Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. (Ephesians 6.10-11)
Early in the rollerblading craze, Walt and I rushed out to our local Sport Mart and spent a small fortune on gear: skates, helmets, elbow and kneepads. We got home and suited up, laughing at how we looked like gladiators. Then we stored our fancy equipment on a closet shelf, where it sat for several months, waiting for us to get the nerve to take to the streets. One spring afternoon, I came home to find Walt in a terrible state. His arms and legs were bruised and scraped up and covered in Band-Aids. I spotted his rollerblades and said, “You didn’t wear protection, did you?” “Only the helmet,” he replied. “I didn’t like how that other stuff looked on me.” My response: “And just look at you now!”
In Walt’s defense, he’s an amazing four-wheeled skater—a real hotshot on a rink floor. It seemed logical that he’d adapt to inline skating with such ease that the likelihood of falling would be practically nil. But, as he learned, that wasn’t the case. The dynamics of rollerblading aren’t the same as those of old-fashioned skates. In many ways, they’re the opposite, as they require a different sense of balance to maneuver stops and turns. What’s more, the uneven surfaces of city streets require a heightened awareness of the ground one travels. Dodging and darting through traffic and other bikers and skaters complicates things. Until you develop a proper sense of equilibrium to react quickly, rollerblading can be a treacherous endeavor. And—as Walt learned on his maiden voyage—once you figure out you’re improperly equipped, you still have to make your way back. The worst of his spills happened during his retreat, he told me. Finally, he gave up, removed his skates, and walked home in sock feet. “I felt like a fool,” he said. It took some time for him to give rollerblading another try and eventually he got the hang of it. But after that first debacle, I’ve never seen him head out for a leisurely cruise along the lakefront without his full armor. When I read Ephesians’ admonition to use all the protection available to us, I think of Walt.
Danger in the Air
“Be strong in the Lord and the strength of His power,” the Ephesians writer says, urging us to “put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Ephesians 6.10-11) It’s an inside-outside strategy. Our strength and power come from within, in our confidence that God is at work in us, daily renewing our faith in new mercies and understanding. Meanwhile, we live in a world of uncertainty, where ground we travel is uneven and navigating our way through life requires a great deal of agility. This hard for us to learn, particularly when we leave ready-made Christianity—where faith is expressed in the polished confines of church sanctuaries—for the mean streets of real life. Following Christ in true discipleship is to calling oneself a “Christian” what inline skating in urban environments is to easily gliding in circles on a roller rink. The dynamics and demands are totally different. The risks are not the same. And if we’re to pursue the freedoms and joys that accompany discipleship, we must use protection—no matter how silly we may look when we’re geared up in the whole armor of God. Trying to skate along without it ultimately results in injuries that cause real pain and make us look worse than we would if we’d taken proper precautions. Undertaking this endeavor without protection is why so many of us falter and end up walking home in sock feet, feeling foolish and smarting wounds we could have avoided.
We need protection not because of any deficiency within ourselves, but because of the atmosphere we live in. The writer reminds us, “Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Danger is in the air. And one must wonder at the prophetic import of this observation for our day and time, when poisonous hatred and lies literally fill the air, borne on the wings of digital hysteria and fear. More than ever, we must protect ourselves against free-flying evil, taking Ephesians’ prescriptive armor to heart. If we’re to stand—if we’re to maintain our balance and make progress against the onslaught of deceit and negativity whirling about us—we must be properly equipped. In verses 14-17 we read, “Fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
As genuine disciples, we never travel without first doing an equipment check: truth to defend against lies, righteousness against injustice, peace against violence and confusion, faith against cynicism, salvation against surrender, and the Spirit revealed in God’s promises against human reasoning and hopelessness. Danger is in the air. We must guard against its treachery. And as we travel, we’re vividly aware that God’s armor is meant for our protection. It is not weaponry designed to wound or intimidate those around us. When we misuse spiritual protection to inflict pain we join ranks with powers that pollute the atmosphere. We make ourselves vulnerable to the very evils Ephesians teaches us to guard against.
In Galatians 5.7-8, Paul chides believers actively engaged in conflicts with combative forces attempting to denigrate their faith. “You were running well,” he writes. “Who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the One Who calls you.” Discipleship is an arduous quest to bring truth to light—or light to truth. The strength within us is evidenced in our ability to withstand the dangers and evil in the air, to keep our balance at all times, and journey ahead, undaunted by uneven ground and conflicts we encounter. When those around us succumb to airborne forces attempting to defeat our faith, we remember the Gospel needs no defense. It is we who must be protected. We are equipped with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Spirit made alive and known to us in God’s Word. Be strong in the Lord and the strength of God’s power. Stand. We’ve been given all the protection we need. Use it.
We travel in an atmosphere of airborne dangers; Ephesians teaches us how to protect ourselves against lies, insults, and injuries.