The Church's Position and Power in the Heavenlies

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - The Whole Armour of God

Reading: Ephesians 6:10-19.

Now I want to spend a moment linking up with chapter three at its last point, because we are in the same thing all the way through.

We were speaking about position and power and we took the two passages at the commencement of this Ephesians letter, the one from chapter 1:20 which speaks of the Lord having been raised to the right hand of God, "far above all principalities and powers and rule and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but in that which is to come", and then Ephesians 2:6, "and hath made us to sit in the heavenlies in Christ".

We followed the stages of our Lord's life which have a spiritual meaning for us, each of which in its spiritual meaning and good, has to be appropriated by a definite act of faith. We went through the seven stages, and then we came especially to this one: His exaltation at the right hand of God in the place of power and honour; a position to be appropriated by us in faith, for He has made us to sit in the heavenlies in Christ. We are there in the mind of God, in the thought of God, in the will of God. But it is not a thing to which we come automatically. It is a position to which we come by a definite transaction of faith, to take the God-appointed position in Christ in that place of power. We can never do that effectually with its right consequences until we have taken all the other steps in the same way, by a definite act of faith.

Those other steps are spiritual: our death union with Christ by faith, our burial union with Christ by faith, and our resurrection union with Christ by faith. These are great spiritual realities with wonderful spiritual meaning - the death which destroys him that had the power of death. The death which forever settles the sin question and rules that out. The burial which puts the old creation right away from the sight and the remembrance of God so that never again, when we have taken position in Christ after death and burial union, does God see us as sinners. He sees us in Christ as righteous; not bad, but good. And it is something to appropriate by faith, these stages of spiritual content and meaning. And then the resurrection union which brings in a new life altogether, a life which is not subject to death, cannot be touched of death, a life which is beyond the power of death; it is something altogether out of his range.

And then ascension exaltation union with the Lord is this thing with which we are occupied: coming up into the throne, again to be appropriated, apprehended by faith, which puts us out of this world system into a new place because the Lord Jesus as Man puts man into a new place. It is man occupying a new place. If we do not see that, we do not see any real fulness of meaning in the incarnation of the Lord Jesus. It is man coming right through the whole course of this redemption work of God until God gets man outside of this awful system, outside of this authority of darkness, at His own side; Man after His own heart right at His own side and His Man, the God-man, the Son of God. He, the Man at the right hand of God, is man there in representation and He is bringing many sons to that glory, to that position, to bring us there; and His idea is to have man in that heavenly position. Now by faith we take that position and apprehend that which is in Christ: God's reality concerning us when we do take that faith position. The point at the moment is that these stages, one by one, have to be apprehended by faith, and God makes them good to us or brings us into the good of them as we apprehend them by faith - what is in Christ as ours and everything that is included in the position.

Now then, we have come by a definite act of faith's apprehension of that position of ours in Christ, to our definite place spiritually in Christ, "seated together with Him in the heavenlies". When we get there, we find everything changes. As we have said earlier, everything changes when we get spiritually to that position. Our consciousness changes, we have noticed. We have another spiritual consciousness and the main feature of that changed spiritual consciousness is now meeting spiritual forces, that our wrestling is not with mere flesh and blood, that it is not merely the tangible things, the manifest things, the sentient things of the earth that we are meeting as our difficulties, but we are conscious now that we are meeting spiritual elements, spiritual factors, spiritual forces though they may be working through things seen, things here. There is something else, there is something more than the things seen here and handled; you come up against naked spiritual forces without a man or woman on the scene. You are conscious of a new set of conditions, of being now in a realm of spiritual forces - it is a new consciousness. Our wrestling now is not with mere flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers and so on, according to the Word of God.

What is the objective of this conflict from the side of the enemy? It is to deprive us of our throne position; to get us down from that position that is the object, that is God's purpose, God's end, that is the fixed goal of the church which is Christ's Body - and now from the enemy's side, all his efforts of every kind are directed to prevent, to frustrate, to nullify that purpose of God, and to bring us out if he cannot keep us out, to bring us out of our throne position in the Lord Jesus. You see, it is the throne position that is in view all the time. Now, not only do we become possessed of a new consciousness because everything changes in this realm, but the enemy's tactics all change when you get there. You get an entirely new set of tactics in the heavenlies from what you get on the earthlies. I mean this, that the believer who has not come to the heavenly position by faith, who is in those elementary stages of the Christian life, meets one set of difficulties, temptations, trials, but the believer who comes to the heavenly position meets another side. The tactics of the enemy change simply because it is no use using the old tactics with a believer who has got up there. It is no use the enemy coming to you and me and offering us some worldly attraction. He could not get us on that line - some bit of worldly pleasure, some offer of worldly goods - and the young believer is very often tempted along that line. The young Christian finds very often the battle is in that realm. And there are other things, most of us remember where our difficulties were when we were only just saved. The trouble we had with Romans 7 for instance! We did wrong when we did not want to, and so on.

