Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
I don't generally enjoy the war metaphors Paul sometimes uses in his letters, because I think it encourages a certain type of martyr complex which is unhealthy, especially in my context (middle America, where some schools still have release time in the afternoon for church education). It breeds this paranoid 'war on Christianity' stuff. There is a war on Christianity in some places in the world where Christians are still persecuted and killed, but that ain't here. But I think it's a helpful metaphor if you are careful to define what you are defending yourself from and how you're doing it. I don't think God calls us to war, but I do think that spiritual warfare is very real in our lives. I got to thinking about what that looks like in my life.
I don't generally feel attacked by outside forces in my life. Maybe it's because I'm a white kid raised by upper middle class parents, but I can't complain too much. I've gotten some funny looks from my fiance's more atheistic colleagues because they don't quite know how to handle starting a friendly relationship with a minister-to-be, but I would hardly call that something I need to defend against. I've found in my life that the harshest attacks on my faith are the most subtle, and usually they're not external. The biggest thing attacking me right now is probably a lack of confidence that I am equipped to do the job God has called me to do. That kind of thinking, at least in me, breeds some despair and fear, and turns out to be very draining of my energy. The thing which is attacking me isn't from the world, but from my own lack of trust. I know it's a lie, but it feels very real to me, and plays on my deepest insecurities of never being good enough or capable enough.
My hunch is that Paul is talking about here isn't just defending against outside things, but against the kind of subtle, insidious lies that threaten our identity in Christ. These lies sound just plausible enough to ring in our heads and breed more lies. We know, of course, that the best antidote to lies is truth, and so he provides tools for defense against the insecurities, stumbling blocks, fears, selfish ambitions and other things that weaken us and our relationship with God and one another. In fact, he begins with the belt of truth, the underlayer that holds your pants up. This is the foundation. Righteousness is not just about our behavior but about our being made righteous. Arm yourself with the identity that you are worthy, loved, and redeemed. Put on shoes that will enable you to live that out, to walk forward proclaiming what God has done for you and others. The shield is of faith, the thing revealed to us through Christ's work, that which gives us something tangible to hold onto--the death and resurrection of Christ. Put on the helmet of salvation and use the word of God as your sword to destroy the lies told to you and about you.
What this meant for me in my reflection this morning is that the most dangerous evil in my life right now is doubting who I am and what I'm called to be. Being tentative about my call sometimes makes me feel like a failure who will never be good at anything. Most days I don't think that's true, but some days I do. But the defense is that even if it is true that professional ministry is ultimately not my calling, I am still a child of God created lovingly, called worthy and given a special calling in the world. I know that, and it's important for me to be able to root my identity not in what I'm doing but in what God is doing for me. I have no idea what I'm doing most days, let alone what God is doing! But my strength comes from the truth that even if I don't know who I am or what I'm doing, God does. I can't rely on my own strength, but I can be strong knowing that despite all the fear and anxiety, insecurity, and everything else attacking me, God is defending me.