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Monday, July 22, 2019

The Supernatural Battle - Part Three

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints . . . . (Eph 6:12-18)

In the first of this series on spiritual warfare, we looked at the evidence of the growing supernatural evil all around us and the supernatural protection God gives us by His presence within each Christian, and the protection provided us by His angels. In the next essay we focused on ‘girding our loins’ with the belt of truth.’ The Roman soldier’s belt was an essential piece of his armor. It held in place not only his short sword, but it also securely held the breastplate that covered his vital organs.

“Gird your loins with truth,” Paul warned. If Christians don’t securely hold on to truth, if we compromise and dilute His truth, then we open ourselves to devastating attack by our enemy. So, let’s now look at that breastplate armor held securely by the belt of truth: Paul calls it for the Christian the breastplate of righteousness.

The word ‘righteousness’ in Scripture often carries the idea of ‘thinking and acting according to God’s commandments.’ Virtue, integrity, and moral purity are always considered godly principles.

Seems simple enough. Obey God’s laws – the more scrupulous the better – and you’ve got nothing to worry about. But Scripture tells us God has something deeper in mind when it comes to Biblical righteousness. The former Pharisee and strict teacher of the law we now know as the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi what surely confused and angered his former colleagues. Paul said he longed to be found in Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith . . . (Philippians 3:9)

It seems he must have been paying attention to Jesus when the Lord said to the crowd of disciples, curious onlookers, and some religious leaders during His Sermon on the Mount: “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom. (Matthew 5:20)

The scribes and Pharisees were meticulous in their observance of the Law of Moses, as well as the multiple oral interpretations of those laws. According to the two major theological schools of the time, oral traditions were as authoritative as the written laws handed down by Moses and the prophets. Those same oral traditions informed them that if they rigorously followed their traditions, God would consider them ‘righteous.’

Yet, can you imagine what the crowd thought to themselves when the Lord Jesus told His disciples that unless their righteousness surpassed that of their religious leaders, they would not enter the kingdom of heaven! If the holy religious teachers of the Temple will not enter heaven, then who can ever be saved?

Who, indeed? 
The New Testament writers repeatedly inform us, Biblical righteousness is not defined so much by what we DO, but by what we ARE. And when our breastplate of righteousness is held securely by the belt of truth, our lifestyle will change to reflect the works and words and attitudes of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Righteousness becomes imputed to us – accredited to us by God – not on the basis of works, so no one could boast. It is imputed to us on the basis of our faith (Ephesians 2:8).

That’s why painstaking observance of religious rituals and good works by themselves save no one. Why? Because sin is so much a part of our inherited nature, written like some genetic code into our souls – which is why sin invariably leads us away from the Savior.
That was St. Paul’s lament. Feel this man’s passion as he cries out about his sin nature:  “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. . . . For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want . . . I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good . . . Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Romans 7:15-24)

Yet, Paul also recognized the good news that God calls us righteous because of our faith. Here is Paul again, this time from Romans 3: “But now apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested . . . even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe . . ..” (Romans 3:21-22). And once again he writes, “[N]ot having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith . . . (Philippians 3:9)
Did you catch that? The righteousness that God gives to us is based soley on our faith. No wonder Paul didn’t stop with the bad news of Romans 7. He moved directly into chapter eight this way: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Why? It’s all about our faith in the finished work of Jesus on that Calvary cross. It’s all our faith in God’s gracious gift to those who believe that Christ’s blood atoned for their sins.

Let me repeat myself for emphasis: It is not so much what we do as what we ARE that imputes or credits to us God’s righteousness. It’s about what God already did the moment we are born again. Just as God calls us ‘saints’ – meaning ‘holy ones’ (e.g. Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1) because of our relationship with Him through His Son, God calls us ‘righteous’ for the same reason. Our righteousness, our ‘saintliness’ in God’s eyes is a fait accompli.
That’s God’s view of us; Holy and righteous. But if the enemy can create doubt in your mind about God’s truth concerning what we already ARE in Christ, if he can insinuate uncertainty in the unalterable promises of God, then he will have created a critical chink in your breastplate – and he will go in for the kill.

That is why girding ourselves securely with Biblical truth is so important to the Christian. God’s truth alone produces the kind of faith that sets us FREE from fear that God lied to us about of His promises, or that His promises don’t apply to us because of our past sins.

A few days before I presented this message to the people I regularly meet with at a 55+ community, I had a sad conversation with an elderly woman in another facility. I asked her if she loved Jesus. She said she did not. I asked her why. She said, “Because He doesn’t love me.”

Her matter-of-fact statement startled me, and I tried to reassure her of His love for her, of His willingness to forgive whatever it is she thought Christ would not forgive. But I could tell she wasn’t buying any of it. She’d been made a prisoner of war in this supernatural battle.

I implore you. Take this danger seriously. Don’t let it happen that you or those you love be taken captive by Satan’s lies.

None of the Roman soldier’s armor was superfluous. Each piece was vital to his safety, and to his ability to successfully battle the enemy. In the same way, none of our spiritual armor is superfluous. Each piece Paul mentions in this sixth chapter of Ephesians is rooted in God’s truth and is vital to our safety – and the safety of others. Our armor, all of it, is vital to our ability to successfully wage battle against our supernatural enemy.

Gird your loins with God’s inerrant and infallible truth. Read it. Study it. Memorize it. Then put on the breastplate of righteousness which God credits to you through your faith in the sacrificial atonement of Christ.

Next time we’ll look at the shield of faith, another important piece of our supernatural armor.

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