Thursday, July 25, 2019

Book Review: The Whole Armor of God

The Whole Armor of God: How Christ's Victory Strengthens Us for Spiritual Warfare. Iain M. Duguid. 2019. Crossway. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Over recent years, there have been many television shows aimed at helping people get properly dressed.

The book is a study of Ephesians 6:10-18.

Who should read The Whole Armor of God?! One might as well ask who should not read The Whole Armor of God?! It is just that good. And I do love it when MUST-READ books happen to fall around the 125 page mark. It should be read by believers of all ages and stages. It should be read by all believers because all believers wear the armor. This book is not for "super-Christians." Duguid reminds readers, "the choice is not whether you will be a Christian soldier or a Christian civilian but whether you will be a prepared Christian soldier or an unprepared one. And an unprepared soldier of flesh and blood will not be able to stand against the scale of the spiritual forces ranged against him or her."

The first chapter, "Dressed for Battle," covers the introductory verses that serve as the preface to the armor of God. Duguid wants his readers to have a proper big-picture perspective for understanding and applying the armor. It is essential that believers understand the SCALE OF OUR NEED; it is essential that believers comprehend the VASTNESS OF GOD'S PROVISION; it is essential that believers take seriously the CALL TO STAND. If you fail to take into account any of these three, then your understanding of the armor of God might be a little warped. And a misunderstanding could lead to misapplication.

I love the example he gives: "What many of us hear in these words [Ephesians 6:13-17] is a call to triumphant action, as if it is completely up to us to take on the devil and withstand his schemes. If we would just put on the whole armor of God, we should therefore constantly be able to stand firm against all of Satan’s schemes. God has done his part perfectly in making the armor available; now it is up to us to choose whether to use it. Meanwhile, God appears helpless in heaven, waiting to see how it all turns out. When this wrong understanding holds sway, Christians get sorted into one of two camps. Some choose to be radical disciples of Jesus and live an epic life by putting on that armor. Others, by their neglect, become those “loser” Christians who are regularly tripped up by the devil’s schemes, falling into sin daily, leaving God perpetually disappointed. In reality, many of us find ourselves daily in the second category: we are often unwilling and unable even to think clearly about the armor, let alone put it on...If sanctification were as simple as some suggest (“Just try harder to put on the armor!”), we would not fail and fall in the Christian life nearly as much as we do." (Emphasis mine)

Isn't it easy--even when you KNOW better--to fall into this mindset?! To shift the focus from Christ's wearing of the armor to OUR WEARING OF THE ARMOR. I think this is fairly common as well. Duguid writes, "An inevitable result of this self-focused perspective on our spiritual growth is that we become proud of ourselves and judgmental of others if we think that we are doing well in our struggle against sin and Satan. After all, we chose to put on God’s armor while they made poor choices."

The BIGGIE insight of chapter one is, "Our sanctification rests first and foremost on the finished work of Christ in our place. As we shall see, the armor of God is quite literally God’s armor—armor designed for and worn by God first and foremost. The armor God gives us to defend and protect us against Satan’s onslaught is the armor that he has already worn in the decisive battle on our behalf. We fight and stand firm against Satan only in the strength that comes from the victory that Christ has already won for us. That is why each of the various pieces of armor points us to Christ. The belt of truth is the belt that girds the messianic king in Isaiah 11:5. The breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation come from the divine warrior’s arsenal in Isaiah 59:17. The feet shod with gospel readiness are the feet of those who proclaim the arrival of Messiah’s kingdom in Isaiah 52:7. God himself is the shield of faith, as he describes himself in Genesis 15. The sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is the weapon wielded by the promised servant of the Lord in Isaiah 49:2. What God clothes us with is nothing less than his own armor, the same armor that Christ has already worn on our behalf in his lifelong struggle with the mortal enemy of our souls, Satan himself. You are called to wear the armor of God not because that’s what Jesus would do if he found himself in a similar situation; you are called to wear God’s armor because that is what Jesus has already done, wearing God’s armor all the way to the cross."

