The Christian Soldier must Gird his Waist with Truth
Text: Ephesians 6:14a
Sermon by Rev. Alan Camarigg
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington, 2003
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 19, No. 2
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Congregation, beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ,
That we are engaged in a very serious and deadly conflict is impressed upon us by the repetition of the command to take up the whole armor of God so that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. In verse 11, the apostle says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” He then proceeds to emphasize the fact, which we considered in greater detail last week, that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, and against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. The multiplication of terms which the apostle uses to describe our enemies impresses upon our minds that our spiritual enemy is indeed very powerful — a force to be reckoned with. The truth of the matter is, these enemies are responsible for billions of spiritual casualties over the centuries.
And with that in mind, understanding just how deadly this conflict is, the apostle repeats the command to take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Beloved, do we take this command seriously? Is it our sincere desire to be left standing when this terrific battle comes to its conclusion? There’s little doubt, given the intense military imagery being employed by the apostle Paul in this passage, that his thoughts had drifted away to the battle field; and that, in his mind’s eye, he pictured a soldier fighting hard through the heat of battle. There are enemy soldiers coming at him from every side, but he fights hard and with great skill until, finally, the last of his enemies have either fled or lie dead on the battle field. He has met the evil day of battle; and because he came to that battle fully armed, he withstood the attack. He prevailed and stood victorious over his enemies. Standing is, therefore, synonymous with victory. To stand is to be victorious!
Is that what we long for as we look to the future — to be standing on that day when the battle is finally over? That may seem like a silly question, but what is not so funny is that many people have gone down to defeat in this battle because they didn’t take it seriously; and failed, because they miscalculated the threat posed by their spiritual enemies, to prepare and discipline themselves. The other evening, we watched a program on the history channel which chronicled the intense training endured by the Navy Seals. As you know, this is an elite fighting group, but their skill and stamina does not come easily. In addition to physical training that borders on the impossible, they are drilled daily on the importance of following directions to the minutest of details. One day, the class earned some rather harsh discipline for failing to take note of a small change for the day’s schedule posted on the bulletin board! One would almost say that the trainers were too harsh, but they understand that it may cost those young men their very lives if they allow them to get by with anything but a 110% effort.
Should we be any less strenuous in our spiritual battle? The stakes, after all, are much higher, for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of darkness who are capable of inflicting wounds that can land one in the very pit of hell! Oh how diligent we must be then, in our efforts to understand these various pieces of armor which God Himself has fashioned for us — to understand what they are, how they protect us, and how we are to put them on. With that in mind, let us begin our consideration of this armor of God that we are to put on beginning with the girding of our waist with truth.
I proclaim the word of God to you today which reminds us that “The Christian soldier must gird his waist with truth.”
1. Danger: the devil lies!
2. Truth: our foundation!
3. Soldier: gird your waist!
We realize, of course, that the devil employs so many different schemes to disarm and destroy his enemies, that the apostle Paul couldn’t begin to catalogue them all. But as we study the various pieces of armor of God that we are instructed to put on, we realize that they prepare us for any attack the devil may launch at us for the simple reason that the devil’s tactics, though many in number, are all built upon certain, predictable foundations. There’s a very real sense then, in which the armor which we are instructed to put on helps to flesh out and to expose these principalities and powers of which the apostle Paul has been speaking. Do you want to know how the principalities and powers operate? What is their mode of operation? How shall we recognize their tactics? The answer to those questions lies, in no small measure, in the armor of God. If we understand the armor, we will also understand the basic principles on which our enemy strategizes and executes his attack.
