The Church's Position and Power in the Heavenlies

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 8 - The Whole Armour of God (continued)

Reading: Ephesians 6.

We are, as you know, occupied with the position and vocation of the church in the heavenlies. One thing we have been constantly stressing is that the vocation of the church pre-eminently requires a position. And that position is called, "in the heavenlies in Christ", as the place of power. So that for this heavenly vocation and this spiritual power, spiritual ascendency is necessary.

It might be helpful in measure if I reminded you that 'the heavens', and 'the heavenlies' are not the same thing in the New Testament. In Ephesians "the heavenlies" are mentioned five times. In the Authorised Version you find "places" in italics, it should be "the heavenlies". But you have the "heavens" elsewhere spoken of; now the term "the heavens" relates to a place, a sphere specifically, a location; but when you have the term "the heavenlies" that relates to spiritualities in that place. Now, that may seem just a technical difference, but it is important. The Lord Jesus spoke about earthly things and earthlies. He said, "If I have spoken unto you earthly things (lit. 'earthlies') and you have not understood, how will you understand if I speak unto you of heavenly things (lit. 'heavenlies')". Now, He was not just speaking about things as located up above, but spiritual things.

The trouble with the disciples, as we know, was that they could not grasp spiritual things, and here in Ephesians where the heavenlies is a location of the saints, it is not just that you have come to a place, but you have come to heavenly things, spirituals, spiritual things in that place. And so our warfare there is with spiritual realities, and everything with which we have to do there is spiritual in its nature. How far that will help you I do not know, but we want to see that "the heavenlies" refer to conditions and not only to a place. Perhaps the profit in recognising that is simply this: that so many people get a mentality about that phrase "the heavenlies" that suggests to them that they have to be out of this world somehow; they cannot just grasp it, they say, "We are not in the heavenlies we are here on this earth, this earth is a very real thing; and our presence here is a very real thing!" It is just that, while in Christ we are located above, we are literally, physically, geographically here, but we have to do with those things which are higher up, the spirituals, the heavenlies, and it is in that realm that we fulfill our vocation and carry out our warfare.

Now if the whole issue is that of spiritual ascendency unto triumphant warfare and effectual spiritual vocation, then all that comes here in Ephesians 6 in particular, is to do with spiritual ascendency; how to maintain it. We are brought into the place in the Lord Jesus by faith as we have seen, and how are we going to maintain that position now and triumphantly wage our spiritual warfare? Well, the Lord makes provision.

We began to see this provision in what is called the whole armour of God and then when that armour is presented. And perhaps it might, by way of parenthesis, be also interesting at least to note that in Romans 13 where the phrase occurs "Let us put on the armour of light", the armour there is not the same word as "armour" here in Ephesians 6. In Romans 13 the word simply means "weapons of light"; here it is another word which is something more than weapons of aggression, weapons of warfare, but a complete covering as a whole - something more - this whole armour of God.

When you come to an Ephesian position you come higher than a Roman position and higher also than the two Corinthian positions which also bring in the armour of righteousness. You need the whole panoply in this heavenly spiritual position and warfare, and when this is set forth, it is rather strikingly divided into two sections. I expect you have noticed how the apostle speaks of this. He says "having" and about the other three he says "take".

The Girdle of Truth

"Having girded... Having put on..." Then with regard to three things he says, "Wherefore, having girded..." and so on, "with all taking up..." and then he gives you three other things. Now, what is the subtle movement that is to be noted there? For upon that movement there does hang something of importance spiritually. To get to it, perhaps you might put yourself in Paul's place at this time, as with the Roman guard. He lives with that Roman guard day and night, that Roman guard is with him right through, and he is taking very careful notice of that soldier, and he notices this: that that man puts on his breastplate, his girdle, and his shoes and he does not take them off. But when there is active service, or active duty, he puts on the helmet, and takes the shield and takes the sword. You can see the guard sitting down, as it were, in his breastplate, with his girdle on and his shoes on. That is his abiding state, so to speak, he is always in that; never puts them off. Whatever else he is doing, he goes about with those on, they are permanent. When he comes on duty he goes to the peg and takes down his helmet and puts it on, takes his sword, and shield; he has come on duty.