This may just be the BIGGIE insight of the entire book. And it's a potential life-changer or game-changer. Hence why this book is a must-read in my opinion. Every believer needs to grasp these key truths about justification, sanctification, propitiation, and imputation. And these are the key doctrines being taught throughout the book AS Duguid unpacks Ephesians 6.

Every day believers can take joy from knowing that, "Your victory over sin belongs to Jesus, not you. Jesus’s struggle was the decisive one, not yours. His victory on the cross purchased your complete sanctification, your ultimate holiness before God. His Spirit is at work within you growing you at the rate that he intends toward his goal of your complete purity. Your sanctification is where he plans for it to be... Fight the good fight with all your might. Wrestle with all the energy that the Spirit gives you. But in the midst of that standing, fighting, and wrestling, don’t forget to rest in the finished victory of Christ and the assurance that the Spirit’s perfect sanctifying work in your life is what counts."

In the following chapters, "The Belt of Truth," "The Breastplate of Righteousness," "Gospel Boots," "The Shield of Faith," "The Helmet of Salvation," and "The Sword of the Spirit" Duguid unpacks spiritual truths one by one from the Ephesians passage. These chapters are packed with insight but also quite practical. I love that he teaches from the Old Testament and the New Testament, highlighting how Paul was using Old Testament texts and applying them in light of Christ. Believers not familiar with the Old Testament may not be aware of these connections and how they are among the OT passages that point to Christ.

The last chapter, "Praying Always," [Ephesians 6:18-20] focuses on prayer. "The armory needs to be under the control of the pilot; you and I need to be in close contact with God. And the means by which we stay in contact is prayer. Prayer is not so much another weapon that the Christian has been given as it is the means by which all of his or her weaponry is kept effective, under the control and guidance of God."