Take, for example, the girding of our waist with the belt of truth. What does this tell us about our enemy; the principalities and powers of darkness? That we must gird our waist with truth would indicate to us, would it not, that the basic principle upon which our enemy builds all his offensive campaigns is that of the lie — that his principle tactic, in battle, is to deceive his opponent, and, in the power of that deception, to overtake and destroy him. And that conclusion is certainly born out of and confirmed in Scripture. On one occasion, recorded for us in John 8, Jesus said to those who were basing their confidence for entering the kingdom of heaven on the fact that they were the descendants of Abraham: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”
The combination of words that Jesus uses here are potent, revealing both the mode and motive of our enemy’s actions. What is the devil’s motive in every scheme that is hatched in his diabolical mind? It is to bring death and destruction and to wreak havoc on as many people and as much of God’s creation as he possibly can! He is a murderer. That’s what lives in his heart. That was his goal and desire when he approached Eve in the garden and asked, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’” The devil wasn’t just playing a practical joke so that everyone could have a good laugh afterwards. He approached Eve with serious intent to kill — to inflict death — to destroy. But he also knew that Adam and Eve, as they were yet in a state of perfection, were not worthy of death; and it was not in his power to inflict death of his own authority. In order to bring them down, he had to make them liable of God’s wrath. He had to lead them into transgression so that they would suffer the curse of disobedience.
But how? How could they be transformed from obedient children who stood in the light of God’s favor and the strength and joy of that life which He had breathed into them? There was only one way — one weapon that would be capable of bringing Adam and Eve down in defeat — a carefully-crafted, precision-sharpened, expertly-aimed lie! And so it was that the devil came to Eve, and with all the skill of his diabolical mind, cast his deadly spear deep into her heart, spreading that poison of distrust and covetousness which lead her, and her husband Adam, to disobey God. With a lie, the devil succeeded with his murderous intentions. Adam and Eve fell, and death came not only upon them, but upon the whole human race.
And that has been the devil’s motive and mode of operation ever since. He is the mass murderer of all mass murderers, and at the foundation of every assault he has ever launched has been the lie — lies about God, lies about man, lies about the consequences of disobeying God, and lies about the pathway to true happiness and life! And perhaps the grandest of all lies is the lie that we ourselves will be like God, knowing good and evil — a lie that has gained a lot of ground over the past two hundred years with the help and aid of yet another lie, namely, that we all came into being through the long ages as the result of evolutionary processes.
And the devil loves nothing more than to spread the poison of his lies through the instrumentality of men causing untold trouble, grief and death even in the church. It’s quite striking and revealing what Peter said to Ananias after he and his wife had lied about the money they were giving to the church after selling a possession. He said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?” In Peter’s mind, there was simply no question about the source of the lie, for the devil is the father of lies. And think of the heartache caused by lies — Naboth murdered as the result of false witnesses. The Scriptures warn us of false prophets who will try to lead us astray with lies. Think of the troubles in the church today as the result of the devil’s lies — the lie, for example, that the purpose of the gospel is nothing more than social change, or that what really matters is love and relationship and not doctrine, or that the way to real joy and fulfillment is positive thinking. And then there are the massive lies by which entire nations are deceived. I think of the atheistic notions that gripped the hearts of men like Karl Marx that have led to the development of communist states under which millions of Christians have perished.
Lies, lies and more lies. The world is full of the devil’s lies; and we must be alert because they often come to us very subtly. The other day I heard a song which spoke of the “circle of life.” Sounds so innocent and benign, doesn’t it? But this simple phrase is built upon a lie concerning the nature of life. Life is not like a wheel where we keep going round and round — being born, living, dying, and then being born again, living and dying, and all of that to be repeated in endless repetitions. This is a pagan view of life with its own pagan ideas about eternity and salvation, all of which is a lie from the devil himself! The Biblical view of life is not a circle, but a line with a definite beginning, progress, and a conclusion which stretches out into eternity. And the point is to demonstrate that the devil’s lies are not always painted with bold red letters on the sky! They are often very subtle — so seemingly harmless and even appealing to our senses! So how then do we stand against these lies especially in light of the fact that there are so many, and they are often so subtle and hard to detect? The only answer, of course, is that we must build our foundation upon the truth.
