Author’s note: Putting on the whole armor of God takes time and effort. Each piece is important, but they all work together for our spiritual protection. Part 1 of this series will focus on the armor that we figuratively put on, and Part 2 will focus on the shield and sword that we carry with us.
It doesn’t take much to realize how fragile life is—and how a little bit of plastic and foam in a helmet can go a long way toward protecting your head. All it takes is a phone call asking if the EMTs can work on your son, a trip to the ER to meet the ambulance transporting him and a look at his ski helmet that’s only being held together by the plethora of stickers adorning it. As I was examining his helmet, I was struck by how something so seemingly small and insignificant—like putting on a helmet when skiing—had probably just saved my son’s life.
We have taught our kids from the very first ski lesson that they needed to wear a helmet. It has become just part of the ski gear that we put on to hit the slopes. And we don’t think twice about it. Until something happens and we remember why it’s important. And I wondered how often we overlook or take for granted other life-saving—or spiritually saving—tools that we have.
In Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, he tells them,
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:11).
But what is the armor of God? Paul explains,
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 (Ephesians 6:14-17).
Just as medieval armor protected knights against their opponents’ weapons, so too does spiritual armor protect us against the temptations of the devil. And our spiritual armor begins with remembering to wear our spiritual helmets.
Building Our Armor
One reason that we may begin to take our spiritual armor for granted is that it is built so subtly, line upon line, that we may not even realize how strong—or weak—it is becoming. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught,
I like to think of this spiritual armor not as a solid piece of metal molded to fit the body but more like chain mail. Chain mail consists of dozens of tiny pieces of steel fastened together to allow the user greater flexibility without losing protection. I say that because it has been my experience that there is not one great and grand thing we can do to arm ourselves spiritually. True spiritual power lies in numerous smaller acts woven together in a fabric of spiritual fortification that protects and shields from all evil.
It is a common expression to talk about the “chinks” in a person’s armor. The definition of the word chink is “a small cleft, slit, or fissure.” Should an arrow strike exactly one of the chinks in one’s armor, a fatal wound can result.
True spiritual power accumulates as we pray daily, read our scriptures, attend our church meetings and all of the other small steps that strengthen the links in our spiritual chainmail. Conversely, when we get lax in these areas, we can unknowingly create weak spots, or chinks, that may expose us to temptation. So just what are these spiritual pieces of armor? And how do they protect us?
Our Spiritual Helmets of Salvation
Although the helmet of salvation is one of the last pieces of body armor that Paul mentioned, I think it is perhaps the most important. The brain is the control center of the body. It is where our thoughts begin. And if our thoughts begin to wander off, then it won’t be long before our feet (and the rest of our body) will follow. President Harold B. Lee said,
Now to the last piece of the prophet-teacher’s armored dress. We will put “the helmet of salvation” upon our head. Our head or intellect is the controlling member of the body. It must be well protected against the enemy, for “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Salvation means the attainment of the eternal light to live in the presence of God the Father and the Son as a reward for a good life in mortality.
The helmet of salvation helps us to understand where we came from, where we want to go and what we need to do to get there. LaVell Edwards, at the time retired head coach of the Brigham Young University football team, said,
Can you imagine how it would be to play a game of football without a helmet? It is the same as trying to live in this world of turmoil without the plan of salvation. Our understanding of this plan gives meaning to our lives, a knowledge of why we are here, and hope for where we can be in the next life. The promise of exaltation and eternal families gives us a constant goal to strive for—thus protecting us from and helping us to avoid much of the evil that is out there in the world (Take Upon Yourselves the Whole Armor of God, BYU Speeches, April 10, 2001).
The ability to think clearly, study and discern right from wrong is a vital aspect of spiritual protection.
Breastplate of Righteousness
The next piece of protective armor is the breastplate of righteousness. Elder Robert D. Hales taught,
The “breastplate of righteousness” helps us to have the Spirit with us always, guarding our heart and soul.
Coach Edwards said,
Being righteous means being upright, moral, and virtuous. It is something we have to work on every day. We have to keep progressing or we will regress. We have to continue studying, praying, and trying to live the Lord’s teachings and commandments to gain and maintain a life of righteousness. I believe righteousness also includes service to others. A righteous person is aware of others’ needs and acts on that awareness through service.
The breastplate covers the heart, which works with the brain in helping us to make our choices. Elder D. Todd Christofferson said,
How can you make the gospel of Jesus Christ not just an influence in your life but the controlling influence and, indeed, the very core of what you are? The ancient prophet Jeremiah spoke of the law of God, the gospel, being written in our hearts. He quotes the Lord speaking about us, His people in the latter days: “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Do you want this for yourself? I can tell you how that can happen, but it must be something you want. The gospel cannot be written in your heart unless your heart is open.
We keep our heart open and sensitive to the things of the Spirit by obedience to the commandments of God.
The Power of Righteousness
There is power in righteous choices. Elder Richard G. Scott taught,
Continually bless your life with the power of righteousness. It builds confidence. It engenders trust. It yields enduring, worthy achievement. To be righteous is to seek intently to be obedient to the commandments of God. It is to be clean in thought and act. It is to be honest and just. Righteousness is shown more in acts than in words. A righteous life requires discipline. Discipline is that characteristic which will give you the strength to avoid giving up what you want most in life for something you think you want now. It is a friend, not a harsh taskmaster that makes life miserable. Discipline is easier to acquire when it is rooted in faith in Jesus Christ, when it is nourished by an understanding of His teachings and plan of happiness.
