The Armor For Spiritual Struggle (Sun. Feb. 26)

The word of the day is “armor.”  In our reading of Romans 13:11-14:4  today, St. Paul announces that the Day of Christ’s return is “at hand” (vs. 12).  When that time comes, we will be clothed with the white robe of victory.  We will stand before the Throne of God and glorify the God of salvation (Revelation 7:9).  But though it is near, that glorious moment has not arrived.  Paul says that we must put on the armor of conflict instead of the white robe of triumph.  He writes, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.  Therefore, let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (vs. 12).  Today, on the eve of the Lenten fast, we consider the metaphor of armor and why we need to wear it in the spiritual struggle to come.

Dressed for Struggle

The image of armor suggests that we must be dressed for war.  St. Paul uses the metaphor of wearing armor to teach us how to wage the spiritual warfare of the coming Lenten struggle.  In Ephesians, Paul describes how fierce the battles of this conflict are.  He writes, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

The Orthodox Study Bible translates the Greek word “wrestle” literally.  But the New Testament often uses this term figuratively to refer to spiritual “struggle” and “fighting” (Strong’s #3823, 187).  Our reading teaches that we must be properly armed for our fierce conflict against evil powers and their temptations.  If we are not dressed for battle, we are vulnerable and defenseless against the attacks of spiritual forces beyond our strength.

Putting on the Armor of Light

Therefore, today’s reading urges us to put on the “armor of light.”  This phrase may seem like an odd combination of images.  Yet, the conflict is between the powers of darkness and the forces of light.  In this view, the metaphor makes sense.

The apostle says that we should “cast off the works of darkness” (vs.12).  In the night when evil sneaks around unseen and unchecked, we are subject to temptations such as “revelry and drunkenness, lewdness and lust, strife and envy” (vs.13).  If we do not contend against them, these “works of the flesh” will clothe our souls with their filthiness.  But Paul says the day has come.  In the daylight, we need to strip off whatever dirty clothing our souls are wearing.

Then we should dress our souls in new clothing, the garments of light.  You see, darkness and light are opposites.  Wherever there is light, there can be no darkness.  So then, if we clothe ourselves with light, it will be like armor for our souls.  The light of the day will ward off the darkness of temptation and sin.

Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ as Armor

Paul’s idea of the “armor of light” becomes clear in the verse that follows.  “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (vs. 14).  This image recalls our baptism when we “put on Christ” (Ephesians 3:27).  And it also refers to our “new nature” as St. Paul says “…put on the new man which was created according to God in righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 424).

Now we can make the connection between “putting on the armor of light” and “putting on Christ.”  When we “put on Christ,” we arm ourselves with the divine and invincible “armor of light.”  About the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Gospel of John declares, “In Him, was life and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5).   The Orthodox Study Bible comments, “The word translated comprehend means both ‘understand’ and ‘overcome.’ Thus, darkness can never overpower the light of Christ, nor can it understand the way of love” (OSB comment on John 1:5).  Christ is pure, sinlessness, righteousness, truth, and goodness.  Where He abides, there can be no sin, unrighteousness, falsehood, or evil.  Accordingly, He is our sure defense against the attacks of the devil and the assaults of evil principalities and powers.  When He enters into our souls, He cleanses our hearts and banishes evil by the very presence of His holiness.

For Reflection

Here is a quotation from St. Theophan the Recluse concerning spiritual warfare in which we will engage in our Lenten fasting and praying that begins at Vespers today. .

“Know that our enemies, with all their wiles, are in the hands of our divine Commander, our Lord Jesus Christ, for Whose honour and glory you are waging war.  Since He himself leads you into battle, He will certainly not suffer your enemies to use violence against you and overcome you, if you do not yourself cross over to their side with your will.  He will Himself fight for you and will deliver your enemies into your hands when He wills and as He wills, as it is written: ‘The Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee’ (Deut. xxii, 14).  (St. Theophan the Recluse and St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, Unseen Warfare.)

Thus St. Theophon assures us that in the coming days, the Lord will work in our hearts to deliver us from temptation and all evil.  Therefore, let us “be strong in the Lord and the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10) as we look to Christ to be our “armor of light” until He comes again in glory.

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