In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
Ephesians 6:16 ESV
Now that we are halfway through the armor of God, we have studied the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shoes of readiness. Still before us is the shield of faith (our present subject), the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. As Paul commanded us, each piece is not sufficient on its own; rather, we must take up the whole armor of God if we are to stand against the schemes of the devil with the strength that God provides.
WHAT IS FAITH?
The item of the armor before us now is the shield of faith. Let us discuss faith first before moving into its shield-like quality for our daily walk with Christ and stand against the hosts of Satan.
In the Bible, we find two primary uses of the word faith. The first is linked to words like belief and trust. The second refers to the sum of religious doctrine and practice. Jude uses faith in this second sense in reference to the whole Christian belief system, writing, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). While there may be some application for thinking of the shield of faith in that sense, it seems more likely that Paul is speaking of faith in the first sense. What then is faith?
Hebrews 11:1 plainly defines faith for us as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Thus, faith is the belief in what lies beyond the realm of our senses, the assurance in what runs deeper than the material world and the present circumstances. Faith, therefore, is our God-ordained approach to both the space and time in which He has placed us. As it relates to time, faith is our present assurance of our future hope. As it relates to space, it is our conviction that there is more to this world than what our physical eyes can see. Many rightly, therefore, describe faith as an act of trust.
The writer of Hebrews goes on to explain the importance of faith in relation to God, saying, “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (11:6). Belief in God is an act of faith since God is spirit. Yet while belief in God requires faith, we must take care to remind ourselves that it is a reasonable faith, not a blind leap into the dark. Although God cannot be seen with our physical eyes, plenty of evidence of His existence saturating the cosmos that He has made.
Paul, likewise, affirms the crucial role of faith in pleasing God back in chapter 2. After writing about our wretched sinful condition before Christ (vv. 1-3) and salvation into life through the merciful love of Jesus Christ (vv. 4-7), he summarized the glorious transformation, saying, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (vv. 8-9). Our salvation is by the stunning, unilateral act of God’s grace through the giving of His only Son, and the vehicle by which we receive this marvelous gift is through faith. Our good works, even though they must naturally proceed from faith, do not save us, nor do they unite us to God’s grace. Faith alone is the basis of our justification, a full and unhindered trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ. This is the faith that alone can be our shield in the day of battle.
Yet I would be remiss if I did not use this opportunity to counter one of the most insidious lies about faith that exists today, one which is predominately found within what is called the Word of Faith movement (which is frequently connected or even identical to the so called Prosperity Gospel). These teachers possess a rather squishy view of doctrine in the first place so it is difficult to pin down their exact beliefs; however, they appear to view faith as a kind of primordial force to which even God is bound. In fact, the use of the word force is quite fitting since their notion of faith almost resembles the Force from Star Wars. They speak of faith as if it is a force that we can possess in greater or lesser amounts, and whenever we have enough faith, God has bound Himself to do what we have believed in by faith. The movement’s teachers and followers, therefore, are known for “claiming” health and wealth by faith and expecting God to meet their demands.
The problems with this view of faith (and of God) are numerous, yet likely the most significant is that they have subtly subjected God into being a servant of faith. It is nothing more than a Christianized version of the recently reinvigorated pagan belief of shaping reality through thoughts and mantras. Most notably The Secret brought this teaching mainstream again, calling it the law of attraction. The Word of Faith movement is only different in that it treats God as a functional middleman who enacts our claims of faith. This is not biblical faith.
God is not subservient to faith; rather, He is the object of our faith. Faith, after all, is only as good as its object. I may have the greatest and most sincere faith that an origami chair will support my weight. Sincerity, however, cannot change reality. Conversely, the most skeptical and hesitant of faith is sufficient for sitting down in an actual chair, so long as one actually sits down. This is the beauty of saving faith in the gospel! How much faith is needed to be saved? Only enough to truly cling to Christ! A mustard grain size of faith may cast a mountain into the sea, but far more importantly it may hold fast to the Savior who renews our hearts and regenerates our souls. All of this is to simply say: the size of our faith is not as important as the object of our faith. Indeed, the cry of every believer is “I believe; help my unbelief!” Our faith is poor, broken, and failing, but our confidence is not in our own faith but in our Redeemer, who is ever faithful.
