Shield of Faith: the first line of defense

In this series we have been examining the elements of the Armor of God. Every believer is called upon to pick up this armor as we venture into the spiritual battles we encounter as citizens of a fallen world.

So far we’ve talked about the Belt of Truth, and how any weapon must first be sheathed in the truth of God’s word. We’ve also looked at the Breastplate of Righteousness; our hearts are protected by the righteousness given to us through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and relying on our own righteousness will rust our armor and make us vulnerable to the fiery darts of the enemy.

Today we are talking about the first line of defense: the Shield of Faith:

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

Two thousand years ago, war was very different than it is today. In Roman times – the period from which the metaphor of the Armor of God was developed – soldiers had to be very close to the enemy. An arrow could only shoot so far, and only if the enemy was within sight. When a sword was the weapon of choice, you had to get even closer.

If an arrow made it past the shield, the other elements of armor would offer a secondary defense, but the shield was a Roman soldier’s first defense. And so, we are to hold the Shield of Faith in front of us as we march onto the battle field, and strive for this to be our first defense to thwart the enemy darts.

The rest of God’s armor is essential, because God knows that some of those darts will get past our shields, but God’s will is for his children to deflect the devil’s attacks. We do this through faith.

The definition of faith, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is a strong belief in someone or something; a firm belief in something for which there is no proof; something that is believed especially with strong conviction.

Having faith in God is putting complete and total trust in him. It is a firm belief that he will protect you in the thick of the battle.   And so, when you hold up your Shield of Faith, you are not holding up your beliefs or a set of religious rules. You are not strapping a list of good deeds to your arm, or a running total of the amount of money you have donated.

You are putting your faith in God as your protector. Not faith on its own accord, but Jesus as the one who perfects our faith:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, emphasis added)

When you set your eyes on Jesus, you are better able to deflect the attacks of the enemy. Sin is harder to enjoy once you know the joy of the Lord. I have set down my shield many times. I have let those fiery darts past my first line of defense. And I have suffered the consequences of being stranded on the battlefield without this protection.

But no consequence hurts more than the dissolution of the joy of the Lord. When we lay down our shields – joy, hope, faith – we have no choice but to compare the attacks (which are often disguised as good) to the true joy we had in the Lord.

Some of us respond by picking up the shield again, but only after we are bruised and defeated in battle and the power of sin has finally overtaken us. Some of us choose to make our wrong choices right by leaving the shield where it lays and walking off the battlefield altogether. We turn our gaze onto the lies and promises of the world, and this becomes the enemy’s greatest victory.

The Shield of Faith is heavy. It sometimes slows you down. It binds your arm and prevents you from doing things with your own hand. But those who raise it boldly, who proudly proclaim God as their protector, find freedom in trusting in the will of God in their lives.

My Shield of Faith often feels heavy. Sometimes I don’t want to thwart the devil’s attacks. My flesh lies and tells me my other armor is enough. It tells me the shield is blocking my view, that I’ll be stronger and faster if I do things on my own, instead of trusting in God as the source of my faith.

“You’ve learned enough through your walk,” tempts the enemy, “stand on your own now. You have your sword, your breastplate, your helmet and shoes. It’s enough.”

But any good soldier knows that defense is the best offense. When you lower your defenses those darts will chip away at the rest of your armor, and sooner or later it damages your ability to fight.

“Lord, I am sorry for all the times I thought this shield was too heavy and I laid it down. I’m sorry for how often I set you aside to follow my own plans and for believing in the lies of sin. I stand before you today dressed in battle-worn armor. It has been scarred by the undeflected attacks of the enemy, and by my own prideful ways. And I raise my shield – the faith I have in you – trusting you’ll quench these fiery darts as long as I keep it risen. And in those times when it feels too heavy, and I am assaulted by the jolt of the attack, I trust you to help me carry the burden and to withstand the battle. Amen.”

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