The Sword of the Spirit

December 4, 2016 Series: Ephesians Scripture: Ephesians 6:17 by Chris Strevel

Kill or Be Killed!

Strange is the believer’s warfare. Our enemy is unseen. Our hearts are divided, with conflicting desires battling for supremacy. We often find ourselves unable to do good and doing evil instead – or doing nothing important, nothing eternal. The world hates us for our love for Christ – until he loves his enemies into loving him. Unexpected, bizarre conflicts invade our homes, and God in his love does not spare us from deadly diseases. We are grieved by professing lovers of Christ turning away from him. We witness with horror church splits and denomination-wide apostasies from God’s truth. Why do these things happen? Why do we feel so much pressure and face so many temptations? Why are we often discouraged and defeated? We are soldiers in a war. Being a disciple of Christ is a life and death struggle against unseen and powerful spiritual agents of wickedness, with Satan at their head. By shields, helmets, and swords, God tells us that our warfare is intense and that we must fight against sin and Satan. At stake are not simply our personal salvation and security. God’s work is much grander and broader. We are called to do our part for Christ’s kingdom and his gospel of grace, love, and peace.

The sword of the Spirit is the last piece of Gods armor. The sword Paul has in mind is the Roman broad sword, the battle sword of the legionnaire. Most have seen movies that included sword fighting between enemy combatants. Unsheathed swords mean someone is about to be wounded or die. Whereas previous pieces of armor are primarily defensive in nature, the sword has one purpose: to kill. God’s provision of a sword strongly indicates that we are called not merely to endure and survive the battle but to fight and to kill the enemy. Kill or be killed are our only two choices. By the power of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, we must kill sin and Satan. The work of spiritual killing begins with killing the sin in our lives, which the Bible calls mortification. It does not end there, as if our battle is simply one for personal piety. It extends to our families, congregations, and communities. Satan would consign every man, family, and institution to the chains of unbelief and the fires of hell. This is not a game we are playing. Sin, Satan, and the forces of evil roam through the earth looking to devour men. We see their bloody, deceiving, killing work all around us. If we are to fight and to win, we must take up the sword of the Spirit. It is the only sword that will scatter the darkness, cause Satan to flee, and bring peace to the nations through righteousness. This sword is the Word of God.

The Sword Forger

We have only vague notions of the ferocity and malice of Satan. Humanly conceived weapons will not touch him. God knows what will touch and crush him. He has appointed this one offensive weapon to expose his deceptions and to kill him. It is the same sword that killed him at the cross: our Savior’s full obedience and submission to “thus saith the Lord” (John 19:30). His victorious sword is now our sword. The Spirit of God forged it. He is the Divine Author of Scripture (Isa. 28:25; John 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:10-16; 2 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 1:10). He is the life-giving wielder of Scripture, giving new hearts and lives as the sword is thrust into the hearts of dead men by his quickening power (John 3:3-8; Acts 10:44; 1 Thess. 1:5). And he is the wise, efficacious teacher of Scripture, whose anointing shows us all things that belong to Christ (John 16:14; Eph. 1:17; 1 John 2:27).

God’s word is preeminently the Spirit’s sword. Word and Spirit must never be separated, as many spiritualists past and present attempt. They speak of “life in the Spirit” apart from submission to the words of the Spirit. We walk in the fellowship and power of the Spirit and have the mind of Christ formed in us as we bring ourselves under the power and authority of his holy sword, the written Scriptures (1 Cor. 2:10-16). The bond between Christ and us is the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:14), and he bears witness that we are God’s adopted, sealed, and sanctified children through the word. So closely aligned are the Spirit, the Word, and Christ, that the same sword that is called the “sword of the Spirit” is the sword that proceeds from the mouth of Jesus Christ (Isa. 49:2; Rev. 1:16; 19:15). This sword is so powerful because it is the word of the living God. “Word” (rhema) is specifically God’s utterance, his living, creating, world-rending (Ps. 29), kingdom-smashing, covenanting, dead-raising voice. It includes all his commands, promises, warnings, and histories – All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. The same word our Savior used to defeat Satan in the wilderness is the sword God now places in our hands and commands us to wield. It will demolish strongholds, cast down imaginations, and vanquish temptation. Absolutely nothing is more important to God than his word (Ps. 138:2). He is near to us, fights and defends us, heals and sanctifies when we tremble before his word (Isa. 66:2) – with holy fear, joy, love, and faith.

