Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” Ephesians 6:13
This is a fighter’s verse. You can hear the sound of combat when you read it. You can sense the smoke and gunfire of desperate battle, of soldiers rushing to the front lines, and at the end of the verse, you can hear the sound of victory.
Ephesians 6:13 describes our current situation. The “evil day” is upon us. We have the armor of God. We are called to stand our ground and to fight to the end so that we may be still standing when the day is done. Everything we need for this present moment is in this one verse.
Some years ago Mark Bubeck wrote a book called Overcoming the Adversary, a stirring call for “warfare prayers” to turn back the powers of darkness. Near the beginning of the book (p. 14), he asks why Satan seems to be so active in the world today. He offers three answers: First, Christians have neglected the whole realm of spiritual warfare. Because certain teachers have gone to extremes, many pastors have shied away from the subject altogether. But that means their people will go into battle unprepared.
Second, Satan is active today because we are living in the last days. 2 Timothy 3:1 tells us that in the last days “perilous times” will come. There seems to be a coalescing view of many Christian leaders that we are hurtling headlong toward the end of human history as we know it. If that is true, we shouldn’t be surprised that Satan has redoubled his efforts, knowing that his time is short (Revelation 12:12).
Third, Satan is active because society has rejected God and embraced evil in radical ways. When evil abounds, you may be certain that Satan is having a field day. Bubeck mentions widespread pornography, open Satan worship, widespread drug and alcohol abuse, and sexual immorality. To that list I would add the legalized killing of the unborn and the sweeping redefinition of marriage. Sin has always been with us, and Satan has always been active, but in the 21st-century, we have openly rejected God and his Word.
When you turn from God, the only thing left is the worship of the idols of your own making (See Romans 1:18-22). Most of us know the verse that says, “This is the day the Lord has made” (Psalm 118:24). One wise observer said that we have turned that on its head: “This is the Lord the day has made.” What a perfect description of modern man and his rebellion against God.
I. The Warning
“When the day of evil comes.”
Paul says, “When the day of evil comes,” not “If the day of evil comes” because nothing is more certain than the conflict in the heavenly realm. In looking at other versions, I noticed that most of them use the same phrase “day of evil,” but Eugene Peterson translated it as “evil in its day of power.”
It’s important to understand what Paul means here. While every day has its share of evil, not every day is the “evil day.” There are moments in life when we feel the heat of battle in a big way. In those days temptation flares up, tempers grow short, friends turn against us, discouragement sets in, and we feel like giving up.
At a recent Keep Believing board meeting, I commented that Satan doesn’t fight fair. Why should he? He attacks us in our weakness, he uses circumstances to discourage us, he tempts us to do things we swore we’d never do, he hits us when we are alone and vulnerable. The “day of evil” comes sooner or later for all us. And it comes again and again.
Paul Nyquist, president of Moody Bible Institute, has written a fine book called Prepare: Living Your Faith in an Increasingly Hostile Culture. He notes that we in the West have been largely shielded from the kind of suffering our brothers and sisters in places like Somalia, Sudan, India and China routinely face, such as public abuse, legal restrictions, and sometimes arrest, imprisonment, and death. Nyquist says that things are bound to get worse for Christians in America as our society becomes more secular. Then he adds this solemn prediction:
A march through church history reveals a long and sordid array of government-sponsored persecutions, its survey not showing rulers who understand and fulfill their God-given purpose. When persecution comes in America we shouldn’t necessarily expect our government to protect us. The current cultural trends show protection isn’t likely (p. 94).
The evil day always comes sooner or later. It has come again and again in church history. No one gets a free ride on the journey from earth to heaven. We in the West need to get tougher if we are to survive what is coming our way. Perhaps you’ve had a good week, a good month, a good year. Enjoy every blessing you receive. But take nothing for granted. In the battle for your soul, Satan never takes a vacation.
II. The Command
“Put on the full armor of God.”
What do you do when the evil day comes? You put on the whole armor of God. The Greek word for “put on” comes from the military vocabulary of the first century. It was used for the last thing the soldier would do before going out to battle. When the call came, the soldier would grab his armor, put it on, and head for the fight. Our text is telling us that when the evil day comes, before you go to battle, make sure you’re in uniform.
Too many Christians don’t take this seriously. That’s why they end up getting clobbered in the head.
The armor of God reminds us of who our enemies are. It’s easy to look at the world today and think that our enemies are certain politicians or certain entertainers or the Muslim radicals who behead their victims and then make videos bragging about it. When we see people fighting in favor of abortion and in favor of gay marriage and against Christian values in the marketplace, it’s easy to say, “They are our enemies.”
But Paul has already said, “We don’t fight against flesh and blood” (v. 12). That meant he wasn’t leading a revolution against that wicked emperor Nero who burned Rome and then blamed it on the Christians. Nero instigated a persecution of Christians across the empire that led to believers being burned alive and thrown to the lions. He eventually had Paul himself beheaded. But Nero was not the enemy. As wicked as he was, Nero was just a tool of the real enemy, Satan and the forces of wickedness in the spiritual realm.
