Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit.
— Ephesians 6:10-18a, ESV 2011
Paul writes plainly enough in the passage above. He speaks of a struggle, a wrestling match, the present darkness, and spiritual forces. And then he gives us a concrete picture of the defence God has given us against all of these terrors.
I, for one, find it hard to really grasp what each of these items of armour do for us, because armour is something I am unfamiliar with. What has been helpful for me is making the metaphor into another metaphor (which is not ideal, but has its merits).
I call it the Tack of God.
The Belt of Truth
“These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the LORD.”
— Zechariah 8:16-17
This is most akin to the girth or cinch we often take for granted. It holds everything together, keeps the saddle on the horse’s back straight, which helps to keep us on the horse. Truth does this also; recognizing truth and speaking it (in love, as Paul says elsewhere) keeps us straight on God’s path.
The Breastplate of Righteousness
The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness.”
— Proverbs 11:5
A breastcollar illustrates this well. In the days of knights, a horse’s breastcollar would keep its most vulnerable part, the chest, safe from arrows. But in the modern day, we use it to prevent a saddle from sliding to the side or backwards, especially when doing active ranch work. What will righteousness do for us? When by God’s grace alone we are above reproach, we can reach down from our saddle without fear of sliding under our horse’s belly to help someone else.
The Shoes of the Gospel of Peace
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
— Romans 1:16
Protective boots used on a horse to prevent tendon strains, or overreach boots, or horseshoes, all illustrate this point. Their main objective is to prevent the horse from harm. It takes some time to put them on and put them on properly so that injury is not accidentally sustained, but when they are on, they afford valuable protection. We can step with sure feet when we know what we believe and are able to defend the gospel that will ultimately bring peace to the world. The ESV speaks of a ‘readiness’ to go and speak these words of life, and with the protection afforded by boots or shoes, our horses can go anywhere.
The Shield of Faith
For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
— Romans 1:17
This may be a stretch, but the saddle applies itself to faith. It gives you some measure of stickability when things get rough, something to hold onto. But more than that, it also prevents injury to the horse’s spine by lifting the rider’s weight off of it. The shield of faith is supposed to deflect the lies Satan wants us to believe. With or without a saddle, we can ride as fast as that horse can run.
The Helmet of Salvation
Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing on your people!
— Psalm 3:8, ESV 2011
Those of you who ride with helmets may be thinking that that is what I am about to say. But the bridle is what I chose for this one. What horse wears a bridle or a hackamore, or even a halter? One that is domesticated. It is a mark, indicating that this horse is different. Our salvation in a very real sense makes us different than the world around us. We are marked with it, and when we are saved, we submit to our Lord, as the horse submits to us.
The Sword of the Spirit
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
— John 16:13, ESV 2011
Paul is very clear that this is the Word of God, the Bible. Because of this, my analogy is weakened here, but for the Sword I chose the reins. The Spirit was sent to guide God’s people into the way of righteousness. The reins or lead rope are our method of guiding and directing our horses. The Spirit does this gently and in many different ways, like we are supposed to.