How intense is this struggle? The word translated “struggle” here comes from the Greek word which was used in that day for hand-to-hand combat or wrestling. There was a lot of trickery and deception in their wrestling back then. It kinda reminds me of our "professional" wrestling today (you know, the chair-smashing fake stuff). There's a lot of tomfoolery in that too, but the difference is that the wrestling back then was usually real with the winner staying alive and the loser dying. That’s the flavor of the spiritual struggle we face today. To say that the stakes are high would be an understatement.
Paul says that our struggle is against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” This seems to imply that Satan’s forces are well organized and ranked, but Paul’s point here is not for us to try to figure out how they’re organized. His point is to give us some idea of their sophistication and power. We are pitted against an incredibly evil and potent enemy.
So, how do we not just survive this battle; how do experience victory? Well, the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6 tells us how. He tells us about the only armor and weaponry that will work for fighting and winning the spiritual battle that plagues us. Here are some of the details...
The Roman soldier always wore a tunic as his primary piece of clothing. It was one square piece of material with holes cut out for the head and arms, and it draped loosely over most of the soldier’s body. Anybody familiar with the plight of an NFL lineman knows that anything loose gives the opponent an advantage because the loose clothing can be grabbed and held on to. Often, a lineman will pull-in or roll-up his jersey so that his opponent will be unable to grab hold of him.
This is exactly what the belt of the Roman soldier would do. Since most ancient battles were fought hand-to-hand, a loose tunic was dangerous. Before a battle, the Roman soldier would clinch up and tuck in his tunic using his belt. The belt was also used to hold his sword, allowing him to pull it out and use it at a moment’s notice. So, the Roman soldier’s belt was used to secure his clothing and hold his sword close by, thus readying him for battle.
For believers, Paul says that the belt that secures us and readies us for battle is truth, because two of Satan’s most common and damaging weapons are deceit and deception. If He can get us to buy into lies about God, about ourselves, or about others, then He can easily cause us to stumble and fall.
The Breastplate of Righteousness
No Roman soldier would go into battle without his breastplate. It was a tough, sleeveless piece or armor that covered his full torso from front to back. It was made out of either leather (covered with animal hooves and horns) or metal, and without it, his vital organs - heart, lungs, stomach, and kidneys - would be exposed. One stab from the end of a sword into any one of these organs, and death was almost certain. The breastplate covered for a soldier back then much the same area that a bulletproof vest covers our law enforcement officers today. Ask any officer whose been shot in the vest, and they’ll tell you how vital it is.
For believers, Paul says the breastplate that protects us like this spiritually is righteousness. We desperately need a breastplate, because Satan’s ultimate desire is to strike a lethal blow to our hearts in order to destroy us spiritually.
So, what does this kind of righteousness look like? Before I tell you what it is, let me tell you what it's not.
Secondly, Paul's not talking here about the righteousness we get from Christ the moment we believe. Imputed righteousness for you theologians. Paul's not talking about this. This "imputed" righteousness from God makes it possible for us to have a breastplate, but it's not what makes up our breastplate, because we can not "put on" what God has already clothed us with.
The breastplate that we are to put on is made up of the righteousness that we display when we live in obedience to the Lord. It’s the righteousness we’re instructed to “put on” in Ephesians 4:24-27 where we’re told to put on things like the new self, truth, sinless anger, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, etc. We put on the breastplate that will protect us from the attacks of Satan when we choose to do what is right in the eyes of God. When we choose to disobey Him, we throw the breastplate to the ground and make ourselves incredibly vulnerable to the attacks of Satan.
So, in order not to be licked by life, we must live lives of obedience. And in so doing, we'll enjoy the protection of the breastplate, which is essential if we want any chance of standing firm when the enemy attacks.
This is the first of two posts on how not to get licked by life. In the next post, I'll explore the other pieces of our spiritual armor, including the one weapon that God tells us we can use to inflict pain and suffering! So, if you've ever been so down and overwhelmed by life that you've wanted to hurt someone, stay tuned!