Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist. (Ephesians 6:14)
Nothing, it seemed, could kill George Washington. As a young man, Washington caught smallpox but survived the dreaded disease and remained as strong and athletic as ever. As a junior officer, Washington was part of a unit that was caught in an ambush. His commanding general and most of his fellow soldiers were shot down. Washington had two horses shot from under him and four bullet holes in his coat, but not one bullet touched his body. Later, as general during the American war for independence, Washington would ride his horse where fighting was fiercest, with bullets and cannon fire whistling all around him, but he was not hit. He camped with troops in awful conditions, with many men dying of disease, but Washington survived it all.
Nothing could kill George Washington—except his doctors. After Washington retired from the presidency, he was riding his horse in the rain one day and caught a cold and sore throat. His throat got sore and swollen, so his doctors tried to help him. The doctors shared the medical opinion common at the time that one good way to get rid of a disease was to bleed it out. It was thought that when diseased blood was drained from someone, the body would replace it with fresh, healthy blood in a short time. So a pint of blood was drained from Washington. A bit later another pint was drained, and shortly after that, still another pint. When Washington didn’t improve, the doctors decided they should bleed him again, and this time they took a full quart of blood rather than just a pint. The doctors also used other methods to drain the disease. They gave Washington laxatives to drain his bowels. They gave him vomit-inducing drugs to drain his stomach. They blistered his hands and feet to release disease through the skin. They did all this in addition to draining five pints of his blood. At last the doctors drained all the life out of him, and George Washington died.
The treatments he received were not based on truth. Truth is vital in medicine, and truth is vital in all of life. Error in the medical realm killed George Washington, and error in the spiritual realm destroys souls. Nice intentions aren’t enough; there must be truth. Falsehood destroys; truth protects and strengthens.
You may like to think that every religion is as helpful as any other, but that’s like saying every medical treatment is as helpful as any other. Is draining five pints of blood from an infected person as helpful as giving that person antibiotics? No, treatment must be based on truth, or it does more harm than good. Likewise, religion must be grounded in truth, or it does more harm than good. Doctrinal errors are even deadlier than doctors’ errors. False religion can destroy you for eternity.
Maybe you’d rather not distinguish truth from error. You may think it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere about it. Well, George Washington’s doctors were very sincere. They sincerely cared about Washington and sincerely thought they were taking the best approach to healing him. Washington sincerely trusted his doctors and gave his consent at every step of the treatment. But no matter how sincere they were, their approach was based on error, not truth. Error killed Washington, and error can destroy you. You need truth in order to connect with God and enjoy eternal life.
When the Bible describes the armor of God that protects people from Satan and hell, the first item mentioned is “the belt of truth.” Ephesians 6:14 says, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.” A belt might seem unimportant compared to such things as a breastplate, helmet, shield, or sword. But at the time this Bible passage was written, a soldier would buckle his belt firmly in place before putting on any other armor or weapons. It was the very first piece of armor the soldier would put on. The belt was a wide, tough girdle that helped protect the softer parts of the lower body. It was important in its own right for protection, and it was also needed to hold other equipment in place. The breastplate was attached to the belt, and the sword was also attached to the belt. The soldier needed his belt on before he could put on other equipment. In the armor of God, truth is the belt. What a belt did for soldiers of long ago, truth does for soldiers of Christ. It protects parts of us that are vulnerable, and it keeps other God-given equipment in place.
Protecting Soft Spots
How does truth protect us? The belt of truth helps protect parts of us that are softest and most vulnerable to wounds from Satan. We shouldn’t press the details of a word picture too far, but it may be worth noting the location of a soldier’s belt/girdle: near the stomach and private parts. Few appetites are as strong as the desires for food and sex. If any part of us needs to be bound and protected by truth, it is here. Without the protection of truth, our stomach is vulnerable to gluttony or to the sense that material things are all that matter. The belt of biblical truth protects us by warning against letting our stomach be our god (Philippians 3:19) and by telling us what Jesus told Satan, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Without the belt of truth, our sexuality is vulnerable to promiscuous, perverted desires. But the belt of biblical truth warns against adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and other sinful distortions, and the belt of biblical truth also shows us God’s beautiful design for the union of husband and wife.
