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Faith Bible Church, NY
April 6, 1997
The Shield of Faith
Some 250 years ago Isaac Watts penned these words, “O God, our Help in ages past, Our Hope for years to come, Our Shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home. Under the shadow of Thy throne Still may we dwell secure; Sufficient is Thine arm alone, And our defense is sure.” Certainly these are true words in God’s protection of us in the stormy blast we have had this week, but there is another storm that even now rages about us that is much more dangerous – and God protects us in the midst of it. Our adversary, the devil, rages against all mankind to keep the unsaved from salvation in Jesus Christ and to keep the saved from living for Christ. The damage done by his storm of evil is seen all around us more clearly than even the trees that fell in our county Monday night and Tuesday. People who remain blind to the truth and continue in the futile attempt to earn their way to heaven. Other people who pursue the even more futile chase for happiness and success as defined by our society. Such pursuit is chasing the wind and will prove to be empty vanity and the despondency they eventually come to confirms the point. They also leave behind the wreckage of damaged lives as they used others as stepping stones or for their own selfish pleasures. Others seek to escape from the pain of life in drugs, alcohol and empty amusements.
Physical storms can destroy a house but leave the home untouched. Satan’s storms can destroy the home while leaving the house untouched. How many lives have been destroyed through divorce and the irresponsibility inherent in illegitimate births? How many marriages that remain intact are really nothing more than two people sharing a house but no true love between them?
We are in a spiritual battle and its storm rages around us, but God is our shelter from its stormy blast. Even better, He has provided us all the equipment we need to face the storm and help other caught in it.
In our study of Ephesians 6:10f we have already seen that to fight in this storm we must be strong in the Lord, not ourselves. We must stand firm and put on the panoply – the armor – God has given to us.
We must be girded with the belt of truth. Are you a truth seeker? Do you let truth control you even when it is uncomfortable to be confronted with it?
We must have on the breastplate of righteousness. This is both the imputed and imparted righteousness of Christ. I stand clean before the Lord God, creator of heaven and earth, because I have been clothed with robes made clean through Jesus’ blood. His righteousness has been attributed to me through faith in His atonement for me. In addition I now pursue holiness instead of the things of this world. Its enticements no longer had the attraction they once had for me. Are you pure in Jesus Christ? Are you becoming more pure every day?
We must have our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. How can you stand firm against the devil if your feet are not properly equipped to grip the otherwise slippery ground we stand upon? Jesus died in our place and then rose from the dead on the third day. The bondage of sin has been broken. We are no longer slaves to it and Satan. The enmity that existed between us and God has been removed and we have peace with Him because we are reconciled with Him. We are no longer against Him, but with Him on His side.
Certainly we will still have troubles and trials in this world – Jesus said we would (John 16:33), but the peace that comes through the gospel – the good news of being reconciled to God – controls us and calms us in the midst of our painful experiences. This past Monday I participated in the funeral of little 14 month old infant. The pain of the loss was evident. The family was hurting. Yet, in the midst of it all there was a peace for those of who have Jesus as our savior. The boy’s mother gave the eulogy herself. She cried, we all cried, yet as she said herself, though her arms ached to hold little Joel again, she was at peace because she knew she would see him again in heaven.
Does the peace of God control you in such a way that you can be calm in the midst of the storms of life? Can you set aside your worry and anxiety and leave it at the mercy seat of God trusting that He does indeed know best even when we do not understand? Those whose feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace can.
This morning we come to verse 16 and the fourth piece of armor, “In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one.”
Take special note of this piece, for it is very important. Paul puts emphasis upon it by introducing it with, “In addition to all…”. This may be stretching the text a little, but you could almost say – if you blow it with the other three – your belt of truth slipped, your breastplate of righteousness fell off, and you forgot to lace your shoes on – make sure that you pick up the shield of faith. If you mess up with the rest, DON’T FORGET YOUR SHIELD! Of course, Paul is not diminishing the importance of the other pieces of armor, but he is emphasizing the importance of the shield of faith.
