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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Dressed for Battle

Nov 6, 2019

This new book on the whole armour of God is well worth reading:

Thirty years ago the Berlin Wall came crashing down, as did the menace of Soviet Communism. It involved a monumental struggle of ideas and of nations, but in the end the evil empire did come to an end. All that is but a smaller version of a much bigger battle: that between God and his people and the powers of darkness.

Immediately upon returning from Africa a few days ago I penned a piece on spiritual warfare. One sees in the non-Western world a much greater appreciation of and belief in the biblical reality of Satan and demons and the need to war against them.

Thankfully we are not alone in these battles, but we have some God-given resources. In Ephesians 6:10-20 Paul speaks about the need to put on the whole armour of God. There we read about the weapons and armour that all believers have in order to stand strong against the principalities and powers.

And they certainly are needed. As Paul says in verse 12: “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 is full-on spiritual warfare, but as I said in my recent piece, most believers live and act as if there is no such warfare taking place. They live a life that is indistinguishable from that of the world, with little or no understanding that the very forces of hell are arrayed against us. As I wrote:

They seem to have no concept of the battles we are in, of the spiritual war that is going on all around us, and of the enemy powers working overtime to undo and destroy the things of God and His people. The church throughout the West is taking a savage beating, is losing in so many areas, and is compromising and crumbling massively, yet most believers seem to have no inkling of the spiritual attacks which are behind all this. billmuehlenberg.com/2019/11/03/no-one-believes-in-me-anymore/

We pay lip service to the reality of the devil and the supernatural, but we basically live as if neither exists. Such is the sad state of so much of Western Christianity. All the more reason why we need to revisit this important section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Believers today – especially in the West – need to recover this biblical understanding of continuous open warfare, a fight that impacts on every area of our lives. We need to once again become aware of the unseen spiritual realities that lie behind all of our daily struggles, battles, temptations and pressures.

The great Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached through the book of Ephesians at Westminster Chapel in London between 1954 and 1963. These expository sermons on Ephesians were released in eight volumes between 1974 and 1982. The last two volumes deal with this important portion of Scripture. All up they comprise well over 700 pages. In the preface to volume seven he says this:

Our age is one that has largely ceased to believe in the supernatural. . . . But even in the Church, and among those who claim to believe in a supernatural realm, there is evident and increasing forgetfulness of what the Apostle Paul teaches here – indeed an open denial of it….

It is my belief that the modern world, and especially the history of the present century, can only be understood in terms of the unusual activity of the devil and the ‘principalities and powers’ of darkness. Indeed, I suggest that a belief in a personal devil and demon activities is the touchstone by which one can most easily test any profession of Christian faith today.

Image of The Whole Armor of God: How Christ's Victory Strengthens Us for Spiritual Warfare
The Whole Armor of God: How Christ's Victory Strengthens Us for Spiritual Warfare by Iain M. Duguid Amazon logo

His treatment of this theme is top notch. But if two large volumes of sermons on these ten verses is a bit too much for you, I have some good news. A brand-new book has just appeared on this passage by pastor and Westminster Theological Seminary professor Iain Duguid.

Entitled The Whole Armor of God (Crossway, 2019), the volume is just 120 pages, so it can easily enough be read through in an hour or two. To whet your appetite for this book, let me quote just from the first chapter, “Dressed for Battle”:

Life here on earth is hard – often very, very hard. According to the Bible, life is not a picnic but a battle, an armed struggle against a powerful adversary. To engage in that battle properly, we need a spiritual makeover in which our flimsy, inadequate natural attire is replaced by suitable armor and weaponry. So Paul concludes his magnificent, gospel-saturated letter, Ephesians, with a final charge to be prepared to engage with the battle of life in the right way….

Serving in the Lord’s army is not an option reserved for those particularly devoted to God. The choice is not whether you will be a Christian soldier or a Christian civilian but whether you will be a prepared Christian soldier or an unprepared one. And an unprepared soldier of flesh and blood will not be able to stand against the scale of the spiritual forces ranged against him or her….

Your victory over sin belongs to Jesus, not you. Jesus’s struggle was the decisive one, not yours. His victory on the cross purchased your complete sanctification, your ultimate holiness before God. . . . That doesn’t mean that we’ll never have to struggle with sin, of course. Quite the reverse: Paul clearly expects us to be engaged in a daily life-and-death struggle with Satan in all of his awesome power. The imagery of armor and battle shows us that our fight against sin must involve blood, sweat, and tears….

