January 12, 2020

Standing in the Strength of the Spirit

Dave Zuleger | Ephesians 6:10-20

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

Introduction: Wake Up and Use the Right Weapons

When Pastor Jason asked me to preach, he asked me to preach a sermon that would tie prayer and the Word together as the 1-2 punch in the fight of the Christian life.

The first word that we read in our passage today is the word Finally. That signals to us that these are Paul’s concluding words to the church in Ephesus. This is the final note that he wants leave them with. So, what will Paul say?

What I think Paul wants to leave them with is the exhortation that if they will hold fast to the gospel and walk in a manner worthy unto the glory of God like he wrote about in chapters 1–5 of his letter, then they must wake up and use the right weapons.

We live in a culture that doesn’t think of the reality of the spiritual realm. And we’re not exempt. We can be prone to go to Google for help before God. We’re prone to problem-solving before prayer. If we are going to cling to the gospel and walk in a manner worthy of it in 2020, Paul would have us wake up to the reality that we have an enemy, and he means to conspire with the world and our flesh to destroy us.

No one wins a game if they are still in bed while it is going on. You wouldn’t want to enter into the ring drowsy to face a world champion fighter. We need to be awake and alert. The battle is real and raging every day.

And Paul is calling the Ephesians and us to use the right weapons. Have you ever had the experience of having the wrong tool for a job you’re doing? Because of my ability as a handyman, this is practically my only experience. And it’s frustrating. It doesn’t go well and is often a lost cause. 

In the same way, if we try to fight the supernatural power of the devil in our own strength, we will lose. So, Paul is calling us to wake up to the war we are in and take up the right weapons.

Main Point: Stand in the strength of the Lord in the war of the Christian life because the devil is strong and seeks to destroy.

With that main point in mind, I want to ask three questions: 1) What are the schemes of Satan? 2) How do we stand in another’s strength? 3) What are the daily rhythms of this war?

What are the schemes of Satan?

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.—Ephesians 6:11–13 

So, here is the call to wake up and stand up. Why? To stand against the schemes of the devil. The devil has schemes. He has plans. He has strategies. It seems from this passage and others that he’s organized his troops. There are rulers, authorities, powers, and spiritual forces—all conspiring to make this an “evil day” that we are living in.

Are you aware of these schemes? Are you aware when you wake up that you are walking into an “evil day” with Satan and his forces scheming for your soul?

So, it would be good to ask about these schemes. What are the devil and all his dark forces up to?

In Revelation 12:9, 12 we get this summary of the work and wrath of the devil: 

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. … “Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

So, the devil has a goal—it is to deceive the world. His goal is to destroy as many souls of unbelievers as possible by conspiring with their flesh to convince them that there is something more freeing, more exciting to be pursued, and more important than forgiveness by the blood of Jesus. His goal is to convince believers that there is something more satisfying, exciting, and important than abiding in Jesus. He aims to deceive with the goal of hiding or leading away from Jesus.

And he’s full of wrath. His time is short. He knows it. Jesus has put the principalities and powers to open shame at the cross by forgiving sins and therefore taking away the sting of death for all who would believe in him. And Satan seethes with wrath that his defeat is sure.

So, with his goal to destroy and his angry motivation, Satan is prowling like a roaring lion and seeking someone to devour. What are his schemes? Let me just remind you of a few from the Bible that will help us wake up to this war.

  • We can start in the beginning, in Genesis 3, where Satan shows up to twist God’s word in order to make Adam & Eve doubt God’s goodness. Are there areas of your life where you hear the whisper, “Is God really good?” or where you are being tempted to disobey his word?
  • In 1 Chronicles 21, we see Satan incite King David to pridefully conduct a census. Are there areas in your life where you are feeling the longing to validate your importance?
  • In Job, we see Satan tempt Job with great suffering and despair—at times making him question God. Are you suffering and beginning to hear the whisper that God is unfair or unjust? That God doesn’t care about you?
  • In Zechariah 3:1, we see Satan show up to accuse one of the Lord’s chosen ones who is clothed in filthy garments of sin. God commands him to clothed with new, clean garments. Do you feel the whisper in your life, “God could never love you. You’re too dirty. Too filthy. Your sin is too great.”
  • In 2 Corinthians 5 we see Satan tempt the people of Corinth to be harsh and unforgiving with someone who has sinned greatly. Do you feel bitterness rising in your heart toward someone that has sinned against you? Do you feel a sinister, satanic desire to make them pay, at least a little?
  • In Acts 5, we see Satan enter into Ananias to lie about his generosity—tempting him to pride and popularity. Do you feel the sinister desire to have your good works seen by others so that they might praise you?
  • In the temptation of Jesus (cf. Matthew 4), we see Satan come and tempt him with prestige, power, and comfort. Do you feel yourself tempted to trust in the comforts of this life? Are you longing for power—maybe even just in your parenting or marriage? 