THE EVIL ONE’S FLAMING DARTS
Now that we have a general understanding of faith, let us discuss how faith is meant to be our shield in this evil day. The purpose of a shield in combat was, of course, to provide movable protection. While the breastplate acted as a fixed guard of torso, the shield could be wielded to block attacks from any direction. Under Greek and Roman influence, shields became commonly large enough for the entire soldier to cover himself behind. Greek hoplites would use such shields to employ a phalanx formation in which the soldiers would line up their shields to form a wall, while a second line of soldiers would thrust from behind with spears. So important was the shield for combat that Spartan women are often cited as telling their husbands as they went to war, “Come back with your shield or on it,” which referred to the practice of carrying fallen soldiers home upon their shields. It is, therefore, difficult to over-emphasize the importance of a shield in ancient warfare.
But what of the flaming darts? Paul most likely referring to arrows dipped into a combustible liquid a set on fire before being shot at the enemy. A volley of arrows fired into an army was deadly enough, for it required attention (and shields) to be lifted above while still preparing to face the enemy ahead. Yet flaming arrows had the additional threat of igniting fires among the soldiers or even upon the soldiers. This was particularly devastating for soldiers using wooden shields because a flaming dart could cause their weapon of defense to burst into flames in their hand. Indeed, the purpose of flaming arrows is less about precision than it is confusion. The constant assault from above and the sparking of fires all around was not primarily intended to be a killing blow but rather a weakening of defenses for further attacks.
Like in an ancient battle, our enemy is not only standing against us, ready to attack whenever our guard is dropped; he is also continuously raining down fiery darts upon us, hoping to incite panic and confusion before a direct assault. Only true faith in Christ alone is a sufficient shield to extinguish Satan’s arrows. Any other faith is like a wooden shield that will ignite when struck.
As we noted about the schemes of the devil, his attacks boil down to either temptation to new sin or accusation of old sin. Faith is a shield against both types of fiery darts. We tend to think of temptation as only being the temptation to commit sin; however, perhaps even more common, yet significantly more subtle, is the temptation to neglect our duties. Indeed, if you want to witness the fiery but cunning assault of Satan, simply attempt to spend thirty (even fifteen!) minutes in prayer. Notice the events and excuses that will rise up to prevent ever even beginning to pray and how many more stray thoughts and distractions while actually trying to pray. The same could, likewise, be said of reading God’s Word. And it is from this negligence that committed sin often arises, for it was David’s failure to lead his armies into battle that gave opportunity for his adultery with Bathsheba.
Also like the actual fiery arrows, Satan may often hurl fears and anxieties at us to keep us from the obedience that God requires. As Peter noted, the devil is “like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8); even though he cannot devour God’s children, he will no doubt attempt to frighten them with his roar into inaction. Lewis speaks of this tactic through the mouth of the demon Screwtape, writing to his nephew Wormwood:
There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is keep them thinking about what will happen to them.
Such a pull is always true, yet times like ours (with pandemics, uncertainty in the highest governmental office, and steady rumors of impending conflicts, both domestic and foreign) are ripe for such fears and anxieties. Since anxiety is only increasingly prevalent within our society, how much a witness might we be, not that Christians are immune from wrestling with anxiety, but that we know of how it might be truly conquered. After all, as Screwtape noted, thoughts of what might happen almost always stoke the flames of anxiety, yet as believers, we are not called to know, much less control, the future. Instead, we are merely called to obedience with faith in God’s sovereign providence. While at times difficult to grasp, this truth is incredibly freeing. We do not need to worry about tomorrow because our call then will be the same ordinary faithfulness as it is today. We are not called to fret over the future, but only to be obedience in the present. Lift up faith as shield against such worries and do what our King has commanded.