As we continually choose to obey the commandments of God, it helps us to develop and strengthen our breastplate of righteousness. Elder Scott said,
By making choices consistent with eternal truth, you will develop righteous character and increasing strength to resist temptation. You are assured of the help of God in fulfilling your worthy decisions. You qualify to be led by the Spirit, to choose the correct path. It will warn you of temptations you might not otherwise recognize.
Loins Girt with Truth
Having our loins gird about with truth means to be clothed, covered, wrapped, protected in truth, chastity and virtue—which is becoming harder to do in our modern world. Elder Scott said,
Increasingly more people are finding that making wise decisions is becoming more and more difficult because of the ultra-interconnected world in which we live. Constantly forced into our consciousness is an incessant barrage of counsel, advice, and promotions. It is done by a bewildering array of media, Internet, and other means. On a given subject we can receive multiple strongly delivered, carefully crafted messages with solutions. But often two of the solutions can be diametrically opposed. No wonder some are confused and are not sure how to make the right decisions.
To further complicate matters, others try to persuade us that our decisions must be socially acceptable and politically correct. Some pondering of that approach will reveal how wrong it is. Since social and political structures differ widely over the world and can dramatically change with time, the folly of using that method to make choices is apparent.
So how do go about finding truth? Elder Scott continued,
The best way of finding truth is simply to go to the origin of all truth and ask or respond to inspiration. For success, two ingredients are essential: first, unwavering faith in the source of all truth; second, a willingness to keep God’s commandments to keep open spiritual communication with Him.
Armor of Virtue and Chastity
Girding our loins also implies virtue and chastity, which must accompany our quest for truth. Bishop H. David Burton taught,
Virtuous traits form the foundation of a Christian life and are the outward manifestation of the inner man. The spelling in English of many individual virtues concludes with the letters ity: integrity, humility, charity, spirituality, accountability, civility, fidelity, and the list goes on and on. Relying on literary license, I refer to the virtues ending in ity as the “ity” virtues. “Ity” is a suffix that means quality, state, or degree of being. …
We need to stand tall and be firmly fixed in perpetuating Christlike virtues, even the “ity” virtues, in our everyday lives.
Abiding by the law of chastity is another vital element to our spiritual protection. Elder David A. Bednar said,
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a single, undeviating standard of sexual morality: intimate relations are proper only between a man and a woman in the marriage relationship prescribed in God’s plan. Such relations are not merely a curiosity to be explored, an appetite to be satisfied, or a type of recreation or entertainment to be pursued selfishly. They are not a conquest to be achieved or simply an act to be performed. Rather, they are in mortality one of the ultimate expressions of our divine nature and potential and a way of strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife. We are agents blessed with moral agency and are defined by our divine heritage as children of God—and not by sexual behaviors, contemporary attitudes, or secular philosophies.
While the world’s views on sexual purity have evolved from strict to laissez-faire (or anything goes), the Lord’s standard has remained unchanged. It is important to not only know the law of chastity but also to abide by it. Only then is our armor strengthened.
Feet Shod with Preparation of the Gospel
As we arm ourselves with the protections of righteousness, virtue, truth and salvation, we are laying the foundation of preparation that will guide our feet. President Lee said,
Your feet, which represent your goals or objectives in life, are to be shod with “the preparation of the gospel of peace.” Preparedness is the way to victory, and “eternal vigilance is the price of safety.” Whether in speech or in song, in physical or moral combat, the tide of victory rests with him who is prepared.
Coach Edwards said,
Preparation brings peace as it frees us to pursue our goals. … To me, preparation is the key to success in any endeavor. … The greatest athletes are not always the fastest, strongest, or most gifted athletically. The greatest players are those who have the ability to recognize their potential and prepare themselves to meet that potential.
… We can have the desire to do something well, even to gain a strong testimony of the gospel, but it will be for naught if we are not willing to work, study, and prepare. Every one of us has the potential to successfully achieve our goals in life, but most goals won’t be realized without effort on our part.
How do we gain this preparation? President Lee explained,
How fortunate are you if in your childhood in the home of your father and mother you were taught the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ, the son of the living God, the meaning of baptism and what you gain by the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. Fortunate is the child who has been taught to pray and who has been given those steps to take on through life. Feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace!
Elder Hales taught,
Having our “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” by reading and studying the scriptures helps us be obedient to the laws, ordinances, commandments, and covenants of God.
Avoiding the Chinks
But the fiery darts of the adversary are wily, and it can be difficult to maintain our armor. President Thomas S. Monson said,
The philosophies of men surround us. The face of sin today often wears the mask of tolerance. Do not be deceived; behind that facade is heartache, unhappiness, and pain. You know what is right and what is wrong, and no disguise, however appealing, can change that. The character of transgression remains the same. If your so-called friends urge you to do anything you know to be wrong, you be the one to make a stand for right, even if you stand alone. Have the moral courage to be a light for others to follow. There is no friendship more valuable than your own clear conscience, your own moral cleanliness—and what a glorious feeling it is to know that you stand in your appointed place clean and with the confidence that you are worthy to do so.
President James E. Faust said,
Spiritual armor not only protects against the many things that can knock us spiritually senseless, but also protects us physically and in many other ways. For instance, it can help us to have wise discernment in making all of the important decisions we have to make. We can also have special insights in choosing friends and associates. Through this protection we can have and enjoy an inner strength, peace, and calmness that will be constant and unfailing resources.
We build our spiritual armor link by link, day by day, with our actions. Each time we pray, it strengthens us spiritually. So too with reading our scriptures and obeying the commandments of God. And each day this armor becomes a larger part of who we are, so much so that it becomes second nature to have it with us. We may not even notice it most of the time—but we will be grateful for it during the times that we need it most. Just like my son and his ski helmet.