A New(ly Reprinted) Book on Worship Liturgies

Charles W. Baird, The Presbyterian Liturgies: Historical Sketches, 1855; reprint, Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2006, paperback, 266 pages, no index, reviewed by Barry Waugh.

Worship is a hot topic for contemporary Evangelicals and Reformed Christians. C. W. Baird’s book is concerned to show “from the history and teachings of the Presbyterian Church, what may be considered the proper theory of its worship, and to compare that ideal with our prevailing practice” (1). His method for achieving decent and orderly worship is to recommend the “discretionary use of written forms,” which he believed is “abundantly” warranted by the Westminster Standards and the history and practice of the Presbyterian Church (5). For the author, the Directory for Worship “minutely and definitely” contains regulation of prayer and the other aspects of worship “without rigid confinement to set words and phrases” (3). The regulations provided by the Directory for Worship, he says, do not exclude the use of written forms, but neither do they prescribe the use of forms.

During the course of Dr. Baird’s book, he presents the order of worship of several churches including Calvin’s Geneva, Knox’s Scottish order, Richard Baxter’s liturgy, and the “liturgy of the Palatinate” or the German Reformed. Common to each of these liturgies are the singing of Psalms, the reading and preaching of the Word, prayers in various locations of the order, confession of sin, the use of the sacraments and the use of a benediction. Essential to each liturgical order is the Bible, whether its text is the lyrics for singing, the words read for hearing, the subject matter of the sermon, the words used for the confession of sin, the passages used for administering the sacraments or the benediction—the service is a service to God using the words he has given for his worship. The orders of worship Dr. Baird describes are very simple, so simple that readers of this book might think that he left some things out. For example, there was no collection of the offering, it appears that there were no announcements, no greeting of the visitors, no special appeals from the leaders of special groups and ministries in the church for attendance at their functions, and there were no presentations appealing for a building fund. The liturgies were simple in that they were centered on the Word of God, but they were also elegant because the majestic language of God’s Word was used for adoration, supplication, blessing, and obeisance. Such Scripture centered liturgies would appear strange to many today since nearly all the scriptural elements of the Protestant liturgies either are minimalized or absent from many present day worship services. Sermons are often just devotional snippets that might be published in a self-improvement meditating guide; prayer, if present at all, is limited in the scope and gravity of its supplications and thanksgiving; if there is a Bible reading it is as brief as the sermon; and if hymns are sung, they are limited to a few stanzas. One thing that can be said about the present scene is that the Psalms and other Bible texts sometimes constitute the lyrics of popular choruses.

Dr. Baird ends the book with a concluding chapter, pages 251-266, where he presents his thoughts regarding the history of Reformed liturgy and its relevancy to his contemporary situation. He appeals for “a reverent approach to the Divine Majesty” by means of appropriate language being used to approach the throne of grace. He comments that the same “solicitude” should be used to approach God as one might use to approach “the great and honored among men.” He believed that the historic use of the Westminster Standards by the “Calvinistic Churches of Great Britain and the United States” faced a cross-roads between continuing to follow the Directory for Worship and its historic liturgy, or following the path of rejection of its standards and each minister creating his own liturgy. In the face of the trends, Dr. Baird called for the use of liturgical forms noting that Great Britain and America were the only Calvinistic churches without a liturgy. Dr. Baird went on to propose measures to be taken to turn the tide of worship practice in his own era. The church must begin anew to use the “Scriptural and Apostolic Elements of Worship,” such as the benediction, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles’ Creed.” The author goes on to call for “the regular and continuous reading of the Holy Scripture, at every religious service.” Baird believed that the limited use of the reading of the Word in his own era was due to the disposition of his contemporaries to depreciate “regular and prescriptive…rites of religion.” The key to achieving this rediscovery of reverent worship, according to Dr. Baird, is a stricter adherence to the Directory for Worship.

There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to irreverence. Just as C. W. Baird was concerned for the decline of worship in his own era, many are concerned today about casual, man-centered, unregulated services. Is it just the thinking of this reviewer or is it not absurd to think that Christians could really believe that they can define proper worship apart from Scripture or by picking-and-choosing which liturgical elements to use? Could it be that the erosion of the fundamental elements in some of today’s worship—prayer, reading the Bible, preaching the Word, confession of sin, and singing the Scripture—is due to the ever present Edenic tempting desire to rule one’s self? Concerned parents do not allow their children to define right and wrong for themselves; good parents teach their children to believe God’s Word and follow his commands for righteousness. Good Christian parents exercise authority and tell their children what is right and wrong because God has given them that responsibility, but when it comes to worship, the Christian’s most exalted and edifying experience, people many times choose to define worship for themselves. Some will argue that the depreciation of worship in our era is due to the influences of Schleiermacher, or maybe post-modernism, or possibly the “me-ism” of American individualism, or the anti-organized religion descendants of the Jesus Generation, but worship degenerates into human exaltation when it is designed to appeal to the worshipper rather than God and any philosophy or theology that exalts humanity at the expense of God will affect worship. Charles W. Baird’s book is a helpful reminder of where worship doctrine has come from and a warning to beware of self-indulgence in worship.

For those interested in more study of the doctrine of worship, the following books may be found helpful: first and foremost is the Westminster Assembly’s Directory for the Public Worship of God, which can be found in several editions including those of the Westminster Standards published by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (my copy is from 1976); the two important books by Horton Davies, The Worship of the American Puritans (Soli Deo Gloria reprint, 1999), and The Worship of the English Puritans (Soli Deo Gloria reprint, 1997); Sean Lucas, On Being Presbyterian (P&R, 2006), particularly 117-21, though the whole book is helpful; D. G. Hart and John Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship (P&R, 2002), which is an appeal for Scripture regulated and confessional worship; the Anglican theologian, P. E. Hughes, Theology of the English Reformers (1965, 1980, 1997), the discussion of worship begins on page 153; and any of Pastor Terry Johnson’s several worship titles (here, here, and here).

Request to Reformation 21 Blog

I could no longer find any way of contacting the Reformation 21 Blog. So, I’ll lob up my request, and hope that someone who can do something about it sees it. I know that they are in the midst of some face-lifts, and so I am willing to be patient with that. However, there is a difficulty that needs to be addressed. Previously, in reading the feed, the feed would tell me who the author of each post was. With the new feed, that is no longer the case. I really like to know who wrote what without having actually to visit the site, as I read almost all blog posts in my Google reader.

Before I Go On

Before addressing the Joint Federal Vision Profession (again), I need to answer Doug’s latest post.

The basic claim could be boiled down (hopefully without attenuation of the actual argument) to this: Rollock and several other theologians (such as the ones Steven Wedgeworth mentions) argue that Adam owed thanks to God, and that Adam’s works could not have merited eternal life. Since this is the core of what the FV wants to say about the Adamic situation, then why are they getting arrows thrown at them? Is this not within the acceptable boundaries of debate? Hopefully this is an accurate representation of Doug’s argument. He makes the point about Murray, as well.

