How to stand properly

(The following is taken from the message that was preached on November 22, 2020.)

Ephesians 6:10-17

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Picture, in your mind, this scene. A courtroom. Five hundred years ago. In this room are the most important men in the Holy Roman Empire. Men with power and authority. The Roman Emperor himself is there. Men known as being the wisest and most knowledgeable men in the empire. They have these big gold chains around their necks, gold rings, beautiful clothes. There are also soldiers in the room. Big guys, with spears and swords and armor.

Then, in the center of the room, is a small man. He looks a little sick. He’s wearing poor clothes. Just an old tunic, tied about his waist with a rope. On the table next to him are some books. This man, in the poor and dirty clothes, wrote those books. And many of the people in the room want to kill him.

The man’s name is Martin Luther. In those books, Martin Luther had written down all the ways in which the Holy Church had gone wrong, all the mistakes that had been made by the various popes and bishops and priests who were teaching things that were not in the bible.

So, Martin Luther now finds himself in this situation. His life is on the line. He’s in a spiritual battle. But he’s got armor.

You see, Martin Luther had read the bible. He had read it, and read it, and read it over and over again. He had prayed over it, meditated on it, wrestled with the words that were in it, and he had come to see the truth. He came to a knowledge of the truth about God, and the truth about what Jesus has done for us. And like a belt, Luther bound that truth tightly around him. That was the first piece of his armor.

For years before that, Luther had been trying so hard to earn his salvation. He never felt that he was a good person, and that he deserved to go to heaven. And he was absolutely terrified of hell. So, he tried to do all he could to avoid hell. He almost killed himself by not eating food. He would sleep in a freezing cell with only the thinnest blanket. He crawled on his knees for miles and miles, till his skin was all dirty and bloody. But he felt he could never make himself righteous.

But then, one day, it hit him, as he was reading the bible: justification is through faith in Christ. There is absolutely nothing you can do to earn eternal life. Nothing. Jesus Christ has done it all. There is nothing you can add to that. Praying a rosary every day, fasting, giving all your money to the poor, or any other religious acts cannot earn you a place in heaven.

Luther came to see that righteousness comes through Jesus Christ. And so, Luther took this breastplate of righteousness and he put it on. And that was his second piece of armor.

And so here he is. Surrounded by all these powerful men who hate him. And they tell him to recant. Take back all these things you wrote. Say it was a mistake. Say it’s all not true. Then we can put this whole messy business behind us. You can go home safely, and we’ll forget this all happened. Because, if you don’t take back what you wrote, you’ll be excommunicated.

For us, the word “excommunicated” means you’re kicked out of the church. You can’t come to church anymore. For some people, that’s not such a terrible punishment.

But in the 16th Century, if you were excommunicated, that was basically a death sentence. When the church excommunicated a person, it was basically telling everybody, “This person is outside the church, they are evil and nasty and rotten to the core. Anybody is now free to beat them, bash them, kill them, with the church’s blessing.” Often it was the police that did it, too. A person who was excommunicated would likely be locked up by the local police, beaten and tortured, and then put to death.

Luther is seriously afraid. He’s terrified. They ask him the question again, “Are you going to retract (take back) all these things you wrote?” Luther tells them he needs a night to think about it. So that night, he prays, he talks with close friends, he thinks about what to do. The next day he goes back to court, and this is what he says:

“Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves.”

“If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.”

Notice those final words: “Here I stand.”

There are times in every Christian’s life when you have to take a stand. You may feel like the whole world is against you, but you need to stand. Just like Martin Luther did 499 years ago. If you want to stand and remain strong in the faith, you’re going to need a good pair of shoes. As Paul writes to us here:

Have… “your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

Roman boots are called “caligae”. They have a tough sole, with leather straps on top to bind the shoe to the foot. Then under the sole, there are these iron studs. Very similar to studs you might have on a pair of soccer boots. These stopped the foot from slipping and sliding on the ground.

So that is the first reason why boots were so important to a soldier. If you slip or fall during a battle, it’s all over. It’s a lot easier for someone to seriously hurt you or kill you when you’re on the ground. You need something to keep your feet from slipping and sliding all over the place.

Here’s the second reason. The enemy would bury sharpened spikes in the ground when an enemy army was approaching. The end of the spikes would stick out of the ground, and so if you didn’t have a thick, tough boot that protected your feet, you’d be in serious trouble.

And so, as part of the Christian’s armor, Paul tells us to have “your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

When you have the gospel of peace, you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way. It says here to have your feet fitted with this readiness. When your feet are fitted in this way, you can stand firm. You won’t slip and slide all over the place.

In this spiritual battle that we are in, standing is the most important thing that you can do. Nothing is more important than standing firm. 

Stand firm, in the Lord’s strength and in his mighty power.