Why do we need a shield to live the Christian life? The Bible is clear: because we have an enemy, who is poised ready to attack us. He is the enemy who never stops. Ignore him or refuse to believe in him, and the result will be the same—acute danger. So says the apostle Paul, take up the shield of faith in all circumstances (Eph. 6:16). We have been warned!
Let’s talk about the gospel and temptation. Satan fires the arrows of temptation at us, and we find in our hearts that the seeds of temptation are already there. How do we recognize temptation? And what does it mean to lift the shield of faith and fight back, confident in God’s gospel love for us?
In Ephesians 6, Paul likely has the Roman legionary’s shield in his mind’s eye. That shield had smashed the resistance of peoples from the north of England down to the south of Egypt and had brought millions under the control of Rome. At two and a half feet wide and four feet tall, this shield was the perfected design of layers of wood and leather, studded with iron and often soaked in water before battles to repel the enemy’s burning arrows. Every person in the Roman Empire knew the sight of that shield. They might have hated it, but they knew that without it, there would be no empire. It worked. We Christians need the shield of faith, because we can’t protect ourselves by our own efforts. We can’t hide, but we can defend ourselves through faith.
When the Bible says that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), it’s not calling us to despair, but it is snapping us out of our delusion that the devil is at best nonexistent or, at worst, the harmless memory of a bygone age. The prayer Jesus teaches his followers, “Deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13 NIV), still applies today. Through Christ we have decisively overcome him (1 John 2:13–14), but we need to still treat him as a powerful foe who can still harm us and purposes to. The shield of faith is the way we will keep the devil in his place.
Lead Us Not
Why is temptation so hard to withstand? It’s because it comes from the tempter himself, the devil who knows exactly what he’s doing. He doesn’t fire random shots in our general direction. No, he looks for our weak points, the gaps in our armor. He knows where to aim, and he knows just what temptations to send. Our temptations are unique to our characters, life-stages, past histories, and future longings, and they will change as we grow older too.
Temptations burn, just like flaming arrows. They can pierce us and set our lives on fire.
Some temptations come on suddenly and without warning. And with temptation, size is irrelevant. A third of London was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 by a few hot ashes from a baker’s oven. Rising global temperatures lead to terrible wildfires in every continent. All of them start with a tiny spark. Just so, the smallest temptations can lead to the biggest sins, which burn with devastating impact.
Often, our temptations don’t even seem to make any sense. They are illogical, but can bring catastrophe. We’ve all seen politicians or media celebrities who’ve been caught and exposed for something they’ve done, tearfully confessing their shame at a sin whose power over them they can’t even explain. Temptation doesn’t need to make sense to us for it to be a real threat.
Others burn more silently and sometimes aren’t even noticed. Like an undetected health condition working away without anyone knowing it, some of our biggest temptations may be growing unseen in our hearts. They might be ambition, pride, discontentment, or ingratitude. They’re all so hard to identify. Even when we suspect that they’re there, we want to wave them away. We tell ourselves that we’re imagining things or that we’re dealing with little problems—not anything to get worried about or respond to. Often, our temptation is to tell ourselves that we have no temptation.
What undealt-with temptation might burn you? We need to have the courage to look closely at what our temptations are.
Here’s a challenge: take an hour to be alone with the Lord, with your Bible, a pen, and paper. Pray and think. Ask the Lord to give you insight. Then write down the temptation points in your life. Maybe you can do it in twenty minutes or perhaps the Lord will open your eyes more gradually. But make a start! And as you realize what temptations you’re experiencing, write them down, and make them a focus in daily prayer.
The shield of faith is the way we will keep the devil in his place.
Recognizing temptation is the beginning of the battle. We must know our enemy before we can fight him. We won’t make any progress unless we understand that specific temptations all have the same root temptation—unbelief. Whether we are tempted to pride or to despair, lurking beneath them all is the great temptation that Adam and Eve (and all sinners like them) faced: to refuse to believe that God is God.
How so? If we despair that our lives have any significance, we forget that it is God who gives us value. When we are puffed up with a delusion of our own glory, we refuse to believe that God is truly and alone glorious. As we nurse a vengeful spirit, we fail to trust that God is the righteous judge. When we play with sexually impure thoughts or give in to their drives, we refuse to believe that Christ has redeemed our bodies as well as our thought lives for his own possession. Temptation takes root where we allow the seeds of faith to wither. This is why we need the shield of faith, because only believing in the promises of God will deliver us from danger.
Raise Your Faith
When temptation comes, faith must meet it. “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim. 6:12) is not a call to exercise some broad religious optimism. It is a command to meet temptation with the promises of the faith, the promises of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When temptation tries to take our hearts, either by storm or by stealth, the gospel calls us back to embrace Jesus as our deliverer. We cannot beat temptation by strength of will or by a new set of habits alone. We need Jesus. He is powerfully with us and for us as we actively trust him in the heat of temptation.
Believing means having a confident faith in a good God, revealed in his good word. He is good to us always, and we must trust that he is always good even when we’re desperate. The French Reformer John Calvin defined faith as “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence [meaning, his goodness] toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise of Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”1 Even if you don’t feel that God is good in that moment of temptation, Spirit-gifted faith goes to battle, certain that he actually is. The more we trust in his perfect goodness, whatever the situation, the more we learn to mistrust the lies of temptation. When sin wants to stick to us, instead we stick with Jesus!
This good God has given us a whole book of promises. J. I. Packer defined faith as “an object-oriented response, shaped by that which is trusted, namely God himself, God’s promises, and Jesus Christ, all as set forth in the Scriptures.”2
Faith can only operate when it’s responding to what God says.
Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. (Prov. 30:5)
Whatever temptation, whatever assault we face from the devil, we can be sure that, with the shield of faith, we have what it takes to stand. It is this shield alone “with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16).
Lewis Allen, Sarah Allen