Christ Lutheran Church of the Deaf
Silver Spring, Maryland

The Armor of God:
The Shield of Faith

Ephesians 6:16
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith,
with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Historians tell us that the Roman soldiers had two types of shields: Many of us have seen representations of the small shield, which resembled a modern trash can lid. However, the kind of shield referenced in this text is the door-sized shield, which had a laminated wood core, covered in fabric and leather. It offered full-body protection when attacked with arrows dipped in pitch and set on fire.

Dr. Martin Luther once, after recovering from a sever physical illness, suffered deep depression. One biographer described his condition this way:
    Physically Luther was well, but mentally he was despondent. He fell into a state of lethargy, and nothing seemed able to bring him out of it. He sat and stared into space and was sad. [His wife] Katharine tried everything she could think of to bring him out of it, but nothing worked.
    Dr. Bugenhagen came over daily to talk to him and try to cheer him. "Something’s got to happen to bring him out of this state of mind," he told Katharine. "There’s no fight left in the good doctor."
    Katharine didn’t answer. She stared at the closed study door with a thoughtful expression.
    That evening she went to her room and dressed in her mourning clothes. As a final touch she also put on a heavy black veil that covered her face. She went slowly up the stairs and entered Luther’s study. He was sitting at his desk, his hands idle, his eyes staring vacantly into space. When he saw his wife, his mouth dropped open. "Katharine! What’s the matter? Why are you dressed in mourning?"
    Katharine turned a sad face toward her husband. "Oh," she said, "it’s terrible, terrible!"
    "What is?"
    "God is dead," she answered, shaking her head.
    "God is dead?" Luther thundered. "What in heaven’s name are you talking about?"
    "Are you not Dr. Luther?" Katharine asked. "Are you not my pastor as well as my husband?"
    He nodded dumbly.
    "Then, judging by your actions these past few weeks, I can see that God is dead. If He weren’t, you would use your great faith in Him to help out of this lethargy."
    Luther stared at her for a long time. Then he said, "You’re right, Katharine... Now if you will please change your clothes and leave me alone, I shall get busy."
    "You’re going to start working this very minute?"
    "Yes, this very minute."
    (Kitty, My Rib, E. Jane Mall, 1959, 1984; Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, pp. 78, 79)

Martin Luther, the contender for the faith, had himself dropped his Shield of Faith.

We can hardly be equipped as effective Christians without this essential piece of the armor, the Shield of Faith. But what is it, really? We tend to trivialize this part of the equipment. After all, don’t we believe in God? Doesn’t that qualify?

The Apostle Paul was writing to people who already believed in God - they even trusted Christ for their salvation. So what is it about their faith that was suppose to protect them from the flaming arrows of the evil one? And what exactly are the flaming arrows? Before we can more fully appreciate how faith as a shield protects us, we need to understand from what faith is suppose to protect us.

I understand this phrase, "the flaming arrows (or fiery darts) of the evil one" to mean any thought or attitude which, if taken to heart, will defeat us. There are as many specific kinds of "flaming arrows" as there are people who have ever faced temptation. Every one of us has our own areas of vulnerability. You know what your area of weakness is. You know where you are experiencing defeat on a regular basis. Satan knows it, too. And he will exploit it to the maximum. He knows when and how to hit you with that fiery dart that will bring you defeat.

For some of us, the flaming arrow is an issue of moral impurity - for some here this morning the easy availability pornography on the Internet and on cable TV has an attraction stronger than your will to resist. For you the flaming arrow is simply the time when you are alone - alone at the computer, or alone with the TV remote in your hand.

For some of us, the flaming arrow is bitterness and unresolved anger, as we remember, again, and again, and again what one particular person did to hurt us. Or your arrow may simply be someone cutting in front of you on the freeway, stealing from you that piece of pavement which rightfully belonged to you.

For some of us, the flaming arrow is discouragement, worry, even despair, and serious thoughts of suicide, all because God isn’t following the script we’ve written for Him.

And if I haven’t hit your fiery dart, your area of vulnerability, we only need go down the list of the Ten Commandments, and see by what means the Enemy is successful in violating each Commandment.

An illustration of how Satan works to set us up for the kill is found in the Old Testament, in the person of a man name Joab, who was King David’s nephew and also his Secretary of Defense.

Joab secretly hatred his cousin Amasa. Amasa had defected to Absalom during Absalom’s revolt (2 Samuel 17:25). Yet, because Amasa later returned his allegiance to David, and because he was still kin, David took Amasa back and assigned him to a position of authority in his army, replacing Joab (2 Samuel 19:13).

When Joab had a chance to approach his cousin, he pretended to be friendly.

Joab said to Amasa, "How are you, my brother?" Then Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. Amasa was not on his guard against the dagger in Joab's hand, and Joab plunged it into his belly, and... Without being stabbed again, Amasa died. (2 Samuel 20:9-10) If we are not discerning and taking proper precautions, Satan will use seemingly good circumstances to set us up for a fall. He knows how to lead us into situations where he knows we will be vulnerable.

What are the flaming arrows Satan uses to torment you?

And more importantly, what is the defense that God offers you in this shield, called Faith?

One of the great handbooks of faith is the New Testament book of Hebrews.