I remember the very first weeks of my Christian life and Romans 7 was an awful trouble to me. But these are the measles of spiritual infancy, children; the enemy no longer troubles you along those lines. When you get up into the heavenlies he changes his tactics and the thing now becomes far deeper. He does not come along the line of open invitation and open temptation. He covers his steps, he comes now robed as an angel of light, he comes now along the line of very subtle presentation of evil dressed up as truth, and much more which we shall see as we go on. But the point is that here you come into an entirely new realm, a new kind of thing; everything changes when you get into the heavenlies as to the enemy's tactics. Here the word which governs his tactics is the word "wiles", that is the word here in Ephesians: the wiles of the devil. How are we going to meet these tactics? We shall see more of what they are as we come to see the means of meeting them.

We go on with this whole armour of God and as we see what the armour is, we shall see what it is for, what it is against, but we want to recognise first of all, that this represents a position arrived at. Now I have initially in my mind an Old Testament illustration of this New Testament position.

You remember in Exodus 17 the people came to the place of the open fountain, the breaking forth of the water, the gushing of the water of life and they drank fully of that water which was life to them and brought them into a living place. Now that represents the receiving of the Spirit, the receiving of the Holy Spirit. We know what the Lord said about the Holy Spirit as "rivers of living water", but receiving of the Holy Spirit is typified in Exodus 17 in these gushing waters. What happened immediately after was that Amalek came out and fought with Israel. Israel did not fight Amalek, but Amalek took the initiative and fought with Israel. Ephesians 6 follows Ephesians 5. Ephesians 5 has at the heart of it this: "Be filled with the Spirit." And Ephesians 6 brings you to where this conflict comes into position and that is always the order. When the Lord Jesus came up out of the Jordan the heavens opened to Him and the Spirit lighted upon Him. He received the Spirit. The next thing was conflict - the enemy met Him.

Now, there are two ways of looking at that, or two sides to that principle. One is this: that you have come into a heavenly position where the Holy Spirit becomes the one and only governing, dominating reality and power in your life (and you will never have a heavenly position if there is any other ruling power in your life) it is that the Holy Spirit is now sovereign in the life and church. When you have come there, where the Holy Spirit becomes the dominating factor in life, immediately the enemy comes out, he takes the initiative. You know it quite well in experience, that when you have taken a position by faith which implies that, it is not long before you are assailed. You who bear your testimony with the Lord Jesus in death, burial, resurrection and spiritual union in the heavenlies, by baptism, how many of you have been that way and not met the enemy very soon after? And if the thing is really a spiritual testimony, if it is entered into intelligently with a particular apprehension of its spiritual meaning, I think we could say invariably there is a conflict before long, a time of intense withstanding, an effort made to throw you down from the place that you have taken.

There is that, but there is the other way to look at it, beloved. The Holy Spirit is given for conflict. While the Holy Spirit given may be the occasion of the conflict, the Holy Spirit in the goodness of God is given for the conflict and is the guarantee of the triumph because He is the Spirit of the triumphant Man, Christ Jesus. So that while there is the side which may seem more gloomy, there is the other side of assurance, that we are not going to have to meet the enemy in the heavenlies out of our own resources. The Lord in us, the Spirit, is going to meet that position of the enemy. So you come to Ephesians 6 through Ephesians 5, "Be filled with the Spirit" and then into the conflict.

Moses said to Joshua in Exodus 17, "Choose us out men to go against Amalek" (v.9). The implication spiritually is that this represents a company of elect ones, chosen ones, "chosen in Him"; that is Ephesians, elect ones who are going into the battle in the Lord's Name to cleave a way through for the rest. We have always maintained this position, and I think we ought to keep it in mind, that at the moment (not immediately in line with our consideration) that is what the Lord is seeking; a company of overcomers to cleave a way through for the others. That this is a relative work. They are not the only ones who are going through, they are going to break through for others and others will follow by the way that they have broken through. Moses said "Choose us out men" and they clave a way through Amalek for the rest to follow. That is the position here. That is the first thing; not how we are going to meet the forces of evil in the energy of the Holy Spirit. Before ever you can approach the other means of triumphant warfare, you have got to recognise the absolute necessity for being filled with the Spirit, and it is a tremendously important thing.

