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)
It was a dark and stormy night—about as stormy as any night could get. Snow and sleet slashed the air. The weather was too bad to be outside. It was Christmas, a night to stay inside and party, so the soldiers stationed in Trenton, New Jersey, decided to relax and have fun. They didn’t want to be outside, and they were sure no enemy would venture outside in such weather.
The soldiers in Trenton were Hessians, professional fighting men from Germany. They were in Trenton the winter of 1776 because they had been hired to join British forces and stamp out the rebellion of the pesky American colonists. The Hessians had easily won several clashes with the Americans and scoffed at the ragtag colonists. The Hessian troops in Trenton didn’t even bother to build up fortifications or have a safe place for baggage in case of attack. They figured they could easily destroy any Americans who might attack them.
That night in particular, they were sure there would be no attack. George Washington and his men were on the other side of the Delaware River, and that’s where they would surely stay. What madman would dream of crossing the river on such a night? It was horrible to be outdoors at all, let alone try to steer boats through dark waters made more dangerous by jagged slabs of floating ice. Even if they made it across the river, they’d have to walk nine miles in the horrible weather to reach Trenton. This was one night the Hessian soldiers didn’t have to think about combat. They could afford to kick back and party until the wee hours of the morning.
They didn’t know George Washington. While the Hessians were gobbling food and guzzling barrels of beer and rum—just as General Washington figured they would be doing—the general set his plan in motion. He and his men braved the bitter cold, climbed into boats, and made their way across the treacherous Delaware River. Many of the men hardly had enough clothing to stay warm. But Washington kept encouraging them, and at last they were gathered on the other side of the river. Then they made the nine-mile march to Trenton.
By the time they arrived, the night was over, and they feared they had lost the opportunity for a surprise attack. But most of the Hessians were still in bed. Their commander was groggy from heavy drinking the night before. Washington’s men subdued the Hessians after a short skirmish and captured more than a thousand prisoners. It was a major victory in the war for American independence.
It was also a lasting lesson that if you’re a soldier, you must be armed and ready. It’s not enough to have equipment available somewhere. You must be armed with that equipment and be able to use it. A soldier can’t prepare only for nice weather and comfortable conditions; he must be ready to fight any time, under any conditions. That was the key to the American victory over the Hessians. That’s also the key to victory in spiritual warfare: You must be armed and ready to fight at any time, under any conditions.
Ready for the Evil Day
In Ephesians 6, the Bible calls God’s people to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” and to recognize that our worst enemy is not any human person or country but “the spiritual forces of evil” led by Satan. “Therefore,” commands Ephesians 6:13, “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.” You never know when that day of evil will come. You never know when you’ll have to fight. So be armed and ready at all times to battle Satan.
Don’t be caught napping. Scripture says, “Let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled” (1 Thessalonians 5:6). The Hessian troops at Trenton had plenty of supplies and training, but all the supplies and training in the world won’t help soldiers who are sleeping off a drunken hangover when the enemy attacks. Likewise, we have plenty of God-given supplies, protection, and weapons available to us, but the armor of God doesn’t help people who aren’t wearing it and are sleeping. Satan can sneak up on you, and battle can break out when you least expect it. The Bible says, “Be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). Be prepared every day, even on the least likely day for an attack, so that if it turns out to be the evil day of Satan’s assault, you can stand firm.
Sometimes the day of evil comes in the form of a painful illness or disability. If you always assumed you’d stay healthy and happy and never prepared yourself for such things, you’ll be caught by surprise and your faith may fall when your health fails. But if you arm yourself in advance by learning what the Bible says about suffering and by trusting God’s promises, you can stand firm.
Sometimes the day of evil comes as the tragic death of a loved one. If you always assumed that such things would never affect you, the blow may be too much for you to bear. You may turn against God and surrender to Satan’s anger and despair. But if, when things are going well, you take the Lord as your comfort in life and in death, and if you keep strengthening your faith by focusing on Jesus’ resurrection power, then you’ll be ready to defeat Satan when death strikes close to you.