Reformed authors such as Robert Rollock had one great enemy: the Roman Catholic Church. There were, of course, others. However, that early in the ball game, there weren’t Arminians floating around, and even the Anabaptists (which receive some attention from Calvin) were not nearly as high on the radar screen as the Romanists. From the previous sections to the one quoted, it is quite obvious that the enemy Rollock is fighting is the Papists (see pp. 31-32 of volume 1). Therefore, if the word “merit” comes into play as something rejected by Rollock, it is the term “merit” as understood by the Romanists, which means either condign or congruent merit. Pactum merit does not appear in so many terms. However, it can be inferred from Rollock’s words. In other words, the argument here is that Rollock was not directly addressing the question of whether there is an improper way to speak of merit in the case of Adam. He was rejecting merit in the sense that the Romanists wanted to use it. Here are some clear indications that Rollock would not have denied the idea of pactum merit:

The covenant of works, which may also be called a legal or natural covenant, is founded in nature, which by creation was pure and holy, and in the law of god, which in the first creation was engraven in man’s heart…he made a covenant with man, wherein he promised him eternal life, under the condition of holy and good works, which should be answerable to the holines and goodness of their creation, and conformable to his law…it could not well stand with the justice of God to make a covenant under condition of good works and perfect obedience to his law, except he had first created man pure and holy, and had engraven his law in his heart, whence those good works might proceed…the ground of the covenant of work was not Christ, nor the grace of God in Christ, but the nature of man in the first creation holy and perfect, endued also with the knowledge of the lawand so eternal life might be said to be given unto him, as justified by his works…works mere naturally good only are required as the condition of the covenant of works. So, then, by this condition, do you exclude hence faith in Christ? I do so. (pp. 34-35, emphasis added).

The conditionality of the obtaining of the promised eternal life excluded faith. Faith was not part of the instrument. Rollock even goes so far as to say that the ground of the covenant was not the work of Christ, but the works of Adam. This language parallels precisely the “ground” language of Christ’s perfect obedience in the covenant of grace. The language of pactum merit is not present in Rollock, but the idea most certainly is. Rollock is willing to say that the instrument and ground of Adam’s obtaining eternal life is that righteousness inherent in him and accomplished in obedience to the law given to him by God. That is denied by the Federal Vision. Rollock explicitly excludes faith from any kind of instrumentality in the CoW. That is also something that the FV denies. It should be noted that Rollock clearly adheres to a CoW layer to the Mosaic covenant, when he says, “repeat that covenant of works to the people of Israel” (pg. 34). There is not one aspect of this portrayal of the CoW with which TR’s would have a problem. In the light of the foregoing, Rollock’s rejection of merit in the CoW is clearly to be seen as a rejection of Adam having any kind of condign merit. But Rollock clearly adheres to condign merit in the case of Christ. He says, (the virtue of the blood of the Mediator is twofold)… “The second is, to purchase and merit a new grace and mercy of God for us” (pg. 38). So that blasts Wedgeworth’s argument that Christ did not merit eternal life for us.

Now, quoting a long list of names indicates one’s familiarity with a long list of names. But quite frankly, the positions of those divines need to be spelled out, not simply quoted in a long list of names, as if that is supposed to seal the argument. So, this is an invitation actually to consider what they wrote. Let the FV writers give us a quotation (in context, not the cherry-picking that they usually do), and let’s discuss what they wrote. Even Murray’s position is not clear. Murray is clear that the issue of Adam’s obtaining life was suspended on his obedience (pg. 49 of volume 2). His reasons for disliking the term covenant of works are not the same as the reasons the FV rejects it. Just because there are elements of God’s condescending favor does not rule out the appropriateness of the term (that is in chapter 7 of the confession already!). The concept of covenant can be there even without the term (and actually, the FV agrees with its critics against Murray that Adam was in covenant with God). This also nullifies Murray’s “redemptive” reason. For if the concept can be there without the term, then saying that the term only applies to redemptive situations simply begs the question. Murray does not say the same thing as the FV at all.

Consider also this argument: if the FV definition of “covenant” is true (as being the relationship of God and man), and Murray doesn’t want to call what Adam had with God a covenant, then doesn’t it follow that Adam had no relationship with God, according to Murray? Obviously, Murray would not agree that Adam had no relationship with God. Therefore, Murray’s definition of covenant differs drastically from the FV.  

A Profoundly Disappointing Book

Just today I received this new commentary on Judges in the mail. Usually, any time a new commentary on this book is published, it is cause for great rejoicing, since we have so little on it (which is really a pity, since it is so interesting a book of the Bible). However, I cannot rejoice at this commentary. For one thing, it is way too short to be of much help. The book is 290 pages. However, Niditch’s translation is printed TWICE in the book. Once throughout the commentary, and the very same complete translation at the end (taking up almost 70 pages!). Of commentary, there is only 211 pages, and of course, a lot of that is taken up printing the translation. Since the font-size is the same in both printings of the translation, we can assume that another 70 pages of the remaining 211 pages is translation. That leaves only 141 pages of actual commentary. Then I looked in the bibliography, and found only seven (!) commentaries in the bibliography! And guess who was missing? Daniel Block! The single best commentary out there on Judges isn’t even in her bibliography! There is no excuse for this, since Block’s commentary is now 9 years old. And it is not as if the pool is swimming with big fish, as Romans would be. Indeed, the lack of sufficiently acute commentaries on Judges has been a big problem for pastors for quite some time. Other bibliographical gaps: K. Lawson Younger, and Dale Ralph Davis. Now, I could theoretically understand not having Davis in the bibliography, since it is a more popular work. However, Niditch quotes Lawson Younger’s other works, but not the commentary! Younger’s commentary is a full 6 years old. There is no possibility that Susan Niditch did not know of these works. She deliberately excluded them from her bibliography in a gross display of liberal narrow-mindedness. Not exactly a vote of confidence in my book that this commentary is going to be helpful. These kinds of things really bother me, in case you couldn’t tell.

The Greatness of the Kingdom

Matthew 11:7-11

4/13/2008

Audio Version

In music, one of the most exciting things a composer can do is to have a long drawn-out crescendo. A crescendo is what happens when you get gradually louder and louder until finally you reach a mountain peak of sound that stuns everyone with its beauty and power. That’s a little bit like what Jesus does here in our passage. The crescendo hits a high note when Jesus tells us about the greatness of the kingdom of God. We might think that Jesus is really talking about John the Baptist. However, as I hope to show, Jesus merely uses the subject of John to prove how great the kingdom of God is.

It is important to set the context. John had sent his disciples to Jesus in order to ask the question that had been nagging in John’s mind as he sat languishing in Herod’s prison. Jesus had told John that the new age of the kingdom had begun. It had arrived. Judgment had not come yet, but grace had. Jesus ended that answer to John with a gentle encouragement to John, pronouncing a blessing on the one who did not turn away from Jesus because of the unexpected character of Jesus’ ministry. That is the setting.