The Sword Wielded

Let us take this one step deeper. The Holy Spirit is the only one who can defeat the evil spirit, Satan. He became God’s enemy when he rejected God’s word. Satan was defeated by our Savior because he kept God’s word perfectly and laid down his life for our transgressions. Satan has been cast out of heaven; his deceiving stranglehold has been broken by the Light of the world and the eternal Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. We can now resist him in faith, but only by using the same sword our Savior wielded so steadfastly. God might simply annihilate or cast Satan into hell at once by a single utterance. Instead, he will show us that the little word that will fell him is his word believed, obeyed, and used against the evil one. He will use the word that Satan hates to kill him. There is nothing he dreads and hates more, nothing against which he so impotent, as a lowly child of God believing, praying, and crying the word of God. Each time his temptations and deceptions are met with the word of God, his dark kingdom suffers another killing blow. The shards of the cross go deeper into his defeated, bitter, condemned soul. He must fall before the word of God. He cannot overcome it. This is one reason he has encouraged and been the author of all the higher criticism that attacks the authority and reliability of Scripture. He hates the blood-stained, cross-sanctified word of God. He knows that this is the one weapon that will expose his schemes, thwart his temptations, and drive him away.

If we are to commit ourselves to using this sword against sin and Satan, we must be persuaded of its power in the hands of the Holy Spirit. The word of God in his hands, the gospel preached, gives life or death (2 Cor. 2:14-17). If we believe God’s word, it works life in us; if we reject it, it works death. In his hands, the word of God is living and powerful, pierces the heart and exposes the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12). This is because the sword of the Spirit is in fact the preaching of Jesus Christ. His mouth is a sharp sword (Isa. 49:2). That sword is the word of God. When we receive his preaching in faith (Heb. 2:12), the mind of Christ formed in us (1 Cor. 2:16). We begin thinking, feeling, and living as Jesus did, and this is our highest calling as Christians (1 John 2:6). The sword-words of Jesus Christ have wisdom and power that none of his enemies can resist (John 7:46). When we commit ourselves to using the sword of the Spirit, our Savior will give us wisdom that man cannot resist (Luke 21:15) and that drives Satan away (1 Pet. 5:7-8).

The greatest evil of our age is not big government, out of control, deficit spending, national border breakdown, or needless, bloody wars. It is not abortion, sodomite marriage, pornography, or gender chaos. It is not entertainment addiction, technology worship, or consumerism. These are great evils, but they are symptoms of the greatest evil: resisting, quenching, and practically blaspheming the Holy Spirit by denying his divine authority and all-sufficient word. This is the reason that the devil is roaring and licking his chops, killing men, ruining their lives, plunging them into despair, and making them casualties in this war. Understand that unless men and nations take up the sword of the Spirit, they have absolutely no protection against Satan’s wiles. He makes mince-meat of sword-less, word-less men. We must have the Spirit of truth and holiness, the Spirit that gives new life, creates and sustains saving faith, encourages, and sanctifies through the word.

The church is the only institution that knows this, but she often sheathes her sword. She wants to make friends with enemies, blunt the edge of the sword, and encourage religious feeling rather than skilled swordsmanship. She falls prey to nationalistic fervor and becomes wholly absorbed with the political machinations of the city of man. Her worship pushes the Spirit away when her worship is not guided solely by his word. Believers who do not consistently read the Scriptures, trust and obey them, and use them against all expressions of sin quench him and put out his fire. There is a cure for the evils we daily witness, not an instant, utopia on earth cure, but a sure and steady way to resist, fight, and kill Satan’s deadly schemes. It is to become skilled swordsmen again. It is to believe and to use the Spirit’s words of fire and power. If faith in God’s word is recovered, if desire for the pure milk of his word is recovered, if committed use of his word is recovered, Satan is doomed – in our lives, families, congregations, and societies. It will be a hard fight. We shall feel his malice. The world will hate the clarity and conviction of Christians who think and live by every word of God. Some, perhaps many, will die by the hand of Satan’s persecuting, killing agents. Yet, Satan cannot defeat the Holy Spirit. He cannot defeat us if we carry the Spirit’s sword.