One is the constant condition from the beginning and the other is when there is active duty, active service. Now, that carries with it the significance that we have got to recognise. Paul's words, "Having girded your loins with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace", "Having", that is something that has been done and that is something which ought to have been done at the beginning and ought not in any way to have been forsaken. That being so, you want to know the nature or meaning of the standing things which abide, the things in which you stand, not the things with which you aggressively go on duty, but things in which you abide, in which you stand.

In chapter 5 we spoke about the girdle of truth, having girded your loins with truth, the girdle of truth. And with all that should be said and we have said about that, what is precisely or specifically referred to there is what Paul in another place calls, "the truth of the gospel". Now, that is an initial thing for the believer, and it makes the believer strong unto his heavenly warfare; the truth of the gospel. Now, are you quite sound and strong in the truth of the gospel? We do not propose to analyse the truth of the gospel now, but it is a phrase, a term which is of tremendous importance for the believer to recognise. Now you take that phrase away and think about it. Paul went everywhere in the strength of the truth of the gospel. It was his strength. The gospel which is truth, and what that gospel is in its truth. Gospel... the good tidings, the good news which is absolutely true, secured, safe, unalterable, the truth of the gospel, girded with the truth of the gospel. If the enemy can shake you there as to the truth of the gospel, he has robbed you of your strength and beaten you in the fight, but while you stand girded in the truth of the gospel, you are in a strong position of ascendency. Doubt for one moment the truth of the gospel, question the truth of the gospel, and allow the enemy for a moment to loosen that girdle, or allow that girdle to be loosened for one moment, and we experience defeat. The absolute stability and durability of the gospel, the unshakableness of the great fact of the gospel; stand girded in that and you have ascendency, a strong position.

I do not want to spend more time on the girdle, but I reduce all that we have said about the girdle of truth to that initial thing about this. It is something you have done; you will have to gird up the loins of your mind continually in the matter of truth, but initially you have got to be girded with the truth of the gospel and stand in it, remain in it - this is not an off duty thing at all. This is an in season and out of season thing: the truth of the gospel. So the Holy Spirit is quite right in the taking hold of this thing Paul saw that this man never undid - that while he was in his sight - he did not see what he did when he went to bed - but we are not supposed to go to bed in this fight; we do not go to bed! So our position is that once we put that girdle on, we never take it off. Paul never saw the man take it off. The point is not that we spiritually take off the other things, but what Paul noted was that these were things that had once been put on and so far as he was concerned, they were the abiding things. He saw the man take the other things as he came on duty.

The Breastplate of Righteousness

And what was true of the girdle of truth was true of the breastplate of righteousness. The thing was done, had been done. Let us note that it is the very vitals of the man that are now under consideration. His heart is covered by this breastplate of righteousness. To understand that (and Paul is a great teacher of righteousness) you want to gather up all Paul's teaching about righteousness, and you will have to take the two righteousnesses which Paul speaks of: the righteousness of the law and the righteousness which is by faith.

The righteousness of the law is this, that a man is held absolutely responsible for every detail of it and the whole of that righteousness hangs upon the most minute detail of it, so that if it is violated at one point, the man is responsible for the whole, and there is no place of repentance for violating the righteousness which is of the law, the thing is so utter. God's requirement is so utter that if you violate the law at one point, you have no place of repentance, you are guilty of the whole thing. God's utter requirements... and in that realm God has never changed. Do not let us think for a moment that because we are not under the law we are not under obligation to satisfy God up to the hilt on the question of righteousness.

Some people think that because we are not under the law, but under grace, that the standard of living is not so exacting as the Old Testament standard of the Lord. We must at once divorce our mind of any such thought. God's standard is not changed and if you live under the law, you are going to be judged by the law and held responsible for the whole. God's standard is unchanged. We know that we cannot stand up to that, we cannot bear that, it is impossible; but there is One who has been able to stand up to that, only One to meet that, to fulfill all that, all righteousness, and satisfy God in that Man: an inclusive Man, a representative Man, a Man for men. And that Man's work, being for us, is placed to our credit when we appropriate it by faith and that becomes a righteousness of the law fulfilled, and we come into the position which all that righteousness of the law brings a man - having satisfied God up to the hilt. We are out in that position, although not ours; utterly impossible, but we are brought into the good of it, of what another Man has done for us as man, as God but as man. And we inherit first of all, the satisfaction of God in perfect righteousness by faith in Christ. But more, we not only inherit by faith imputed righteousness, but we become possessed of imparted righteousness. How? In our new birth we receive that Life which is from God and that Life is a holy, perfect, sinless Life. That Life is not in our flesh, therefore our flesh is not sinless or perfect; that Life is not in our natural man, therefore our natural man is not sinless and perfect, but that Life is in our renewed spirit and remains in itself perfect. It is Divine Life, and from our renewed spirit as we go on in obedience of faith, it works to make us perfect, holy, righteous.