The shield of faith is no little piece of equipment either. This is not the little round shield the calvary men carried and that the gladiators used in the arenas. Various forms of these light shields were called, telth (telte) or aspiV (aspis). This is the big combat shield used by the Roman Legions called thequreoV (thureos). They were typically 4 feet long by 2 1/2 feet wide, and the would extend from below the knees to eye level on the typical soldier. They were made of a wooden frame would be covered with layers of tough leather or even metal. A line of soldiers carrying these shields would be a like moving wall protecting the army from the enemy’s arrows and spears. At the same time their own archers could crouch behind them and send shoot their own arrows against the enemy.
King Solomon had ceremonial shields of this type that were covered in Gold. Other kings had ceremonial sets covered in bronze. Regardless of whether it was tough leather or metal, a shied of this type would easily defend against the arrows of the enemy. They would either bounce off or harmlessly stick into the shield. Sometimes arrows would be wrapped with cloth, dipped in pitch, set on fire and then shot. Even these flaming arrows would have no effect on these big shields.
Why is this piece so important? Let me ask you, how central is faith in Christian doctrine? It is faith that is central to the other pieces of armor. Notice again what our text says, “in addition to all.” You do need to put every piece of armor on, including “taking up the shield of faith.” Now take note that it is “with”, or more literally, “by,” the shield of faith that you extinguish the flaming missiles of the evil one. Faith is essential to each piece of armor just as it is central to all of the Christian life.
It is by faith I believe the truth of the Word of God. Faith is not a blind leap in any sense. The Christian faith is trust based in belief in the truth. Our faith is reasonable and demonstrable. God demonstrates His power, majesty and goodness in all He has created. He has revealed His love and plan for my life in the Bible, the Word of truth. I gird that truth around me and walk in it by faith.
It is by faith that the righteousness of Christ is applied to my life and I am made holy in God’s sight. There was and is nothing I could do to become righteous myself. God reckons my righteous because I believe Jesus’ atonement and promises are true (Rom. 3:28; 4:24,25). It is also by faith that I walk in practical holiness. If I had no faith I would not believe that Jesus is who He claims to be – God in human flesh. I would not believe He has authority over my life since He has purchased me with His own blood. I would not believe that He is wiser than I and knows better than I what is best for my life. Without such faith I would refuse to obey Him and would therefore continue in my own sinful path. It is by faith I believe all these things and therefore strive to be obedient to Him and His commandments. They are not only the right thing to do, but they are the best thing for me.
It is by faith that the atoning death of Jesus Christ is applied to my sins and I am wonderfully saved. The bondage to sin is broken. I am reconciled to God and no longer at war with Him. That is the gospel of peace.
If faith is central in the Christian life, then we had better make sure that we understand what exactly is faith.
One of the false doctrines that has spread through much of American Christianity is an improper understanding of faith. Many have separated belief from faith, and faith from trust. Yet all three English words come from the same Greek word “pistis” or the verb form, “pisteuo.” Many today claim that they believe in Jesus, even calling themselves “born-again” Christians. Yet, of that group, a large part do not mean by that statement that they have placed their trust for salvation in Jesus Christ. They mean that they believe that Jesus existed, was a good teacher, gave an good example of how to live, or maybe that He was a prophet.
You cannot pick and choose to believe whatever you what about Jesus and then claim that you “believe in him.” The Bible requires that you believe certain things about Him. When the Bible talks about “believing in Jesus” for salvation, it is referring to believing that Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be – God incarnate, who lived a sinless life, then died as a substitute for our sins, and then was raised from the dead on the third day, and is now seated on the right hand of God the Father.
In addition, the Bible also requires that belief not be separated from faith and trust. You cannot remain intellectually honest and claim to believe something without a corresponding faith and trust in that object of belief. To say that you believe something and then refuse to act upon that belief by putting your trust in it is to demonstrate you a liar.
There is an old example, but it’s a good one. The story has been told so often that there are a few variations to it, but this is the way I read about it. A fellow named “Blondin” was one of or they greatest tightrope walker at the turn of the century. He had stretched a wire across Niagara Falls and a great crowd had gathered on both shores to see the event. Blondin easily walked across and the crowd cheered. Then he took to doing different tricks.