You remember that Paul had to deal with one whom he called "a child of the devil". It says he was filled with the Spirit. "And Paul, filled with the Spirit said...". When you have to deal with a child of the devil you need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. You cannot go against principalities and powers and the rest of that host unless you are filled with the Spirit. And we ought to remember that every time we enter into spiritual conflict, if ever we take the aggressive, or even a triumphant stand on any position taken, to stand therefore and hold ground, it can only be in the mighty energy of the Holy Spirit. And we must seek the Lord in the conflict whether in the aggressive or standing; we need to be filled with the Spirit, and we must ask Him for that filling of the Spirit for this conflict. That is basic to everything else. It is not that we get down on our knees and try to hammer at demons or principalities and powers, and hurl phrases at them, even Scripture. It is not the loudness of our voice, or the kind of phraseology we use. It is first of all being filled with the Spirit, doing it in the Holy Spirit. "Be filled with the Spirit." Let us recognise the necessity for that, the primary importance of that, and always keep that in view.

We need to be filled every time. Every time the enemy rises up, to successfully meet him we need to be filled with the Spirit. It must be so. Well then, when that is so, we come onto the other provisions that the Lord has made for this warfare, and we come to this that is called, "the whole armour of God". The phrase is a good one: the whole armour of God. It is what God has provided for us, what God has secured for us and provided for us. God Himself has procured for us this armour and placed it at our disposal. In that alone is contained something very magnificent. When you think of the spiritual realities lying behind this thing of breastplate and helmet and so on, you think of what they stand for; that is, spiritually. The helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness - God has secured those things for us and God has put those things at our disposal. Well, the whole armour of God. In another place the apostle speaks of it as the armour of light. That carries its own significance. We will not stay with it now, you can look it up yourself, but here it is "the whole armour of God".

Now we shall not get very far with this armour, but we might look at one or two, if possible, of these provisions. We may not take them in the order in which they occur here, but I think we might take the first one.

The Girdle of Truth

"Having girded your loins with truth" (v.14). The girdle of truth is a symbol of strength. It is that which carries great responsibility, it holds other things together, it carries the weight of weapons. It in itself has to be the very embodiment of strength, and the Apostle speaks of the loins being girt with truth. Peter speaks like this, "Gird up the loins of your mind." We have to get away from the physical, from the merely metaphorical, to the spiritual. What are the spiritual loins? The loins of your mind - "Gird up the loins of your mind." "Having girded your loins with truth." It is the same Holy Spirit who speaks through Paul, as Peter. The mind of the believer is to be in the strength of truth to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Now, truth here does not mean systematised doctrine merely, it does not mean a whole system of teaching which is called "the truth". It may have some connection with that, but it is the truth about God, the truth about the things of God, the truth about the Lord Jesus, the truth about the Lord's people, the truth about one another.

The Mind

If the enemy can get into the mind something which is not the truth, he has undermined the strength of the whole position. If he can get a lie in, if he can get a half-truth in, if he can wrap up in a very great deal of pious platitude something that is not absolutely true, if he can get anything false into the mind, it is not long before the position of the throne is lost. Position and power of the heavenly position is destroyed along that line. The primary strength of the believer against the enemy is that he is absolutely girded in his mind with truth.

Now, I said a little while ago that when touching the weapons or the armour piece by piece, you begin to see the nature of the changed tactics of the enemy. Here you find Satan masking himself and what he is after is to get at the will of the believer. Do not forget that is the citadel: the will of the believer. Once he can get his way into the will, capture the will, get the will on his side, acting in his favour, he has captured the citadel and the battle is his. How will he do it? He will seek to get at the will first of all through the conscience, for nothing will carry the will more effectively than the conscience. How will he get the conscience? Through the reason. How will he get the reason? Through the semi-truth, partial knowledge. He will give you something that is truth as far as it goes, but it is only half-truth.

Now, I do not want to get you into the realm of abstractions, but I take it that most of you have had enough experience to recognise the truth of what I am saying, that great disasters which have occurred in the church, in the Body of Christ to destroy its fighting force, to divide it so that it does not stand as a great whole against the enemy, and every dividing of the Lord's people is in the enemy's mind to destroy the fighting force, to rob it of its power, to take from him the heavenlies. And is it not true that most of the successes of the enemy in dividing, in splitting up and in setting believers over against believers and so weakening the fighting force by scattering - these things have been brought about not by an absolute lie, but by a half-truth. The thing was right, up to a point. But beyond that point it was a lie. There was something in it that, well, you could not get away from, but it was not enough, the rest of it was a lie. It was only true up to a point, but he has got in his lie by putting his finger upon just that little bit which was so obviously wrong; everybody would agree that that was not right, but he has a lie on top of that, has pushed that thing a long way beyond what is the truth. He got that into the reason and it became a sort of complication in the mind, and the reason played upon it and the mind worked upon it until it was added to and until the lie blotted out everything else.

