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Defeating Deceit: the Logic of Sword, Shield and Helmet

By Tim Harris

“Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”(Ephesians 6:16-17). Spiders are true predators. They are the lions, sharks and wolves of the insect world. The Bolas spider, for example, hunts by means of attraction and ambush. Mimicking a highly specific moth pheromone, the Bolas lures in a male moth looking for a mate of his species. The spider produces several silken strings with a glob of sticky gum on the ends. When its unsuspecting prey comes within range, the Bolas swings the lines at him, faster than the unaided human eye can observe. Latching onto the moth with great accuracy, the spider then hauls it in, delivers a fatal bite, and binds it up to be eaten.

Similarly, Satan and his angels are true predators. They are the lions, sharks, and wolves of the spiritual world.

Out of their twisted hatred for God, they prey on those who bear God’s image—us. Like the Bolas, they mimic what is truly good for us. They prey on our innate, carnal desires with the exact species of sins we lean toward individually. They seek to deceive us, to lure, capture, bind, and devour us. But we are not left helpless. God has given us spiritual armor designed to foil the tactics of our predator.

A Reality Check

When we are tempted to disobey God, why do we struggle to sense the wickedness of sin? Objectively sin is “sinful” but subjectively it may not seem sinful.

We may even doubt that some sins are sins at all.

We look at some sins with longing eyes, as did Lot’s wife. So Jesus warns, “Remember Lot’s wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life [self-gratification] shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life [self-denial] shall preserve it”(Luke 17:32-33). It wasn’t just the people who refused to leave Sodom that died, but she who looked back. We may personalize the following question: “Do I view _______ as ‘bad’ because it’s forbidden or forbidden by God because it’s evil?”

God’s laws aren’t arbitrary. Sin is sin because God is God.

Consider the difference between two posted signs: “WET PAINT. DO NOT TOUCH.” And, “HIGH VOLTAGE! DO NOT TOUCH!” You’ll touch the wet paint. You won’t touch the wire. How treacherous—or alluring—is your besetting sin? We may be closer to the devil’s venomous lair than we think.

The Adversary without; The Accomplice within

Satan is wholly bent on deceiving. Nothing comes more natural to him. “When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Likewise, our flesh is bent on being deceived. Nothing comes more natural to it. Therefore, Paul exhorts, “…put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). The Adversary without.Thayer defines “wiles” as “deceit, craft, trickery.”

Our spiritual armor is specially designed to combat Satan’s trickery. Interesting. Not his brute force but his subtlety.

He tempts Eve to doubt the content of what God had said, then the truth of what God had said, then the very wisdom and goodness of God! “The serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety.” By his benign and trustworthy appearance, “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:3, 14). The Accomplice within. The fallen mind and heart of man are easy prey for Satan’s wiles. By nature, the flesh is a desire factory rendering us “disobedient, deceived, serving diverse lusts and pleasures” (Titus 3:3). But even after becoming a “new man” in Christ by regeneration we grow deceived. We still have to “…put off…the old man, which is corrupt according to deceitful lusts (Ephesians 4:20). Because “the heart is deceitful above all things” and naturally “enticed” by sin, it is well suited as Satan’s inside-job accomplice in his relentless attempts to lure us (Jeremiah 17:9; James 1:14).

The Weapons of Our Warfare

But God has given us mighty weapons. Highly specific weapons. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). By these there is always a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Even those who are deceived may by this armor “recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). The Sword of the Spirit.The word of God is a living sword. It cuts deep into our hearts, discovering our secret motives — and those of Satan.

When tempted, Jesus didn’t just speak “truth,” he quoted scripture. And Satan couldn’t rebut him (Matthew 4:1-10).

The type of sword Paul mentions is a short sword meant for hand-to-hand combat. When tempted, do you immediately drive this sword to the hilt into the heart of the lie? Nothing lays a sinful promise of pleasure barer than a well-chosen scripture. “Be killing sin or it will be killing you” (John Owen). The Shield of Faith.Faith is an attitude of the heart and mind. It is reliant upon, confident in, and satisfied with Jesus Christ. Faith quenches all the fiery darts of the devil (Ephesians 6:16).

In contrast, self-reliance is highly combustible.

Satan shoots fiery darts to set us ablaze with anxiety, discouragement, self-pity, self-reliance, fear, anger, lust, envy, bitterness, greed, arrogance, cruelty, irreverence, doubt, hypocrisy and gossip (e.g. James 3:5-6). But an attitude of scripture-believing faith in God quenches them all. The Helmet of Salvation. Elsewhere, this helmet is narrowly defined as the Christian’s hope: “…for a helmet, the hope of your salvation”(1 Thessalonians 5:8).

Hope is our great expectation of mind-blowing, future good from God (Romans 8:24-30).

What call of the predator could coax us away from God when we are fervently hopeful of grace for today and forever? It is the blessed prospect of “a crown of life” that empowers one to endure temptation (James 1:12). “Everything that is done in this world is done by hope” (Martin Luther). Tied together then, (1) faith believes (2) the word’s “exceeding great and precious promises,” and (3) hope eagerly anticipates their fulfillment. By these three we have “…escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust”(2 Peter 1:4).

Sin doesn’t just happen. There is a process of deception that occurs with every sin.

Every temptation involves (1) a word (promise/lie), (2) a faith (persuasion), and (3) a hope (prospect of pleasure in sin). The logic goes: God gives us his word to expose Satan’s lies; faith to cease believing the lies; and hope in God to negate the hope of lasting pleasure in sin. It is evident that our spiritual sword, shield, and helmet are perfectly suited to counter the process of deception. Are you fully armed?

Jesus’ Ultimate Temptation; Our Ultimate Victory

Consider, finally, the greatest example of defeating deceit by spiritual armor: Jesus Christ.

When the predator tempted him, Jesus was fully armed.

Satan offered him “all the kingdoms of the world,” if Jesus would only worship him (Matthew 4:8-10). But the magnificent offer held no appeal to Jesus. For his own Father had long before promised him the same thing! “Ask of me and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Psalm 2:8). Satan was mimicking a promise already made to Christ by his Father! The temptation, then, was to run ahead, skip his crucifixion, and get what he was entitled to—now. Of course, if Jesus had bowed, Satan would only have laughed; and Jesus would have sinned. The same is true for us. Our Father has already promised us everything we need in life — and heaven too! “He that spared not his own son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Because Christ defeated every temptation in life and died in our place, the predator’s mimicry of God’s sure promises need hold no appeal to us. Armed with sword, shield and helmet—and all of God’s armor—let us daily put to death the deceitfulness of sin and run after Christ (Luke 9:23-26).