Life is a battle for Christians; Jesus told his disciples to take up their cross (Matt. 16:24), not to take up their armchair. We are engaged in conflict against an enemy whose strength and skill far outmatch our own. But it is a battle that we have been equipped to fight in the sure knowledge that we’ve been enlisted on the winning side. We take up our cross because our Savior first took up his. We wear God’s armor because Jesus wore it first.

He concludes his opening chapter with these words:

So “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might”; take your stand against the devil, protected by the armor that God had provided. Fight the good fight with all your might. Wrestle with all the energy that the Spirit gives you. But in the midst of that standing, fighting, and wrestling, don’t forget to rest in the finished victory of Christ and the assurance that the Spirit’s perfect sanctifying work in your life is what counts.

These are important reminders for all believers – especially those of us in the West.

Australian readers can find the book here: www.koorong.com/product/the-whole-armor-of-god-how-christs-victory_9781433565007

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9 Responses to Dressed for Battle

  • Well girded as usual Bill!
    The very first item of armour listed is TRUTH. That should be the first defence to Satan’s lies. But truth is one of our weakest areas today, as it was “In the beginning”, or soon after, when “Did God say … ?” was the first attack and our first defeat. The Western church achieved great advances in truth, science and freedom, but ‘Enlightenment’ attacks on the truth of the Bible saw Genesis scrapped as objective true history paving the way for the lie that we exist via billions of years of evolution. Today most of the Western church believes this lie and the lies about the meaning and purpose of life, sex, gender, marriage, family, climate etc. So the spiritual battle today is, or should, start with the battle for Biblical truth to defend in all these areas. But instead, many in churches simply do not believe such unfashionable truth, or they hide their light as private truths.
    Since writing that I briefly scanned today’s post at http://akosbalogh.com: “What Does It Mean To Live In A Post-Truth Culture”, which seems very relevant also.

  • Further to your recent posts on spiritual warfare, Bill, here are four inspiring quotations on the subject from the famous Church of England preacher and author John Charles Ryle (1816-1900).

    They come from his classic book: “Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots” [1877], a book still in print and one which you’ve frequently recommended to your CultureWatch readers. Ryle writes as follows:

    1) “Warfare with the powers of hell is the experience of every individual member of the true church. Each has to fight. What are the lives of the saints, but records of battles? What were such men as Paul, and James, and Peter, and John, and Polycarp, and Ignatius, and Augustine, and Luther, and Calvin, and Latimer and Baxter, but soldiers engaged in a constant warfare?”

    2) “Every praying man should cry night and day: ‘Give peace in our times.’ And yet there is one warfare which is emphatically ‘good’, and one fight in which there is no evil. That warfare is the Christian warfare. That fight is the fight of the soul.”

    3) “The Christian’s fight is good, because fought under the best of generals. The Leader and Commander of all believers is our Divine Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ – a Saviour of perfect wisdom, infinite love, and almighty power. The Captain of our salvation never falls to lead His soldiers to victory. He never makes any useless movements, never errs in judgement, never commits any mistake. His eye is on all His followers, from the greatest of them even to the least. The humblest servant in His army is not forgotten. The weakest and most sickly is cared for, remembered, and kept unto salvation. The souls whom He has purchased and redeemed with His own blood are far too precious to be wasted and thrown away. Surely this is good!”

    4) “The tower of David contains a thousand bucklers, all ready for the use of God’s people. The weapons of our warfare have been tried by millions of poor sinners like ourselves, and have never been found to fail.”

  • Many thanks for that John.

  • Speaking of battle, all help needed to save babies lives
    https://www.citizengo.org/en-us/lf/174375-reject-pro-abortion-agenda-icpd25

  • Many thanks Bill and John Ballantyne- much food for thought. Deb McIlroy

  • Thanks Bill for this important reminder about the reality of spiritual warfare.
    I write Christian music that has been well received both in Australia and in overseas countries, and your readers might be interested in a song I wrote about Ephesians 6:10-18 called The Armour Song. It is available for free for Christians to use. It was originally written for upper primary aged children but would also appeal to adults. See http://www.andrewpricesongs.com. Sadly, so far as I know there don’t seem to be a lot of modern songs on this topic.

  • Andrew P, see if you can find Judy Rogers “Desert Storm” online. Our family has it on CD and mp3 from when we were supplying strong Christian music to homeschoolers.

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