The Ephesians should have known about this kind of wrathful hate as they would have heard of the seven exorcists in their city who had been sent running away naked and wounded by an angry evil spirit (Acts 19).

Now, we don’t often see these kinds of displays, but that is representative of the power of Satan. We shouldn’t take him lightly. And you shouldn’t assume that he’s only at work in the really big things. He could be whispering these things as you harbor anger against your boss, or discipline your kids harshly, or say that sharp word to your spouse, or make that gossip-filled comment about someone, or before you click on that link on your device and hear “just once more,” or after you’re done on your device and hear the whisper of shame, or as you begin to question God’s goodness in your suffering.

Satan is prowling and scheming to destroy our souls by making us believe Jesus isn’t enough. 

How do we stand in another’s strength?

Knowing the strength, anger, and schemes of the devil—how then do we stand? Well, the good news is that we don’t stand in our own strength. We are completely dependent on the Lord. Notice this with me: 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God. … Therefore take up the whole armor of God.—Ephesians 6:10–11, 13 

We are commanded not to be strong on our own, but in the Lord. In the strength of his might. We are to put on God’s armor. I think Paul is telling us to stand in the strength of the gospel here. And I think he’s talking about our union with Christ.

As you read your New Testament, you see all of the times we are “in” Christ. By the blood of Christ, we now are “in Christ” and have all the benefits of his life and power at work by the Holy Spirit. And what I want to show you now is that Jesus wore this armor first, and now we get to wear it and stand in his strength as those united with him in the gospel.

So, let’s do what Pastor Jason always does and go to Isaiah and see our Savior wear this armor on our behalf first.

Belt of Truth

In Isaiah 11, a shoot of Jesse, a Spirit-anointed Savior is promised.

Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.—Isaiah 11:5

Jesus came to the world as the Truth that would shine truth to the ends of the earth.

Breastplate and Helmet

The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head.—Isaiah 59:15–17 

Jesus is the promised warrior who wore perfect righteousness and salvation that will spread to the world so they will see his glory.

Feet Shod With Peace

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion.—Isaiah 52:6–7

Jesus is the one who came proclaiming good news of great joy that there is salvation for the world to be had in him! And the world breaks forth into singing at the peace that he brings. 

Sword of the Spirit—Word of God 

He made my mouth like a sharp sword.—Isaiah 49:2

In Isaiah 49, Jesus is the new Israel sent with sharp words calling sinners to repentance—to pierce through hard hearts and be a light to all the nations.

So, Bethlehem, as we are called to stand in the strength of the Lord, it is good news that our warrior-Savior, Jesus, has already come in perfect truth and perfect righteousness, with news of perfect peace with God, speaking the powerful, piercing words of God, bringing salvation to us! We do not fight against flesh and blood in our own strength. But, we fight from a place of victory already secured in Christ.

We fight from our union with Christ. We have his perfect righteousness! We have received the good news of peace with God! We stand in the truth of the gospel! The salvation he has brought to the world belongs to us! We have his powerful, piercing words to abide in.

This is the already, not-yet that we live in. Our Savior has secured the victory at the cross and rose again on our behalf. And we are in him, bought by his blood, and indwelt by his Spirit. And the Spirit lifts our eyes to Jesus in those moments where Satan is roaring, and we say, “The victory is secure. I have peace with God. I know the truth. I’m not guilty. I’m righteous before him. I have his words. Get away from me, Satan! I am standing in the strength of my Savior who has already delivered the final blow to you at the cross.”