Sometimes the day of evil comes in the form of persecution. If you assume that nobody would mock Christian beliefs or the Christian way of life, if you assume you would never lose a job or face hardship for following Jesus, you may be caught by surprise when persecution hits you. But if you’re prepared in advance, knowing that when you join Jesus’ army you’ll be targeted for attack, then you’ll have your armor on and be able to stand up under persecution without abandoning the Lord.
Sometimes the day of evil comes as temptation to sin. You may be tempted to cheat on classwork or to make money by crooked methods or to have sex with someone who isn’t your spouse or to gossip about others or you may be tempted by something else, but whatever it is, Satan presents something that seems so delicious, so desirable, so necessary for your happiness, that if you’re not fortified in advance to resist temptation, you will fall into sin. But if you’re fortified by study of God’s law in Scripture and by the strength of God’s Holy Spirit inside you, then you can say no to the tempter and defeat his strategy.
Sometimes the day of evil comes as lies about God. Satan attacks with all sorts of false doctrines and deceptive theories, and if you’re not protected by knowledge of God’s truth, you can fall for Satan’s lies. But if you know your Bible and your mind is clothed in the truth of Christ, you can repel Satan’s lies.
In all of this, you need to be ready in advance. Don’t wait to get ready until after the attack starts; prepare for battle ahead of time. Be ready for suffering before it strikes. Be ready for tragedy before it strikes. Be ready for persecution before it strikes. Be ready for temptation before it comes. Be ready for doctrinal challenges before they arise. Put on the full armor of God before Satan attacks you.
Once the attack has begun, it’s rather late to be looking around for armor and weapons. Many casualties of spiritual warfare occur, not because the attack was so fierce, but because the person was not prepared ahead of time. If you ignore the Bible when things are going well, it will be hard to find what you need from the Bible when the evil day comes and Satan attacks you. If you don’t draw on Jesus’ protective power when life is calm and you can think clearly, how will you know what to do when your mind is spinning and your heart is breaking? Put on the full armor of God, keep up your training and combat readiness, keep listening to God’s direction, and you will have what it takes to stand against the devil’s schemes.
In spiritual warfare, we must always be armed and ready. Part of our readiness is realism about the difficulty of the struggle. At the time of the American war for independence, there were some colonists who didn’t realize how long and hard the war would be. They talked big about freedom and patriotism in the exciting summer when the Declaration of Independence was signed, but they deserted the cause when more of Great Britain’s mighty warships and armies arrived. However, others never expected it to be easy. All along they had expected a hard, long struggle. They stood firm in the worst times when others gave up. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” wrote Thomas Paine. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” The men who crossed the Delaware River in icy darkness with George Washington were not summer soldiers. Those who endured wounds and the bone-chilling winter in Valley Forge were not sunshine patriots. It was men like these who won the victory. Likewise, in the spiritual realm, those who win in the war with Satan are those who can endure hardship and keep battling to the end.
But some religious people don’t seem to believe this. They talk as though it’s nobler to be a sunshine soldier and a summer saint than to battle Satan in grim circumstances. They have a “name it and claim it” approach in which you just have to speak a few magic words to claim victory, and you can make Satan flee with hardly a struggle. They have a health-and-wealth gospel in which the best Christians are people who don’t suffer because their fabulous faith keeps them healthy and prosperous. Their heroes are not strugglers and martyrs but fast-talking preachers with luxury cars and fabulous houses who promise prosperity to their listeners. In their opinion, going through hardship is not a sign of heroism but of weak faith, because, if you’re really close to Jesus, faith prevents illness and financial problems, and faith also keeps you from being severely tempted by sin.
But that’s nonsense. The Bible says we’re in a war. Wartime living isn’t always easy, painless, and trouble-free. You can’t just “name and claim” victory or “let go and let God.” You must fight. Of course you must depend on God’s power, not your own, but you still must fight with all the strength God gives you. Living for Jesus is warfare, not a vacation cruise.