But let’s not limit the belt of biblical truth to the area of a physical belt, such as stomach and sexuality. Truth is vital in every area. Truth tells us that we have an eternal future, and this protects us from the deadly lie that this life is all there is. Truth tells us who God really is and what he’s really like, protecting us from idols and false gods. Truth tells us who we are as creatures made in God’s image and as fallen into sin, protecting us from having too low an opinion of our value and too high an opinion of our virtue. Truth shows us ultimate reality in Jesus, protecting us from putting anything else on the throne of our hearts. Truth is vital in every area, and error is deadly. Indeed, the difference between truth and lies is the difference between God and Satan. Scripture speaks of the Lord as “the God of truth” (Isaiah 65:16) and of Satan as “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan uses error to attack us; God uses truth to protect us.
Of all the sins and errors that can harm us, none is worse than errors about what it takes to save us. Various religions offer different ways of salvation, but only the blood of Jesus can bring pardon for our guilt, and only the divine life of Jesus can give us eternal life. That is the truth. Religions that ignore or deny this truth may offer other cures, but these cures kill. No sin is as deadly as a false way of salvation. Some cures are worse than the disease they are supposed to heal. George Washington’s sore throat may have been serious, but his doctors’ attempts to help him were even worse. Likewise, sin is serious, but false religions and phony ways of salvation are deadlier than any particular sin. Truth is a belt of protection against false ways of salvation and against all Satan’s lies. The way to buckle truth in place is to believe with all our heart the vital truths God reveals in the Bible.
Holding Things in Place
A soldier’s belt was the first piece of armor he put on. It was important for helping to protect the lower part of the torso, and it was also important for holding other equipment in place, such as the breastplate and the sword. In the armor of God, the belt of truth holds other things in place. The breastplate of righteousness can stay in place only when it’s connected to the belt of truth. The sword of the Spirit, God’s Word, will be available as a weapon only when the belt of truth keeps it close to our side.
Regarding the breastplate of righteousness: righteousness is having a right standing with God by measuring up to God’s perfect character. The only human who measures up perfectly is the God-man, Jesus Christ. The only way I can have God’s righteousness is by having Jesus’ perfection credited to me as a gift. I can’t make my own breastplate of righteousness. Jesus makes a breastplate of his righteousness and gives it to me. The way I put it on is by faith, by trusting that Jesus’ perfection counts as mine. This breastplate protects my heart from Satan’s accusations that I am unrighteous and unacceptable to God. This breastplate repels every stab of guilt and despair.
What does the breastplate of righteousness have to do with the belt of truth? Well, just as a soldier couldn’t put on the breastplate without first putting on the belt and connecting the breastplate to it, so I can’t receive God-given righteousness unless I first believe God-revealed truth. I must believe that God speaks the truth and keeps his promises before I can receive his promised gift of righteousness in Christ. Scripture says Christ is the righteousness of God for those who believe. Is that true, or isn’t it? If I don’t have confidence in God’s Word and don’t believe it’s true, I can’t possibly receive that righteousness for myself. But if I first get buckled up in God’s truth and take him at his word, his righteousness connects with his truth and covers me. No one ever received righteousness in Christ without believing the truth about Christ.
The belt of truth provides a connection to help hold the breastplate of righteousness in place, and the belt of truth also keeps the sword of the Spirit at hand for immediate use. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. God’s Word, given to us in the Bible, is the chief weapon in fighting spiritual battles. But a sword is of little value to us if it’s not at our side when we need it most, and the Bible is of little value to us if it’s just lying around somewhere, but is not belted at our side by our love of truth and confidence in truth. If we belt on God’s truth by believing the Scriptures and studying God’s revelation and storing it in our minds, then we also have God’s Word near at hand as a weapon when we need to fight.