Now, the people might have begun to think that Jesus just blasted John the Baptist. That is why Jesus now addresses the crowd to talk about the kingdom, and simultaneously tell them how great John was.

The first question has to with reeds. Did the people really go out to see a reed shaken in the wind? The question implies a negative answer: of course they did not go out to see a reed shaken by the wind. Now, there is a lot here for us to see. First of all, reeds were extremely ordinary plants. The people therefore did not go out to see something ordinary. They went out to see someone who was weird. Secondly, reeds were not the most stable plant on the face of the earth. A shaking reed is therefore symbolic of a man whose opinion shifts around all the time. It reminds me of politicians. They hold up their wet finger to see which way the wind is blowing, or where the people are headed, and then get in front of the crowd and call themselves “leaders.” Obviously, John was anything but a shaking reed. Thirdly, there was a man especially known for reeds. Herod Antipas! That’s right, the very Herod who currently has John the Baptist imprisoned in his fortress/palace. This is the same Herod who will feature prominently in the passion of the Christ. It is not the same Herod who killed all the children in Bethlehem. Well, this Herod Antipas smelted some coins for money. Guess what he put on those coins? Reeds! Not exactly the symbol I would have put on there. So, what Jesus is really doing here is setting up a contrast between John the Baptist and Herod Antipas. This becomes clearer in the next verse.

The second question regards soft clothing. Again, the answer to the rhetorical question is “No, of course you didn’t come out to see someone in soft clothes.” And again, Herod Antipas is clearly the one in the palace with soft clothing. Soft clothing is another sort of jab at Antipas, since the implication is that Antipas is a real wimp. Soft clothing is only what wimps wear. Again, contrast Herod’s soft clothing with John the Baptist’s rough and tough clothing. John’s garment was made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. There is some fairly intense irony here, since John was actually in the house of the king. In fact, they both were! However, John was the prisoner, though he was a real man, and Herod Antipas was living it up in luxury in the palace. But John is the greater of the two men.

The third question is different, because the answer is given for us, and it is yes. John is a prophet. Prophets did two things in ancient Israel: they foretold the future, and they spoke the word of the Lord. Of course, those two things were often the same thing. Certainly the prophet told the Word of the Lord. Everything they said was the Word of the Lord. But not everything they said was a prophecy about the future. In fact, sometimes it was a prophecy that was conditional. If Israel did not repent, or if a person did not repent, then such and such would happen.

However, John the Baptist was more than a prophet. Not only did he proclaim the Word of the Lord. He was also the Elijah who was to come. He was the forerunner of Jesus Christ. The text that Jesus quotes is from Malachi, chapter 3, where the messenger is sent by the Lord in order to prepare the way for the Lord who is coming to His temple. By the way, this is a clear indication that Jesus is the Lord Who was promised. For Jesus is the one to Whom John pointed and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John had the very great honor of being the person who would point out to people the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. Indeed, no greater honor before the coming of the Kingdom could be imagined. That is why Jesus says that among those born of women, none is greater than John the Baptist.

And then comes the climax of the great crescendo. Jesus tells us that the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist! Now, let us be clear. Jesus is NOT saying that John the Baptist was not part of the people of God. In fact, Jesus is not talking so much about people, as He is talking about a change, a shift in era. We saw that clearly last week, when Jesus quoted from Isaiah, indicating that the new age had indeed begun with Christ’s Person and Work. Now, we see that the Kingdom of God has come in its fullness. And what a privilege it is to be a part of that Kingdom!

The privileges are great. For one thing, we can now see what was shadowy and unclear in the Old Testament. If all we had was the Old Testament, we would not necessarily have said, “Oh, yes, it points to Jesus Christ, who will bring grace, and put off judgment of humans until the Final Day.” There were many who believed in God’s plan, and believed in God, such that their faith was truly in Jesus Christ even before Christ came. Let me repeat: Jesus is not saying that the Old Testament saints are worse off, in terms of salvation. What Jesus is saying is that since Christ has come, we have greater clarity, more light, more of God’s revelation. It is not as if God was unclear. The problem is that we don’t understand what God is saying. So if God tells us more, then we will understand better. This change happened when Jesus Christ Himself, who is the true Word, came into the world, and fulfilled the plan that the Father had made from before the foundations of the earth.

So, do you belong to this Kingdom? There is no more important question that you can ask yourself than that. Belonging to the Kingdom means that you are a subject of the King. He is your Lord, and not just your Savior. In other words, you cannot simply believe in Jesus as someone who died on the cross for your sins, and then leave everything at that. Unfortunately, that is precisely what a lot of people do nowadays. They think that after they convert to Christianity, there is nothing more to it. What we are saying here is that when a person becomes a believer in Jesus, he is transferred from the Satanic kingdom of darkness into the glorious light of the Kingdom of God. A change in citizenship occurs. This new Kingdom has different laws, different codes of conduct than the Satanic kingdom. We need to learn what those rules are, and follow them out of gratitude for what God has done in transferring our citizenship.

A second application comes by way of seeing Jesus’ priorities. What impressed Jesus? It wasn’t likability, and it wasn’t wealth and social standing. If Jesus wasn’t impressed by those things, then neither should we be. Now, we are still to respect authority. However, we should not play favorites with people who are more likely to get us somewhere socially. Jesus was impressed with John the Baptist. John dressed horribly, lived in the desert, was always offending someone. He had no tact whatsoever, and yet Jesus called him the greatest man born of woman before the coming of the Kingdom. John the Baptist was greater than Solomon, greater than David, greater than Abraham, greater than Noah, greater even than Adam! So, again I ask: what impresses you? What should impress us in life is holiness of character in someone else. It should be their faithfulness to what God has called them to be.

A third application follows from the second one. For what ought we to strive? Should we strive to be liked by people? Should we wave our reeds in the air, and see what comes? Or should we seek to have a good standard of living? Is that our ultimate goal? Or is our ultimate goal to be faithful to what God has called us to be? Our priorities need to be those priorities of the Kingdom of God, not Satan’s kingdom, or an imaginary kingdom of our own construction. For only Christ’s Kingdom is truly great. And that is because God values it so. So let us make our priorities line up with God’s priorities.