You have to put these two things together to form the breastplate of righteousness. You have got to recognise all the value of the imputed righteousness, and it is a tremendous defensive factor that you can meet the enemy in this position, "You are quite right Satan, when you say that; I in myself am unrighteous, I am a bad lot, but there is given to me a righteousness which is perfect. There is imputed to me a righteousness which is perfect, which is not mine, but which is given to me, which is for me, which stands in my stead, which covers me; the righteousness of Another. And God sees me in that righteousness which is imputed to me". It is a great defensive factor that, and if only we had a strong enough hold upon that which we call "the objective thing", it would be a safe-guard, a breastplate covering our very vitals against that which has been the undoing of, and defeat of, so many of the Lord's children who have not appropriated that; this introspection, self-judgment, self-analysis and self-condemnation, circling round ourselves and trying to find righteousness in ourselves and because we cannot find it, but find a lot else.

The enemy is playing havoc with multitudes of the Lord's own redeemed ones because they have not from the very start put on this breastplate of imputed righteousness and kept it on as a permanent thing. That is not a thing you put on, that remains, having been put on: the breastplate of righteousness. You have put that on. Oh, get it on the side of what is put to us, credited, imputed to you: the perfect righteousness of God in Christ, but that is, while a glorious half, it is only half. The other half is to do with our responsibility; that we have received a righteousness by faith in reality, not as imputed only, but as imparted in that new life. We have received the righteousness of God in power, in reality. In a new life we have become partakers of the Divine nature. The holiness of God as the new nature is there resident within us to develop and to bring every other part of our being into subjection; progressive holiness.

Now, beloved, this also is a part of our defense, and it means this: that you and I have got to live up to what we know in our hearts as what is being right before God. That Spirit of God within us, the Spirit of holiness, the Spirit of our new birth resident there from our birth from above, bears witness to the will of God, bears witness to the right by Life and to the wrong by death and there is set up in us the law of God as to righteousness. It is only as we live up to the measure of that light, knowledge, and witness concerning the will of the Lord that we have any defense.

We know quite well in experience that if there is something wrong, we know there is something wrong in our hearts, if we do not adjust that thing, the enemy just has his way with us and we are robbed of power, pulled out of our position and our heavenly vocation, and our warfare is a futile thing. So that while we rejoice in imputed righteousness and it is a strong defense, there must be the counterpart of an imparted righteousness and we are living up to the standard of our knowledge. Any unrighteousness in our lives is our undoing; that is where our responsibility comes in. But taking it on the other side, the happier side, while we are doing the will of God, not tolerating known sin, putting away any unrighteousness of any kind, we have ascendency.

I think the question of practical righteousness is an important one for believers. It is not simply living up to a doctrine as a doctrine. There are a good many people who think of spirituality as something separate from common justice and righteousness, very spiritual, but very unrighteous. You think you can be spiritual - one of the spiritual people and leaders among the Lord's people, yet very unrighteous with your employees and in your business dealings. Things may be all askew in the business or domestic side of your life, or you may be very unrighteous with your employer. The question of taking wages and not giving a fair measure of work is a question of righteousness just as much as a question of giving wages not commensurate with the amount of work done. There are two sides to the question, and that is righteousness. And God has His eye on that, and that is why the Lord says, "Whatsoever you do, do heartily as unto the Lord and not unto men". The Lord is Judge of righteousness in this matter.

Downright Divine fairness and squareness, anything awry with that is a weakness; we cannot live in the heavenlies on that level, we cannot overcome the evil one. We may talk a great deal about imputed righteousness, but if the imparted righteousness is lacking, there is something wrong. We may talk a very great deal about putting on the breastplate of righteousness, but putting on the breastplate of righteousness is being absolutely square in all our relationships and all our dealings, and we have got to see to it. You cannot take half an hour off and take wages for that without raising the whole question of righteousness if you do not make good. And in every aspect of our life the question comes up - what would God have? And as we come up to what we know the Lord would have, we are in a strong position of ascendency. Could anything be more practical than that? You say we get out into the realm of doctrine! We are not there at any rate, we have our feet on solid ground. I think we can leave the breastplate of righteousness. May the Lord speak to our hearts and make us very much alive to all questions of righteousness in His sight. Having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel, the good news of peace. That is something also which has been done, says the apostle. Now what does he mean by this?

