Ready for Battle

Every spy movie has one scene that’s my favorite: the moment the hero’s support team equips him for the climactic conflict. You probably recognize it. In a private room, whether it be in a cave accessed only by an elevator that drops 10 stories underground, or a luxury penthouse suite in Dubai, the team of technological geniuses briefs our hero about all the gadgets and weapons they have custom built for him, something sounding like this:

“Your pen – click the top to shoot tear gas. Wear this belt – press the buckle to fire tranquilizing darts. Your glasses are equipped with night vision lenses, enabling you to see in pitch-blackness. Tug this button and your suit jacket will release a parachute….“

The brevity of instructions reflects the pressure of the moment. There is no time to waste. The long-awaited battle approaches imminently. Our nerves, as audience members, are offset by our assurance that the genius team has wisely anticipated and creatively addressed every threat imaginable. The tone is serious, sobering, and empowering. As we witness the display of gadgets, this scene serves a specific purpose: it gives us confidence that our hero can overcome anything put in his path.

My favorite spy scene serves as a rough parallel to a well-known passage on the whole armor of God, Ephesians 6:10-18. This passage serves a similar purpose for its original audience and for us, namely, to give confidence that God has thoroughly equipped us for any spiritual battle we may face. The passage comes in a similar part of the letter as my favorite spy scene comes in the movie, just before the end. In the letter to the Ephesians, doctrinal truths in chapters 1-3 provide the basis for a series of commands in chapters 4-6. The commands reach their crescendo in the latter half of chapter 6 when Paul calls the Ephesian believers to put on the whole armor of God. Listen to the rhythm and progression of this pre-battle pep talk and its parallels to the spy scene:

First Paul cases the situation: they face a cosmic battle requiring complete spiritual armor so that they can stand firm.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:10-13).

Having established the grand scope of the scene, Paul then details, almost in bullet point style, the specific spiritual weapons the Ephesians have to use. Paul does not allow theological tangents at this point in the letter. The tone is comparatively curt conveying the urgency of the matter:

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”

Lastly, Paul calls them to keep in mind the rest of the “team,” coordinating how they are to support each other from their different positions:

“To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph. 6:18b-20).

Paul makes it clear that no one fights alone. Each person’s battle is part of a coordinated effort. 

In these three sections — the setting of the scene, the detailing of the armor, and the call to persevere and pray for each other — this well-known passage on spiritual warfare is precursor to the classic spy scene in tone and impact. As we explore the parallel between this passage and the spy scene, our familiarity with the spy scene can help us better understand this passage and through that, the spiritual warfare we face.

Following up on the parallel, God is the creative and all-powerful genius who equips believers. The confidence we naturally have in the spy-hero’s tech team reminds us that we ought to have even more confidence in our God who prepares us for battle. Greater than any team of human geniuses, we know it is the Almighty God who made the heavens and earth who equips us for battle. He has infinite power and wisdom to provide us with everything we need. He has perfect knowledge of the future and is the only one who can truly anticipate every situation — and he has. As impressive as the tech team for the spy-hero is, our God surpasses them all, infinitely. Let us remember the credentials of the one who gave us our spiritual weapons so that we might use them well.

Another insight we receive from the spy scene is that we will need to use every weapon in its time; no weapon is superfluous for the spy, or for us. As we watch the weapons be introduced to the spy hero, we may not know when or how he will use each weapon, but we know that he will. If five have been used but not the sixth, we eagerly anticipate the moment the last one will be employed. Likewise, we can expect to use every weapon in the spiritual armor the Lord gives us – and with it, we will win. We may have fastened on the belt of truth as we read the Bible daily; we may have put on the breast plate of righteousness as we confess our sins, confident we have been justified by Christ’s righteousness not our own (Rom. 3:28); we may have fit our feet with the gospel of peace as we forgive others just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32). But perhaps we have yet to raise our shield of faith, extinguishing the darts of the evil one, coming at us in the form of false accusations or threatening fears of the future (Rev. 12:10). Is there a part of the spiritual armor we have not yet used? Whatever it may be, let us eagerly seek to use it, anticipating a situation for which it was designed, expecting it to lead us to victory.

The parallel to the spy scene also helps us understand the nature of our weapons. Surely we recognize the contrast between the spy’s armor and ours: one is physical and the other spiritual. Yet there also is a similarity: both consist of secret weapons, understated in their appearance. The spy’s enemy does not feel threatened by what looks like an ordinary pen, belt, or button, but he should. Likewise, spiritual armor comes across as ordinary in comparison to what God can do through it. Faithful prayer may look like mere talk, but it can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). The gospel of peace may sound like mere words, but it can pluck souls from hell and turn enemies into friends (Acts 9:1-19, Acts 16:25-34). The word of God may seem abstract, but God calls it a sword that can divide bone and marrow (Heb. 4:12), a strikingly physical image implying significant impact in our physical world. The similar understatement we see in the spy’s armor and the believer’s spiritual armor serves as a warning: we ought not let appearances lead us to underestimate the capability of our spiritual armor.

So we have compared the tone of the spy scene to Eph. 6:10-16; the genius of the tech team to our all-powerful, all-wise God; and the array of secret spy weapons to the whole armor of God. One comparison yet remains: that between the spy-hero and us. We begin by recognizing that there are two types of spy heroes: the one in an action film and the one in a slapstick comedy: think 007 or Inspector Clouseau; Ethan Hunt or Johnny English. One is slick, smooth, and entirely competent. The other is a joke waiting to happen. Both win. Which are we? In one sense, it doesn’t matter — we win either way! This comparison highlights another important truth about spiritual warfare: our victory is certain because Christ has already won! (1 Cor. 15:57, Col. 2:15, Rom. 8:37-39) Our victory does not rest ultimately on us, or our competence in any way. God will sovereignly work all things for his glory, whether through us or despite us (Rom. 8:28). While we may want to be 007, we can equally rejoice in anticipation of victory if we take after Inspector Clouseau. 

One significant difference between these two types of spy heroes is how much glory they receive. The competent, slick heroes receive none. Often they are masked or in some other way save the world anonymously, perhaps without the world even being aware of the disaster from which they were spared. In contrast, the clumsy spy receives much glory in this world. Newspapers boast of his accomplishments with all caps and a front-page photo. We’re not surprised when the town throws a parade in his honor and television talk shows invite him as their guest. He receives awards and acknowledgements to the frustration of his supervisor who alone recognizes the clumsy spy’s incompetence. Making a comparison to spiritual battle provides a useful warning against glory seeking in this life. Those who receive glory in this life for spiritual victories may be associated with fools; those who forgo glory in this life may enjoy an invisible bond with the competent, recognizing that the lack of worldly glory only adds to their honor. 

The topic of spiritual battle can intimidate us, sometimes so much that it clouds our understanding of the Bible’s teaching on the subject. Let us use a classic spy scene to help us understand and enjoy Eph. 6:10-18, that we may enter spiritual battle with clear confidence in the Lord and humility regarding our role. With such properly aligned attitudes about our God and ourselves, we may find that Eph. 6:10-18 becomes one of our favorite passages to read, again and again as we prepare for spiritual battle in the Christian life.  

Emily Van Dixhoorn (MAR, WTS) enjoys leading Bible studies, speaking to women’s groups, praying with others, and leading a Moms-in-Prayer group at her children’s school. She is a lifelong tennis player, and for stress relief she paints with watercolors. She is the author of Confessing the Faith Study Guide, a companion study guide to her husband's commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Emily, Chad, and their five children love to welcome visitors into their family chaos, especially on the Lord’s Day.

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