He went out over the middle of the roaring Niagara, dropped a cup on a line down into the river, drew it up and took a drink. The crowd cheered. Then he pushed a wheel barrow on the rope. When he got to the other side, he loaded the wheel barrow brought it back again. The crowd cheered saying that Blondin could do anything.
At this cheering Blondin approached a young lad and asked him if he thought that he could go across the tightrope with a man on his back. The boy replied, “Certainly.” Blondin asked him if he though he could take him across, and the boy replied again, “certainly.” Whereupon, Blondin bent down and said, “Okay, jump up.”
Instead of jumping on Blondin’s back, the boy quickly disappeared into the crowd. The point is simple. The boy said he believed in Blondin, but he did not have faith in him because he did not put his trust in him. The boy could claim anything he wanted, but in truth, he did not believe in Blondin.
Many people treat Christ the same way. They claim to believe in Him. In reality, they do not, because their faith and trust is not in Him. Biblical belief in Christ does not equal intellectual assent. Biblical belief in Christ means to put faith in Him – to trust Him. Saving faith means that I believe that the work of Christ on the cross is all that is needed to purchase my salvation, and I put my complete trust in God on that basis for my eternal future. If I try to add anything to salvation by grace through faith, then in reality, I do not trust what God has said, I do not have faith in Christ – I instead have faith in something else that cannot save me. Don’t be mislead. Only faith in Jesus Christ alone can save you from your sin and its penalties. Your good works can’t do it. Raising your hand, walking the aisle or praying a prayer cannot do it. Neither this church or any other church can do it. The righteous deeds of other people cannot do it. Only Jesus Christ, because only He is sufficient to pay the price for your sin, and only He has proven that He has the power to forgive you those sins and keep His promises.
That is the faith needed for salvation. My future destiny is completely in the hands of Jesus Christ. But the daily Christian life also requires faith, and this is what Paul is referring to here as the shield that extinguishes the fiery missiles of our enemy. The devil wants you to doubt God. He slanders God and tries to get us to doubt Him. As we have already pointed out in this series of sermons, Satan will lie seeking to dissuade you from the truth.
Among Satan’s many lies are: “God will not really save you just on the basis of what Christ has done, you have to do more and earn your salvation.” “You cannot trust God to provide for your needs by seeking first His kingdom and righteousness, you have to do it yourself in your own way.” “God is not good because He hasn’t taken you out of the hard circumstances you’ve so often found yourself in.” “God does not really love you, or he would give you all the stuff everyone else in our society has.” “God does not care about you, so you had better lie to protect yourself.” “God is not listening to your prayers, you might as well give up.” “God does not understand, otherwise he would not ask someone who has had such a traumatic childhood to minister to other people. Don’t do it, you might get hurt again.” “Only fools rejoice in adversity, better to seek your own revenge because God is not doing anything.”
That is a sampling of some flaming arrows the devil will shoot at us. Yet each and every one is easily extinguished with faith in the truth. God is good, merciful, wise, gracious, loving, caring, gentle, sovereign, holy, just, righteous, omnipotent, omniscient, kind and wise, much wiser than me! As I put my faith in Him, I trust my future to the Lord, then the devil can shoot whatever he wants at me – it’s not going to get through. It will be blocked each time by my faith in the Lord God who created heaven and earth and me.
This does not mean that the shield of faith is easy to lift. Those large shields of the Roman Soldier where heavy and took effort to pick up and move. Carrying that shield was no passive enterprise. It took work. So it is with our faith. We must exercise it. We cannot let it be passive.
Look at the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. Abraham believed God for a land he had not seen, a son he did not have, and a blessing he could not imagine. Noah took God at his word and built a very large boat, though he did not live by the sea, and probable had never seen rain. Moses trusted God, faced his fear, went back to Egypt and led the children of Israel out. Then reading from 11:32, “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect. 12:1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.“
That is faith, do you have it? Do you trust God for your future as these mentioned in Heb. 11? Please note that their circumstances were not always pleasant. Many of them suffered many things for the sake of righteousness, yet because of their trust in God for a better future – even if that would only come in heaven – they overcame any temptation to give up. That is the shield of faith! Have you picked up your shield?
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