We resist the devil and he will flee from us. This is the shield of faith that puts out his fiery darts. This is what standing in Another’s strength means. We don’t look to ourselves. We don’t promise ourselves this was the last time. We don’t hope in some future, better version of ourselves. We don’t hope in changed circumstances. No! We look to our Savior and his victory in this armor and we resist the devil from our union with Christ. We remember we are in him, his victory is ours, and we bring those truths into the battle. 

What are the daily rhythms of this war?

Now, if at this point you are wondering if I’m ever going to get to the Word & prayer—that would be a fair question.

Take up … 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.—Ephesians 6:17–18

Now, I simply don’t know of a better way to wake up and use the right weapons than to be a people devoted to the Word & prayer. The word of God is the sword the Spirit uses to put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13).

I mean, what have we been doing today? We’ve been going to the Word to see the exhortation of Paul, the schemes of the devil, and the victory we have as we stand in our union with Christ, right? That’s the sword. That’s the offensive weapon. That’s how you wake up and fight. You take the promises and truths in the word of God and fight the deceitful promises and lies of sin and the devil. You go there and see over and over again that Jesus is better. 

But, as you go to the Word and see how real and big the war is and how sinful we are and how strong Satan is, what are you going to do? Your going to call for help from the Lord, right? You’re going to look around this room at your brothers and sisters, and in your neighborhoods, and at your workplaces, and to the nations and see the havoc that sin and Satan are creating, the blindness that is there, and you’re going to feel your own inadequacy and plead with God for help, right?

The Spirit empowers prayer and accomplishes the purposes of God in prayer. That’s why we pray at all times, for all things, with all perseverance, for all the saints. Because if we are awake to the war, we realize it is everywhere and we need the victory of the truth, righteousness, peace, and salvation of God to invade the darkest places of our hearts and of the world.

There is an abiding in Christ in his word & prayer that leads to an advancing of the kingdom of God. There is a fellowship with Christ in the Word & prayer that fuels the fight of the kingdom. We have put on the armor of the victory of Christ and in Isaiah we saw that it wasn’t meant to be kept to one or two individuals but advanced to the ends of the earth, so that as God’s power shines in our weakness as we put on his victory, he gets global glory.

So, in 2020, if you’re awake to the war, you need the daily rhythm of persistent prayer to God and precious promises from the word of God to put on the armor of our Savior and fight in his strength against the schemes of the devil. We cannot defeat him alone. He’s strong and scary.

But, by the daily rhythms of the Word & prayer we can put on the armor of Christ and experience the reality that “greater is he that is in us, than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). 

Application: We Stand and Shine the Glory of God Into Darkness 

So, let me make a bridge to the next couple weeks of sermons. One of the schemes of the devil has always been to attack the preciousness reality of humans made in the image of God. He’s been doing this since Genesis 3. And the world has fallen prey to his deception in our sinful flesh. And that’s why we have the evils of racism and abortion in our world.

Being made in the image of God means that all humans have equal dignity and worth before their Creator.

Racism says that some cultures or colors of people are superior to others. It seeks to oppress the dignity and value of people that it deems less worthy. And it’s well at work, because Satan is strong and angry and eager to destroy souls and distort the glory of God.

Abortion says that some humans have less value and dignity than others. The Bible teaches us that life begins at conception and that God is knitting together image-bearers in the womb. What God knits together, we dare not separate. And it’s well at work, because Satan is strong and angry and eager to destroy souls and distort the glory of God.

Listen to this exhortation from Paul in Ephesians 5, the chapter right before our text today:

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.—Ephesians 5:11

This is a call to stand in the victory of Christ and shine the light of his glory into the dark places. This is why we have these weeks at Bethlehem. We don’t have these weeks based on the current winds of politics. We remember these issues because they strike at the very heart of God and seek to distract from and distort the glory of God.

We remember these weeks, because our enemy is seeking to destroy souls in these things and we long to wage a war of love. As we abide in our warrior-Savior, we advance his righteousness, his peace, his truth, and his salvation to the darkest places. So, we seek to bring his righteousness, his peace, his truth, and his salvation to bear in the world around us. We can’t be silent or passive.

But, let us remember in these issues and in our daily battle against sin and Satan to use the right weapons. We won’t advance with clever political alliances. We can’t hope in politics, but we can hope in Jesus. Oh Bethlehem, let us take up God’s word & prayer to abide in the armor of the victory of Christ—and who knows what advances God might make in our hearts and in the world in 2020! 

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