The Shield of Faith

Ephesians 6:16

4/13/2008

Audio Version

The story is told of a teacher who wanted to prove to his class the law of the pendulum. The law of the pendulum states that if you release a pendulum, and it swings to the side, when it comes back it will never reach as high as its starting point. Gravity and air friction will slow it down. So the teacher demonstrated this with a small pendulum he had made for the class. Every time the pendulum came on the back swing, he marked the spot where it came up the highest. Every mark was a little bit lower than the previous mark. However, the lesson was not over. He had a much larger pendulum hanging from the middle of the science room. He asked the students whether they believed that the law of the pendulum was true. They all said yes. So he then got one of the students to stand next to a wall. He held the pendulum an inch from the student’s nose. He asked the student if the student believed that if the teacher let go of the pendulum, the student’s nose would not be in any danger. The student said that he believed that. However, he was sweating already. The teacher released the pendulum. On the back swing, the student simply couldn’t take it, and quickly got out of the way. The teacher then asked the room full of students whether this one student really believed the law of the pendulum. They all answered “NO!” And that was true. The student didn’t really believe it, did he? If he had, he wouldn’t have needed to get out of the way, since he was as safe where he was as he would be anywhere else in the room. What he lacked was faith. Faith would have shielded the student from that pendulum, because the student would have known that the pendulum couldn’t touch him. It looked like the pendulum could. However, the law of the pendulum said that the student was safe. This illustration comes from Ken Davis’s book How to Speak to Youth. Our faith needs to be the kind that will stand firm even when it looks like Satan is going to get us. To understand what Paul is saying here, we must understand what a shield was in Roman times, and how it was used.

There were two kinds of shields used in Roman times. First, there was the smallish round shield that was used in hand to hand combat. It was lighter, made of wood usually, and had a leather covering. That is not the kind of shield that Paul mentions here in the text. The shield that Paul is talking about was the long shield, rectangular in shape, although it bowed out in the middle. It also had a leather covering, and an iron point in the middle of the shield, pointing towards the enemy. That point had a purpose. It was not just for show. It was there so that direct attacks on the shield would be somewhat deflected, and therefore lose some of their force. This shield covered the whole person. The soldier could hide behind this shield and be safe from arrows, spears, or swords. Furthermore, this shield was usually drenched in water before battle, since arrows were often dipped in pitch and set aflame. Those arrows would then thud into the shield and be extinguished by the water-drenched leather. Or, they would bounce off the shield, fall into the ground, and be extinguished. Either way, this shield was an extremely effective piece of defensive armor.

However, there is one more aspect of this shield that is important for us to recognize. This shield worked the best when it went lock step with other soldiers’ shields. If a whole row of soldiers held their shields together, then hardly any arrow could attack, even from an angle. One shield all by itself could not defend from an arrow that comes from an oblique angle. But a whole row of shields could. Normally, the Roman army marched into battle with a protective wall of shields all around the outside of the square of solders. Those in the middle would hold their shields overhead. This would prevent arrows from getting at them from above. When this happened, the entire square (called a phalanx) could reach the scene of battle without loss of life from arrows. It allowed them to close with the enemy with their full numbers intact. This is the metaphor which Paul uses to convey what faith is like.

Faith is like a shield. Because it lays hold of Christ, faith covers us with the righteousness of Christ, which is immune to the attacks of Satan. Satan wants to accuse us as being not worthy of the kingdom of God. He would be right, if we didn’t have that shield. Our unprotected person would be completely open to Satan’s attacks in this regard. But our shield protects us. Now, we must be careful here. It is not faith as we exercise it, in and of itself, that protects us. Faith does not shield us because of the fact that we have it. It shields us because of the object of our faith. Faith lays hold of Christ. Faith opens up to Him. Faith is like a pair of tongs with which we take hold of something that would otherwise be too hot for us to hold with our bare hands. Faith is an empty hand reaching out to God’s fullness. In other words, faith is not a thing. It does not have a substance. Faith is always faith in something or someone. In the illustration, it was faith in a particular law of motion, the law of the pendulum. Notice, then, that faith needs to be in something that does not change. The law of the pendulum does not change. Of course, if the pendulum were to become unattached from the ceiling, then you would have cause to worry. However, the law of the pendulum stays the same, even in that situation, where you would certainly not be safe. But faith in God is not like that. God is not only unchanging, but also powerful enough to ensure that all things work together for good for those who love Him. God’s pendulum will never come undone from the ceiling of heaven. His purposes are unchanging and unchangeable. He is far more worthy of our faith and trust than anything or anyone in this world.

Do you therefore have this shield? Have you taken it up in the heat of battle? I should mention here that anyone’s faith, if it be a true faith, will be this kind of shield. Some people’s faith is stronger than other people’s faith. However, what is true about all faith is that it is a shield against Satan’s attacks. He will try to tell us that we are too sinful for God to forgive us. He will tell us that God didn’t really forgive us of all sin, and that we need to get our act together if we want God to forgive us. The problem with this kind of thinking is that we do need to get our act together! But not because we want God to forgive us. It is rather because God has already forgiven us. Getting our act together therefore is our response of gratitude to God for what He has done, and even there God has to help us to get our act together by giving us the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, do you think of your faith as joining up with your fellow Christian’s faith? Just as those shields need to work together for maximum protection, so also our faiths need to work together. We need to encourage one another, and love one another. If someone’s shield is drooping a little, we need to help them hold up that shield a little better. Of course, those soldiers who are closest to you are your own family. Are we taking pains to strengthen those shields? Are we using the catechisms with our children? Are we having them memorize Scripture? Are we reading through the Bible with them? Are we praying with them and for them? Similarly with regard to our spouses: are we encouraging our spouses in their spiritual walk, or do we cut them down? Do we encourage them to read more Scripture, and pray more? Are we honest with our doubts? Doubt is not the same as unbelief, we must understand. A doubt is something that can actually help us to understand our faith better. Doubts, of course, are never comfortable things. However, there is no Christian in the history of the world who has not had any doubts. Satan, of course, will try to turn that doubt into yet another arrow to shoot at you. But you must take the doubt to God, and ask Him to show you the way out of it. God is faithful, and He will do it.

Thirdly, when you think about your faith, do you primarily think about what is in you, or do you primarily think about Jesus Christ, the object of your faith? Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a great Scottish preacher once said these words, “For every one time you look into yourself, look ten times at Christ.” I am convinced that our faith would be a lot stronger if we would measure the strength of our faith not by how well we believe, but by how well Jesus saves, and by how much Jesus loves us, and by how faithful Jesus is as our great High Priest.

When we do these three things, actually taking up this shield, joining our faiths with other believers, and concentrating our faith on the object of our faith, Jesus Christ, then our shield will be strong, since it will have God’s own iron strength holding it all together for us. None of Satan’s arrows can pierce that shield. So take up that shield!

The Readiness of the Gospel

Ephesians 6:15

4/6/2008

Audio Version

In the time of ancient Rome, Rome was famous for many things. However, there were few things more famous that Rome’s military might. They were the only superpower of the world at that time. What made Rome’s armies so famous was the training, discipline, and equipment of the soldiers. Roman soldiers trained with weapons that were twice as heavy as the ones they actually used in battle. Roman soldiers were taken from the elite of Roman free citizens, and so they were well-motivated, since they were defending their own lands. Roman soldiers were famous for their discipline. They were afraid of nothing, since their drills were bloodless battles, and their battles were bloody drills. The Roman solder was a very formidable person. He also had excellent equipment, which enabled him to fight better. We have talked about some of this equipment already, with the breastplate. This week we look to the feet and the shoes. Oftentimes, we look at this passage and think that the shoes are light and feathery, so as to be quick. At least, I used to think this for a long time. However, this week I learned something different from R. Kent Hughes, retired pastor of a church in Wheaton.

