How to Wield a Shield

For readers both ancient and modern, Homer’s Illiad reaches a high point in Book VIII. Achilles has lost his shield and knows that warriors without shields meet quick death. He needs not just any shield, but a fine shield that can withstand war’s arrows and spears. Thus Achilles’ mother, Thetis, begs the blacksmith god, Hephaestus, to forge her son a shield. The god of the forge agrees and quickly sets to work, smithing an indestructible shield, decorated with moving images of farmers ploughing, kings ruling, cities bustling, herds stampeding, dancers dancing, and wine fermenting.

Christians, too, need a shield that we can wield in daily life. We live in wartime. According to Paul, outside enemies, like demonic powers and world systems, assail us (Eph. 6:12). Worse still, enemies within our hearts, what Paul calls “the flesh,” battle against God’s Spirit unceasingly (Gal. 5:1).

These enemies are deadly and intelligent. With temptation’s arrows they lead us to do what we hate: to lie, steal and cheat, to worship to success, status and wealth. We live in wartime. Thankfully, God shields and secures our salvation (Phil. 1:6; Jn. 10:29). But on an experiential level, how does God shield us? Peter writes,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.(1 Peter 1:3-5, emphasis added).

These verses give a remarkable promise: an imperishable inheritance in Christ, which God the Father guards by his power. God uses his power to forge each of us a “shield of faith.” He makes us a heavenly shield for wartime. (Eph. 6:16). That might sound trite after seeing so many Sunday School shield cutouts. The reality is not trite. God guards our salvation by faith. If we do not wield this shield, we’re dead. Let’s see what light Peter sheds on the shield between us and the attacks of our enemy:

1. The shield of faith is a work of God, not a work of man. Notice Peter’s curious wording, “…you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith.” Modern protestants tend to treat faith like a human work that earns our salvation. If we can muster strength to believe, God offers us heaven. But Peter is clear: God is the one who enables us to trust (i.e. have faith) in him. Human faith always fails. Suffering, trial, and temptation extinguish it. But the faith God gives is indestructible. Yet, what only God can give (faith), we must live out. Peter is essential saying, “God is protecting you by faith, so protect yourself with faith!” Once we receive God’s gift, we must wield it. God creates the miracle of faith in our heart, and we act the miracle by actively trusting God.

2. The shield of faith strengthens under trial. Peter continues,

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

Normal shields splinter, break, and shatter in war, but the shield of faith repels the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It is buoyant on every sea of trouble. It’s strengthened by war. Trials, temptation, and suffering function like a purifying fire on our faith. This doesn’t minimize the heartache of suffering. Peter calls it a fire. Suffering burns and hurts. War takes a toll. It grieves us. So we don’t rejoice in suffering itself, but we do rejoice in how God uses this fire, not to incinerate us, but to purify our trust in him.

Think about the story of Job. Satan tells God that Job is faithful, not because he loves God, but because he loves God’s stuff. To test Satan’s point, God lets him take away Job’s property, family, and health. The fire of suffering will either incinerate Job or it will purify him. How? When Job lost everything, he was forced to face the ways in which he’d made God’s good gifts into idols. When he lost those idols he would either curse God and die (because they gave him his worth) or he would see their emptiness and praise God for satisfying him more fully.  Family, wealth, and health cannot satisfy the soul’s deepest longings. Only God can satisfy the soul. But it’s only in the fire of suffering that we discover whether we really trust God or the idols. Trials burn out the idolatrous cracks in our shields.

3. The shield of faith gives us joy and God glory. 

Peter finishes by writing,

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Wielding the shield of faith gives God glory and us joy. Take Job’s example. In the end, Job’s faith is in God, not God’s stuff. Satan is shamed. God is glorified, because he’s proved that he in himself is sufficient to satisfy all of Job’s hunger. Catch that last part. God is glorified, because Job is satisfied in him. God’s glorious sufficiency is magnified by Job’s satisfaction in him over idols.

This is how faith protects us: faith assures us that we can trust in God for our present and future joy. When we are assured that God has insured our total salvation by the death of his son, we resist the fleeting temptation of sin by faith. Why should I give into lust, when God’s promises that the pure in heart will see his face? Faith trusts that God’s promises are more satisfying than lust’s promises. Lust dies when we are convinced that God offers superior joy. Faith in God’s future promises is the only shield that can withstand lust’s bitter volleys.

When we wield the shield God gave us he gets the glory and we get the joy, as we prove that he is all satisfying by trusting him. So let’s take up arms against the flesh, the devil, and the world, remembering that we have an unmatchable heavenly shield.

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