"Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor 10:3-5).
Age and treachery will always defeat youth and zeal. That’s an old saying that is very true. We are, for the most part, a youthful, zealous people, but we have an enemy who is as old as time and as treacherous as quicksand. He will use every trick in his book to get us to fall—and he has a lot of them in his book. So how do we fight against such an enemy?
In the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus saying to his apostles: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt 10:16). We need to be like doves—gentle, peaceful and kind, but we cannot afford to be naive against an enemy who is the master of deception and deceit. We need to understand his mind and how he works in order to combat him and there are three very important things that we need to keep in mind before we go to war.
1. Our enemy is not another human
As Paul tells us, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).
Most of us constantly find ourselves being hurt, humiliated or otherwise injured by the actions of people around us. Our parents, our spouses, our children, our colleagues, our friends, and even those in church, pain us in hundreds of ways. But the instant we retaliate against them, believing them to be the enemy, the battle is lost, because they are not the enemy. The real enemy is the devil who manipulates their insecurities, fears and weaknesses (just like he manipulates ours), to make them act the way they do. The mere understanding of this fact will change our attitude towards others, and consequently, our reactions. But how does he manipulate our emotions? By waging war in our mind, which brings us to the next important point.
2. The battlefield is the mind
The battlefield is our minds. This is the arena where Satan and his forces constantly wage war in order to gain control of our thoughts, our ideas, our imagination. The attacks are constant. At times they come directly from Satan and his demons. In other instances, the attacks come through people we know, often those nearest to us. The instance he is afforded the opportunity, the enemy sets up strongholds in our mind, which are essentially thoughts and ideas that hold us captive to him.
Do you have immense hatred towards somebody you believe has wronged you? Are you unable to forgive somebody who has hurt you deeply? Do you believe that the Pope is the Anti-Christ and the Catholic Church is evil? Or, if you are Catholic, do you think that all Protestants are children of the devil? These are all strongholds that the enemy has built up in our minds over years. He has constructed dozens of them, if not hundreds! Prejudices and preconceptions that are designed to pitch man in battle against his brother and take his attention away from the true enemy. So how do we fight with such an enemy?
3. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world
So how do we fight against such an enemy? Most of us fight the enemy with the weapons of this world. If we are depressed and suicidal, we seek the help of a psychiatrist and thousands of words (and dollars) later, many of us are no better off than when we started. If we are disturbed and anxious, we seek the solace of blue carpeted rooms, with the smell of incense wafting to our nostrils as soft music floats in from the rafters, and this works magnificently well—as long as we are in the room! What if we are beaten with metal rods, thrown into a dark dungeon with our feet secured in stocks, and instead of a thick rug, we have coarse dirt underneath us; instead of piped music all we can hear are the moans and groans of other prisoners around us; instead of the sweet aroma of perfumed candles all we smell is the stench of fear and decay? Would we be able to be at peace? Yet Paul and Silas, who were in the situation just described were at peace. How did they get this? They understood that the weapons of this world would be of little use against creatures that were not of “flesh and blood” so they used different weapons. “weapons that have divine power” and we need to use these weapons too if we are to prevail against the enemy.
The weapons are several, but the most powerful is the word of God, which is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Prayer is another extremely powerful weapon. But along with these “weapons” that God has given us to smash strongholds and put the enemy to flight, he has also given us armor that we can use to protect ourselves from the attacks of the enemy and prevent him from building the strongholds in the first place.
Every Christian has to put on this armor—the Armor of God—if he is to survive the onslaughts of the enemy, much less go on the attack. As long as we wear God’s armor, we are safe; the instant we take it off, we are asking for big trouble. So what is this Armor of God that keeps us safe?
They comprise, in order of mention in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the Belt of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Gospel Shoes, the Helmet of Salvation, and the Shield of Faith. We will look at each individual item in the Armor of God in greater detail in the next session, but let us see how we can first protect our mind, seeing as how it is the battlefield, and in the Armor that God prescribes is one item specifically designed for the purpose: the Helmet of Salvation.
The Helmet of Salvation
"Take the helmet of salvation" (Eph 6:17)
In a war, soldiers get injured. At times, the injuries can be severe. But while a soldier might survive a broken arm or a few fractured ribs, an injured head can debilitate his movements. A particularly hard blow to the head can immobilize him.
The head covers our minds, and as we saw in the earlier session, our minds are the battlefield where war rages. This is what the enemy attacks most ferociously. It becomes essential, therefore, that we don protective headgear to safeguard our mind. God prescribes the Helmet of Salvation.
But what is the Helmet of Salvation? Paul, who uses one of the most brilliant metaphors to be found in literature to describe the Armor of God, gives us a clue in another letter, this one to the Thessalonians. “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thes 5:8).
The Helmet of Salvation is the hope of salvation; the hope of salvation from hell, and more importantly, salvation from sin.
The importance of hope can be seen in our daily lives. A working man will put all his energies into his job in the hope that his efforts will be noticed and result in material and other rewards. Should he lose his job, it is the hope that he will get a better one that will sustain him. Take away his hope of gaining profitable employment and you would have effectively incapacitated him. He will sit at home and despair. Take away his hope in life, itself, and you would have destroyed him completely.
