All true Christian conflict is with the devil and his spiritual forces. We have no conflict with “flesh and blood.” Joshua had: for his inheritance was that land that had been for centuries held by the Canaanites, and in order that Israel should inherit it he had to drive them out by the sword. His warfare was with flesh and blood, ours is with spiritual adversaries.
But our battles are fought in two very different spheres—in the desert with Amalek (the devil as a roaring lion), and in the heavenlies with the original inhabitants of the land (the evil principalities and powers) who have their seat there; and according to the nature of the sphere in which the battle is fought, so is the armour with which we are furnished.
Peter, who speaks to the saints as traversing the desert, says: “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist steadfast in the faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9). The faith is the important piece of armour necessary for conflict in the wilderness. It is the confidence that whatever wants or woes may betide us on our heavenward journey, God is for us, and He will bring us safely through (2 Cor. 1:3-11).
In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 we read: “Putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.” Faith in God, and love to the saints, effectually covering and protecting our most vital parts from the fiery darts of the enemy; and our heads well defended by “the hope of salvation” make us proof against the furious onslaughts of our desert foe. Salvation being viewed in Thessalonians as future, as it must be always so viewed in the wilderness, we have the hope of it as a helmet for our heads. This salvation is from “the wrath to come,” and will be effected for us by Christ, who will take us out of this world before His wrath falls upon it, as Enoch was translated to heaven before the flood was poured out upon the ungodly world, which Noah, type of Israel, had to pass through.
But in the Ephesian epistle we are viewed as “made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” therefore our conflict while we are upon earth is in order to maintain our heavenly calling and character. We are not to allow ourselves to be robbed of the heavenly position given to us by the grace of our God, and we are well able to maintain it, for our strength is in the Lord and in the power of His might. We are not cast upon our own resources.
This combat rages more around the testimony of our Lord than does the fighting we have to do in the wilderness, where the enemy seeks to overthrow us by alluring us by the stirring up of fleshly lusts to lead our souls back into the Egypt world out of which we have been delivered, and by occupying us with the roughness of the way, and the fear of being forsaken by the living God. To overcome in the wilderness we require the confidence and the courage that faith imparts to the soul; to have in our faith virtue, and in virtue knowledge, and in knowledge temperance, and in temperance patience, and in patience godliness, and in godliness brotherly kindness, and in brotherly kindness charity; and if we do these things we shall never fall (2 Peter 1).
But as those that are risen with Christ, we seek the things that are above where He sits; and if we go in for these heavenly things we shall find plenty of resistance from the principalities and powers that are the original inhabitants of that heavenly sphere. Therefore we require the whole panoply of God. It is His panoply because it is the effect of His Spirit’s work in our souls.
In the first place our loins are to be girt about with truth. We are to be careful that our minds are not occupied with the things that come before our vision in this world, nor are we to give heed to the speculations of men, whoever they may be. Truth—the truth of God—is to engage our attention, and to give us firmness and strength in the moment of the shock of battle. The breastplate of practical righteousness is also to be put on, lest having a condemning heart we are unable to count upon the support of God, and we are made to fly discomfited from the field. Our feet also are to be shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. We should see that our walk is in harmony with the peace that is proclaimed in the glad tidings of God. We are to have the shield of faith so as to quench the fiery darts of the wicked one, those cruel and soul-destroying suggestions of the father of lies that would cause us to lose all confidence in Him on whose power we rely for victory. Next we are to have upon our head the helmet of salvation; not here the hope of salvation, for we are quickened with Christ, risen, and seated in Him in the heavenly places. Therefore we can have upon our heads the perfect salvation of God. We are also to have the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and against this weapon the devil is utterly powerless. Then the battle must be waged in dependence upon God. This is expressed in prayer, and we are to watch unto this, and see that it is for all saints we pray; and above all for the mystery of the gospel, against which these evil spirits are so hostile.
This armour is the effect of the Holy Spirit’s work in our souls. It is like the feathers of a bird, it is produced from within. It is all practical, and belongs to our spiritual state. We cannot stand for the testimony of our Lord without having it on. Timothy had to be encouraged to stand in the conflict when so many were deserting the field (2 Tim. 1). The Philippians were standing for it with Paul (Phil. 1:7), and the apostle seeks to encourage them to still greater efforts. Bonds, stripes and imprisonments fell to his lot, but he was unconquerable through Him that loved him. Of this conflict the New Testament is full.
Today good soldiers of Jesus Christ are needed more than ever. The truth of God is assailed on every hand. Spiritism, modernism, infidelity and every other evil is rampant. We have to stand up against these evils that are introduced by wicked spirits in such numbers, and if we do not fight we shall fall. But God has not given us the spirit of cowardice, but of power, and of love, and of wise discretion. Let us then not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord. Let us contend for the faith once delivered to the saints until He come.