the church and the on-going equipping of Christians is to be governed by a plurality of elders, with both specialized functions of the evangelist and the pastor/teacher being necessary for proper discipleship, growth, and maturity. That's not my opinion or my design. This is what Christ gave for His church.

That is, these gifts Christ gave to His church are required if we want to no longer be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine by the trickery of men and deceitful schemes. Go back and re-read Ephesians 4:14 - this happens as a result of recognizing Christ's gift and allowing them to serve the body by equipping the saints.

It doesn't happen by accident.

And it doesn't stop there.

The text continues to say that speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him. Do you see why it is so important for us to be able to verbalize the gospel and to lovingly share it with others? If we don't - or even scarier, if we can't - then how are we expecting to grow? Paul received the mystery of the church from Jesus Himself, and Jesus revealed His plan to equip His people through the leaders He has given, so that speaking the truth in love we will all grow together.

This brings us to the armor of God, in the last chapter of Ephesians. In describing our battle as Christians, Paul pulls no punches in letting us know that this is a spiritual battle that can only be won by standing in the strength God provides.

Read carefully:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph 6:10-20 NASB)

The belt of truth (a.k.a. girded your loins with truth).

The breastplate of righteousness.

Having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.

Shield of faith.

Helmet of salvation.

Sword of the spirit.

There is a lot of commentary of this passage. There is a lot here. I can't possibly try and bring out every aspect of truth that is contained here.

But I will point out the following: truth, righteousness, and salvation are all things that we receive from the Lord through Christ. He did the work, He testified to the truth (He is truth), and He gives the gift of everlasting life to all who repent and trust in Him alone for their salvation.

These parts of the armor are received and are to be put on by every Christian.

Three other aspects of this armor, if we desire to be fully clothed, require more participation on our part.

The sword of the Spirit is our offensive weapon. The Greek word for "word" in Ephesians 6:17 is not logos but rhema, which is a verbalized or spoken word.

That is, if you want to wield the sword of the Spirit, you need to do more than just carry your Bible around. You need to be able to speak God's truth and speak it accurately.

God's word is powerful. For a Christian to wield the sword, you must be able to speak it. This requires equipping, participation, and growth. It is not something that is simply received.

The shield of faith requires that we know God's word and person, so that we can trust what He has said (and conversely, not trust in what He has not said). This requires equipping, participation, and growth. We do not simply receive faith, but must grow in our knowledge of God so that we can exercise faith in Him.

Finally, Christians must shod their feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace. This aspect tells us explicitly that the armor requires preparation on our part. While some translations render this same word as "readiness" the idea is the same - we must be prepared and ready to share the gospel. This requires ... preparation. It requires equipping, participation, and growth.

In fact, this is what Paul asks for prayer about. He was prepared, and he asked for prayer for boldness so that he would speak as he ought to speak.

Preparation. Equipping. Readiness.

Thank Jesus for gifting His church with evangelists and pastors/teachers who exist to equip the body and get them ready. If we are not prepared, we are in the midst of battle without the full armor.

Sadly, many Christians are not prepared because they are lacking the ministry of a local church evangelist. Most churches do not recognize Christ's gift in this area, and as a result we have many people engaging in spiritual warfare with no shoes on. We have people who gauge their maturity - not by the things Paul writes about - but by the things our culture says are important; things like tithing, participation in a ministry, and church attendance.

Did you notice that none of those things were on Paul's list?

Tithing? Nope.

Speaking the truth in love? You betcha.

Yet, the vast majority of professing Christians will admit that they rarely, if ever, verbally share the gospel with others. Some people think they are sharing the gospel, but what they are actually sharing has no similarity at all to the gospel preached by Jesus, the Apostles, or the early church. It is a man-made gospel which carries no power of God for salvation.

Christian, if you are reading this, please hear me: You may be wearing the helmet of salvation. You may be wearing the breastplate of righteousness. You may have the belt of truth firmly secured around your waist.

But are you holding firmly the shield of faith and using it appropriately?

Are you properly and lovingly wielding the sword of the Spirit?

Are your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace?

If you are not, then I implore you on behalf of Christ to seek out the leadership He intends for you to be blessed with - an evangelist and a pastor.

If you are, then get out there and fight the good fight. People are perishing for lack of knowledge and we have the truth of Christ that is able to set them free.

All praise, glory and honor be unto our God - both now and forever. Amen.

Fourth Year Ministries would love to serve you by helping you get equipped and to grow in Christian maturity by the grace of God. Email us at fourthyearministries@yahoo.com.