Favorite quotes:
  • Truth is essential to the Christian life; it is foundational to taking a stand against the devil. The Christian message unambiguously claims to be the truth, not just a truth.
  • Christianity claims loudly to be the truth. And the truth with which we are to be belted in order to face up to the devil is, first and foremost, the truth of what we believe: the gospel message of who God is, who we are, and what he requires of us as created human beings. This truth is revealed to us in the Word of God, the Scriptures.
  • Our hearts are leaky containers, constantly losing our hold on the truth. Day by day, we need to refill our mind with a fresh measure of God’s truth, revealed in the Scriptures, so that we will be equipped to stand against Satan’s lies.
  • What the Bible gives to us, however, is not simply little nuggets of truth—one truth over here, another truth over there—but rather a whole system of teaching, of doctrine. All the different parts of the Bible are related and interrelated, and when you put them together as a whole, they teach us what we must believe about God and what God requires of us. The idea of doctrine is not very popular in our day and age.
  • Foundational truth, belted around our waists, enables us to stand against Satan, even as it points us away from ourselves to Jesus Christ as the only one who can make us stand.
  • What Paul means by the “breastplate of righteousness,” however, is not a set of accomplishments that we create for ourselves; rather, it is something given to us to put on. This breastplate is not our workmanship; it is part of the armor that God provides for us, a righteousness that is not our own.
  • The trouble with the popular view of what makes someone a Christian, that what gets us into God’s good books are our own efforts to obey God, is that our righteousness can never be good enough. Even when I am trying to obey God, I regularly do, say, and think things that are either against what God tells me to do or not in line with what God tells me I ought to do, which is sin. What is more, the Bible says that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). That is, the reward that we deserve each and every time that we fail to obey God fully from our hearts is death, eternal separation from God. Yet we all sin many times each day.
  • Our own righteousness won’t protect us against God, let alone against the devil.
  • At the heart of the Christian message are two equal and opposite transformations. Each is dramatic; each would be unbelievable if we didn’t have God’s own Word on it. They are these: God took Jesus, the only perfect person who ever lived, the only one who could ever stand before God on the basis of his own goodness—God’s own beloved Son—and stripped off from Jesus these clean clothes of faithful obedience. The Father tore off Jesus’s righteous standing before him and treated him as if he were the guilty one. He made Jesus to be blackened with our sin, our iniquity, our transgression—all the filthy thoughts, abusive words, and vile actions that you and I have committed in the past or will commit in the future... And then, equally remarkably, having treated the innocent one as guilty, God treats the guilty ones as innocent. Paul puts it like this: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). Instead of counting our sins against us, God chooses to count for us Christ’s righteousness. As Isaiah had said, “Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). It is not just that God doesn’t count against us all the times that we have fallen short of his perfect standard; he also counts for us all the times Jesus faced a similar temptation and stood firm. His perfect righteousness and holy obedience are credited to our account. The robe of perfect obedience that God stripped off the back of his own Son, he now gives to clothe us (see Zechariah 3). In Christ, we have received a breastplate of righteousness that defends us forever against the wrath of God.
  • As we look back over today and yesterday and last week, we lose count of the multitude of times we have failed God through lust, pride, selfishness, lies, coveting, and so on. For people like us, the breastplate of God’s righteousness is really good news. It declares that no matter how bad you’ve been, the offer of God’s deliverance still stands. You can’t pile more evil onto Jesus than he can bear! If he can carry the weight of the sins of all his people—past, present and future—then he can certainly manage your personal collection.
  • This central truth of the imputed righteousness of Christ needs to dominate the lives of all Christians. On the one hand, it means that nothing I can do could ever stop God loving me. If God loved me enough to give himself for me when I was his sworn enemy, he will certainly love me enough to forgive me now that I am his adopted child. The righteousness that comes through the cross gives us assurance and security in God’s love. If I have been reconciled to God through Christ and am always clothed in his perfect righteousness, then even during the darkest nights of personal failure, when I slide right back into those sins that have the strongest grip on my heart, he will not cast me off. 
  • On the other hand, the righteousness that comes through the cross also means that I can never take my sin lightly and just shrug it off. I have been reconciled to God and made a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). God is now at work in me by his Holy Spirit, remaking me into the image of Christ. His purpose is to make me part of a holy people, created for good works in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10). Why, then, would I act as if I am still part of the kingdom of darkness and plunge back into my former way of life among the prostitutes and the pigs as if nothing had happened? The righteousness of Christ, painfully won for us at the cross, motivates us to strive hard toward an obedience that fits the new nature God is working in us.
  • If, when you are doing well, your mind is full of yourself, it is a sign that you are unduly enamored with your own armor. If, when you are failing, you are cast down with overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame, your problem is the same. Refocus your attention again on the gospel.
  • The task of being a herald is simple and twofold: to get the message right and to get the message out. 
  • To experience faith as a shield, you need to know not only that God is powerful but that this God is your friend. God’s sovereignty is not in the least comforting unless you know that this sovereign God is on your side.
  • Our feelings about whether God exists and who he is rise and fall like the tides, but God’s truth in the Bible endures forever. What is the Bible’s answer to the question about whether God is on our side? Strangely enough, it starts out by recognizing that God isn’t automatically on everybody’s side. God is not a great grandfather in the sky who exists to make every human life happy and fulfilled.
  • There is one more thing to say: even when I don’t believe with my whole heart that God is sovereign and good, which is often, that doesn’t change the truth. Our constant cry is, “I believe; Lord, help my unbelief!” And he does. Remember, it is not ultimately our faith that shields us but God himself. When the shield of our faith wavers and drops, the Lord’s strong and mighty shield is always in place, keeping us safe from Satan’s assaults. 
  • It is interesting to note that Paul begins and ends his listing of the armor of God with related ideas. He started with the belt of truth, the foundational garment that underlies all the rest. Now he concludes with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. The knowledge and application of the truth as it is found in God’s Word are quite literally the beginning and end of the story in our struggle to stand firm in the battle for obedience. We may live in an age that declares itself “post-truth” and seems more interested in feelings and experiences than thoughtful analysis and discernment, but this is just one more way in which Christianity is countercultural in our context.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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