While listening to a series of sermons by a friend from Ephesians 6, I began to meditate on the “panoply of God” (the armor of God). Specifically, my attention was given to that first piece of armor from Ephesians 6.14, “having girded your loins with truth.” All of the pieces of armor listed in this passage are perhaps overlooked among us because this is one of those very familiar passages that many of us have memorized but rarely internalized. And I wonder, is the first piece of armor the most overlooked of them all?
After all, the belt of truth is hardly so manly and glamorous as the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Nor is it so vital (it seems) as the breastplate of righteousness which pictures the essential protection of the very vitals of the body, the piercing of which so often would lead to physical death. As a metaphor for the spiritual armory, the breastplate is that one thing upon which spiritual life relies. Borrowed, not inherent, righteousness is essential to spiritual survival; the divine word is essential for spiritual power. Why then this priority given to such a mundane article as the belt?
The Belt of the Roman Legionnaire
The Roman soldier of the first century wore various pieces of equipment in addition to his sword, breastplate, and shield. This equipage developed over time, but each piece had a reason and a very important function for preparing him for battle. The belt might be little thought of, but it held great significance for fighting success.
For one thing, the belt held everything else in place. Under the armor, the Roman soldier wore a red tunic (red to hide the presence of blood when wounded in battle). Over the thighs, the Roman soldier sometimes wore a leathern skirt, made of broad and heavy leather strips to protect the upper legs. The belt holds tunic, breastplate, and skirting in place, making it all snug and tight and properly functioning during battle. From the belt hangs the soldier’s short fighting sword and military dagger. In addition, an apron of sorts hangs from the belt at the front, made of leather strips, studded with metal. Some think this is for protecting the groin, others think it indicates rank or has some other purpose. The belt itself is studded and decorated with metal fittings to preserve it against the blades of the enemy and to improve its appearance.
The primary function of the belt is to keep the weapons of war in place, freeing the hands for fighting and the body for movement in the ferocious action of the battle. A soldier who went into battle with belt unbuckled might as well have on no armor at all. The armor he had would hinder and impede his actions, rending him vulnerable to the enemy. The belt may not be a glorious piece, but it was essential.
The belt in use meant the legionnaire was ready for action. “Activity is denoted by girding oneself, rest by ungirding, Herodutus, VIII, 120.”
The Belt of Truth
Ephesians 6.14 is a quotation of Isa 11.5, with the substitution of “truth” for “righteousness.” What is interesting in examining the source passage and the other quotations in the Ephesians list is that the armor described in the original locations belongs to God (in the person of our Messiah). This has led some commentators to suggest that the Christian armor is that which we have on loan from our Master, a thought which I think has merit.
Also interesting is Paul’s designation of our belt as “truth.” Truth is what holds the Christian armor together, fits the Christian for battle, is the foundation of the Christian “fighting machine.” What is meant by truth in this context?
First of all, the truth must be doctrinal truth. How important it is for a Christian to be fundamentally and foundationally correct in his doctrine! How can a Christian go to war against the forces of the infidels if he is uncertain of the truth? If a man entertains doubts on the deity of Christ, the reality of the miracles, the personality of the Holy Spirit and his relation to the Godhead, the facts of a Creator God and creation ex nihilo, the future bodily return of our Lord to this earth… if he lacks these truths (and many others), or holds them loosely, wavering in his certainty, what confidence is there left in his sword arm? What good does his breastplate do him if it hangs loose and is flapping in the breeze?
But there are aspects of truth beyond our orthodox systematic understanding of the Scriptures that are just as vital. Doctrinal truth is not alone. If the whole man is committed to God’s truth, doctrinal truth is accompanied by practical truth. As some say, orthodoxy is the foundation of orthopraxy. William MacDonald said in the Believer’s Bible Commentary, “Certainly we must be faithful in holding the truth of God’s word, but it is also necessary for the truth to hold us. We must apply it to our daily lives. As we test everything by the truth, we find strength and protection in the combat.”
When the Truth Holds Us
Many people, saved and unsaved, are full of confidence that they are truthful about themselves and others. A few years ago, a junior hockey player named Rob Shremp (now a minor league pro) said this: “I’m honest,” he will tell you. “If you don’t want the honest answer, don’t ask the question. How can you call an honest person a bad person?” An actress who recently passed away once said this, “Acting is always an adventure, and a struggle, and a quest to find the truth.” And here I thought acting was about pretense! One person pretending to be someone whom they are not! That would be truth, at the world’s level of truthfulness.
The fact is that we all are infected with overconfidence in our truthfulness and our commitment to truth. How many of us, when our besetting sin is raised in conversation, are willing to honestly and humbly confess our sins to one another? Even less troubling aspects of our lives are cloaked with self-deception. Are we really good parents? We tell ourselves that we are. Are we honest in our business dealings? Do we never shade the truth on a government form? Or what about those less obvious sins – pride, covetousness, worldliness? Do we exhibit these in our lives? Are we even aware of the extent to which we are captivated by the world and its lusts rather than living lives holy and pure before the Lord?
What do you think the self-talk of many Christians is like? We hear a lot of people talking about the fact that they are “broken” and hear regular confessions that we are depraved, that we need to “preach the gospel to ourselves” and the like. But in all our spiritual talk and thinking, are we seeing ourselves as we really are? Are we evaluating ourselves the way the Lord would? If you are going to wear his belt of truth, you will have to.
To the extent that we are untruthful about our own state before the Lord, I would have to say that to that extent our ‘belt of truth’ is loosened and our effectiveness in spiritual battle is lost or weakened.
A man named Charles Mackay is cited as saying, “Of all the offspring of Time, Error is the most ancient, and is so old and familiar an acquaintance, that Truth, when discovered, comes upon most of us like an intruder, and meets the intruder’s welcome.”
What do you think of truth when it comes to admitting it of yourself? Are you even truthful about yourself to yourself? David sang in Psalm 51, “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.” (Ps 51.6)
We are weak creatures and one of our major weaknesses is an unwillingness to be fully truthful about ourselves. C. S. Lewis said, “I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality…asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says ‘Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology…’ But excusing says ‘I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.’ …And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves.”
May God help us, in the fight for a fundamentalist testimony, to live lives that are full of truth, not only before men, but also before God.
Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.
- For pictures and information about the belt and other pieces of Roman armor, see here, here, here and here. A video describing the weaponry can be seen here – Note, this is no endorsement of sites! [↩]
- Albrecht Oepke, “Ὅπλον, Ὁπλίζω, Πανοπλία, Ζώννυμι, Διαζώννυμι, Περιζώννυμι, Ζώνη, Θώραξ, Ὑποδέω (ὑπόδημα, Σανδάλιον), Θυρεός, Περικεφαλαία,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, vol. 5, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 302. [↩]
- William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), Eph 6.14. [↩]
- Mark Spector, “Deep-fried Shremp” National Post, Dec 29, 2005. [↩]
- Julie Harris, late actress who won 6 Tony Awards for her work on Broadway, quoted in Bruce Weber, “Julie Harris, Celebrated Actress of Range and Intensity, Dies at 87 – NYTimes.com,” NYTimes, August 24, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/25/arts/julie-harris-celebrated-actress-of-range-and-intensity-dies-at-87.html?hpw&_r=1&&pagewanted=all (accessed August 25, 2013). [↩]
- Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. [↩]
- C. S. Lewis, “On Forgiveness,” The Weight of Glory [↩]