Standing Firm In the Light

During the Second World War (and published after the war’s end), the British Christian author, C. S. Lewis wrote a book entitled, that Hideous Strength: A Fairy Tale for Adults. [1] It is the last in the Lewis’s famous Space Trilogy. In this book, his hero, Elwin Ransom, and a small group of British academics and others face an evil spiritual invasion. The scene is a small college in rural England. Before the novel is over, Merlin and a host of other characters appear. The climax of the book occurs when angelic beings from heaven descend to do battle with the powers and principalities. What strikes me is how clearly Lewis foresaw modern world and the intellectual and spiritual darkness of the late 20thand early 21stcenturies.

This morning, we complete our study of Ephesianson being equipped as disciples. It is appropriate that we should end the series as Ephesians ends, with a discussion of our calling to stand firm amidst the spiritual forces that divert us from living wisely and with the love of Christ.

It would be nice if the Christian life were a walk in the park, but it is not. We face spiritual conflict both within and without in living the Christian life, and it is important to understand how to face it.

Standing Firm in the Light

As we conclude our study, we need to think about what we have learned as we read together the ending of Ephesians. Paul begins the letter exalting both God and the Son of God, through whom God reached out in love to reconcile the whole world to himself (Ephesians 1:4; 2:14-18). Christ is the very wisdom and power of God, who saved us by the power of the Cross while we were still under the power of sin (2:4). Because of this great work of Christ, both Jews and Gentiles can become members of the household of God, a household built on the testimony of the prophets and apostles. Because we have become children of God and members of God’s family, Paul urges the Ephesians to live differently. Christians are to be spiritually different than those outside the family of faith. We are to be different our holiness and in how we live our lives in loving submission to one another. We are to live as “children of the light” (4:17ff). [2]

At the end of Ephesians, Paul lets the Ephesians (and us) know that we must be prepared for the inevitable conflicts that will occur as we attempt to live as children of the light in a world that, too often, seems consumed by spiritual darkness. Here is the word of God as it comes to us today from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;  and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,  praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,  and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak(Ephesians 6:10-20).

Prayer:God of Light, in whom there is no darkness: Come among us by the power of your Holy Spirit that we might know and sense the power of your Word entering our lives and transforming them. In Jesus Name, Amen

The Conflict We Experience

The subject of Spiritual Warfare is difficult. We can make two equally important mistakes: (1) We can over-spiritualize the subject to the point that people think we are seeing things or (2) we can over-psychologize things to the point that spiritual warfare becomes a subset of human psychology. [3] Our world is mysterious, and one of the mysteries has to do with the non-physical realities, good and not so good that we all encounter day in and day out. There are times in the Christian life when we face temptations and difficulties that are deeply spiritual in nature. There are times when institutions and authorities seem lined up against God and Christ.

When I was in seminary, I was asked used to preach all over the southeast near Richmond Virginia. When I was preaching, I often asked the pastor if they had ever seen something in their ministry that look like spiritual warfare. 100% of those I asked responded, “Yes.” After twenty-five years in ministry I would agree. Most of us have had experiences that seemed inexplicable, as if there were a dark power at work above and beyond our normal experience.

There has been an increasing interest in the powers and principalities in recent years. Frankly, the horrors of the Second World War caused many scholars to place the name evil on the Nazi regime. In his lecture, “The Church is Dead,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

How can one close one’s eyes at the fact that the demons themselves have taken over the rule of the world, that it is the powers of darkness who have here made an awful conspiracy and could break out at any moment?—How could one think that these demons could be driven out, these powers annihilated with a bit of education in international understanding, with a bit of goodwill? [4]

The Conflict We Experience

It is easy to see the potential for dark powers and principalities in the activities of people like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, or Mao Tse Tung. The millions of lives taken during their rule testifies to a kind of madness that transcends the ordinary. Paul was familiar with this. In the world in which Paul lived, the activities of the Roman Empire and some of its rulers illustrated to anyone with eyes to see the potential for dark forces to work in human history.

This is all true, and we should all be aware that there do exist outside of us powers, principalities, spiritual forces of evil, and the like. Unfortunately, if we spend too much time looking for these powers and principalities outside of us, we forget that our spiritual battle is largely against our own tendency to be under the control of spiritual forces that can lead us astray. Pride, lust, greed, gluttony, and other spiritual diseases do have power over us and they are spiritual in nature. [5]If we focus too much on the powers as they are at work in the lives of other people, we miss the reality we need protection from our own involvement with the powers.

I have a dear friend who is a strong Christian. My friend has worked in a variety of law firms, large and small. When we get together, it’s easy to talk about the political intrigues and other behavior that characterizes any large social organization. In my case, it’s easy for me to remember a day and time in which I play the game just like everybody else. I was on a search for position, power, and success just like everyone else I knew. In some cases, the powers and principalities did not just have power over others or the firm—they had power over me! We all need to confront this reality. We all need protection because we are all vulnerable. We all need the armor of God, because we are all on the same battlefield Paul was on!

The Equipment We Need

Our military, like militaries all over the world, spends a lot of money developing what is called “body armor.” In my former church we had a lot of ex-military people. Some of them and served in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. A few of them even had injuries caused not by the enemy but by the amount of safety equipment they wore! Modern helmets, for example, are designed to withstand high velocity bullets. Until they were re-engineered, a good many soldiers who jumped out of airplanes and did other athletic things wearing such helmets sometimes got neck injuries from the weight of their armor!