Your Feet Shod with the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace

"Having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace". Paul looked at that soldier's shoes and he noted something about them. This is seen by those who understand the Greek; they see what Paul saw. It is not apparent in our translation. What Paul saw and said, the Greek words here are this, "Having under-bound your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace". He saw that those shoes were bound on, and that this man did not take them off, but kept them bound on, and that having bound them on, that represented an abiding preparedness, readiness in emergency; finding you with your shoes on. If, when you had to do binding on, you would probably give your enemy a good chance if you were not prepared, you were not ready, and what Paul is talking about here is just this: from the beginning an ever-readiness with the gospel, a readiness of mind in the gospel, always there. Ready always, he says in another place, to give an answer, but here the call is of readiness always in the gospel of peace.

How is this a factor in spiritual ascendency and spiritual victory? Well, the thing is very simple and therefore very practical. By way of illustration, our sister Miss Sinclair telling us, when she gave her testimony here - many of you will remember it  - that a certain brother went to see her in a nursing home and spoke to her about her soul, the issue of which was that she took the Lord Jesus as her Saviour. And that brother, wanting to give the thing some quite definite and concrete form of expression asked her to write her name upon a card which had on it a declaration of her acceptance of the Lord Jesus, which she did. In her room she wrote her name under this declaration of having taken the Lord Jesus as her Saviour, and put it on the table. And when the brother rose to go, she went with him down to the door. When she came back to her room there was a nurse in her room. Miss Sinclair at once saw that card and wondered if the nurse had seen it. For an instant, one fleeting moment, the whole issue was at stake. Should she cover that card so that the nurse would not see it? It did not take her long to decide; she put on the breastplate of righteousness. If there had been a moment's compromise, the devil would have got in and spoiled her and put her into bondage at once, but she was ready, shod in the gospel with no compromise.

Now, that is an illustration of this thing: ready, prepared. If we are ashamed of the gospel, ashamed to give our testimony, if we excuse ourselves by wanting a special opportunity and we are not ever alert, ever-ready, on our feet with our shoes on, or if we are making compromises in any way about our testimony, well, we are not up in the place of power, we are not in the place of ascendency, of victory. The enemy will constantly try to drag us into a position where we fail of an opportunity. We are not ready with our gospel. We want special circumstances to draw us out instead of being ready. And it is wonderful, beloved, how, if you are ready, really are on your feet, if you live in that state, the opportunities you get. You can go on a journey and absolutely nothing happens because you are not out on business. But if you go in an attitude of, "What is there on this journey that can be for the Lord? Is there anything at all for the Lord here?" It is wonderful how you get those opportunities. We have tried that out, we know it, we have tried and failed, but you see, the enemy is gaining advantage, or to put it the other way, we are not in the place of authority and power over the enemy. That is why Paul says about this thing: this has been done once for all, these shoes have to be bound on and remain bound on; readiness in the gospel of peace, readiness with your testimony. Now, can we be more practical than that?

I just wonder if we more mature Christians are all just keen about souls, always on the alert with our gospel. Are we? There is a danger of progressing so far spiritually that you lose your keenness in the gospel. We must not. The Lord call us back to a place of spiritual power by simply saying to us in these simple terms, "Now, look here, you have to be always ready in your gospel." Ready with it at the front door with your tradesmen, ready with it - that does not mean you are to rush in everywhere and do all sorts of fanatical things, but it means you will be alert and watchful. This is a thing that must not be unbound, and to be shod. So far as Paul was concerned, he was never without his shoes. That is the point, and so far as we are concerned those shoes must never be put off; readiness in the gospel. These three things are things which are abiding, things done from the beginning.

Having done these things, he comes to the other three which you now deliberately take. You now take what you may call the offensive defensive means. You put your helmet on and that is a defensive offensive, and offensive defensive; the shield is a defensive offensive and the sword perhaps more offensive than defensive. And yet, perhaps the Lord Jesus not only assailed the enemy with the Word of God, but He defended with the Word of God. I am not going on with that now. We have dealt with simplicities, but things of very real, practical value. Let us make sure that we have done these. If we have not, let us at once see to this, that the thing is settled, that it is done in relation to these three things.

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