Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Christian Armor - The Shield of Faith

In Ephesians 6:14-20 Paul describes the spiritual "armor" of the Christian.  This beautiful analogy has challenged me lately.  Not merely because our Pastor is preaching through it, but also because I have been increasingly aware that I need it...while not entirely understanding it.

The pieces of the armor sound, at first reading, like an evangelistic tract.  Paul writes like he is speaking to unbelievers, warning them of the dangers of their present battle position, and pressing them to put on Christ and be saved.  The pieces of armor all come across as "salvation" or "new birth" material.  Truth, Righteousness, the Gospel, Faith, etc....are all the things we pack into our method of speaking to the world about Christianity.

But there lies the problem. Paul isn't, actually, speaking to or about unbelievers at all.  He says, in the beginning of this section, "Finally, my BRETHREN..."  He is talking to the "saints who are in Ephesus (Eph 1:1)" those predestined to "the adoption of sons (1:5)" and are already "in Him (1:7)."  He is talking to those who were once "dead in trespasses and sins (2:1)" but now are "made alive together with Christ" having been "saved through faith (2:5,8)."  Paul is speaking to Christians.

This armor is for believers. And as an often-tempted and woefully weak Christian, I know I need it.  But I just haven't understood how it applies to me.  However, thinking this morning about the "shield of faith" a little dim light began to glow.  Something clicked.  Temptations attack us at the level of our faith.  Every time I give in to sin (more often than I care to admit) I display a lack of faith.  Sin, at its root, is distrust in God.  This is what our Pastor was saying...it just took me a couple days to start to get it.

I started to think about the 10 Commandments.  These are a special and specific description of what it ultimately means to love God and love our neighbor.  The first 4 commandments tell us about how we love God, and the final 6 are about loving our neighbor.  In principle  I believe they all still apply today.  They teach us what holiness looks like.  And the failure to live up to any of these commands displays a lack of faith.

For example:

First Commandment:  "You shall have no other gods before Me."  The Lord is forbidding every means and method by which we give our chief affection and devotion to anyone but Him.  We do it all the time.  But why?  A lack of faith.  We say, albeit silently, "if I don't put this thing, or that person, or this goal FIRST...then I cannot possibly succeed or be happy."  Ultimately we are putting ourselves in the place of God.  We don't trust Him enough to give Him the first place in our lives.  We lack faith.  Martin Luther put it this way "to whatever you give your heart and entrust your being, that, I say, is really your god."  I make other gods, because I lack faith in the one true and living God.

Second Commandment:  "Do not make any graven images."  The command is against idols.  But it applies more broadly than to just statutes and superstitious trinkets.  The Lord is talking about ruining His worship by our own inventions and ideas.  And again, when we do so, we lack faith.  We are saying, as it were, "I cannot possibly approach God simply through Christ.  It won't help me.  It doesn't feel right.  I need more."  But we don't.  Its a lie.  And to believe it displays a lack of faith.  Oswald Chambers said "Worship is giving God the best that He has given to you.  Be careful with what you do with the best you have."

Just a couple more examples:

Fourth Commandment:  "Honor the Sabbath Day."  The Lord is saying to set a day apart from the usual routine of work and personal entertainments and dedicate it to Him - make it holy.  But what do we say and think?  "But if I don't work on Sunday I won't be able to pay my bills...but I just need 1 day to myself...but if I give special honor to this day my friends will think me strange...isn't it enough just to give God a couple hours, do I really have to give up the whole day?"  Ultimately, we don't trust Him.  We lack faith.  I lack faith.  I need the shield of faith to learn to turn more and more away from my own thoughts about this day, and use it more spiritually for my good.

Seventh Commandment:  "Do not commit adultery."  Pretty clear.  Basically it is a command against ruining God's gift of marriage.  And again, a lack of faith prevails when we disregard this commandment.  We say "But everyone lives together first for a while...but the Lord doesn't understand how difficult my spouse has been...but I don't feel in love with him/her any more...nobody is hurt by what I do in the privacy of my own home."  We don't trust that the Lord can satisfy us through the simple union of 1 man and 1 woman in marriage for life.  We figure we will miss out on something if we don't break those boundaries.  We lack faith.  We don't believe Him.  We don't trust Him.

Every sin is a lack of faith, in some way.  Satan comes to us with arguments.  More often than not it is just our own sinful hearts that prefer disobedience, thinking that we know better than God.  I cannot think of any sin toward which my heart is inclined that does not involve some lack of faith.  Can you?  What is that chief sin you struggle with?  Fear, lust, selfishness, drunkeness, laziness, anger?  Trace it backwards now...and see if you don't find, at the root, some lack of faith. 

Ultimately none of us keeps a single one of God's commands perfectly for a moment.  We are not saved that way.  Salvation is entirely by faith in Christ, not our works.  His commands tell us what pleases Him.  Those that want to please God will want the armor of God. 

The armor of God is for Christians.  But everyone needs it, Christian or not.  You need it, and I need it.  Maybe today you are ready to turn in your own armor for the armor of God for the first time.  How are you dealing with your sin?  Fighting it on your own?  The Lord makes a provision for sinners.  He reaches out in Christ.  He says "here...take it."  And when we do, then - and only then, may we begin to put on the armor of God.  The battle doesn't end with faith.  It is, in fact, only the beginning.  But the outcome is much better.  We battle as those already victorious.  Come - join the battle line.  You are welcome, you are invited.  Your armor is waiting.

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