Winston Churchill became prime minister of England in the midst of a terrible war with the powerful Nazi forces of the evil Adolph Hitler. The previous prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, had promised “peace in our time” and told his people to “get a nice, quiet sleep.” But when war came, it was no time for false peace and phony comfort. Winston Churchill did not promise pleasant times and easy victory. He told his nation, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind… You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs—victory in spite of all terrors. Victory, however long and hard the road may be.”
Suppose Churchill had said, “The Nazis are wimps. We can easily defeat them. It won’t take much effort or pain.” Anyone who expected a quick, easy victory would have given up when in the face of fierce Nazi attacks. But because Britain’s leader told his people ahead of time what to expect—blood, toil, tears, and sweat—the troops and people of England stood firm and reached their goal: victory.
Jesus promises victory in our war with Satan, and this outcome is guaranteed by his winning the decisive battle through his death and resurrection. But in promising victory, Jesus does not promise it will be quick and easy. He does not promise health and wealth to those who name it and claim it. He promises blood, toil, sweat, and tears. Jesus promises hardship and suffering as we move toward victory over Satan. Scripture says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Don’t be shocked when Satan attacks and life is hard. You’re in a war. Expect attack. Prepare for it. Endure it and stand firm. The Bible says, “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer” (2 Timothy 2:3-4). If Jesus is your commander, and if victory over Satan is your goal, stay focused on your mission. A good soldier has to be able to endure hardship and keep his mind free from distractions that hinder his mission and hamper his effectiveness. You can’t win victories if you’re more concerned about civilian affairs of health and wealth than with Christ your commander. You must focus on the campaign against Satan and on your God-given mission in that campaign.
A Strong Army
Spiritual warfare is hard, but victory is certain for those on the Lord’s side. Spiritual warfare requires all our attention and strength, but the ultimate victory is God’s. It is God’s armor that protects us, God’s weapons that fight for us, and God’s overall victory which provides the setting for our individual victory.
Scripture says, “Put on the armor of God”—not just armor that God gives but armor that God himself wears. The Old Testament says of the Lord, “He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head” (Isaiah 59:17). The New Testament tells us to put on “the breastplate of righteousness” and “the helmet of salvation.” The armor the Lord wears, we must wear. The weapons the Lord uses, we must use. The mighty power of God must be our power. The divine strength that defended the Lord Jesus from Satan’s temptations and enabled Jesus to conquer sin and death must be our strength.
Suppose you face an invasion from hostile forces. Your only weapons are a kitchen knife and a shotgun for hunting birds. Your only vehicle is a used car. Meanwhile, your enemy has machine guns, grenades, artillery, and tanks. When the battle comes, you will have no chance if your weapons are so pitiful and your enemy’s weapons are so powerful. But now suppose you are offered the weapons of a superpower: Stealth bombers, cruise missiles, the best tanks, body armor, and training to use all this equipment. Then your enemy’s terrible weapons aren’t so unbeatable.
Smart soldiers accept God’s equipment and God’s training to use that equipment. Who would rather go to war in used cars than in tanks? Who would rather go on the attack armed with kitchen knives than with cruise missiles? If you don’t use God’s armor and weapons, if you battle Satan ill-equipped and unprepared, you cannot win. But if you use God’s equipment, go through his training, and follow his orders, you can’t lose.
The weapons of human effort have no chance against Satan’s weaponry. But with the power of God, the armor of God, and the weapons of God, we have a huge advantage over Satan’s forces. Connected to Jesus, you become part of the best-equipped spiritual fighting force in the world. You have the full armor of God, God’s own personal armor, available to protect you from the enemy. You have God’s own all-powerful weapons to go on the offensive and drive the enemy back. It’s not enough for such armor and weapons to be available, however. You must put them on and use them.
Victim or Victor?
As you fight, don’t be discouraged if the battle is especially fierce or if you suffer a setback here or a wound there. Rejoice that God entrusts you with a mission where the fighting is fiercest. The greater the opposition you face, the greater the victory when you triumph. The worse the temptations you have to resist, the worse blows you deal to Satan’s forces when you succeed.
