The Whole Armor of God

THE APOSTLE PAUL’S illustration in Ephesians 6:11-17, of putting on the whole armor of God, has to do with our relation to Christ as soldiers. We know that there are a great many illustrations picturing our association with Jesus from one standpoint and another, and all these illustrations convey a particular line of thought emphasizing something important in connection with our Christian life. And yet not many comprehend all of what it means to be a Christian.

By way of contrast with the illustration of a soldier, the Christian is pictured as a sheep, and Jesus as a shepherd. The sheep is meek, docile, and very dependent upon the shepherd, and there are some very sweet and beautiful lessons illustrated therein. Yet, if we were only to develop the qualities displayed by sheep, we could never be overcoming Christians.

The Christian needs some fighting qualities. He needs to display strength and fortitude. He needs to battle. We could never think of a fighting sheep, except perhaps a ram, because a sheep is a very meek animal. It is the Lord who has supplied us with this illustration of Jesus as the Captain of our salvation, and we as soldiers of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, nearing the close of his Christian career and summing up his activities, said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”—II Tim. 4:7


The thought of the Christian’s warfare is made very prominent in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It is not merely in the last chapter of this book that he introduces this thought, although it is there that he outlines the need for the Christian’s armor. It is in this epistle that Paul introduces the fact that we as Christians are symbolically dwelling together with Christ in the heavenlies.

This reminds us of the symbolism of the new heavens, which is one of the pictures of the kingdom of Christ when it is established upon the earth. On the other hand we know that the kingdom of Christ now, and all down through the age is the kingdom in its preparatory stage. Nevertheless it is the kingdom, and we as his followers are spoken of as part of that kingdom. Thus, the Bible symbolizes the kingdom as the new heavens.—Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1,2

The very fact that we are pictured by faith as included in this exalted position with Jesus, means that we are in a position to become the special targets of the Adversary. We are in a position in which the powers of the “heavens … which are now” (II Pet. 3:7)—made up of Satan and the fallen angels—are arrayed against us. Paul reassures us, however, of the fact that the almighty power of God stands back of every follower of Jesus to guarantee the victory.

Emphasizing the extent and greatness of this power, Paul says it is the same power God exerted on Jesus’ behalf; in the raising of him from the dead and in exalting him to the high position in the divine realm: “Far above Every Authority, and Government, and Power, and Lordship, and Every Name being named.” (Eph. 1:21, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott) There is no other power in the whole universe that transcends that of the resurrected Jesus, and it was the power of God that placed him in that position.

Paul was not writing randomly. He was leading up to a great fact—that we as Christians are to have severe trials—that we will pass through evil days—and in order to stand we will need to put on the whole armor of God. He said, “We wrestle not [merely] against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”—Eph. 6:12

Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, by the mighty power of God, was highly exalted above these principalities and powers. And it is our privilege by faith to dwell in this exalted position with Christ. Yet, at the same time, we are in a very dangerous position unless we avail ourselves of the provision which God has made for our protection, which is the whole armor of God. Paul’s use of this illustration of the armor of God is based upon the ancient armor of the Roman soldier. He mentions the various parts, and tells us what each part represents.


The psalmist, David, speaking for the Christian, said, “His [God’s] truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” (Ps. 91:4) The Old Testament also alludes to this type of armor. Let us consider this armor beginning with the ‘helmet of salvation’. This reminds us of what Paul says in Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation.” Then he makes it even more explicit when he admonishes us to put on “for an helmet, the hope of salvation.” (I Thess. 5:8) This is the hope which comes to us through the Word of truth, the Gospel, or good news, of Christ. The helmet of salvation would represent the truth, and its effect on us, as a protection for us. The fact that it is worn upon the head represents a mental grasp of the truth, of things which we should and must know.

There is a knowledge that Christians must have in order to put on the whole armor of God. The Prophet Jeremiah speaks of this knowledge when he says: “Let not the wise man glory [boast] in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight.” (Jer. 9:23,24) This is the type of knowledge represented in the helmet of salvation.

It is only through a knowledge of the truth revealed in his Word that his loving-kindness can be seen. We find revealed in that Word that God has permitted evil for awhile, and for a just and loving purpose. Through the divine plan of the ages we read about God’s love, and how it will be manifested in his kingdom. The truth reveals God to us, the God who delights in exercising loving-kindness. By getting God’s viewpoint through his Word, we can see his love, and rejoice.

In order to have this knowledge as part of our armor, it is necessary to have more than a theoretical knowledge about the ages and dispensations in God’s plan. There are teachings in his plan which must become an integral part of our lives if we are to have in place the helmet of salvation. But we cannot know that part of God’s plan, and have God revealed to us, without our willingness to serve him. Unless we become dead with Christ, unless we lay our all upon the altar of sacrifice, we will not know the true fundamentals of God’s plan. Such knowledge must be received and acted upon, and become part of us, in order for us to truly know God.

There is another feature of God’s plan that is necessary for us to know. The Apostle John says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” (I John 3:14) What kind of Christian soldier would we be, if we did not know this? Unfortunately, often there is a tendency to forget or ignore it. What does it mean to ‘love the brethren’? Is it something we can speak about in a light, offhanded way? No, it is more than words. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends.”—John 15:13,14

As Jesus laid down his life for the brethren, we also ought to do the same. Real love for the brethren is a consuming love—a love that impels us at any cost, time, or place. It is to give, serve, bless, help, build up, regardless of the cost to us. That is what love for the brethren means. And then, we know we have passed from death unto life! All this is involved in the wearing of the helmet of salvation.