Hebrews chapter 3 describes first what faith isn’t. The opposite of faith is unbelief. The same chapter describes the evidence and consequence of unbelief: disobedience and rebellion. When I look at why I cave in to temptation, I find that I have chosen to believe Satan’s lie, and conversely I have chosen not to believe God. I choose to believe that God isn’t omniscient and that He doesn’t know what I am up to. Or I choose to believe that God isn’t omnipresent and that he isn’t with me when I am sinning. Or I choose to believe that God isn’t just and holy and that He really doesn’t care what I do. Or I choose to forget God’s promise that there will always be consequences when I sin.

When taking the shield of faith, we must also be careful not to substitute authentic godly faith for presumption. I am referring what today is popularly called the "word of faith" teaching, which essentially says that you can get virtually whatever you want from God - provided it isn’t immoral or illegal - simply by "naming" whatever it is you want in faith, and then "claiming" any particular promise from the Bible which might apply. It’s a teaching that focuses on the acquisition of material things and on healing of physical illnesses. With the name-it-claim-it faith formula, you can supposedly force God’s hand to bless you.

It’s a teaching that also brings it’s adherents into unnecessary bondage when they fail to get the thing for which they have believed, because this teaching says that it is either (1) insufficient faith or (2) unconfessed sin which hinders God’s material blessing.

Satan himself used this very "faith" teaching to tempt Jesus to do something self-centered and foolish, when the devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and coached Him to demonstrate God’s faithfulness by going bunji jumping without the aid of a bunji cord. (Matthew 4:5-7)

Presumption is faith in faith vs faith in God. Biblical faith surrenders all into God’s care and keeping. Presumptive faith anxiously hypes itself up in order to fulfill a condition that will "free God’s hand to bless." Biblical faith rests in the hands of God, knowing that all the requirements, all the conditions have already been fulfilled by our Lord’s suffering, death, and resurrection.

Presumptive faith focuses on temporal, earthly blessings. Biblical faith focuses on the eternal blessings, which are in Christ alone.

The oft’ quoted verse, "We walk by faith, not by sight," in its context refers not to good things happening in this world, which we can see, but to great things happening in the next world, which we can’t see.

2 Corinthians 5:
1 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven,
3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.
4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.
5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.
7 For we walk by faith, not by sight.
8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.

A Sunday School teacher once asked his class for a definition of faith. One student answered: "Faith is believing something you know isn’t true."

The Bible’s great handbook on faith offers a better definition: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

Faith is knowing something is true, when your only proof is the promise of God and your history of His faithfulness.

Someone recently described to me a very hopeless situation he was facing. He had sought God’s guidance and had prayed for God’s protection. Yet everything seemed to be crashing down. This person experienced great temptation to give up on God altogether. It appeared that God simply could not be trusted any more. Then this person began remembering past situations where God intervened. In a sense, he answered the temptation to despair by saying, "If God isn’t loving, caring, and capable, then what about that time when He helped me in...[a certain difficulty]? And what about the time when saved me life? And what about the many times He answered my need?" A recitation of God’s past faithfulness was how this person took up again the shield of faith when getting bombed with doubts and a very bad situation.

And what about the most loving, caring thing that God has done for you? I am referring to the love He showed you when He took your place in the execution of His own justice on your sin, and made it possible for you to spend eternity in heaven with Him.

Romans 8
24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?
25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
33 Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.
34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter."
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,
39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Martin Luther complained that the worst time of day for him was at night, when he was trying to go to sleep. That is when he would get bombed with the thoughts straight from the pit of hell. Luther’s particular area of vulnerability was depression and despair. The devil took full advantage of Luther’s sensitivity by playing the role of the accuser - which is what the name Satan means. This is how Luther learned to put up his shield of faith against the devil’s fiery arrows:  
When the devil comes during the night to plague me, I give him this answer: "Devil, I must sleep now; for this is God’s command: Work during the day, sleep at night -- If he does not stop vexing me but faces me with my sins, I reply: Dear devil..."

Incidentally, I do not recommend this sort of response to temptation. I have tried it. And rather than conversing directly with the devil, I much prefer to talk to God, and let Him deal with the devil. However, Luther’s way of dealing with this temptation of doubt and despair very instructive.

If he does not stop vexing me but faces me with my sins, I reply: "Dear devil, I have heard the record. But I have committed still more sins which do even stand in your record. Put them down, too..."

"Just by telling me that I a miserable, great sinner you are placing a sword and weapon into my hand with which I can decisively overcome you; yea, with you own weapon I can kill and floor you. For if you can tell me that I am a poor sinner, I, on the other hand, can tell you that Christ died for sinners and is their Intercessor... You remind me of the boundless, great faithfulness and benefaction of my lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The burden of my sins and all the trouble and misery that were to oppress me eternally He very gladly took upon His shoulders and suffered the bitter death on the cross for them. To Him I direct you. You may accuse and condemn Him. Let me rest in peace; for on His shoulders, not on mine, lie all my sins, and the sins of all the world."(What Luther Says, An Anthology, Ewald M. Plass, ed; 1959, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, Vol 1 p. 403)

Ephesians 6:16 ...take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Part 6 - The Helmet of Salvation

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