The Christian is in a battle. The believer is engaged in spiritual hand-to-hand combat (Eph. 6:12), and our souls are at stake. The devil wants to destroy your faith – and though it is not possible for the faith of the elect to be finally destroyed (1 Pet. 1:5), yet he can do great harm to the saints if they are not careful. Peter denied Christ. Let the one who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12). We need to “take heed.” Beware of presumption. Beware of the attitude that you can get through life unscathed without any preparation for the battle that is waging all around you.
You might say that in verses 10-13, the apostle is reminding us of the battle, making us aware of the war we are waging, its intensity and its difficulty. He is calling us to stand, to defend our ground, and to repel the attacks of the wicked one. But you are not going to stand if you aren’t even aware of the battle, and so he calls this to our attention.
But then you need to be prepared for the battle. You need to go through basic training, so to speak. You need to become familiar with the weapons with which you will fight the enemy, what they are and how to use them well. That is what the apostle is doing in the verses before us; he is preparing us for the battle. He is laying out in front of us the armor that we are called to put on, describing it for us and showing us in some sense how to use it in the battle. In verses 14-17 we have Christian basic training.
As we begin to look at each piece of armor, we first of all need to remember that God is the one who has provided each piece of armor for us. We may infer a couple of very important truths from this fact. The first truth is that every piece of armor is important for that battle. God is not going to send you into battle with a weapon or piece of armor unless you are absolutely going to need it. Now I am told that some of our soldiers overseas are angry because it has been decreed that they wear certain pieces of body armor that they feel are not necessary; it only slows them down and in that sense makes them more vulnerable to the enemy. But we should not ascribe such folly to God; he will not demand any piece of armor that is not absolutely necessary. And therefore it is stupid for us to pick and choose what we want to go into battle with; if we want to be successful, we have to have on the “whole armor of God” (ver. 13), not just part of it. Every verse here is important, every weapon and piece of armor is necessary. We can’t just pick up the sword of the Spirit, we must also have the shield of faith. We must have everything if we are going to withstand in the evil day.
And so to that end, I want to consider each weapon and piece of armor separately; to give each its own consideration. I think that is important in order that we truly understand how all this works together to enable us to stand against the wiles of the devil.
There is another inference from the fact that God is the one who supplies the Christian’s arsenal. It is the fact that we can be sure that what God supplies us, if used properly, will inevitably lead us to victory over the evil one. It may be true that the devil is powerful and smart and cruel; but it is also true that God is sovereign even over the devil, and that he knows the devil better than he knows himself. God knows your enemy, and therefore he knows exactly what you need to stand and overcome. We would therefore be foolish not to take what our Lord gives us to defend ourselves and fight for him.
So this morning let us consider the first part of verse 14: “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth,” or, as the ESV puts it, “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth.” This is one of the first things a Roman soldier would have done; it was done before any other piece of armor went on. He needed the belt to gather together his tunic beneath the armor. The breastplate fastened to the belt, and it was also the place from which the soldier would hang his sword. So the belt was not just something you put on for looks, it was foundational and essential for the entire panoply of armor the soldier wore into battle.
Paul uses the imagery of the belt for truth. We are to put on truth like the soldier put on his belt. But what does the apostle mean by this?
Some say that the apostle is referring to the truth of the gospel. Charles Hodge says that it means “truth subjectively considered; that is, the knowledge and belief of the truth.” Now though I agree with Hodge that the belief of the truth is absolutely essential to our warfare, yet I don’t think that is what the apostle is referring to here. I believe that Paul is referring to integrity, or truthfulness in the inward person.
There are a couple of reasons why I think this. First, because Paul does refer explicitly to God’s word in verse 17, as the sword of the Spirit. Certainly, this would involve the knowledge and belief of the truth as well as applying it to our lives in concrete and specific ways. So it would seem strange that the apostle would repeat himself and refer to the same thing more or less under the imagery of different parts of the soldier’s panoply.
The second reason why I don’t think he is referring to the truth of God’s word is also the reason why I think he is referring to integrity and sincerity. The apostle, who was steeped in the OT, surely got many of his ideas straight from the prophets. So, for example, the prophet Isaiah used the same type of imagery for God as a warrior for his people: “And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him. For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke” (Isa. 59:16-17). This is so close the apostle’s words in Eph. 6 that it is impossible to imagine that he was not thinking of Isaiah when he wrote them.
