In verse 14, Paul tells us for the third time in this passage (vss. 11, 13) that we’re supposed to “take a stand” against Satan’s “schemes.” I forgot to mention yesterday that the Greek word for “schemes” is methodeias, from which of course we get the word “method.” This again emphasizes the fact that the Enemy’s main weapons in his arsenal, the main tools in his tool-bag, are lies. When we believe his lies, he wins. He only has true power over us and anyone else to the degree that we believe him instead of God.
But getting back to this issue of taking a stand (which Paul repeats for emphasis), that brings up the question, “How?” Our Adversary’s a lot more powerful than we are. John in one of his letters says that the “whole world” is under his control. We can’t fight him using physical weapons like bullets or bombs. So what do we use? We’re going to look at two pieces of this armor per day to answer this question.
The first thing on Paul’s list of our armor is “the belt of truth.” We’re supposed to have this “buckled around [our] waist.” What is that? Of course, Paul’s original readers in the 1st century would’ve known automatically what he was referring to. The Roman soldier (the type of warrior who’d conquered the known world and who seemed unbeatable) wore a loose tunic (which was common for a lot of people), and in hand-to-hand fighting this type of dress could hinder you and thus get you killed. So soldiers used a belt to tie up the loosely hanging material. The belt held everything together, and thus anything that hindered the soldier was tucked away.
What’s Paul mean when he says that we need to buckle this belt of “truth” around our waist before we head into battle? What “truth” is he referring to? Some scholars (like MacArthur) interpret this rather as “truthfulness,” in other words as self-discipline and sincere commitment that you need to win. That’s entirely possible, and since Paul doesn’t elaborate on his metaphors here, we can only make an educated guess. Others say (and I happen to agree with them) that this is talking about basic knowledge of God’s truth. This understanding of God (as revealed in Christ) holds everything else together as we enter the fray.
The second piece of armor is the “breastplate of righteousness.” According to MacAthur, “The breastplate was usually a tough, sleeveless piece of leather or heavy material with animal horn or hoof pieces sewn on, covering the soldier's full torso, protecting his heart and other vital organs.” If something got past the soldier’s shield, the breastplate was his last line of defense before becoming a casualty.
What’s the “righteousness” he’s referring to? Well, as believers our ultimate righteousness is Christ himself. Before God he’s our only righteousness, and we’d be really foolish to claim any other. The only problem I have with that is that Paul is telling us to enter the battle having put this breastplate on, indicating there’s a possibility that a foolish soldier in Christ’s army might be dumb enough to take it off. We can’t remove that righteousness from ourselves even if we wanted to.
But there’s a sense in which we need to cultivate personal righteousness or holiness. True saving faith must and will begin the process of making us more like Christ in how we think, talk, and act. Here are just a few Scripture verses which talk about a personal righteousness, not the righteousness which is credited to our account when we’re saved by faith.
So which is it, Christ’s righteousness or ours? A case could be made for either one. While we don’t “take off” Christ’s righteousness (in other words, we can’t lose our salvation), we can lose focus on the full righteousness of Christ which he’s given us, and thus negligently lose the protection that this knowledge protects our hearts with. When my Accuser approaches me, I can refer him to the righteousness of Christ which is forever mine and which isn’t dependent at all on my performance. And I need personal righteousness if I’m going into this battle. If there’s an area of my life in which I’m not submitting to my Lord, that’s my “Achilles’ Heel.” That’s the chink in my armor, a point at which he’s going to attack me.
Again, I don’t believe anyone can lose their salvation, but the Bible certainly teaches that a Christian can—through disobedience—lose a lot that’s precious to him. This battle has eternal consequences, and if you’re like me, you need to take it a lot more seriously than you have been. Let’s.
Lord Jesus, I know that the war’s been won, and I know that I’m secure in your arms. But this is a real battle with real souls at stake. By your grace, help me strap on your truth and your righteousness and keep them on.