The shoe of which Paul speaks is called the caliga, in Latin. It was a cleated shoe that had heavy leather soles with nails as the cleats. In fact, they were somewhat like football shoes today. These boots were then tied to the ankle and calves with straps. These were not running shoes, because Roman soldiers did not run. These shoes were designed to give heavy traction so that the feet would not slip in the time of battle. Most battle in Roman times was hand to hand combat. These shoes gave Roman soldiers a big advantage over their opponents, who, for the most part, did not have such good boots. If conditions were muddy, you can see how these shoes gave the Roman soldier an even greater advantage.

This gives us a clearer picture of how the Gospel helps us in our spiritual warfare. Let’s not forget that the context is that of warfare. We are fighting our own sin nature, and we are fighting Satan and his demons. Knowing the Gospel of peace helps us in the time of war. I never saw the irony before this week when I was studying this closely. As Harold Hoehner points out, the Gospel of peace helps us in war. There is profound truth there for us, if we are patient to see it. For, you see, human beings are always at war with someone. If we are at war with God, then we cannot be at war with Satan. Just as you cannot serve both as masters, so also you cannot be at war with both. So, in a sense, when we are presented with the good news of what Jesus has done for us, that is the peace that starts the war. As soon as we have peace with God, our war with Satan starts. But having peace with God gives us that stability we need so that we do not slip in our war with Satan. Any soldier who slipped in the time of battle was almost sure of being killed.

Furthermore, the Bible uses the image of being barefoot as being unready. 2 Samuel 15 describes David fleeing barefoot from his son Absalom. David had not been prepared for what his son was going to do. In contrast with that, we are to be ready. Paul describes this state of mind as being ready: “having the readiness.” It is being prepared. It is having those nails firmly nailed through the bottom of the boot. It is having those boots securely strapped to your ankles and legs so that they will not come off.

So what is this gospel that we are to have on our feet? Well, this gospel is the teaching concerning Jesus Christ in His Person and work. Listen again to what Isaiah said: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” The God who reigns is Jesus Christ, who now has the Name that is above every name.

We spoke a bit about this Gospel last week when we heard about the breastplate. The breastplate protects us against those sword strokes of the enemy. The breastplate is our righteousness, both that imputed righteousness, and that imparted righteousness; that alien righteousness of Christ reckoned to us, and that personal righteousness that the Holy Spirit gives us by dwelling inside us. This Gospel is only possible because of Christ’s perfect life on earth, His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead. In theology, we speak of this salvation in two ways: salvation accomplished by Christ during His lifetime, and salvation applied to us in our lifetimes. That is the Gospel.

Do you have these shoes on your feet? If so, have you made sure that they are strapped to your feet securely? If not, then you will slip in the time of trouble, in the time of battle. But if you have these shoes, then you need to make sure that they are secure. This will keep you from slipping while you are under attack.

Now, Satan attacks us as a serpent. Serpents attack the legs and feet, because serpents are animals of the ground. He tries to get us to stumble and fall. He wants to lead us into muddy ground so that we start slipping and sliding. So, we need to make sure that we are well-grounded in the Gospel of peace. We need to seek peace with God at all costs, because peace with God enables us to fight properly our war against Satan. Jesus once said that if Satan is fighting against himself, then his kingdom cannot stand. Any nation that is divided becomes very ineffective. In our own history, we could see this in regard to Vietnam. The nation was divided about that war. As a result, we did not win that war. Similarly, if we belong to the house of God, we cannot be divided against God and expect to win any battles against Satan. If you have unconfessed sin in your life, by all means, take that to God, and confess your sin. Do not let those confessions lapse. Confess often to God your sin, and receive forgiveness.

Another way in which we can apply this truth is to realize that we can never go deeper than the Gospel. The Gospel is what grounds us, keeping us from slipping. When we learn more about the Christian faith, we are learning more about how the Bible shows us the Gospel. We never outgrow our need for the Gospel any more than we outgrow our need for peace with God. Is peace boring? I should hope not. Then neither is the Gospel boring. If we are bored with hearing the Gospel, then we need to check our boots to see if they are securely fastened. If we are bored with the Gospel, then we need to ask whether God is bored with the Gospel. Does God have a problem sending out the same old Bible all over the world, which tells us about the same old story? Then, by no means should we ever tire of hearing the Gospel, which has many different facets. The Gospel is like a wonderful work of art. There are many, many levels of understanding, when it comes to art. You can appreciate it as someone who is not used to art. But as a person learns more about art, one can notice more and more about that same piece of art. There is depth. Of course, there are people out there who take one look at a piece of art, and then think that they know all there is to know about it. Those people need to be helped along to see more and more. So it is with the Gospel. There is no limit to the Gospel. It always has more for us. Just when we might think that we know it all, something new comes along. I can tell you from personal experience that there are many very familiar passages that I have read many times. However, something that someone says, or something that I read gives me a whole new angle on that passage. I am constantly learning something new about the Gospel, both what it is, and how it applies. Therefore, do not grow weary of hearing about the same Gospel, for it is rich and deep, and you will continue to learn, if you have the desire. Therefore, cultivate that desire by reading the Scriptures and by reading good books about Scripture.

Last, but not least, this passage does tell us about missions. Are we ready to march for our King, and launch an attack on Satan’s kingdom by marching into his territory and doing battle with him? The Gospel of peace is portable. It can move, and it can march. These are not running shoes that we are talking about. But they are firm and steady boots. This is the peace that marches, the peace that fights, the peace that is militant. This is the peace we have with God with which we will march on the world, and reclaim this world from Satan and his demons. For God is our Warrior. He has conquered, and has made us to be more than conquerors. Amen.

The Breastplate of Righteousness

Ephesians 6:14b

3/23/2008

Audio Version

Once upon a time, a woman went to an unusual store to buy something for her husband. Only she didn’t quite have enough money to purchase the item. But the store owner was kind, and knew how important this item was to her and her husband. And so, he set up interest-free payments on a monthly schedule so that she could take it home immediately. The woman gave it to her husband on his birthday. It was only a few days later that her husband wound up in the hospital, having been shot in the chest. She rushed to the emergency room to find out how he was doing. They assured her that he was doing fine, and that the damage was mostly bruises. You see, the item she had bought for her husband was a bulletproof vest. He was a police officer. That vest had saved his life. In the same way the breastplate of righteousness saves our lives from the bullets that Satan wants to shoot at us. We should not delay in putting on this vital piece of armor.