It is easy to hate the terrorists for what they are doing to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and in Africa. They blew up the World Trade Center on 9/11. They intend to do much more in America when they get the chance. Let it be clearly said that I favor doing whatever must be done to stop ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Queda, al-Shabaab, and all the other related terror groups. But we must not view our political and ideological opponents as the ultimate enemy we face. Our ultimate enemy is invisible. He cannot be seen or felt or touched. His armies move in the spiritual realm.
This actually is a liberating perspective because it sets us free to love those who hate us. If we believe what Paul is saying in this verse, we can stand strong when the world mocks our faith. When they curse us, we don’t have to respond in kind. If we put on the full armor of God, we won’t be thrown off stride.
What is the armor of God? The larger context (Ephesians 6:14-17) answers that question. The armor has six parts:
Belt of truth.
Breastplate of righteousness.
Shoes of the gospel of peace.
Shield of faith.
Helmet of salvation.
Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
This armor reminds of us that our hope for victory rests in the character of God:
Behind the belt of truth stands the God of truth.
Behind the breastplate of righteousness stands the God of righteousness.
Behind the shoes of the gospel of peace stands the God of peace.
Behind the shield of faith stands the God who is faithful.
Behind the helmet of salvation stands the God of salvation.
Behind the Word of God stands the God of the Word.
We do not fight alone or in our own power. When we take up the divine armor, God himself fights for us. Supernatural enemies require supernatural resources.
III. The Result
“You may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
The phrase “stand your ground” speaks of hand-to-hand combat. No one said being a Christian is easy. Any representations to the contrary are false and dangerous. When you signed up for Team Jesus, you joined the Lord’s army. Maybe you knew that’s what you were doing. Or maybe you just prayed a prayer because you wanted Jesus in your heart, or you walked an aisle and someone led you to Jesus. Perhaps you came to Christ because of the influence of a praying mother or a father who set a good example or a youth pastor who challenged you about your spiritual life.
There are thousands of ways people come to Christ. God uses many means to bring people into his family. So it’s very possible you thought, “I want to know Jesus” or “I want my sins forgiven” or “I want to know I’m going to heaven” or “This is what I’ve been searching for.” It doesn’t matter why you signed up. You’re in the army now. You signed up for front line duty in the Army of Jesus. He doesn’t have any desk jobs where you can stay far behind the lines and let others risk their lives for Christ. We’re all in this together as soldiers of Christ.
There is good news and bad news here. The bad news being that no one gets a break from the battle. We are under attack 24/7/365. Because Satan doesn’t sleep, we don’t have the luxury of going to sleep spiritually. The good news is, God has provided everything necessary so that we might fight and win every battle we face.
The last phrase (“After you have done everything, to stand”) pictures a soldier standing in the middle of a battlefield after the conflict has ended. It has been a long, hard, brutal fight, with many casualties, many wounded, many fallen. He stands and surveys the battlefield, his uniform soaked with sweat, dirt and blood. His eyes are red-rimmed with exhaustion. There are craters all around him where the artillery has chewed up the ground. He hears the cries of those who have been hit. He does not smile because he knows the enemy will attack again tomorrow. But tonight he will rest well, knowing that he was still standing when the fighting ended.
Recently I read a book about the Marines who fought for years in Afghanistan. The author said that in the unit he followed, the commanding officer would say, “They (the Taliban) can start the fight any time they like, but we will finish it.” That’s exactly Paul’s idea here. We stand and fight in Jesus’ name, and when the smoke clears, we will still be standing victorious on the battlefield.
Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus
In 1858 a mighty revival swept across Philadelphia. No leader was more prominent in that move of God than a 29-year-old Episcopal minister named Dudley Tyng. He often spoke to large groups of men, encouraging them to stand firm in their faith.
In April of that year, he suffered an accident while visiting a farm. His arm got caught in a corn-threshing machine, was badly mangled, and had to be amputated. An infection set in that would take his life. Knowing he was dying, he called for his family and a few close friends, exhorting them to “stand up for Jesus.” When those words were repeated at his funeral, they made an enormous impact on George Duffield, pastor of Temple Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. The following Sunday he preached a message in honor of his fallen colleague. At the end of his sermon, he recited a poem he had written based on Dudley Tyng’s final words.
The poem was later printed and put to music, eventually becoming a beloved gospel song. The first verse goes like this:
Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross;
Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory, His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.
But it’s a line in the third verse that catches our attention. Now that you know the story, you’ll never hear it the same way again:
Stand up, stand up for Jesus, stand in His strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you—ye dare not trust your own.
Put on the gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer;
Where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there.
Then the triumphant final verse that seems to summarize our text:
Stand up! Stand up for Jesus! The strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle, the next the victor’s song.
To him that overcometh a crown of life shall be;
He with the King of Glory shall reign eternally.
My brothers and sisters, the battles we face are not ours. They are the Lord’s. Jesus won the greatest battle when he died and rose again. God intends that you stand in victory at the end of the day. But that won’t happen without a fight. The Christian life is a battleground, not a playground. Christianity is not for those who want to run and hide. It’s a religion for strong men and brave women.
The evil day may be upon us, but I am not a pessimist. It’s time to put on the armor of God. Let’s put on the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. Let’s make sure we’re wearing gospel shoes. Put on the helmet of salvation. Let’s pick up the shield of faith and the Sword of Spirit and head for the sound of battle. We were made for times like these. Stand firm in the evil day. Stand up for Jesus in the power of the Spirit and victory will be yours.