Even when you falter or fail, the failure isn’t final. Keep in mind the overall campaign. Satan might wound you or take you prisoner for a time, but stay loyal to the Lord. Don’t let Satan brainwash you into thinking he is winning or that God has abandoned you. Be confident that God is still winning the overall war, and count on him to rescue you. He won’t leave behind even one soldier who loves him and is faithful to him. If you pray to him and seek his forgiveness and help, the Lord will rescue you, heal you, and put you back into service. Meanwhile, the outcome of the overall war is already sure. A smart soldier doesn’t just look at his own personal success or failure; he looks at how his country and cause is doing. The good news for the Christian soldier is that Jesus is winning, and his cause is assured of victory. Satan is doomed. If individual setbacks trouble you, it helps to remember the big picture. The fight of faith is warfare for winners.
Don’t fall into the victim mentality. Many wounded people turn to Jesus and go to church looking for relief from pain and healing for their damaged spirits, and that’s good. Jesus offers to heal sin-sick souls and injured spirits. But once he heals you, he doesn’t leave you in a hospital bed. Jesus sets you on your feet, trains you for battle, equips you with the full armor of God, and sends you on a mission to do great things for him. The church of Jesus is not just a hospital for victims but an army of victors.
Don’t get so stuck in the condition and mindset of a hospital patient that you don’t do any soldiering. Every military force has medical units for the wounded, but it also has fighting units, and the fighting units had better be larger than the medical units. A military force is in big trouble if the weak and wounded outnumber those on active duty and ready for combat. If everybody remains as sick as ever, you have to wonder if the doctors know what they’re doing. If the officers are content to have all sick patients and no active troops, you have to question whether those officers are fit to lead.
The church is God’s army, and the majority of the church ought to be strong and ready for combat, not lying around weak and helpless, depending on pastors to help them survive from day to day. There may have been a time when some churches were too quick to shun sinners and shoot their wounded, but many churches today have gone to the opposite extreme, accepting as normal a situation in which most church people remain broken, pitiable, dysfunctional victims of sin year after year after year. Few are strong in the Lord or strike fear into Satan’s forces. This is what happens when the church’s motto is merely “find a hurt and heal it” instead of “find a stronghold of Satan and conquer it.”
The church must not shoot its wounded members, of course. It must minister to the hurting. Sinners must be restored gently, and doubters must be encouraged. But they must not remain in the same miserable condition. They must become healthy, strong, and ready to take up spiritual weapons in the Lord’s mission. If a church prides itself on being compassionate and accepting but doesn’t call for transformed lives or lead people to march in Christ’s army, it can end up full of people who are mostly sin and little holiness, mostly doubt and little faith. The church becomes like an army where almost everybody is in the hospital and almost nobody is advancing against the enemy. A church that’s all therapy, no military, must recover its identity as Christ’s army. A person who’s always in a pity party and never in a war party, always a weakling and never a warrior, must shake off the victim mentality, draw on Jesus’ strength, put on the full armor of God, and learn to stand firm.
The night George Washington and his troops crossed the icy Delaware River and marched on Trenton, many of the men left bloody tracks in the snow from their sore feet and other injuries. They could have sat around feeling sorry for themselves, but instead they attacked the enemy. They were a war party, not a pity party. They focused more on their mission than on their injuries. They focused more on their general’s orders than on the harshness of the weather. They focused on the importance of their cause rather than on the power of their enemy. If those patriots had settled into a victim mentality, the war would have been lost. But they were prepared to fight under all conditions, they put their weapons to use, and they won an amazing victory.
Jesus doesn’t promise trouble-free victory, but he does promise victory. When you truly commit yourself to his service, you’ll be amazed at what you can do in his power. You might say to yourself, “I didn’t think I had it in me!”—and you don’t have it in you until you get the Holy Spirit of Christ in you. Once the power of Almighty God is in you and his armor surrounds you and his weapons are in your hand, there’s no telling what heroic things you can do in his service. You won’t do mighty deeds if you’re a sunshine soldier or a self-pitying victim. But if you accept Jesus, his armor, and his training, you will be armed and ready for the evil day, and you will be one of the heroes of faith who share in the suffering and the glory of Christ.