The breastplate was a most important piece of armor, second only to that belt that kept your clothes from getting all tangled. However, after you have the truth clearly presented to you, you need something that will protect your heart. That is the very definition of something vital, isn’t it? The word vital means having to do with life itself. The heart is a most important organ in your body. It is essential. Without a heartbeat, a medical doctor will pronounce you dead. And, in this life, there are countless things that will assault your heart, countless things that will compete for your allegiance. As Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Satan will constantly throw things at you to keep your heart from being in the right place, which is being the throne of Jesus, who then sits on the throne of your heart as King Jesus, Lord of your life. So we can see that it is important. There are two questions that we need to answer in order to know its place in our lives. The first question is this: “How do I put on this breastplate?” The second question is this: “How does it protect me?” Related to this second question is how do we use this breastplate.

So, taking these questions in order, we ask the question, “How do we put on this breastplate?” This is not a small question, since our call to worship from Isaiah tells us that God Himself wears this righteousness as a breastplate. In other words, we are seeking to put on God’s own armor. Any breastplate of righteousness that we put on is cut from the same metal as the breastplate that God wears when He goes to battle against His enemies. Of course, this is all metaphorical language, since the righteousness of God is not something distinct from who God is, whereas a breastplate is something distinct from the person wearing it. Righteousness is God’s obedience to His own law. You know, we often say that God can do anything. That is not true. God cannot sin. He cannot transgress the laws which He Himself made. That would be against His own character. So we say then that God is perfectly righteous.

That raises a most important problem. For we are not righteous. So, the question of how we put on this armor becomes nothing less than the question of the gospel itself. How can we be righteous in our lives? To begin to answer this question, we can say that there are two parts to the righteousness that we can have. First, there is the righteousness outside of ourselves that is reckoned to be ours. That would be the righteousness of Christ. Jesus came to earth, and was perfectly obedient to the law in every respect. The reason He did that was not just to take upon Himself the guilt of our sin. It was also so that we might be able to receive a perfect righteousness that answers to the law in every respect. So, it is in no way our righteousness. It is an “alien” righteousness, as Martin Luther would say. It is outside ourselves. When we come to faith in Christ, that “alien” righteousness becomes ours by God’s declaration. I wish to read to you the entire question and answer 60 from the Heidelberg Catechism, which addresses this very question in a very clear way: “How are you righteous before God?” Answer: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ: that is, although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.” So, there you have it. It is as if I had done it, but I haven’t. Christ did. But I am reckoned to have done it, because, by faith, I lay hold of Christ’s righteousness. That is the first kind of righteousness which makes up this breastplate. By the way, this is called justification.

The second kind of righteousness that makes up this breastplate is our own righteousness. This is never perfect in this life. And it is something that God works in us. When we come to faith in Christ, not only are we justified by faith, and not by our own works, but the Holy Spirit also comes to live inside of us, and change us. When that happens, then we gradually become more and more righteous over the course of our lives. This process is gradual, and it is not always moving in an upwards direction. However, the trend line is in an upwards direction. This is an important point to remember. We should not become discouraged because there are certain times in our lives when we do not seem to be very righteous at all, and we fall into that same sin time after time after time. Then we come to doubt our salvation. We should not be discouraged. There is a reason why God leaves some sin in our lives to be gradually overcome. If we were perfect already, we would be tempted to take credit for it. Also, we would be tempted to rely on ourselves for our own righteousness, rather than relying on the Holy Spirit. You see, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, as Paul says. So, our own righteousness is always going to be imperfect in this life. That is no reason to stop fighting sin in our lives. It is no reason to give up. On the contrary, we are in a race to the finish line. Sometimes we run, sometimes we walk, sometimes we stumble. But we still keep going to that finish line. And God is waiting there for us to greet us at the finish line. He is not only cheering us on. He is helping us to get there. What a great and good God we serve! This righteousness is called sanctification. The word comes from a Latin root that means “holiness.” Holiness means being separate from the world. So, the process of sanctification means becoming more separate from the world, more like Christ every day. Of course, we do not mean separated from the world, as if we live in our own little enclave and never come into contact with people who are worldly. But it does mean that we do not behave like them because our hearts are different. We have the righteousness of Christ as a breastplate. And we have the righteousness that the Holy Spirit works in us. Those two things radically distinguish us from the world. The world has neither kind of righteousness. That is why the world will have a very rude awakening. So, again, our question has been this: how do we put on this breastplate? The answer is by faith. Again, as Heidelberg Catechism, question 60 says, just in the very beginning, “How are you righteous before God?” The answer starts out by saying “Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.” Faith is the instrument, the tongs, by which we lay hold of Christ’s righteousness. But faith is also the way in which God implants the Holy Spirit in our sanctification. Faith is our lifeline to God. By it God draws us to Himself. He uses our faith to make us more righteous. So faith is the answer to how we put on the breastplate.

The second main question we wanted to answer was this: how does this breastplate protect me? What good does it do? Why should I have it on? Well, Satan is known as the accuser of Christians. He is always accusing us of leaving the faith, or of having bad motives, or of sinning our way out of God’s grace. He accused Job of bad motives, and he did that to God’s face. What is important to know here is not only that our breastplate protects us (since the righteousness of Christ is not something that can be lost, nor is it imperfect), but also that God uses those accusations to defeat Satan’s own purpose. God turns the table on Satan. I would say, then, that the best thing that the breastplate does is to comfort us. For those who trust in Christ, we have protection for our very hearts. We have the breastplate of righteousness. So put it on by faith so that Satan’s accusations will bounce off like a bullet does against a bulletproof vest. He cannot pierce your heart, for your heart is in the hands of God. Indeed, Satan could no more pierce your heart than he could pierce God’s own heart, since your breastplate is of the same metal and manufacture as God’s own armor. So put it on by faith, and see what it will do.

Truth as a Belt

Ephesians 6:14

3/9/2008

Audio Version

Pulpit and Bible Study Helps vol 16 number 5 tells this story: Dr. Clarence Bass, professor emeritus at Bethel Theological Seminary, early in his ministry preached in a church in Los Angeles. He thought he had done quite well as he stood at the door greeting people as they left the sanctuary. The remarks about his preaching were complimentary. That is, until a little old man commented, “You preached too long.” Dr. Bass wasn’t fazed by the remark, especially in light of the many positive comments. “You didn’t preach loud enough,” came another negative comment; it was from the same little old man. Dr. Bass thought it strange that the man had come through the line twice, but when the same man came through the line a third time and exclaimed, “You used too many big words” –this called for some explanation. Dr. Bass sought out a deacon who stood nearby and asked him, “Do you see that little old man over there? Who is he?” “Don’t pay any attention to him,” the deacon replied. “All he does is go around and repeat everything he hears.” The people were complementing the pastor there, but were not telling the truth. They were not sincere, and their remarks did not measure up to what was true of Dr. Bass’s sermon. This is a great illustration of why we need the belt of truth, as Paul tells us.

