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.
The battle between good and evil is a common plot line in some of my family’s favorite movies—the Star Wars Trilogy, Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, to name a few. Perhaps it’s such a common theme because it is the test of mortality, the reason that we are here on earth. Will we choose good or evil? God or Satan? In the world today, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two—especially for those who believe in God, such as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Quentin L. Cook said,
We live in difficult times. There is an increased tendency to “call evil good, and good evil.” A world that emphasizes self-aggrandizement and secularism is cause for great concern. One prominent writer, not of our faith, has put it this way: “Unfortunately I see little evidence that people are actually happier in the emerging dispensation, or that their children are better off, or that the cause of social justice is well-served, or that declining marriage rates and thinning family trees … promise anything save greater loneliness for the majority, and stagnation overall.”
But God has not left us defenseless. Elder Cook said,
As disciples of the Savior, we are expected to plan and prepare. In the plan of happiness, moral agency is a central organizing principle and our choices matter. The Savior emphasized this throughout His ministry…. In each of these, the Lord commended preparation and action and condemned procrastination and idleness.
One way that we can plan and prepare is to put on what the Apostle Paul called the “armor of God,” which includes the helmet of salvation, shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit. (See Ephesians Ephesians 6:11.) The Lord has given us these tools to protect us spiritually and help us discern between right and wrong. So what is the armor of God?
The Whole Armor of God
In Medieval times, knights donned metal suits to protect them from the weapons of their opponents. The armor of God functions the same way for our spirits. Each piece of armor helps to protect us from the wiles and temptations of the devil. Elder Robert D. Hales taught,
The “helmet of salvation” guards our reasoning, intellect, and thoughts.
The “breastplate of righteousness” helps us to have the Spirit with us always, guarding our heart and soul.
Having our “loins girt about with truth” gives us the foundation to build faith and develop our testimony. …
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.
We build our armor piece by piece, day by day, through the little things that we do. Elder Hales taught,
Staying on the gospel path of covenants, commandments, and ordinances protects us and prepares us to do God’s work in this world. When we obey the Word of Wisdom, our agency is protected from addictions to substances like alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. As we pay our tithing, study the scriptures, receive baptism and confirmation, live for the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, partake of the sacrament worthily, obey the law of chastity, prepare for and receive the Melchizedek Priesthood [for worthy male members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], and make sacred covenants in the temple, then we are prepared to serve.
The helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, loins girt with truth and feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace are just the beginnings of our armor. There are two other powerful forms of spiritual protections—the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit. What are these? And how do they protect us?
Shield of Faith
Faith is a power that can shield us from the temptations and wiles of the Adversary. President Russell M. Nelson taught,
When we speak of faith—the faith that can move mountains—we are not speaking of faith in general but of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ can be bolstered as we learn about Him and live our religion. The doctrine of Jesus Christ was designed by the Lord to help us increase our faith.
President James E. Faust said,
Faith will be our strong shield to protect us from the fiery arrows of Satan. … Never before in the history of the world has the need for faith in God been greater. Although science and technology open up boundless opportunities, they also present great perils because Satan employs these marvelous discoveries to his great advantage.
The Internet is a prime example. While it is a useful tool in accomplishing many good things, it is also filled with half-truths and outright lies that are often difficult to distinguish. This is where the shield of faith comes in. Faith is a choice—one that is strengthened and nourished by our righteous choices. President Faust said,
Simple faith in God the Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost is like a supercharger operating in our lives. As Elder Charles W. Penrose said: “Some people will not believe anything they cannot grasp with their human reason or cannot see with their natural eyes. But blessed is the man of faith, blessed is the woman of faith! For by faith they can see into things that cannot be discerned by the natural eyes. They can reach out to the regions of immortality, grasp eternal realities and lay hold upon the things of God!” This is so because through faith, our natural gifts and powers of achievement are increasingly enhanced.
Faith intensifies and magnifies our gifts and abilities. There is no greater source of knowledge than the inspiration that comes from the Godhead, who have all understanding and knowledge of that which has been, is now, and will be in the future.
