Masks. How effective are they? The debate continues. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic various coverings have been introduced in the attempt to protect against spreading the dreaded virus. Face shields. N95 masks. Full-body hazmat suits. The latter two fall under the category generally known as PPE: personal protection equipment. The full outfit, worn mainly by frontline medical workers, is quite intimidating when put on, and from what I’ve been told, not very comfortable. Yet it provides people with a greater sense of security, and along the way has likely saved some lives. But, what is the best way for average people to protect themselves? The answer hinges on what an individual sees as the real danger. Depending on the threat, the right protective covering can make all the difference. And it is especially true when battling an unseen enemy.
There are other invisible dangers in this world besides parasitic microbes. Yes, a pandemic is scary when we’re not sure where or how we might be infected. But what about the infestation of “spiritual viruses” that have eternal consequences? Do we as Jesus followers take them as seriously as we do nefarious microorganisms? These non-material adversaries also threaten us daily but assault the soul. They leave people broken, confused and completely lost: lies that are believed; shame and guilt that never leave; doubts; pride; fears; loneliness; despair. We have a spiritual enemy that spreads all this and more.
The Apostle Paul laid out God’s provision for our protection against such insidious infections and attacks in Ephesians 6:10-18. This passage envisions our struggle against unseen forces as a battle. Our survival, well-being and victory depend on our making use of armor that protects us from a hidden enemy intent on our destruction, or at least our ineffectiveness. The PPE that Paul outlines follows what was ancient-Roman battle gear. But the imagery is still applicable for Jesus followers today who are aware that spiritual sickness and brokenness are just as bad as, if not worse than, physical infirmity.
What is God’s Personal Protection Equipment for us?
The Belt of Truth (Ephesians 6:14a)
A lot of Jesus followers still carry debilitating burdens. Much of the baggage is rooted in the disinformation we believe about ourselves, the world around us, and particularly the nature and character of God. The power of a lie is that it feels true, and we then organize our lives around it. And when we rely primarily on what feels right within to determine what is real without, we are in danger of believing the wrong thing about so many life issues. Our lives easily end up stuck in places we never intended or wanted to be.
My baseline for reality must be grounded in something outside myself. Just as the other pieces of a Roman soldier’s armor were supported by and connected into his belt, truth for a Jesus follower is what binds the rest of God’s PPE together. If I am believing false stuff, particularly about my identity and who God is, nothing in my faith walk is secure. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He is the One who must define truth for me—what He says, what He does, what He reveals—regardless what I feel at any given moment. Am I cinching the truth of Jesus more tightly around me? It holds everything else up afterall.
The Breastplate of Righteousness (Ephesians 6:14b)
“There’s something wrong with me.” Shame feeds a voice within that constantly accuses me of never being good enough. I can try to do everything right, only to be blindsided by condemnation that hits as I compare myself to others or focus on doing all the ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ that are impossible to fulfill.
My own ‘rightness’ is something I can never adequately create. I try to navigate this life without being shaped by accusations of worthlessness, but then I’m slapped down by my own sense of failure. As a Jesus follower, I must depend on Someone else’s rightness because my own is never complete or good enough. The miracle of redemption is that the righteousness that belongs to the One who never sinned or doubted His own worth has been made available to me. It’s His, not mine. But He invites me to put it on as my full body armor, covering my shame. I need only humbly believe and receive it. And then I have the ability to live a righteous life. That’s Good News!
The Shoes of the Gospel of Peace (Ephesians 6:15)
Slipping. I feel I’m being pushed around and never get any traction in my faith. The values of the surrounding culture push in and I lose interest in anything that has to do with spiritual growth. Distractions, laziness, busyness, Netflix binging—and I find myself sliding back from where I want to be as I follow Jesus. I end up in the slimy mud of passivity or immersed in the fear of what others think of me, which leaves me paralyzed.
But I am being offered a pair of spiritual cleats, traction for my journey through this life. I must take the Good News of Jesus and His peace into every life situation. It’s a change of mindset. Instead of compartmentalizing Jesus to certain days of the week or certain times of the day, I strap His Gospel to my feet and invite His presence to accompany me in every interaction—work, play, family time, shopping, entertainment as I push ahead. I can keep moving forward with Jesus, courageously representing and proclaiming Him to the world around me.
Shield of Faith (Ephesians 6:16)
Missiles are shot at me regularly. They’re the kind that strike and spray fiery shrapnel of doubt, fear and confusion. And when they make a direct hit, I can feel my inner self collapse. It’s in these moments that God not only seems far away but often feels irrelevant.
The vital spiritual organ that must be protected at all cost is my belief that God is good. There are so many things I don’t understand. But once I begin to interpret life’s circumstances to mean that God is not trustworthy, doesn’t have my best interest in mind, or cannot be depended on, my walk with Jesus starts to disintegrate. It’s my choice to believe in God’s goodness even when bad, painful or confusing circumstances explode around me. This shield is something I cannot afford to ever put down.
The Helmet of Salvation (Ephesians 6:17a)
If I just work at this hard enough, I can figure things out and get myself on the right path. The drive to control my own life and destiny blinds me to the reality that I require serious help. In reality, I need to be rescued everyday from self-centeredness, from fear, from loneliness, from my own lusts, from pride, from sin. These are what lock me up in bondage with no human ability to be set completely free.
I need a Savior with supernatural strength and love. And I need the humility to admit it—not just once in my life but everyday. The habits of daily acknowledging my need for Jesus to rescue me and admitting that I cannot do it myself are what break my pride and open my eyes. Unless I strap on this mindset, like a helmet, I live independently from God and view the Christian life as merely a process of bettering myself, at best. And that leaves me living as if I don’t need a Savior.
The Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17b)
All God’s PPE becomes real and active as we listen to Him and let His word settle into our hearts. We’re told the the Sword of the Spirit is the word of God. We must take the time to absorb His written word into our lives, listening as the Spirit specifically highlights the truth it contains for our every-day living. And as we allow it to cut deep into our own hearts, we in turn are armed with a blade that has the capacity to slash and push our enemy back.
Ephesians 6:12 tells us that our struggle is not against “flesh and blood” (read post Choosing to Be a Fighter). Other people are not our real problem, and neither is a microscopic virus. More threatening than COVID-19 are the unseen methods of our adversary that seek to weaken and destroy our faith. But we are not without protection. An entire set of spiritual PPE for engaging victoriously in this war has been made available.
We must stop and take the time to put it on.
(Edited and reposted from April 27, 2020)