The belt of truth
Today, let us consider the first part of Ephesians 6:14: “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth,” or, as the ESV puts it, “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth.” This is one of the first things a Roman soldier would have done; it was done before any other piece of armor went on. He needed the belt to gather together his tunic beneath the armor. The breastplate fastened to the belt, and it was also the place from which the soldier would hang his sword. So the belt was not just something you put on for looks, it was foundational and essential for the entire panoply of armor the soldier wore into battle.
Paul uses the imagery of the belt for truth. We are to put on truth like the soldier put on his belt. But what does the apostle mean by this? Although some think Paul is thinking of the truth of Bible doctrine, I believe that he is referring to integrity, or truthfulness in the inward person.
Listen to what Isaiah said in his prophesy (speaking of the Christ, 11:2): “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins” (11:5). Now it’s interesting that the Septuagint translates the word “faithfulness” with the same Greek word behind the word “truth” in Ephesians 6:14. Since it’s widely agreed among scholars that the apostles were familiar with the Septuagint (an Ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament), it’s not hard to believe that Paul was probably thinking of Isa. 11:5 when he wrote Eph. 6:14. In that case, he is not thinking of truth as something you believe but truth as something you are. God is true in Isa. 11:5 in the sense of faithfulness; that is, he is true to his word. He does not say one thing and then do another. It describes who he is. So in this verse in Ephesians 6, Paul is calling us to be men and women of integrity, who are what they say they are.
Of course, the basic definition of truth is that which corresponds to reality. In Phil. 1:18, Paul contrasts “truth” with “pretense.” To put on the belt of truth then means that you are for real, that you are not pretending, that your profession matches your intention, that you are not something other than what you profess to be. It means you are sincere. And in this context, it means being true to Christ as our Captain and Lord. One of the complaints Hodge made against seeing this in terms of integrity is that this would make it “a natural virtue, and does not belong to the armour of God.” But this argument loses its force when we recognize that it is not just integrity in general that is called for, but integrity in the sense of our commitment to Jesus Christ. In other words, as we put on this armor and gird ourselves for war, we are claiming to belong to Jesus Christ. To put on the belt of truth means that we are in truth what we say we are. We do not put on the armor of God and then fight for the devil.
However, this leads to the question: how do we live out a life of integrity in the service of Christ? What is involved? Well, I think at least three things are involved.
First, it’s a matter of counting the cost. If we are going to wear truth like a belt, if we are going to be men and women of integrity, we are going to have to count the cost of following Christ. We are going to have to consider what’s involved in serving him in this world.
To put on the belt of truth, you need to understand everything that’s involved in following Christ. It’s not just a matter of saying a prayer and getting baptized and then everything’s fine. We need to understand that there is a cost to following Christ, and unless you are willing to endure the cost, you cannot be a Christian. Isn’t this what our Lord himself said? “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26-27). In that same text, our Lord goes on to illustrate his meaning with two stories, one about a man who wants to build a tower, and another about a king who wants to make war with another king. The point of both stories is that you have to sit down and figure out whether or not you have the will and resources to complete the task. The reason why so many people who start out as Christians, but who end up jettisoning their faith, is because they never really understood all that would be involved. They liked the heaven part and the forgiveness part, but they don’t like the self-denial part, and the humility part, and the repentance part, and the persecution part.
In the book of Deuteronomy, when Moses is giving instructions to the Israelites on how they are to go into battle, he gives the following interesting directive: “And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart” (Deut. 20:8). In other words, the Lord didn’t want men on the battle line who were afraid because fear and panic spread like a disease and can instantly cripple an army. Instead, he wanted men who were fully aware of the danger they faced and were willing to face it. He wanted men who were true. It wasn’t enough to be on the battle line. You had to be willing to embrace the battle and all the hardship that went along with it. That’s putting on the belt of truth. You’ve counted the cost; you know what it means to follow Christ, and you willingly embrace it with all your heart. Do you?
Second, it’s a matter of guarding the heart. To be true to Christ, we have to be the same inside as well as outside. It was the damning sin of the Pharisees that they were “like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Our Lord went on to say, “Even so, ye also outwardly appear righteous unto me, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Mt. 23:28-28). King David contrasts with the Pharisees because, even though he sinned greatly, when he repented, he repented thoroughly. You can see it in his prayer of repentance to God in Psalm 51, when he prays, “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom” (Ps. 51:6). Therefore, he goes on to pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (ver. 10). Truth in the inward parts –that is what God desires.
Third, it’s a matter of keeping our word. What I mean by this is that we follow through with our commitments to Christ. King David put it this way in his fifteen Psalm: he describes those who will abide in God’s tabernacle and dwell in his holy hill; in other words, he describes those who have fellowship with God. He designates the godly man as “he who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart . . . who swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Ps. 15:2, 4). Here is a man who has made a commitment to the Lord; it will cost him something, but he follows through. That man is true.
Do you follow through? Or is your life one of fits and starts? Look, God does not want sprinters; he want marathon runners. He wants men and women who are committed, who take the truth of God’s word and make it a part of their life. He wants men and women who don’t just say and not do, but who do what they say is true.
So, brothers and sisters, let us strap on the belt of truth. Let us be faithful to Christ, let us be true to him. Let us go forth into battle without any reservation of heart and soul; indeed, “let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:13-15).