When looked on as part of our armor, hope takes on greater meaning. The Greek word elpis, from which the word hope derives, literally translates as “confident expectation” and is a far more descriptive and accurate definition of the helmet that safeguards our minds. The confident expectation we are required to have is of the day when Jesus Christ will come again, fulfilling all the promises made in the gospel. On this day the work that he began in us when we were born again will be completed. On this day we will secure eternal life. “ ... in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Tit 1:2).
It is the hope of this eternal life that can protect our mind from the relentless assaults upon it by the enemy. A Christian who has this hope will not get confused with the fleeting pleasures of sin. Nor will he trade his salvation for the temporary lusts of the world. He won’t worry or be anxious about life’s many problems either. When the enemy shoots arrows of despair, doubt or temptation at his head, he will not succumb, because hope will secure his defenses.
You won’t find a day, sometimes an hour, that will go by without the enemy whispering his insidious blandishments into your ear, asking you why you sacrifice the pleasures of life that are there for the taking. His exhortations are always played to the accompanying tune of half-truths. “You are human,” he murmurs in the seductive way only the utterly corrupt can. “God understands you are weak. Even if you fall, he will forgive you. After all he loves you so much. So why do you try so hard to be good?” At times, especially in weaker moments, the temptation to buy into his lies is enormous. What should stop us from giving in is knowing that what he offers is short lived, whereas what God promises is for all eternity, and our hope is that if we cling to his promise, we will attain it. However, given the arduous nature of the journey we are embarked upon and the frailties of human nature, we still often fall, which only leads to a fresh barrage of assaults, this time aimed at our heart as well, accusing us of hypocrisy and unfaithfulness.
At times like these it helps to have another item in the Armor of God—the Breastplate of Righteousness—firmly secured as well because together with the Helmet it will secure the two most important parts of our body: the head and the heart.
The Breastplate of Righteousness
“Put on the breastplate of righteousness” (Eph 6:14)
Merriam-Webster defines righteousness as acting in accordance with divine or moral law. Going by this definition, a breastplate of righteousness would mean living a law-fulfilling life according to both divine rules and moral ones. Many of us wear such a breastplate and get nearly skewered as a result because although it is a “Breastplate of Righteousness”, it is not the one prescribed by God as part of his armor. It is a breastplate based on our own righteousness, not God’s!
A breastplate of our own righteousness is strong to look at, but is inherently weak because it is based largely on our own verdict of ourselves, or the verdict of others, and both are fickle. As long as we judge ourselves (or are judged) favorably, the breastplate we wear appears strong and fills us with confidence. The moment this changes, the breastplate splinters and we become vulnerable to attack from the enemy.
Paul realized this early in his Christian life. In his days as a Pharisee, Paul had it all. He was brought up in Jerusalem as a disciple of Gamaliel and was a very highly respected member of the elite Sanhedrin. He was fanatical about the law, and even among the Pharisees who were renowned for their strict adherence to it, Paul was in a league of his own. He was about as righteous as they came. Yet, when he discovered the righteousness that comes from God, he considered everything else “rubbish.”
“More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith” (Phil 3:8-9).
What was it that made Paul realize that he was foolish in his estimation of his own worth? Perhaps it was a sudden glimpse that he had of himself through God’s eyes. If we were to examine ourselves through God’s eyes, even for a few minutes, we would undoubtedly come to some equally illuminating conclusions about our own sense of righteousness. As the prophet Isaiah said, “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth” (Is 64:6). The only righteousness that matters is God’s, but what is it and how do we obtain it? Paul has the answer: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
Jesus became sin for us, which he then nailed to the cross with his death, and proceeded to give us eternal life with his resurrection—and the automatic righteousness of God! To obtain it, all we have to do is have faith in Jesus! And then, with this righteousness, we don’t have to worry anymore about whether we are good enough for God or if our past sins will be an obstacle in receiving God’s blessings; we are simply made righteous! The Catechism confirms: “Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life” (CCC 1992).
It is sometimes hard for us to comprehend that our sins are all forgiven and that none of our unrighteous deeds are held against us, but it is true. We can go boldly to God as if we had done nothing wrong and know that God will make us right with him simply because we believe and accept the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. Do take a minute to absorb this because it is a fundamental—and extremely powerful—precept of the Christian faith that not all are aware of, or fully comprehend! But that is not all. Not only does it defend our conscience from all the wounds inflicted by past sin and failures, it keeps us safe from wounds that might be inflicted in future! And it imparts something of God in us, something which gives us the power to put sin away: his Holy Spirit.
There is another element of the Breastplate of Righteousness in addition to faith and that is love. Paul writes to the Thessalonians: “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love” (1 Thes. 5:8). The Breastplate of Righteousness is also a breastplate of faith and love. While faith is the essential element of the breastplate, it is a faith that works only through love. Paul speaks about this in yet another letter, this one to the Galatians. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Gal 5:6).