We shouldn’t stretch a word picture too far. In a sense we could say that the belt of truth and the sword of the Spirit are the very same thing: God’s Word, the Bible. The main point is to depend on Scripture. Still, before we can put the Bible to use in daily living and in winning others to Christ, we must first know it and have biblical truth buckled around our being.
Wearing the Belt
Are you wearing the belt of truth? Are you convinced that the Bible is God’s truth? Do you believe that Scripture is the message of the Lord who cannot lie? How often do you read the Bible? How well do you know it? How much of it do you memorize? How eagerly do you listen to biblical preaching? How often do you study the Bible with others? Do you take knowledge of the truth with you wherever you go and in whatever you do? Are you wrapped firmly in the belt of truth? Do you count on God’s truth in Christ to keep other things in place?
Truth is vital, and so much else depends on it. Buckle it on! Wear it! If a belt was left hanging on a hook or off in a corner somewhere, it wouldn’t help a soldier much, and other pieces of armor won’t be of much use either, because the belt helped keep things in place. Likewise, a Bible gathering dust on a shelf somewhere is of little use in battling Satan. You need God’s truth for its own sake, and you need the truth so that God’s other blessings can be in place. You need the truth!
Truth is the basis for lasting success. If you want to succeed as an auto mechanic, you must learn the truth about cars. If you want to succeed as an architect, you must learn the truth about construction design. If you want to succeed as a history teacher, you must learn the truth about history. If you want to succeed as a surgeon, you must learn the truth about anatomy. If you want to succeed as a pilot, you must learn the truth about operating an airplane. In one area of life after another, success depends on knowing the truth. This is supremely true in relating to God and succeeding as part of the armies of Christ.
I would not want to live in a house designed by an architect who didn’t know any principles of safe construction. I would not want to be operated on by a surgeon who knew nothing about the inner workings of the body. I would not want to get on an airplane with a pilot who didn’t know how to fly. And I would not want my eternal life to depend on someone who doesn’t know God or the way to God. For eternal life, I depend on Jesus himself as the way, the truth, and the life. As I live by faith in Jesus and as I teach others, I want to base everything on the teaching of Jesus and have as much of the mind of Christ as I possibly can. I can’t afford to be careless about truth, and neither can you. Truth is crucial for your eternal future and for the future of those whom you influence—children, friends, neighbors, fellow workers. You can’t be saved without truth, and you can’t help others be saved without truth.
Belonging to a religious group is no substitute for knowing truth personally and buckling the belt of truth firmly in place. If you don’t know the truth personally, you may never notice if the religious group you belong to has no real truth. If you don’t have a deep love of truth, if you aren’t constantly seeking to gain more truth and to understand it better, you may lose what little truth you had and not even know it.
William Gurnall, a Christian from centuries ago, wrote a classic titled The Christian in Complete Armor, which has been helpful for my own life and helpful in writing about spiritual warfare. Gurnall said,
If we do not desire to know truth we have already rejected it… Truth and error are all the same to the ignorant man and so he calls everything truth. Have you heard about the covetous man who constantly hugged his bags of gold? He never opened them or used the treasure, and thus when a thief stole the gold and left his bags full of pebbles in his room, he was as happy as when he still had the gold.
That’s what can happen if you belong to a religious group but never bother to check whether it’s actually teaching the truth. When people stop studying the Scriptures and stop seeking God’s truth, they hardly know the difference if the truth is stolen from their church by false teachers. As long as the show goes on in some form, they never realize that the jewels of truth have been taken away and replaced by rocks of worthless error, and they will have no treasure in heaven. Belonging to a religious group is no substitute for seeking the truth personally. You must know biblical truth for yourself.