There are two main things that this passage means. The first is that there is a standard of truth that is outside of us, namely, the Word of God. I realize that Paul is going to talk about the Word later, describing it as a sword. However, that does not mean that what Paul says here about the Word is redundant. Here we learn about the power of truth. When Paul tells us about the sword, he is telling us that the Bible is our offensive weapon. Anyway, the Bible is our truth. That is the first thing. The second thing is that we must be truthful. Truth must characterize us. To get at these truths, and to show what truth does for us, we will look a little at the background of Paul’s statement here.

Paul was writing from prison in Rome at the time Ephesians was written. This means that he had a soldier guarding him at all times. Of course, such a soldier would not have been wearing all the armor of which Paul speaks here. However, he would have been wearing some of it. That probably sparked Paul into thinking about the Old Testament and its descriptions of armor, as we saw last week.

The description of armor here follows a natural order in which the armor would be put on. We learn something important from that: the belt goes on first. What did a belt do? Well, a belt kept all the clothes together. Normally, a Roman would be wearing a toga, or robe. It was a long, flowing garment that would get in the way of a solder in the middle of battle. So a belt would be used to hitch up that robe and tie it together so as to keep it out of the way. Oftentimes such a belt would also hold the sword. But in any case, the most important point about the metaphor is that the belt held everything together. Without the belt, all would be disjointed, uncoordinated, and chaotic. You had to have the belt. That had to go on first.

So it is in the Christian life. Truth is of paramount importance. It must go on first in our lives. We must know the truth about Jesus Christ. That is, we must know what the Bible says. There is no substitute for this. A bank once decided to have a seminary on how to tell true currency from counterfeit bills. What they did was have their tellers go to a place where they would handle thousands of bills, just counting and counting and counting those same bills. But by handling true bills that much, they were able to tell instantly when a bill was counterfeit. They had handled the truth so much that an error stuck out like a sore thumb. We need to be like that with the Word. We need to handle the Word of God so much that an error will be obvious to us. All of us, myself included, can definitely improve in that area. Furthermore, we are a confessional church, which means that we believe that the truths of Scripture are accurately summarized in the teachings of our church. That would mean the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordt. Do you read those for yourselves? They make wonderful devotional reading. What is so important about them is that they summarize the Bible’s teachings on the most important things we need to know. Of course, these teachings are not infallible as the Bible is. However, those documents are a description of how we as Reformed people have agreed to read the Bible. This is our confession of faith.

The importance of knowing your Bible and knowing the church’s teachings can be seen in what happens when we do not know the truth. The Bible itself declares that if we do not know the truth, then we will be blown around by every wind of doctrine. The latest new fad in doctrine will have us hooked. Truth in the sense I have used it here of being the truth of the Word of God is contrasted with all forms of heresy. Heresy means false teaching. Anyone or any teaching which contradicts the Word of God is heresy. Any fancy dancy television evangelist who never tells you about sin and salvation, but instead talk about money and how much the Holy Spirit is telling him to tell you to give him money, such people will rope you in unless you are firmly grounded in the truth of Scripture. Why do churches have pastors? It is not so that the pastor does all the work of ministry. The Bible itself says that the pastor’s job is to equip the saints, which is everyone, for the work of ministry. A pastor’s job is to preach the whole counsel of God to the people so that they will know the truth themselves. My job is is to make myself unnecessary. At some point, we should all know the truth of Scripture so well that we are all firmly anchored in the Bible, and therefore safe from errors. We should all have that as one of our top priorities in life: that we should know the truth so well that any error will immediately be obvious to us, because we have handled the truth so much. The truth will have mastered us. And the truth will have set us free from man’s errors, and confirmed us into all truth.

Jesus is the best example of this. When Satan came to tempt Him, Satan misquoted from the Bible, trying to convince Jesus that He should short-circuit the cross, and avoid being a mediator for His people. Jesus opposed Satan’s errors in interpreting the Word of God. The way He did that was to put forward God’s truth. It is not enough merely to quote the Bible. Satan did that with far more skill than modern heretics do! What Jesus does is give the true interpretation that allows Scripture to interpret itself. Jesus knew that the Bible does not contradict itself. Satan was quoting one part of Scripture in such a way that another part of Scripture was denied. Jesus fixed that problem by opposing error with truth. The error of Satan was not in the words that he quoted, but in the way in which he made use of them, the way he twisted Scripture’s meaning. Jesus opposed this error with truth.

Oh, how little most Christians today desire this truth! Most Christians today want entertainment rather than truth, comfort rather than the hard work of obtaining that truth, a standard of living that makes us look good rather than the love of God’s truth. May that not be true of us, though I fear that many of us have these wrong priorities. Without the truth, our lives will be confused when it comes to battle. The long robes of wealth, social standing, ego and vanity will trip us up when we try to fight against the evil powers. The evil powers want us to have those nice long robes. But they do not want us to have that belt of truth that restrains those things, and keeps them in check, keeps them from becoming idols in our lives. Make that belt strong, wide and deep! Then it will be able to regulate our lives so that we can be nimble and agile in the fight against Satan and his army.

So, the first aspect of this truth that is so necessary is that we believe in the truth of the Word of God so that we are safe from errors. The second truth that we learn from this belt of truth is that our lives are to be characterized by the truth. This means that we are truthful, and not hypocrites. We are not to be like those people who said one thing to the pastor, but something entirely different to the little old man. This aspect of the truth is that which we experience in our personal relationships. Of course, the truth of God’s Word helps us here, too. I am merely distinguishing here between objective truth and subjective truth. Or, in other words, the truth that is outside of us, and the truth that is inside of us. Now, by “truth that is inside us” I do not mean some kind of inner light that glows all by itself. What I mean is the Holy Spirit working with the Word of God inside us. The Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John. The Word is on the outside, and the Holy Spirit makes that same Word live in us, ruling and directing our lives. Of course, that truth will have many positive effects in our lives. We will love God and our neighbor. We will tell the truth. We will visit the poor and the widow and the orphan. We will struggle against Satan and his temptations. But here in Paul, the main point is that we will be truth-tellers. Just as God’s Word is truth, so also are we truthful when that Word of God dwells in us. As Colossians 3:16 tells us: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” We will not be hypocrites. However, it is human nature to be hypocrites. As Mark Twain said, “We are all like the moon. We have a dark side that we don’t want anyone to see.” The moon, you see, is always turned with its face toward the earth. The moon turns just as the earth turns. This happens in such a way that we only see the same face of the moon toward us. However, we as Christians are not to be like the moon. Only truth indwelling us will cause us to cease to be hypocrites. Only God’s grace in changing us to be like the true Word, Jesus Christ, will change us. So, ultimately speaking, when Paul tells us to put on the belt of truth, what he is really saying is that we should believe the truth about Jesus Christ, and that Christ’s person and work is for us. Secondly, we should live that out in our lives in such a way that we become more like Jesus. These outward and inward truths are connected in such a way that we cannot have the one without the other. So, believe the truth, and do the truth! Put on that belt of truth!