Now it is true that Isaiah 59 does not refer to a belt of truth, but listen to what Isaiah said much earlier in his book (speaking of the Christ, 11:2): “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins” (11:5). Now it’s interesting that the Septuagint translates the word “faithfulness” with the same Greek word behind the word “truth” in Ephesians 6:14. Since it’s widely agreed among scholars that the apostles were familiar with the LXX, it’s not hard to believe that Paul was probably thinking of Isa. 11:5 when he wrote Eph. 6:14. In that case, he is not thinking of truth as something you believe but truth as something you are. God is true in Isa. 11:5 in the sense of faithfulness; that is, he is true to his word. He does not say one thing and then do another. It describes who he is. So in this verse in Ephesians 6, Paul is calling us to be men and women of integrity, who are what they say they are.
Of course, the basic definition of truth is that which corresponds to reality. In Phil. 1:18, Paul contrasts “truth” with “pretense.” To put on the belt of truth then means that you are for real, that you are not pretending, that your profession matches your intention, that you are not something other than what you profess to be. It means you are sincere. And in this context, it means being true to Christ as our Captain and Lord. One of the complaints Hodge made against seeing this in terms of integrity is that this would make it “a natural virtue, and does not belong to the armour of God.” But this argument loses its force when we recognize that it is not just integrity in general that is called for, but integrity in the sense of our commitment to Jesus Christ.
In other words, as we put on this armor and gird ourselves for war, we are claiming to belong to Jesus Christ. To put on the belt of truth means that we are in truth what we say we are. We do not put on the armor of God and then fight for the devil.
One of the things I enjoy about our university commencements is being able to observe the commissioning of men and women into the army as newly minted second lieutenants. As part of the commissioning ceremony, they raise their right hands and repeat an oath. In that oath, they promise to support and defend the Constitution and that they “will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;” furthermore, that they “take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.” In some sense, that is what the apostle is calling us to do here. By putting on the belt of truth, we are promising to wear the uniform of Christ “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion” and that we “will bear true faith and allegiance” to Christ. Do you?
In order to answer the previous question, we need to ask and answer another question: how do we live out a life of integrity in the service of Christ? What is involved? Well, I think at least three things are involved.
First, it’s a matter of counting the cost. If we are going to wear truth like a belt, if we are going to be men and women of integrity, we are going to have to count the cost of following Christ. We are going to have to consider what’s involved in serving him in this world.
It’s the easiest thing in the world (at least, in the West) to call yourself a Christian. Anyone can do that. But that does not mean you are a Christian. Just putting on the uniform doesn’t make you a soldier, you have to be willing to follow your Lord into battle. Even so, there are lots of people who call themselves Christian but they don’t really understand what it means to be a Christian; they haven’t counted the cost. As a result, they are not what they claim to be; they are not true to Christ.
To put on the belt of truth, you need to understand everything that’s involved in following Christ. It’s not just a matter of saying a prayer and getting baptized and then everything’s fine. We need to understand that there is a cost to following Christ, and unless you are willing to endure the cost, you cannot be a Christian. Isn’t this what our Lord himself said? “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26-27). In that same text, our Lord goes on to illustrate his meaning with two stories, one about a man who wants to build a tower, and another about a king who wants to make war with another king. The point of both stories is that you have to sit down and figure out whether or not you have the will and resources to complete the task. The reason why so many people who start out as Christians, but who end up jettisoning their faith, is because they never really understood all that would be involved. They liked the heaven part and the forgiveness part, but they don’t like the self-denial part, and the humility part, and the repentance part, and the persecution part.
From time to time we are reminded how painful the cost can be. This weekend, seven Coptic Christians were killed when their buses were fired upon by Islamic militants. And this is just one story out of many these Christians could tell. They live in a country where they are routinely discriminated against, where their children and wives are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam, and this has been their reality for over a thousand years. Or I think of the husband and father who was serving Christ as a missionary in Cameroon who was shot in the head this week and killed. I think of his family, and am reminded that we live in a world where it is often not only not easy to be a Christian but very painful to be a Christian. Are you willing to pay the price and bear the cross?
In the book of Deuteronomy, when Moses is giving instructions to the Israelites on how they are to go into battle, he gives the following interesting directive: “And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart” (Deut. 20:8). In other words, the Lord didn’t want men on the battle line who were afraid because fear and panic spread like a disease and can instantly cripple an army. Instead, he wanted men who were fully aware of the danger they faced and were willing to face it. He wanted men who were true. It wasn’t enough to be on the battle line. You had to be willing to embrace the battle and all the hardship that went along with it. That’s putting on the belt of truth. You’ve counted the cost; you know what it means to follow Christ, and you willingly embrace it with all your heart. Do you?