The Power of Prayer
Faith is nourished and sustained by the power of prayer. The Doctrine & Covenants teaches,
Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work (Doctrine & Covenants 10:5).
Of this scripture, Elder M. Russell Ballard said,
What a wonderful promise! In this spiritual warfare that rages over individual souls, that is what we want more than anything else—to conquer Satan and to escape the hands of evil men and women who carry out his work. I cannot stress too highly the protective power that comes into our lives through earnest, humble, consistent, yearning prayer. …
You need to find a time and place where you can be alone with Heavenly Father and pour out your heart to Him, that you might add strength and power to your spiritual lives. Every honest and sincere prayer adds another piece to chain-mail armor.
… One of the most important ways to clothe yourselves in the armor of God is to make sure that prayer—earnest, sincere, consistent prayer—is part of your daily lives.
Prayer helps us to reinforce our armor by invoking the power of heaven to help, guide and protect us. President Faust taught,
To sustain faith, each of us must be humble and compassionate, kind and generous to the poor and the needy. Faith is further sustained by daily doses of spirituality that come to us as we kneel in prayer. It begins with us as individuals and extends to our families, who need to be solidified in righteousness. Honesty, decency, integrity, and morality are all necessary ingredients of our faith and will provide sanctuary for our souls.
Sword of the Spirit
The last piece of our protective gear is the sword of the spirit—which is the word of God. Elder Hales explained,
The “sword of the Spirit” is the word of God to pierce the darkness so that we may have light and truth to guide our way in life.
But there are two parts of this protection: the word of God and the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Ghost. Both work in harmony. President Henry B. Eyring taught,
The word of God is the doctrine taught by Jesus Christ and by His prophets. … Words of doctrine [have] great power. They can open the minds of people to see spiritual things not visible to the natural eye. And they can open the heart to feelings of the love of God and a love for truth.
Teaching pure doctrine brings the companionship of the Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost. LaVell Edwards, at the time retired head coach of the Brigham Young University football team, said,
The most powerful part of our protective armor, the most powerful weapon we have against evil, is the Spirit of the Lord. He has promised us that we will have His Spirit with us if we are trying to do as He has asked. With the Spirit we know better how to use the rest of our armor to full advantage. As we do that, we can then feel the Spirit even stronger and exercise its power on a daily basis (Take Upon Yourselves the Whole Armor of God, BYU Speeches, April 10, 2001).
Thus, the doctrine brings the power of the Spirit and the Spirit testifies of the power of the doctrine. President Eyring said,
Doctrine gains its power as the Holy Ghost confirms that it is true.
But why is it called the word of God called the sword of the Spirit? Here are three ways.
Penetrate our Souls
The first way that the word of God is likened unto a sword is in that it can penetrate to us to our very souls. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said,
In a hardening world, the Lord can pierce our consciousness by using “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17; see also Jarom 1:12). However, hearing must be “mixed with faith” (Hebrews 4:2) and with Christian service.
To the Hebrews, the Apostle Paul wrote,
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
The word of God penetrates us to the very core and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of our heart through the Holy Ghost. President Faust taught,
The inner voice of the Spirit has the capacity to whisper through and pierce all things (see Doctrine & Covenants 85:6). The scriptures teach, “It was not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but behold, it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul” (Helaman 5:30).
The word of God is so powerful, that the scriptures teach it is more powerful than the sword. The Book of Mormon prophet Alma wrote,
And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God (Alma 31:5).
When people hear the doctrine of Jesus Christ taught with power, they are “pricked in their hearts” (Acts 2:37) and desire to repent and change.
Separate Truth from Error
The sword of the Spirit can also help us to separate truth from error. This is so important in our world today where there are half-truths and lies that can (and do sometimes) deceive the very elect. But we can know through the power of the Spirit to discern between the two by setting them up against God’s plain and precious truths. The scriptures teach,
Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil… (Helaman 3:29).
President Henry B. Eyring taught,
Just as the Holy Ghost strengthens us against evil, He also gives us the power to discern truth from falsehood. The truth that matters most is verified only by revelation from God. Our human reason and the use of our physical senses will not be enough. We live in a time when even the wisest will be hard-pressed to distinguish truth from clever deception.
