Theology, Prayer and Devotion

Prayer and theology belong together:

Anyone who has ever read or heard the great Welsh preacher and teacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones knows that he was a real stickler for sound theology. No one can accuse him of being weak on doctrine and squeamish about solid biblical teaching.

Yet those who know him also know that he was quite concerned about theology being divorced from life. He knew that good teaching should always lead to good behaviour. Indeed, theology should lead to doxology. Several days ago I penned a piece on this, featuring some quotes from him:

In that piece I quoted from his expository sermons on Romans. Here I want to look at what he said in his expository sermons on Ephesians. In the final book of his eight-volume set on Ephesians, he deals with “The Christian Soldier” as he discusses Ephesians 6:10-20.

This is of course about the armour of God that all believers must put on. And that includes prayer. In verse 18 Paul says this: “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints”. Commenting on this verse Lloyd-Jones says this in part:

This means, then, that the armour which is provided for us by God cannot be used except in fellowship and communion with God. The armour God provides for us must never be thought of mechanically, still less magically. The danger, the temptation, is to feel that as long as we put on this armour there is no more to be done; all is well, the armour will in and of itself protect us, and do so mechanically. So having put it on, we can relax, and put watching aside. But that is the exact opposite of the true position, says the Apostle; to think in that way means that you are already defeated. The armour, and the spiritual application of it must always be conceived of in a vital and in a living manner. Every single piece, excellent though it is in itself, will not suffice us, and will not avail us, unless always and at all times we are in a living relationship to God and receiving strength and power from Him. Look once more at the things we have been considering. ‘Having your loins girt about with truth’ – the great and glorious truth about salvation as a whole and in general. The ‘breastplate of righteousness’ – seeing clearly the doctrine of justification by faith only, and proving that we see it, by living a righteous life. ‘Feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace’ – a zealous faith and all the wonderful things that it can do. ‘Helmet of salvation’ – that ‘blessed hope’! And ‘the sword of the Spirit’. And yet according to the Apostle, having all these things, we may still fail and be utterly defeated. In other words, you cannot rely even upon these things in and of themselves, and imagine that because you have them, you can never fall and never fail.


To state it in a different form, what the Apostle is telling us is that even orthodoxy is not enough. We must be orthodox, we must have the whole armour of God; we are hopeless if we have not got it. You cannot fight the devil with philosophy, you cannot fight him with idealism, you cannot fight him with anything but with the truth of God which is provided for us. But the point is that you cannot fight the devil even with orthodox doctrine if you are attempting to do so in your own strength and power. There is such a thing as a dead orthodoxy. It is possible for a Christian to be perfectly orthodox and yet to be defeated, and to be living a defeated and a useless life. He understands the truth with his mind, he knows it, he can point out the errors in other people’s teaching; and yet his life is of no value to anyone, because he is being defeated by the devil. He has perhaps become intellectually proud of his knowledge, of his understanding and apprehension of the Scripture. If so, he is already a defeated man. A mere intellectual acquaintance with the truth, though it is absolutely essential, cannot guard us against defeat.


The same applies, of course, to a church or to a group of churches or a denomination of churches. There have been, in the history of the Church, churches which have been thoroughly orthodox but which have been utterly ineffective and useless from the standpoint of evangelism and bringing men and women to a knowledge of the truth. They did not count in their own areas, or their various countries. This may arise because they have this false mechanical, almost magical, view of the whole armour of God. They have started with the girdle of truth, have donned all the other parts of the armour, and they are able to use, as they think, the sword of the Spirit. Yet they are paralysed by the devil. Somehow or other their possession of the truth does not seem to be of active value in their work as branches of the Church of God.


This state of things could be illustrated, as I say, from the long history of the Church; it can also be illustrated from the record of the Church at this present time. There is nothing so tragic as a dead orthodox church; and the explanation always is that they have forgotten this further exhortation. Having put on each single piece of the armour carefully and thoroughly they have not gone on to remember this injunction – ‘Praying always’. This is an appalling fact and in some ways the most alarming position possible ? alarming, perhaps, especially to those of us who are theologically-minded. It may happen that the people who are most orthodox are those who realize least the value of prayer. I have known Christians who have been well acquainted with the theology of the Bible, and known it in an extraordinary manner, but who did not believe in prayer-meetings, who did not seem to see the utter and absolute necessity of ‘praying always’ in the way that is indicated here by the Apostle. (pp. 339-340)

Image of The Christian Soldier: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10-20
The Christian Soldier: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10-20 by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Author) Amazon logo

He goes on to say this:

The place given to prayer in the New Testament is remarkable. See it in the life of our Lord Himself. As the Son of God He possessed marvellous knowledge, and displayed it at times to the amazement of the Pharisees and scribes and others; and yet note the frequency with which He turned aside to pray to God. He would spend a whole night in prayer, He would rise a great while before dawn in order to pray to God and maintain this communion. He found this to be essential to His ministry. And so it is not surprising that He should have taught His people that ‘men ought always to pray, and not to faint’ (Luke 18:1). It is the only alternative to fainting, it is the only way to avoid fainting. We must always pray, or else we faint.


So I ask a question at this point – What is the place of prayer in your life? What prominence does it have in our lives? It is a question that I address to all. It is as necessary that it should reach the man who is well versed in the Scripture, and who has a knowledge of its doctrine and its theology, as that it should reach anyone else. What part does prayer play in our lives and how essential is it to us? Do we realize that without it we faint? Do we practise it in the way the Apostle indicates here? There can be no question as to the answer given by the lives of the saints to this question.


Our ultimate position as Christians is tested by the character of our prayer life. It is more important than knowledge and understanding. Do not imagine that I am detracting from the importance of knowledge. I spend most of my life trying to show the importance of having a knowledge of truth and an understanding of it. That is vitally important. There is only one thing that is more important, and that is prayer. The ultimate test of my understanding of the Scriptural teaching is the amount of time I spend in prayer. As theology is ultimately the knowledge of God, the more theology I know, the more it should drive me to seek to know God. Not to know ‘about’ Him, but to know Him. The whole object of salvation is to bring me to a knowledge of God. I may talk learnedly about regeneration, but what is eternal life? It is that they might know Thee, the only true God in Jesus Christ whom God has sent. If all my knowledge does not lead me to prayer there is something wrong somewhere. It is meant to do that. The value of the knowledge is that it gives me such an understanding of the value of prayer, that I devote time to prayer and delight in prayer. If it does not produce these results in my life, there is something wrong and spurious about it, or else I am handling it in a wrong manner. The trouble, I am convinced, is that we tend to stop at putting on the whole armour of God. ‘Here we are’, we say to ourselves, ‘complete’. And so the devil puffs us up with our knowledge and thereby defeats us. (pp. 341-342)

Those of us who do cherish good theology – especially those of us who teach it – certainly need to keep these words in mind.

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One Reply to “Theology, Prayer and Devotion”

  1. Perhaps I missed the reference to the backplate in the article that is not included with the armor of God in Scripture. It has been taught that the backplate was not required because God has our back. In accordance with the Providence of the Holy Spirit we are never subjected to the unrestricted evil of Satan.

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