Second, it’s a matter of guarding the heart. To be true to Christ, we have to be the same inside as well as outside. It was the damning sin of the Pharisees that they were “like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Our Lord went on to say, “Even so, ye also outwardly appear righteous unto me, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Mt. 23:28-28). King David contrasts with the Pharisees because, even though he sinned greatly, when he repented, he repented thoroughly. You can see it in his prayer of repentance to God in Psalm 51, when he prays, “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom” (Ps. 51:6). Therefore, he goes on to pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (ver. 10). Truth in the inward parts –that is what God desires.
If we fall and fail to stand, almost certainly the reason behind the fall is to be looked for in the heart. Someone who falls into open sin probably began to nourish that sin secretly in the heart a long time beforehand. That’s why the Scripture tells us to “keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues [springs, ESV] of life” (Prov. 4:23). Your heart is the battleground and the battle will be won or lost there.
Therefore, to be a soldier of the Lord is more a matter of being than of doing. God commended the church of Ephesus for doing a lot of things, but then went on to rebuke them because they had lost their first love (Rev. 2:1-7). They evidently had forgotten to be Christian because they were so busy doing Christian things. People can do all sort of things for God when their hearts are far from him. But such service is worse than useless. The warfare that we are waging, remember, is mainly spiritual and therefore must be fought on a spiritual basis. As Paul puts it to the Corinthians, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5). It’s a matter primarily of taking our thoughts captive for Christ.
Another way to put this is to ask the question: where is our ultimate loyalty? When it comes down to it, who will you follow? If you desire something very strongly but know it is not God’s will, are you going to do it anyway? Or are you willing to crucify your sinful affections for the sake of Christ? Our whole culture teaches that you should be true to yourself, and that means you should follow your every desire and whim. Christ teaches us to be true to him. Who will win? Are you willing to order your affections so that Christ and his will and word are preeminent? That is what it means to put on the belt of truth.
Third, it’s a matter of keeping our word. What I mean by this is that we follow through with our commitments to Christ. King David put it this way in his fifteen Psalm: he describes those who will abide in God’s tabernacle and dwell in his holy hill; in other words, he describes those who have fellowship with God. He designates the godly man as “he who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart . . . who swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Ps. 15:2, 4). Here is a man who has made a commitment to the Lord; it will cost him something, but he follows through. That man is true.
It’s not enough to make great professions of faith and commitment to Christ. The godly man or woman, the man or woman who is true, will do what they say they will do for the Lord. Their life is not one of unfulfilled wishes for the Lord, but one in which they put into practice what they know to be true and profess to be true. They know prayer is important, so they pray. They don’t merely say that prayer is important, they don’t just praise prayer, they pray! The same with the Scriptures. They don’t just acknowledge that the knowledge of the Bible is important, but they read and memorize and meditate upon the Word of God.
Do you follow through? Or is your life one of fits and starts? Look, God does not want sprinters; he want marathon runners. He wants men and women who are committed, who take the truth of God’s word and make it a part of their life. He wants men and women who don’t just say and not do, but who do what they say is true.
Now we must ask the final question: why should we do this? Why put on the belt of truth? After all, to some this might seem more trouble than what it’s worth! So let me end by giving you three reasons why it is worth your while to fight in God’s army and to strap on this belt of truth.
Reason 1: God is God, and you are not. He ought to be and is worthy to be obeyed and worshipped and served. He deserves your total commitment.
Reason 2: God is true. He is faithful to his word to us. He can be trusted. He never lets them down who put their trust in him (Rom. 10:11). Those who trust in him will never be ashamed. How can we not be true to him when he is unswervingly faithful and true to us? In contrast, the devil is a liar and the father of lies. For us to hold back anything from God is to give it to the devil. How could that be worth it when the devil only wants to bring your harm? When Satan comes, then comes the evil day (Eph. 6:13).
Reason 3: God is good. He sent his Son to die for the sins of those who put their trust in him, and to give them an entrance into everlasting glory and joy. Whatever sufferings we are called upon to endure in this world, we can be sure that they are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). When Christ rose from the dead, he broke the power of sin and death for his elect. When God is so good to us, how could we not give everything to him? We have every reason to be true, to be men and women of integrity, to be fully committed to him who is fully committed to us in Christ.
So let us strap on the belt of truth. Let us be faithful to Christ, let us be true to him. Let us go forth into battle without any reservation of heart and soul; indeed, “let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:13-15).