The Full Armor of God

Ephesians 6:10-13

3/2/2008

Audio Version

Craig Larson says this: “Recently National Geographic ran an article about the Alaskan bull moose. The males of the species battle for dominance during the fall breeding season, literally going head-to-head with antlers crunching together as they collide. Often the antlers, their only weapon are broken. That ensures defeat. The heftiest moose, with the largest and strongest antlers, triumphs. Therefore, the battle fought in the fall is really won during the summer, when the moose eat continually. The one that consumes the best diet for growing antlers and gaining weight will be the heavyweight in the fight. Those that eat inadequately sport weaker antlers and less bulk. There is a lesson here for us. Spiritual battles await. Satan will choose a season to attack. Will we be victorious, or will we fall? Much depends on what we do now–before the wars begin. The bull-moose principle: Enduring faith, strength, and wisdom for trials are best developed before they’re needed.” And that is what Paul is saying to us. We need to put on the full armor of God before we go into battle. It does no good to be putting on armor in the middle of a fight. “Excuse me, will you wait a minute while I put on my armor?” is not a thing to which any enemy would pay attention. He would cut you down as you stand there. Armor or no armor, our enemies are attacking us. Will we be ready? Will we put on the full armor of God?

Verse 10 is a summary of the armor of God. The armor of God is strong. That is why Paul exhorts us to become strong in the Lord. We can see this very clearly by looking at Isaiah 59, where Paul got the idea of the armor of God: “Then the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore His own arm brough salvation for Him; and His own righteousness, it sustained Him. For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.” You see then what is so great about the armor of God: God Himself wears it! Of course, Isaiah is speaking metaphorically about what is true of God Himself. God Himself is righteous, and accomplishes the salvation of His people. What is interesting is the conclusion of that passage in Isaiah: “’The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,’ says the Lord.” In other words, we see the armor of God in its full brilliance in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was the righteous One in a pre-eminent manner. He also brings salvation in His person and work. So, when Paul tells us to put on the armor of God, what he is telling us to do is to put on Christ Himself. That is, exercising faith in Christ, we become like Him.

But why do we need this armor? Because Satan is a schemer. He is crafty and sly. He was crafty and sly even in the Garden of Eden. Just think of how much he has learned since then! He has had several thousand years to study human nature, and its weak points. He knows exactly how to attack us, when to attack us, where to attack us. He has many schemes and methods of temptation. What does Satan want? He wants to pull us down with him. He knows that his days are numbered. Ever since the Resurrection of Christ, Satan has known that he is beaten. However, he would want as many souls to go with him into hell as possible. Yes, Satan would want us to sin as much as possible. However, that is not his goal. His goal is to draw people down into hell with him. He would even try to drag down the elect with him. Let’s remind ourselves that Satan is much more powerful than we are, spiritually speaking. As Luther says, “On earth is not his equal.” However, Satan is no equal to God. It always bears reminding ourselves that God has infinitely more power than Satan has. Satan would want nothing more than to keep you from recognizing this. Satan loves that bumper sticker that says that God votes for you, Satan votes against you, and you cast the tie-breaking vote. He loves it when people think that he is the equal of God. So, though he is no equal of God, he is still more powerful than we are. That means that we need to have the right Man on our side. We need to have Jesus to fight our battles. It is He who has conquered Satan, sin, and death, that we might be more than conquerors.

In verse 12, Paul tells us about the nature of this struggle. This is important, because all too often we think that our battle is with people. Our battle is not with people. Our battle is a spiritual battle against Satan and against the demons that scheme to try to get us to fall. At this point, many people will laugh at us. They think that Christians are crazy to be thinking about fighting Satan. Oftentimes, that is because they don’t believe he exists. Or, if he does, he is a relatively harmless practical jokester. It is the height of folly to think so. In fact, people who think in this way have proven that they are in the very grip of Satan himself. There is a battle going on, and everyone is a soldier. The question is this: in whose army do you serve? There is no neutral ground here. You are either for God and against Satan, or for Satan and against God.

The second thing to know about the nature of this contest is that it is hand to hand combat, or wrestling, as Paul puts it. We do not engage in this battle from a long ways away. We are up close and personal with our spiritual adversaries. It is hand to hand combat. Let no one think that he is above fighting, above the fray, and that fighting is not dignified. Sometimes fighting is required. It is definitely required in the Christian life.

The third thing we need to know about this battle is that it is on the broadest possible front. Paul gives us a clue when he says “this present darkness” in verse 12, and “the day of evil” in verse 13. The Jews thought about time as having two ages. The first age goes from the creation up to the time when the Messiah came. Then the new age would start and the old age would finish. Paul took that idea and modified it just a bit. Paul knew that Christ was the Messiah. Therefore the new age had arrived. However, the old age had not gone away yet. So Paul thinks of this as being two ages that overlap. The old age will not completely perish until Christ comes back the second time. In the meantime, these two ages which overlap are also fighting each other. The old age is the age of Satan and the demons. The new age is that of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit dwelling in the midst of the church. These two ages are continually fighting. Of course, they have really been fighting ever since the Garden of Eden. As Augustine puts it, there are two kingdoms always fighting each other, two seeds, two religions. And we are a part of that fight. Paul then tells us to stand against these attacks.

The fourth thing that we need to know, then, is that our conflict is mostly defensive. There is one piece of armor that Paul is going to tell us about that is an offensive weapon. That is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. However, all the other pieces of armor are defensive. Christ has done all the conquering. We extend that conquering by using the Sword of the Word of God to bring people home to Christ. However, the majority of our fighting as individuals is defensive. It means we are defending against the attacks of Satan and his demons. And it is true. We will get chances to share the Gospel with unbelievers. But most of our days are spent in resisting temptations to sin and to falling away. That leads us to the fifth and final thing.

The fifth and final thing we need to know about this conflict is that we need to stand and fight. In other words, we cannot run and hide. You will notice that God does not give us any armor for our backs. This fact was noticed by John Bunyan, in his book Pilgrim’s Progress. In that part where Christian fights the devil, who is named Apollyon, the Destroyer, Christian thought about going back when he saw just how terrifying his opponent was. But then he remembered that he had no armor for his back. If he retreated, then he knew that Apollyon would have the advantage. So he resolved to go forward and fight. He knew that his chance of survival depended on using the armor of God in the way that God meant for him to use it. God means for us to stand and fight, not run and hide. And it doesn’t matter what age you are, you are still a solder called to stand and fight this spiritual battle. Of course, there will be some times in life when this battle is a bit fiercer than at other times. Still, there will always be spiritual battles to fight. We are not part of the church victorious until we pass into glory. In death itself, what would have been our greatest spiritual defeat has been turned by God into our greatest spiritual victory, for it is then that we are rid of sin entirely. So, stand and fight.

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