And what is the next thing? That through that reason captured, conscience is carried; and so, conscientiously you have to act according to your reason. You must take a certain course because you have come to certain conclusions which are absolutely patent. Reason has been captured by seventy-five percent lie and twenty-five percent truth. Reason has captured conscience and when the conscience is captured, of course the will is captured. You act according to your conscience, you see, your volition agreed to your conscience. That is a wile of the devil getting right through to the citadel by this wile. First of all introducing a half-truth or a part truth and making believe that it is wholly the truth. You will have it, if you have not had it, you come into the realm of the Lord's highest interests and sooner or later you will come into a place like that, and the thing is to get right down and say, "How much of this is true and how much is a lie?" And it is only as you are girded in the loins of your mind with truth that you will be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. You see how his tactics change, how deeply laid are his plots. And then when you have got to that position where the reason is allied to the conscience, and the conscience to the will, and you have acted volitionally, your will has gone over on that side of your conscience, there is set up such a beautiful state of things, a state of mimic virtue - of love and gentleness and sense of justice and fair reasoning, and sanctimoniousness and pride of humility. The grace-pride of humility. These are the deep things of Satan. Very often a deceived one regards himself as the most open, sincere, honest and humble one walking the earth - a false virtue.

How are you going to meet it? Having girded your loins with truth. I suggest to you that it is always a wholesome thing to follow your reason out to its logical conclusion. Sit down with the suggestion that is put into your mind if it gets in - we will learn by bitter experience that it is as well to shut the head to suggestions and immediately they begin to come say, 'I am having none of that.' It is a good thing to sit down with anything like that that gets into your mind and follow it out to its logical conclusion. Where will that lead to if I follow it out? Where is it going to take me? Supposing you get injected into your mind something about another child of God, not to their good, but to their detriment; a question about them. It looks like the truth, yes, there is a good deal to justify and verify it. Are you going to take it on because it looks so true? And come to swift conclusions that all the evidences bear it out? I suggest that you sit down and allow that suggestion to carry you through to its ultimate conclusion. What is going to be the result finally? If that is followed through, there is going to be a serious breach that is going to be a most serious situation that is set up, and if these are going to be the consequences, does it not require that before I follow out that thing, I make sure that there is not another side to this? Can that be justified? Is it true right up to the hilt or is it only partly true and there is another part which can be set over against it? That is a good thing to do. If you are in real practical business it is a good thing to do, follow out these suggestions to their logical conclusion and see where they are going to lead. It is practical. I often have to do it. Certain things are intimated to me in some way or other which affects others and my relationship to others, and I have to get down before the Lord and say, "Where will that lead to? That will inevitably lead to this, and I am not prepared for that, that will not be for Your glory, that will be to the injury of the Body of Christ, there can be nothing but disillusion and shame out of that..." therefore I put it back and do not take it on. That is shutting your head to something that is quite right! But I take risks along that line. It is better to take risks than get into a state of unnecessary unlove. But there are some things which it would be quite easy to accept, which would lead to most disastrous consequences in the Lord's interests, which we have to definitely refuse to accept. But when all is said and done, there is another way and that is with every opening day and every closing day, and constantly at all seasons and every season, praying that the Lord will keep us girt with truth, the loins of our minds girt with truth.

Start the day with, "Lord, today do not let anything that is false and wrong and not according to the truth gain access, get in; do not let any of those wiles of the devil by which, with a false show of truth, he would seek to destroy the fellowship of God's people and the fighting force of a combined front. Do not let anything like that get a lodgement; keep it out". Gird up the loins of the mind with truth. That is very important. If the Lord's people would follow a line of this kind it would save a very great deal and it would deprive the enemy of much of his success. We do not take these matters seriously enough, and we cannot get away from the fact that these things are happening.

