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. (Ephesians 6:10-12)
There are dark powers at work in the world. The Greek word for “world” in this passage actually means “age.” The world itself is God’s creation, and it is a good creation. But this present age is a different matter, and the powers Paul is talking about are the powers of this dark age. “Rulers of the darkness of this world,” is how the KJV puts it. These dark powers are connected with the forces of evil in the spiritual realm.
Against these dark powers and evil forces, Paul advances quite a different power. It is a power he has already spoken of earlier in this letter, a power that God already exercises toward us, on our behalf and for our good. It is the power by which God raised Christ from the dead and exalted him to the highest place.
That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:19-23)The power by which God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at the right hand of the Father, far above all rules, authorities and powers is not only at work in us but also through us. It is the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Church, Paul says, is the body of Christ, the “fullness of him” — which is to say that Christ has filled the Church with himself. So his life and power are in us. There is a mystery here, an open secret that God reveals to us in Christ.
Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:8-11)This mystery, now revealed to us, is God’s eternal purpose in Christ from before the creation of the world. This divine purpose is, as Paul said in Ephesians 1:10, “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” The revelation is that it has already been accomplished — it happened through the cross and resurrection of Christ. But God does not do this apart from the Church (and the Church certainly does not do it apart from God). Rather, God has chosen to reveal, through the Church, his stunningly great and multifaceted wisdom to the “rulers and authorities,” which are the spiritual powers behind the nations and cultures of this present age.
This is why Paul prayed, at the beginning of the letter, that our hearts be enlightened to know the hope to which God has called us, the glorious inheritance God has in us, and the greatness of the power that God is working for us and in us, the same power by which he raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:15-18). It is not that these things are not already true of us — they are and have always been so, inasmuch as God chose us in Christ from before the creation of the world — but what we need is to understand, and not just with our intellect, what is going on deep within the core of our beings, “behind the scenes” of the world, in the realm of the Spirit. For it is through us that God has chosen to answer the powers of this dark age.
This brings us back around to Paul’s exhortation to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,” and “put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” As our warfare is not against flesh and blood, so also the weapons of our warfare are not material but spiritual.
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around 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. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14-17)Elsewhere, Paul tells us to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:10), and to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). These are all hues of the same truth. The mighty power in which we are to be strong is God’s resurrection power at work in us.
The “full armor” is Christ himself. He is the belt of truth buckled around our waist and the breastplate of righteousness we bear. It is Christ who makes our feet ready to hold firm in the peace of God. Christ is the shield we hold out in faith and the helmet of salvation we wear. The message of his gospel is the sword of the Spirit we wield. It is Christ, who fills everything in every way, who is doing this through and through — and he has chosen to do it through his body, the Church.
In this armor, we are able to stand with Christ against the dark powers of this present age. For “the true light that gives light to everyone” has come into the world (John 1:9). “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). Let us, then, join in the wonderful doxology Paul sings in this same letter:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)