Elder Hales explained,
Sometimes the adversary tempts us with false ideas that we may confuse with the Holy Ghost. I testify that faithfulness in obeying the commandments and keeping our covenants will protect us from being deceived. Through the Holy Ghost, we will be able to discern those false prophets who teach for doctrine the commandments of men.
Standards of God
Although the standards of the world have fluctuated throughout the ages, the word of God has not. Because of this, we can gauge the strength of our spiritual armor by where we are compared with the teachings of the Savior. Elder Hales said,
In January of 1982, I spoke in a devotional on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah. I invited the students to imagine that the Church was on one side of the podium, right here, and the world was just a foot or two away on the other side. This represented the “very short distance between where the world was and where the Church standards were” when I was in college. Then, standing before the students 30 years later, I held up my hands in the same manner and explained, “The world has gone far afield; [it has traveled; it is nowhere to be seen;] it has proceeded way, way out, all the way out of this [building and around the world]. … What we and our children and our grandchildren have to remember is that the Church will remain constant, [it’s still right here; yet] the world will keep moving—that gap is [becoming] wider and wider. … Therefore, be very careful. If you judge your actions and the standards of the Church on the basis of where the world is and where it’s going, you will find that you are not where you should be.”
Back then I could not have imagined how far and how fast the world would move away from God; it was impossible to understand that, given doctrine, principles, and commandments. And yet the standards of Christ and His Church have not moved. As He said, “The truth abideth forever and ever.” When we understand and accept this, we are prepared to face the social pressure, ridicule, and even discrimination that will come from the world and some who call themselves friends.
This is another blessing of the sword of the Spirit.
Cut Any Direction
The sword of the Spirit can also cut any direction. An article in the February 2017 Ensign titled “A Two-Edged Sword” stated,
The word of God as revealed in the scriptures and teachings of living prophets is versatile and applicable in many situations for our blessing or condemnation, our edification, inspiration, instruction, or chastisement. And as we “treasure up in [our] minds continually the words of life” (Doctrine & Covenants 84:85), the word of God is then “quick and powerful,” “lively and active” as we share it with others and apply it in our own lives.
To be armed with the sword of the Spirit we must study, learn and live according to the words of Christ. Elder Hales taught,
As we diligently live the gospel, we become strong in the Lord. With His strength we are able to reject the anti-Christ who says, “Eat, drink, and be merry,” for God “will justify [you] in committing a little sin; … there is no harm in this … , for tomorrow we die.” In the strength of the Lord we are able to stand against any philosophy or creed that denies the Savior and contradicts the great, eternal plan of happiness for all of God’s children.
We are not authorized to negotiate the conditions of that eternal plan. Remember Nehemiah, who was charged with building a wall to protect Jerusalem. Some wanted him to come down and compromise his position, but Nehemiah refused. He was not intolerant of others; he simply explained, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease … ?”
We arm ourselves with the power of the armor of God as we study our scriptures, say our prayers, keep the commandments and heed the promptings and teachings of the Holy Ghost. Elder Ballard said,
The Lord has given us specific doctrines and principles that show us how to clothe ourselves in the armor of God so that we can stand against the powers of evil. I have suggested a few ways to incorporate gospel principles into your lives. In most cases, we are not talking about massive changes of behavior. As with chain mail, you need simply to add small, individual pieces of armor each day through prayer, scripture study, focusing on things that matter, and acting in a reverent manner.
It takes work, but a little work can go a long way toward strengthening our armor. President Boyd K. Packer taught,
Things of the Spirit need not—indeed, should not—require our uninterrupted time and attention. Ordinary work-a-day things occupy most of our attention. And that is as it should be. We are mortal beings living in this physical world.
Spiritual things are like leavening. By measure they may be very small, but by influence they affect all that we do.
As we add each piece of armor to our everyday lives, it becomes part of who we are and what we do. And this is how it protects us against the fiery darts of the adversary.