Community of Truth
Does this mean the search for truth is entirely personal and private, and that you should ignore the community of faith? No, just because a soldier is responsible to put on the belt of truth doesn’t mean he’s an army by himself and can ignore everyone else. It may be heroic for a soldier to arm himself well and to do his part bravely, but it would be foolish for a soldier to always stay separate from fellow soldiers. Christ calls his soldiers not to remain alone but to stand together with each other in the truth. Love of truth must be personal but not merely private. Those who love truth are eager to learn from other seekers of truth and to band together with them.
There are false, misguided religious groups out there, including some that claim to be churches of the Lord. You must know biblical truth well enough to recognize when a church has fallen into deadly error, and you should stay away from such a group. But don’t use the error of some as an excuse to avoid all churches. There are many congregations that truly exalt Jesus and teach the truth of the Bible. Such congregations are part of the great church that extends throughout all history and on every continent, what the Bible calls “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The true church is a mighty fortress of truth, and Satan’s forces will never conquer it. Jesus promises, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Don’t fall for the lie that all congregations are too corrupt for you to join. The true church still stands, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and every soldier of Christ should be connected to a congregation if possible.
At various times in history, Satan has peddled the lie that no true church is left, and he peddles the same lie still today. Satan believes in recycling. The lies that fool people in one era of history, Satan recycles in a slightly different form for another era. The anti-church lie is a favorite in Satan’s recycling operation.
A religious radio broadcaster named Harold Camping made the news by wrongly predicting the date of Jesus’ return. But that wasn’t Camping’s biggest error. He also declared that the church age had ended and that Christians should stay away from anything that called itself a church. Camping said that God had no further use for the church and that God worked only through non-church ways, such as Camping’s radio network. Harold Camping quoted the Bible a lot, but in saying that no church was worth joining, he was recycling a very old lie of Satan. Camping was very sincere—as sincere as George Washington’s doctors who bled him to death in an effort to cure him. Many people are already too isolated, too dependent on their own limited wisdom, too removed from the shared wisdom and encouragement of people who know the Bible and love the Lord. Telling people to become Christians but to avoid churches is like telling them to join the army but stay away from other soldiers.
Not all churches teach the exact same thing on every point. Maybe you’re tempted to think that if they can’t agree on every point, you’re not going to join any of them. But don’t make too much of minor differences among Bible-believing Christians who agree on the basic truths of what God is like, of human nature, of salvation through God’s grace in Christ, and of Christian moral principles. If you really love truth, don’t let disagreements about smaller truths get in the way of the fact that many churches agree on the really big truths.
If you refuse to join any church because churches aren’t all exactly alike and don’t entirely agree on every exact point, says William Gurnall, you are “as foolish as the man who refused to eat his noon meal until all clocks in the city struck twelve at exactly the same time.” Think of it: noontime arrives, and various clocks start chiming, but they’re a few seconds apart from each other. They don’t quite chime in perfect unison. Is that a good reason to deny that it’s noontime or to refuse to eat your noon meal? If watches are a few seconds or even a few minutes different from each other, they can still be basically telling you the right time, and you’d be crazy to refuse food at mealtime until all timepieces were perfectly synchronized with each other. Likewise, many good churches may not agree exactly on all points, but if they are sound on basic truths, you will benefit from whatever Bible-based, Christ-honoring church you join, and you’d be foolish to say you were going to wait for all the churches to be perfectly the same. As you put on the belt of truth, be sure to join the community of truth, the forces of truth united under the leadership of Jesus.
Let me ask again: have you buckled on the belt of truth? Do you buckle it on again each new day? Start every day by reading part of God’s Word personally. If you have a spouse and children, focus on God’s truth together as a family. Then band together with a church. Encourage each other in the truth, and join forces in spreading the truth to others. Don’t go anywhere without the belt of truth. You can’t fight Satan effectively if you’re uncertain or confused or just plain wrong. Study the truth. Ask God to increase how much you know and to help you believe more clearly and more firmly than ever. “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.”