One of the questions that is often raised by commentators is what Paul meant when he said that we are to gird our waist with truth. Was he talking about the truth of God’s Word, or was he talking about truth in the sense of being true within our own heart — truth in the sense of sincerity of heart? Personally, I would lean in the direction of those who say that the truth, as Paul speaks of it here, is the truth of God’s Word. We must be sincere of heart, of course, in order to “gird our waist” with the truth. No one is going to be able to do that if they are not sincere in their submission to the Lord and His Word, but that Paul cannot be talking primarily about sincerity of heart is clear from the fact that many a heretic has been absolutely sincere in his heart about what he believes. Sincerity is not, therefore, the measure of truth. Truth is based upon the authority and veracity of the one who speaks it; and that inevitably leads us to God Himself, who alone speaks with absolute authority and veracity.
And what are we to do with the truth of God’s Word? We are to gird our waists with it. We immediately realize, of course, that Paul is speaking figuratively. He doesn’t mean that we make a literal belt with the pages of Scripture, and then strap that around our waists. But why does he compare the truth to a belt? One thing is for sure, Paul was not one for being sloppy when it came to such comparisons; and, in this case, he had plenty of time and opportunity, as he sat in his prison cell, to think about the Roman soldier — the manner in which he was armed and how that helped him in actual battle. And the thing that he must have realized, as he observed these soldiers, is that the belt or girdle around his waist was a foundational piece of equipment, that is to say, that the soldier would never have taken the belt from his waist and flung it at the enemy in his attempt to disable or kill him. The belt would stay in place, in necessary, to the better end. So what then, was it’s purpose?
It’s been noted, in this connection, that it was the custom of the men of Paul’s day to wear long and loose garments, and that it was necessary, for the man going into battle, to gather those long garments up and bind them in place with a belt. The problem, obviously, if they didn’t gather these garments up and secure them with a belt, is that they would get in the way, perhaps even causing the soldier to stumble and making him an easy mark for the enemy. But I believe there’s another purpose. Boys and girls, do you have any idea how much the swords those ancient soldiers used actually weighed? I don’t have an exact figure, but rest assured that they were very heavy. Now the warriors of that day were physically powerful men, but you can imagine that even for a very strong man, when he was on the battle field holding a shield in one hand and having to swing that heavy sword with the other, that it would put a severe strain on his back and abdomen. And so the purpose of the belt was to fortify and support the muscles in his back and abdomen while exerting himself in battle.
And it’s with that thought in mind that Paul instructs us to gird our waist with the truth. As he thought about standing against the wiles of the devil, he envisioned the Word of God serving as that belt that would give us freedom of movement and serve to fortify our “mid-section,” if you will, in our struggle with these principalities and powers of darkness. As a matter of fact, the Bible even speaks of truth in a way that would make us think of it in this way. Going back to that passage from John 8 that I mentioned earlier, before our Lord exposed the devil as the murderer from the beginning and the father of lies, He said to those Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
The first thing God’s Word does then, when we gird our spiritual waist with it, is to provide us with freedom. The truth of God’s Word girt around our waists keeps us from getting all tangled up in the lies of the devil and stumbling so that we become an easy mark. And in addition to making us free, the Word of God serves to fortify us and make us strong. “I have written to you, young men,” writes John in I John 2:14, “because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.” That has been your experience as well, hasn’t it? Haven’t you found, in your own life and walk as a Christian, that you have enjoyed a certain inner strength in those times when there was a settled conviction in your mind and heart about the truth as God has laid that out for us in His Word? Have you ever stopped to think that this inner strength — this ability to stand firm against temptations or to overcome doubts — is the result of your waist being girded with the truth of God’s Word? It’s a wonderful thing if you really stop to think about it.
There is an inner strength that we can literally feel when our hearts are settled in deep conviction as to the truth of God’s enduring Word because we know, deep within our hearts, that this Word of God will never change. It will never fall. We don’t have to worry that we’ll wake up tomorrow only to discover that it was all a lie or is somehow unreliable. That is impossible because it is God’s Word, and in Him there is no falsehood. And when we gird our waists with His Word, we suddenly find that our minds and hearts are able to stand firm though the very hosts of hell assail us with doubts, temptations and fears. O, we may grow weary and even a little faint in the battle, but there’s a settledness within — a certain inner strength from having our spiritual waists girded with the truth. Beloved, do you know what it’s like to have that belt of truth around your spiritual mid-section? I trust that you do. Indeed, every veteran of this Christian warfare should know, from experience, the benefits of having the waist girded with that belt of truth; and should, for that reason, be very diligent to obey this command to put it on.