I’ve already indicated more than once some of the silliness that goes on in the Star Warsmovies. One silliness has to do with the idea that lightly armed, unprotected, Wookies can withstand the attack of armored, highly armed, Imperial Storm Troopers. There’s a reason why Roman legions wore armor, carried shields, and had certain kinds of swords: they won battles that way against more lightly armored opponents. Paul knew this. That’s why he used this metaphor in speaking to the Ephesians. If the Ephesians wanted to stand up against the spiritual forces they were faced with in the First Century Roman Empire, they needed armor to withstand attack.

Before we talk specifically our armor, I want to mention something about the Greek used by Paul. When we read “put on the armor of God,” we think we are the ones putting on the armor. Paul begins by returning to his theme of God’s provident grace. He first says, “be strong in the LORD” (v. 10). Then he says, put on the armor of God. However, he does so indicating that our role is by faith to allow God to put armor on us. [6] It is God that provides the strength, and it is God that provides the armor.

Today, I don’t want to go through the specifics of the armor. It’s enough to say that Paul describes the armor of the Roman legionnaire, what would be called the “panoply” of the Roman soldier. [7] To be armored for spiritual warfare, we need the truth of the Gospel, that we are saved by grace through faith because God loved us enough to send his son to die for us (6:14; John 3:16). We need to avoid immorality, the kind of evil that will injure our hearts—the breastplate of righteousness (6:14). We need to stand firm in the Gospel of Peace with God that will enable us to resist temptation (6:15). We need to continue to have faith, the kind of faith that will allow us to endure in hard times (v. 16: Hebrews 11). We need to be sure that the helmet of salvation is protecting our thoughts and minds from attack (v. 17). We need to carry the sword of the spirit as we pray for ourselves and others (v. 17-18). We need Christ (the Word of God) and the Bible (the written word of God) to bring us into truth (v. 18). We need spiritual armor that can protects us.

Community of Believers

As with all of his letters, Paul ends Ephesians with a greeting. This reminds us of an important point we have discussed before. Christianity is by its very nature a communal faith, as we model the love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the world. Paul writes to the Ephesians to remain faithful not just individually, but also as a community of faith.

By the time Paul wrote these words, the churches of the first century were beginning to be persecuted by the Roman authorities. Paul was in prison. He will eventually be martyred. People are beginning to fall away from the Christian faith. And addition, some people are finding the demands of the Christian faith too much to bear. Paul can see that the little churches are now fighting for their very existence and they need to be armed for the battle. He writes them as a community so that they can help one another withstand increasing persecution.

Just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer could see Powers and Principalities become evident in Germany in his day, we need to be aware that the powers and principalities, spiritual forces beyond our control, are at work in our day. We see ever increasing signs of intolerance and persecution of Christians in government, in private businesses, on university campuses, and elsewhere. We will not be able to withstand these pressures without our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Military thinkers often point out that in the heat of battle, minute and women rarely fight solely for abstract principles. They fight for their brothers and sisters. They fight for that little platoon, the people with which they have personal relations. A similar reality is true in the life of faith. Although we should fight for the abstract truth of the gospel in for Christian morality, more concretely we fight for our children and our grandchildren, for our friends and neighbors, for our Bible study partners, and for fellow Christians all over the world. As I mentioned earlier, all of the pronouns in the second person or in the plural in Ephesians. Paul is writing not to individuals in solitude but to a community of love. We need each other in the life of faith—and in particular in times of testing.

The Victory We Are Promised

When Billy Graham was asked how he thought the world with end, he said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible, it’s all going to turn out all right.” [8]Jesus told us that in this world we are going to have some trouble, but not to worry because he has overcome the world (John 16:33). We need to rest in this assurance: in the end, the battle is ours if only we remain faithful.


Copyright 2018, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength(York, NY: Scribner Classics, 1996 [orig. 1945]). George Orwell, who wrote 1984, was one who appreciated Lewis’ understanding of the drift of modern science and technology, as well as the drift of the mindset of many in government and academia.

[2] This notion of believers as “children of the light” is a theme Paul returns to throughout his apostolic career (see, I Thess. 5:5; Eph. 5:8; Romans 13:11-14; Col. 1:9-14). Jesus also uses this imagery for disciples (Matt. 5:14-16; Luke 16; John 8:12). Throughout the Bible light and darkness are used as symbols for the truth of God (light) and falsehood (darkness), the wisdom of God (light) and foolishness (darkness), the moral truth (light) and immorality (darkness).

[3] For those interested in the deeper implications of the subject, there are two works I recommend: Walter Wink, Naming the Powers(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1984) and Clinton E. Arnold, Powers of Darkness: Principalities and Powers in Paul’s Letters(Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Press, 1992). Wink is a liberal theologian and Arnold more conservative. One of my favorite writings on the subject is, Hendrik Berkhof, Christ and the Powers(Scottdale, Pa.: Herald, 1977 [orig. 1953])

[4] See, Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, ed A Testament of Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer rev. ed (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995, 104); found in Robert E. Moses, Powerful Practices: Paul’s Principalities and Powers Revisited(Unpublished Dissertation: Duke Divinity School, 2012).

[5] The debate between liberal and conservative theologians tends to over whether the powers and principalities have a reality separate and apart from the social structures and people who demonstrate the behavior one associates with the powers. Wink, for example, often seems to want to make of the powers merely the inner reality of social, economic, political and military structures and thought-forms.

[6] The Greek wordἐνδυναμοῦσθε (“be empowered”) is in the middle or passive voice indicating that we (the word is in the second person plural, once again indicating the whole church) cooperate with God or allow God’s work of protecting us against the powers.

[7] For a specific description see, Leon Morris, Expository Reflections on the Letter to the Ephesians(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 204-208; R. C. Sproul, Focus on the Bible: Ephesians(Fern-Ross, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 151-159.

[8] Billy Graham, August 2, 2018).