Conflict in the Heavenly Places

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
 
In Ephesians, believers are seen in Christ, blessed “with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places” in Him and made to “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” This is where God’s grace has set them, and their walk in the world is to be in keeping with such an exalted position. The same fact determines also the character of their conflict, for though the believer has title to these blessings and this position, his practical enjoyment of them in this world depends entirely on the extent to which he lays hold of them by faith. In heaven there is no conflict, but here it is entirely different; we have a special kind of conflict to maintain, in consequence of the heavenly place into which we are brought.
We have a type of this in Joshua, where the Israelites come up from the Jordan (a figure of resurrection) and enter into the land, which represents the heavenly places. Their title was good, for it rested on God’s promise to Abraham, but they were yet in a place of conflict, a place calling for self-judgment, for watchfulness, and for courage. So it is with us. The heavenly places are ours in title, and we too, as “quickened together with Christ,” are entered into them. But, like Israel, we must hold our ground in them by vigilance and conflict. The Israelites began at Gilgal, the hill of circumcision; so we are called, “having put off according to the former conversation the old man, which corrupts itself according to the deceitful lusts” (Eph. 4:2222That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; (Ephesians 4:22) JND). Having thus in type put the flesh in the place of death, the Israelites had to gird themselves for conflict with giants. We, too, have enemies — principalities and powers in heavenly places, compared with whom all our strength is mere weakness. Joshua was exhorted, “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Josh. 1:99Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (Joshua 1:9)). So, in the portion we are now considering, the exhortation is, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” (Eph. 6:1010Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. (Ephesians 6:10)). In these conflicts in the heavenly places the believer is called upon to wage war, to “put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:1111Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11)). The power of Satan is already broken, but his wiles are always to be dreaded and call for unceasing watchfulness. He cannot change our standing, but he can cheat us of the enjoyment of it, and so rob God of the glory which our walk and conversation should bring Him. And here, where God is setting a people in Christ, accepting them in the Beloved, Satan’s craft is specially put forth to lower the standard of blessing and lead them to take a place less honoring to God than that which He has given them.
Possession by Faith
Hence our conflict is for the possession by faith of these heavenly places, and our enemies are those who would seek to drive us from them. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [or heavenly] places” (Eph. 6:1212For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12)). This conflict is one we must sustain if we would practically enjoy the heavenly place and the heavenly blessings which are ours in Christ. But it is clear that no strength of ours can cope with such enemies as those now arrayed against us. What, then, is our resource? God has made ample provision; He has stored up an armor which can withstand such assaults as those we have to resist. “Wherefore,” He says, through the Apostle, “take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (vs. 13).
The Armor
What, then, is this suit of armor? “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:14-1714Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; 15And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. 17And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: (Ephesians 6:14‑17)). Joshua was assured of the Lord’s presence, but the condition was this: “That thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses My servant commanded thee” (Josh. 1:77Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. (Joshua 1:7)). So too, the believer can only sustain his conflict by having his “loins girt about with truth.” The immutable truth of God’s Word is the only anchor that can steady the soul amidst all the waves of temptation with which the devil assails it.
In having on the armor of God, we also have on what Christ was and what He had — the “breastplate of righteousness.” He is my righteousness, but it is here to be used for conflict against Satan — not for God, but for practical power. If we have a bad conscience, there can be no power against Satan; there must be “the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.” Then there will be a savor of Christ’s ways in our character.
It is equally necessary that our feet should be “shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” This is not only having peace with God, but walking in the spirit of peace. There is sure to be peace in the spirit of a man who is girt about with truth and walking in the power of true righteousness. A man who has been walking with God many years will be gentler with others than one who has just begun to know Him. He will not be irritated at evil in another, for his own soul has tasted what the peace of God is, in walking with God in the power of it.
Then there is the need of dependence. Independence is sin, and it is necessary, therefore, that over all these we should cast the protection of faith. “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked [or, rather, of the wicked one].”
Closely connected with this is another piece of defensive armor: “the helmet of salvation.” This is doubtless taken from the Old Testament prophecy which speaks of Christ as putting on “righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon His head” (Isa. 59:1717For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke. (Isaiah 59:17)). But with Christ it is the righteousness which He executes in judgment and the salvation which He brings as the deliverer of His people. With us it is the righteousness and salvation we have in Him. If righteousness is the breastplate which protects the heart from misgiving, the helmet is the crowning piece of the armor, which gives the believer the consciousness of full assured salvation, a title to the heavenly places, and therefore confidence in maintaining the ground against all the stratagems of the foe.
The Offensive Weapon
In addition to these pieces of defensive armor, there is one offensive weapon: “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” It is interesting to see the close connection between the first and last pieces of God’s armor. The truth of the Word is the power to gird up the loins; the sword of the Word is the weapon to put Satan to flight. Our Lord Himself furnishes us with an example in the use of both. He repels all the subtle attacks of Satan by the simple use of the Word. In the first two temptations He uses it only as a defensive piece of armor. On the third occasion, He uses it as a sword, inflicting so deadly a thrust that the enemy is put to flight.
The Defensive Attitude
Such is the armor in which God has clothed us for this conflict in the heavenly places. Our attitude there is defensive — guarding what is already ours through grace. But this defensive attitude needs constant prayer. Dependence alone enables us to hold the heavenly places in spite of Satan’s opposition, and this dependence expresses itself in prayer. Paul therefore adds, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Eph. 6:1818Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; (Ephesians 6:18)). In the case of our blessed Master, we continually find Him going apart to pray, and even spending whole nights in prayer. How much of our weakness and failure arises from our being so unlike the blessed Lord Himself in this respect! Also, he who best knows the value of prayer will most desire the prayers of others.
Here, then, in this epistle, we have revealed all the purposes of love in God’s heart towards us, the wonderful blessedness of our standing “in Christ,” the walk suited to our heavenly calling, and the weapons furnished for our heavenly warfare.
T. B. Baines, adapted