In Romans 5:1,2, we read, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” We note that we have not attained to this hope as yet, because the apostle continues in this passage to say, “But we triumph also in afflictions, knowing that affliction works out endurance.”—vs. 3, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott

Affliction must bring us near to God instead of driving us away from God, and when we endure, we receive God’s approval. And when we receive God’s approval, we have this hope, and not before. (Rom. 5:4, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott) Not until we have stood the test, and endured cheerfully, do we have the final approval of God which leads to having “a hope [that] maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.” (vs 5) Thus, we see that the helmet represents the real hope of salvation.


The next part of the armor is the shield of faith. (Eph. 6:16) The word faith is used in two different ways in the New Testament. One is in the sense of expressing trust, confidence, or belied as when Jesus said to his disciples in the boat who were in dread of being drowned, “O ye of little faith.” (Matt. 8:26) The second is in connection with those things which we believe, described as “your most holy faith.” (Jude 20) This most holy faith seems to be what is represented in the shield of faith.

The shield was not fastened to the soldier. Its effectiveness as a means of protection depended upon the soldier’s ability to hold it and keep it in the right place. For the application of this principle to the Christian, it might be discouraging to think that so much depends upon our skills in maneuvering the shield, except that there is another part of the armor, and that is the breastplate of righteousness. We will consider both of these parts of the armor together, because the breastplate protects the same parts of the body as does the shield—the vital organs.

It was necessary for the soldier to hold the shield by his own strength and skill, whereas the breastplate was bound to him. We cannot be skillful warriors in our own strength, yet, at the same time, in the Christian warfare the Lord expects us to make the best possible use of the Truth that we can. He expects us to use the truth, not only for our own defense, but for the defense of the brethren and the Truth itself. Our success as Christian soldiers does not depend upon what we can do, except that we must do what we can.


It has been suggested that the breastplate represents our justification, and this is true. But we must not think of putting on the breastplate as we would an overcoat. Justification cannot take place until our lives are fully dedicated to God, and he has accepted our consecration. If the truth has had a proper effect on our hearts, and brought us wholly to the Lord, and we have become wholly his, then the truth is working in our lives.

The breastplate of righteousness also represents the truth protecting the body. If the truth really becomes part of our lives then we can be said to have on the breastplate. The fiery darts of the Adversary may get by the shield, because of our weakness, but if the truth has become part of us, those fiery darts will strike against the breastplate and fall, and we, as New Creatures in Christ Jesus, will be uninjured.

Another part of the armor was the girdle, called ‘the girdle of truth’. It was closely associated with the breastplate. The truth is God’s means of protecting his people, and we should never forget this. The girdle is a symbol of servitude. A certain principle is represented to which Paul alludes when he suggests that some may not receive the truth in the love of it. (II Thess. 2:10) We know love is present when we see it reaching out to bless. This is not a matter of accomplishing great works, but love that has the viewpoint of unselfishness.

Our lives must be filled with the love of God that desires to help and bless, whether it is in the home ecclesia, among our fellowmen, or anywhere else in the world. And, if we are really filled with the love of God, this desire will be fulfilled—not through great works, but through an unselfish spirit. We must not think to use the truth for personal advantage, for then such an attitude is equivalent to having the girdle lacking to hold the armor in place. Without the girdle, the armor will fall off. So, as Paul says, we are to put on love—it is the bond of perfectness. (Col. 3:14) Divine love in action is the girdle, which binds the armor in place.


We now come to the sword of the Spirit. This is a wonderful weapon. It is the only part of the armor that is offensive rather than defensive. With it we can go forth and really fight, whereas, the rest of the armor protects us. Do we go forth to slay people? Or, do we go forth as peacemakers, fighting for peace as ministers of reconciliation? Strange as it may seem, the principal use of the sword of the Spirit is on ourselves.

This use of the sword is mentioned in two scriptures: “The Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) We note that it is the Word of God that does all the cutting, and it separates truth from error, spiritual from natural, and as a discerner of our thoughts it brings the very thoughts and intents of our hearts into subjection to the divine will.

The other use of this sword is as follows: “(The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) casting down imaginations [Margin, reasonings], and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (II Cor. 10:4,5) Paul is not saying that we should not be reasoning Christians. We are to apply the test of reason to every feature of God’s plan. It is false reasoning that is to be cast down; and false reasoning is cast down with the sword of the Spirit.

The flesh may say that it is not necessary to follow such exact lines of thought, and that we can deviate a little. Or, it may say, that it is not necessary to take such a narrow view, and that we do not have to keep our sacrifice on the altar all the time—rather we should relax once in awhile. If we do not bring these reasonings down with the sword of the Spirit, we will soon reason ourselves back out into the world. It is this proper use of the sword of the Spirit on ourselves that is so important. It keeps us in the struggle against all of our other foes, fighting the good fight of faith daily and hourly.


The last item of the armor is described as ‘the preparation of the Gospel of peace’, the sandals of peace. (Eph. 6:15) This indicates that our daily walk, our entire activity, our whole course in life, must be ordered in harmony with God’s revealed truth. If God’s truth has been understood and appreciated in the proper way, it will produce a peacemaking quality in our lives. We will not be arguing with everybody, nor be troublemakers wherever we go. If the Gospel of peace is directing our course in life, we will be peacemakers, and wherever we go we will promote peace. Our presence in the meetings, home, factory, office, will be accompanied by peace, joy, and happiness, and those we contact will discern this.

Paul follows the description of this armor of God with the words: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.”—Eph. 6:18

While prayer is not part of the armor, it is a very important matter in the Christian warfare. Prayer keeps us in constant contact with our Captain and our Heavenly Father, just as soldiers in the field keep in contact with headquarters. With all these aids, may the Lord help us to continue fighting this good fight of faith, being faithful unto the end.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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