What I have said has only been in one direction. There are many other directions in which this same principle may be applied as to the truth. There is, for instance, the girding of the loins of our mind with the truth of God as in the Word of God. It is a very important thing therefore, to know the Word of God because it is the Word of truth, it is the Word and the revelation of truth. And to be girded with the knowledge of the truth on all these matters as contained in God's word, the revelation of God's mind, to be girt with that is to be in a very strong, protective and defensive position. So many of the Lord's children are overthrown and defeated because they do not know how to meet the enemy with the facts. Was it not a great thing for Martin Luther to have that one little bit of truth, when the enemy wrote on the wall that whole file of accusations against him, that Luther knew: "The blood of Jesus Christ God's Son cleanses us from all sin", and he could hurl that against all the accusations of the accuser. He was girt with truth and he won. We need to be girt with the whole truth, to meet the enemy on every point at which he tries to break in.

Truth is a strong thing, beloved. You cannot get past the truth. The Lord Jesus is revealed finally in glory as, "The Faithful and True Witness". That is the place of power for Him. The place of power is for us to be girt with truth. I only suggest these things to you as principles, as laws of spiritual life. I would not claim for a moment to have reached the point where I am anywhere near perfection on this matter, but I do see the working value of it, and up to a point have proved the value of it. And here we are in this heavenly realm where things are so subtle, where we get things so much like the Divine you know. You can get visions and you can get voices, and you can get mysterious impressions, and you can get what looks like a wonderful revelation unveiling up there - all these things are possible from the enemy - the consequences of them are sometimes most disastrous. They lead people off in their own visions and they detach themselves from everybody else; that is proof that it is wrong. They hear voices and because they hear voices they have gone somewhere beyond everybody else, and you find they are a law unto themselves. You fall into these things unless you have the whole armour of God.

We are in a realm of very many evil possibilities when we come into the heavenlies, but blessed be God, He has provided for that position, He has provided for a peculiar situation and what we have to do is not to be constantly fretted and worried about the enemy, but to take God's provision. If I, at the beginning of the day, stand in God's provision and say, "I do for today, by faith, definitely take this girdle of truth, You provided it; this breastplate of righteousness and what You mean by it; and this helmet of salvation; and this big shield of faith. I take in faith all these things, appropriate, stand in them, and count on You to make over to me the good of Your own provision" if we do this, then in the hour of the testing and ordeal, we turn and say, "It all looks so right and so true, but I must not take it until I have come to You about it, and again appropriating Your provision to protect me from anything of the devil. It looks like truth, a Divine revelation, but is the enemy trying to deceive me and bring about trouble, disaster? I take Your provision and stand to be protected from the enemy in this". The Lord will see to it that we do come into the good of that. It is a practical business and here in this world no one would think of going into a war against a wily and well-trained and long-experienced foe without definitely knowing something about their weapons, and taking them with them. And should we do less in a warfare of this kind? It is not the warfare of our salvation; that is not the point. We are not in Romans now; we are not there where the whole business of our salvation is in view. This is the heavenly vocation of the church; this is the ultimate purpose of God which is, (shall I say) at stake. These are the eternal counsels of God which are being wrought out. It is vocational. It is not just something imposed upon us. It is the privilege of being together with God in the outworking of the ultimate things in His plan.

Now, in this thing we must be businesslike. We must make a business of it. Soldiering is not a sport, not a sort of thing that you can play at in wartime. It is a grim business and first of all you have to know the value of your weapons, and you have to use those weapons. And then when you have got to know the value of them and how to use them, you have to take them; not leave them behind as if they did not matter. If it is so down here in this much-less business, how much more ought it to be so in this eternal business that we know what our weapons are, the value of those weapons, how to use those weapons, and that we definitely take them and do not go out without them.

And this first girding of truth, the strength of the truth, the strength of truth as truth, and the strength of the truth as the truth - and let me remind you that it is the truth as it is in Jesus; I could not understand that phrase, but I see something now in that of great value. It is not as it is in me, or in someone else, it is not the truth as it is in my brother, or in any company of believers, it is the truth as it is in Jesus; that is, in Him the thing is absolute and settled. The truth of my perfection is not true in me, it is true in Him; of absolute victory, it is not true in me, but in Him. The truth of being really in the heavenlies, is not in me, but in Him. I am in the heavenlies in Christ; everything is true in Him, and I have it in Him when I have not got it in myself. And the enemy comes along and says, "You are not much of a specimen you know, you call yourself an overcomer!" But it is true in Him, I have overcome in Him. It is the truth as it is in Jesus, not as it is in me. And when you take that position, you are cutting the ground from the enemy.

If you are looking to find this true in yourself, you will find discouragement, but when you hold on to your position as it is in Christ, that it is the truth as it is in Him, you are in a strong position. That is the strength of the truth as it is in Him.

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