Of course, Satan may also fire accusations of past sins at us, and if your faith is upon your own righteousness, you will buckle under the accusations of the Accuser. There is a powerful scene from The Pilgrim’s Progress, where Christian is faced with Apollyon (Satan) and after tempting Christian with the pleasures of the world the devil tries this tactic:
APOL Thou hast already been unfaithful in thy service to him; and how dost thou think to receive wages of him?
CHR. Wherein, O Apollyon! have I been unfaithful to him?
APOL Thou didst faint at first setting out, when thou wast almost choked in the Gulf of Despond; thou didst attempt wrong ways to be rid of thy burden, whereas thou shouldest have stayed till thy Prince had taken it off; thou didst sinfully sleep, and lose thy choice thing; thou wast, also, almost persuaded to go back, at the sight of the lions; and when thou talkest of thy journey, and of what thou hast heard and seen, thou art inwardly desirous of vain-glory in all that thou sayest or doest.
Temptation will almost always be Satan’s first attempt, but if it fails, he most certainly has a better list of our failings than we do. In those moments, when all our many sins are rained down upon us like a shower of arrows, any attempt to shield ourselves with our own good works will fail utterly. Instead, we must answer as Christian does:
CHR. All this is true, and much more which thou has left out; but the Prince, whom I serve and honour, is merciful, and ready to forgive; but besides, these infirmities possessed me in thy country, for there I sucked them in; and I have groaned under them, been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon of my Prince.
This alone can be our answer to the Accuser’s accusations. Each one of them is true, and there are likely many more which time has not permitted to be mentioned. Yet our faith is not dependent upon our own goodness; rather, we trust in the grace and forgiveness of our mighty Savior. Present the all-sufficiency of Jesus in answer to the insufficiencies with you.
IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES
Up to this point, we have (intentionally) overlooked the opening words of our verse: in all circumstances. The King James reads above all, which has sometimes been interpreted as implying that the shield of faith is the most vital piece of the armor of God. That interpretation, however, does not seem to correspond to Paul’s double command to put on/take up the whole armor of God. Instead, the ESV’s rendering seems more likely, that the apostle is speaking of taking up the shield of faith in all circumstances.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones applies this phrase not only to the shield of faith but also to the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. His reasoning is that these final three items are distinct from the first three. Of the first three components, the apostle calls us to put on the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, and shoes of readiness, which are each articles of armor that must be fastened on and are not easily removed. The second three, however, must be taken up, and a shield, helmet, and sword are just as easily set down as they are taken up. Therefore, Lloyd-Jones argues that while truth, righteousness, and readiness must be our clothing, taking up faith, salvation, and the Word requires a special command to do so always.
In fact, we can easily imagine a soldier after battle immediately dropping his shield and sword and removing his helmet. Yet here Paul is reminding us that there is no end to our battle in this life. We are continually at war, and our cosmic enemies are sleeplessly waiting for any moment in which our shield is dropped. What hope, therefore, do we have against such a relentless foe?
Although the battle is indeed fierce and long, we should take heart that our shield is not burdensome to carry, for Christ is Himself our shield. We find two examples in the Psalms where the king is referred to being the shield of God’s people.
Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed!Psalm 84:9
For our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One of Israel.Psalm 89:18
Christ, of course, is our King, the Son of David whose kingdom shall endure forevermore. He is the shield of His people, and we take hold of Him by faith. Although Paul is calling us to take up Christ for constant battle, we must also remember that Jesus is our rest. Here again is one of the many paradoxes of the Christian faith. He is our shield against the assaults of Satan, but He is also our perpetual rest in the midst of this evil day. He is our strength to stand in battle, even as He has seated us with Himself beside the Father.
Brothers and sisters, take up, therefore, the shield of faith, Jesus Christ our Lord, that through Him we may stand firm against the fiery darts of the devil.
 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 25.
Remember that since Screwtape is a demon the Enemy in his letters is God; thus, the book must be read, as it were, in reverse.
 John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan Vol. 3: Allegorical, Figurative, and Symbolical, 112.
 Ibid. 112.