Having been reminded, once again, of the necessity and great benefit of having our waists girded with the truth, we proceed to ask ourselves, “How do we do that?” How do we gird our waist with the truth? I enjoyed and much appreciated, in this connection, the comments of William Gurnall in his rather large volume entitled, “The Christian in Complete Armor.” In answer to the question, how we might gird our waist with the truth, he gives two directions or suggestions. First, he says, “Labor to get a heart inflamed with a sincere love of the truth;” and, second, “To a heart inflamed with the love of truth, labor to add a heart with the fear of that wrath which God hath in store for all those who apostatize from the truth.”
It goes without saying, of course, that we can do neither of these apart from the grace of God, and His Holy Spirit living and abiding in our hearts. Apart from the Holy Spirit, we are dead in our sin; and the person who is dead in sin cannot love the truth of God’s Word. On the contrary, the person dead in sin hates and despises the truth of God’s Word for the very reason that it exposes him. Jesus said as much to Nicodemus who had come to see Him one night. He said, “Everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” But all of that changes when God brings us to life spiritually. Our whole attitude and disposition to the truth of His Word change. To be sure, we are convicted by it. It exposes our sins, and we are humbled by that to the dust. But there is born in our hearts, at the same time, a love for the truth! Though it condemns us initially, we love it because it also leads us to Christ. Oh we love that truth — the truth of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ who forgives all our sins, washes them away and gives us His perfect righteousness by which we can stand before God.
And the point now is that we gird our waists with this truth by developing, cultivating and feeding that love for the truth — by getting a heart that is aflame with the love of the truth. How, in a very practical way, do we do that? We do it by reading God’s Word each and every day, and meditating upon it so that more and more it becomes the lamp unto our feet and the light that shines down our path. But I believe there’s so much more to it than that. If I may ask you, why do you love the Word of God so much? Have you ever thought about that? Isn’t it true that you love it for the very reason that it is His Word, the Word of your God, the Word which has come from the One who loves you and has Redeemed your life from destruction? Isn’t it true that you love this Word because in it He reveals Himself to you as the God of your salvation? And the more you read it; and the more you hear God Himself speaking to you from it, the more you love it — that Word of truth and of salvation.
And the brighter the flame of love for God’s truth burns in our hearts, the more our waists are gird with that Word of truth — the more it is bound around our spiritual mid-section, giving us freedom of movement, stability and strength to stand against the wiles of our enemy. And then to a heart aflame with the love for the truth of God’s Word, we add a heart filled with a healthy fear of the wrath of God in store for those who apostatize from it. Perhaps the most sobering words in all of Scripture are reserved for those who know the truth — are intellectually convinced of the truth of the gospel — but willingly reject it. Of such, the author of Hebrews writes that if we sin willfully after having a knowledge of the truth, there is no more sacrifice for sin, that is to say, if we knowingly and deliberately apostatize from the gospel of Jesus Christ, we turn away from the only way of salvation! All that remains is a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
Beloved, let us be very diligent to gird our waist with the truth. Let us do that with a healthy fear of falling away and apostatizing from that truth and suffering, in the end, utter defeat at the hands of that spiritual host of wickedness that is gathered around us. But let’s gird our waists with the truth not just out of the fear of apostatizing, but also, more positively, out of a deep and sincere love for God and His Word. Let us put His truth on as the belt around our waist that gives us freedom and strength to fight the good fight of faith. Let us do so as those who would stand against the wiles of the devil himself. Let us do this together as a church that longs to serve effectively in this community and beyond, so that others too may come to know the truth. And let’s do this, above all, so that God may be glorified as we stand firm in Jesus Christ Himself who is the way, the truth and the life. Amen.