Becoming a Skilled Swordsman

To become skilled in the word of righteousness, we must first recognize that the one thing that will defeat Satan is also the one thing that we make excuses for not doing. For the thousandth time, we are encouraged to read and meditate upon the Scriptures. We are told to know, love, defend, study, and abide in it. This is not for devotional exercise – though we cannot be seriously devoted to God apart from saturation in his word – or to make one feel better – though nothing will make us happier than to hear God’s living voice – or to fill one’s head with religious knowledge. It is because Satan is trying to kill us. It is because the old man of sin is fighting against the new man in Christ. It is because we must be armed to the teeth with the sword of God’s wisdom, grace, love, and faithfulness, or we shall fall. We are in a war. Yet, this is where defeat begins, where our lives and families and nations are weakened. We start making excuses. “Well, this is a fine thing for the preacher to say, but he is paid to do it. Of course he is enthusiastic about it and wants me to feel guilt for not doing it. He does not know how busy I am.” We are not busier than Jesus was – not by a long shot. We do not carry a fraction of the burdens and pressures he took upon himself for our redemption. We do not feel pain and sorrow and rejection as acutely as he did. In comparison to his disappointments and temptations, our lives are nothing but a pleasant vacation. This is not to belittle the troubles that we experience, yet we must ask two important questions. First, “What does the life of Jesus Christ teach us about living faithfully when busy, pressured, and tempted?” Second and closely related, “How did he defeat the devil in combat?”

In his wilderness temptations, he answers both questions for us. Recently acknowledged from heaven as God’s beloved Son and publicly ordained to his mediatorial offices and work, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. This was a time of intense testing, humiliation, and preparation. He meditated upon the Scriptures and the work that lay before him. God’s law was in his heart, and he delighted in it. The devil came to tempt him. Provide for yourself; your Father has forsaken you. “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word of God.” Throw yourself down from this pinnacle on the temple, for if you are the Son of God, angels will come and rescue you, and all will know that you are who you claim to be. “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” If it is a kingdom you are seeking, no need to endure this humiliation. Worship me, and I will give you all. “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” It is written; it is written; it is written. Sword; sword; sword. The devil is vanquished.

Our Lord endured excruciating hunger and sorrow and temptation for us. He had to defeat the devil and quench all his fiery darts for us, He had to do what we did not do in the Garden, or in the wilderness those forty years. We did not live by God’s word and trust him. Our Savior did. In our flesh, in weakness we cannot imagine, with a force of temptation that would have crushed us, he set an example for us of victory. Our swords must be ready through consistent meditation upon the word of God. Meditation means to think over God’s thoughts, engage with them, pray them, believe them, and hold fast to what God has said no matter if you are hungry, persecuted, sweating, or fear death. You will live by God’s word. Our Savior’s sword was not only read but also sharp. He knew and used specific statements of Scripture against specific temptations. Against doubt, he used a promise. Against ambition, he used a warning. Against the easy way, he used a command. All were commands in their own way. All arrested his attention away from the lies being offered to him and fixed his attention upon the only way of glory and peace: through obedience to the word of God, through wielding the sword of the Spirit.

The sword of the Spirit must be personally taken up. Our Lord was tempted in ways that had direct bearing on issues close to his own heart: his Father’s love and faithfulness, his identity and mission in the world, and his promised destiny of glory and a kingdom. He passed through these temptations personally, in our flesh, feeling them as we do, yet infinitely more acutely, for he resisted unto death. Armed with the sword of the Spirit, as weak as he was, he would not sheathe it. Because he would not give in to Satan’s wiles, he endured the deepest depths of temptation. We must know our sword personally. Nothing else will suffice except prayerful study of Scripture. Even half an hour a day would change your life. Bring your thoughts often back to Scripture. See God’s word in its connection to Jesus Christ. We cannot honestly say that we love him if we are strangers to his word, never think about him, or seek his wisdom. Each time you read a command, pray for grace to keep it. Let every warning lead you to soul-searching and repentance. Have Scriptures ready for your particular areas of weakness and temptation. The Scriptures are the living word of Christ. They will defeat sin and Satan in your life. Jesus Christ will. The Holy Spirit will. It is his sword. It is dripping with the foul blood of the enemy.

The sword of the Spirit is lethal against sin and Satan. It is the Spirit of God’s own voice. It is the sword coming out of our Savior’s mouth. It will put to death the sins in your life if you walk as Jesus did: thinking, loving, and obeying God’s word. It will defeat Satan’s schemes against your family and church. And to think – God has put this sword, his precious word, into our hands. “This is the way; walk ye in it.” Let us be quick to do so, meeting every temptation, uncertainty, and sorrow with “Thus saith the Lord.” It will crush Satan under our feet. He hates the word of God and cannot remain where it is believed, trusted, prayed, and loved. For then, God is loved, and he must fall before and soon flee from a lover of God. He must flee the one who speaks to him the words of the living God.