Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 3/12/00
At the very heart of the spiritual armor with which Paul wants to equip us is the Shield of Faith. If we want to stand effectively for a Christianity and a Church that is centered on Jesus Christ and His glory and grace, we must begin with the Belt of Truth--for if Christianity is not truth it is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated and we are of all men most miserable. Then we must put on the Breastplate of Righteousness, being clothed in the white robes of Christ's righteousness rather than the filthy rags of our own. And we must have on our feet the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace. But that is not enough: "In addition to all, take up the Shield of Faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the Wicked One."
The first thing to note is THE CENTRALITY OF FAITH. It is related to--indeed, esential to--every piece of armor we have seen so far. Truth is useless unless it is believed. As Bacon said, "The inquiry of truth, which is the wooing or love-making of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the BELIEF of truth, which is the enjoyment of it, is the sovereign good of human nature." Righteousness--justification--comes only by faith (Rom. 5:1). And as we saw last week, the Gospel only has the effect of producing peace to the extent to which it is believed. So it is not surprising to read that "Faith is the victory that overcomes the world" (1 Jn. 5:4). It is the key to the whole Christian life. Therefore, learning to wield the Shield of Faith is of the utmost importance.
What then is THE SENSE or SIGNIFICANCE OF FAITH? What is it, if it is so important? It is the substance (or assurance) of things hoped for, the evidence (or conviction) of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). It is more than knowledge, but not less. Biblical faith is belief combined with personal trust; it is the trust that commits. It is not the theoretical opinion that a rope will hold you, but the willingness to trust yourself to it as you swing across a chasm. Also, biblical faith is focussed on its object; it is not faith in faith, but faith in God. It derives its power and value from the object we put our faith in. That is why only a mustard-seed's worth can move a mountain, because it is not the strength of our faith that matters but the strength of the God we believe in. This is not "When you wish upon a star," but it is tied to explicit Christian doctrine and biblical promises. True faith in other words is Christ-centered and Scripture-specific. We could define it as the ability, given by God, to treat Christian doctrine as real and to act accordingly. That is the faith that can quench all the fiery darts of the Wicked One.
Well, then: how does this function as THE SHIELD OF FAITH? How do we actually use it in battle? The "darts" have been identified either as temptations or as fiery trials, such as persecution. If we remember that this passage is the conclusion of Ephesians, we will see them as anything that discourages, distracts, deflects, or diverts us in any way from fulfilling our Purpose, which is to glorify Christ in the Church, to walk worthily of our calling. How does faith quench these darts? D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones suggests that it means "the ability to apply quickly what we believe" to counteract whatever the Devil throws at us. My personal biggest stumbling block to faith, my own biggest source of doubt, has been the Church (not Trinity Fellowship, but previous ones!). How can an institution which is not only shallow but clings to its shallowness with a death-grip possibly be the Body of the Christ who is the Son of the God of all Truth and Wisdom? How can an institution addicted to legalism possibly be the body of a Christ who is the Son of the God of grace? How can an institution that is so narrow and provincial possibly be the body of a Christ who is the Son of the God of all creation? The Bible makes sense to me, and I have little trouble believing it until I encounter this reality, whereupon it all falls apart. But what is happening? I am walking by sight (the Church as it appears to me) and not by faith. So I must lift up the Shield of Faith to defeat this attack. How? I must remind myself first of the teaching of Scripture--that the Church is really Eph. 2:19-22 and will in fact be revealed as such when Christ returns. Then I must remind myself that many realities which cannot be seen or are counter-intuitive must nevertheless be true. So I must choose to believe and act on the biblical teaching rather than on what I seem to see. This is not blinding oneself to the evidence, but learning to interpret it in a larger context, in the light of what one has good reason to believe are larger Realities.
But this is easier said than done, which raises the next issue: THE SOURCE OF FAITH. How do I actually acquire the faith to do this? Most people try to manufacture it, to simply force themselves to see things that they actually do not see or believe things that they know aren't true. But such efforts are parallel to the manufactured righteousness that comes from works. It is a psychological trick we are playing on ourselves, and it produces nothing but unreality. It is really a sign that our faith is in faith rather than in God, for we are focussed on trying to produce a subjective feeling of faith in ourselves.
The Bible is quite clear where real faith comes from: it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-10). You cannot create real faith, you can only receive it. But this does not mean there is nothing we can do. We can learn to open our hands and stop clinging to our own manufactured facsimile. How does one do this? Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Saturate your mind with Scripture; meditate on it; obey it. Frequent the company of other people of faith. Exercize what little faith you've got. Praise God at every opportunity. And most importantly, turn your eyes away from yourself and your own lack of faith and back toward the only proper biblical Object of Faith: the God who loved us while we were yet sinners and sent His Son to die for us; who raised Him from the Dead; who made you alive when you were dead in trespasses and sins; who kept His promises to Abraham; who is building you even now on the foundation of the prophets and the apostles, Christ Jesus being the chief cornerstone. In these ways we open our hands and put ourselves in the path where this gift is received. And then we find ourselves able to treat as real and to act on biblical teachings which were formerly merely theoretical to us. In other words, our faith is strengthened.
This is the true faith, the Shield by which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the Wicked One. So go take it out into the battle, and come back with it or on it. For whether you come back with it or on it, if it is the Shield of Faith--Christ-centered, Scripture-specific, given by God--you will conquer indeed.
Here endeth the lesson.