Paul said Christians should be “above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Ephesians 6:16).
What did the Roman shield look like?
The Roman shield, or scutum, was a central part of the soldier’s defense. The scutum of the first century was rectangular in shape and rounded on the ends. It was typically made from two sheets of wood that were glued together, then covered with canvas and leather. The canvas and leather could be doused with water to protect against flaming arrows.
The shield weighed about 22 pounds and was roughly 40 inches high and 30 inches across. A metal piece ran across the center of the shield, so it could also be used as a weapon to punch or push forward.
Paul, in his analogy of the Christian armament, says that “above all” we should be taking the shield of faith!
What is the definition of faith?
To see why faith is so important, we must first understand what faith is. The author of Hebrews describes it as the realization of something we can’t see:
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony” (Hebrews 11:1-2).
The word faith in the New Testament is translated from the Greek word pistis, defined by Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary as “firm belief.” Faith is an unshakable belief in the promises of God.
The Bible’s Faith Chapter (Hebrews 11) highlights men and women of God who “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). Their faith—their unshakable belief in the promises of God—allowed them to overcome Satan’s attacks and traps.
Moses, for instance, “when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).
His faith was his shield. Rather than pursue the “passing pleasures of sin” as royalty in Egypt, Moses followed where God led him, even when it would have been easier to give up.
(For a deeper look at faith, read “What Is Faith?”)
What are the fiery darts of the enemy?
The apostle Paul specifically mentions that the shield of faith is needed to defend against the attacks of Satan (“the fiery darts of the wicked one”). Those fiery darts can take many shapes and forms, because Satan is always looking for effective ways to attack us where we’re weak.
Notice Paul’s statement: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).
Indeed, Satan is a wily adversary. He approached Eve in the Garden of Eden by tempting her with fruit that was pleasant to the eyes and by telling her it would bring wisdom. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6).
Paul warned the church at Corinth about Satan’s devices—his methods of taking advantage of us if we fail to forgive one another:
“Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11).
How to use the shield of faith
In fact, just like a Roman soldier in battle was confronted by the arrows or fiery darts of the enemy, we, too, can be attacked at any time and at any angle by the wiles of Satan. The shield of faith is the armor God has given us to defend against those attacks.
A shield, whether it be physical or spiritual, can only be effective when it is raised. This requires an ongoing state of preparedness and patience on our part.The apostle Peter paints a vivid picture of how we must humble ourselves and hold up the shield of faith against Satan:
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Peter 5:6-10).
When Paul listed the spiritual armaments in Ephesians 6, he emphasized faith, saying that “above all” we need to take the shield. In Greek, this phrase tells us to add the shield to every other piece of armor that came before it—that the shield of faith is to be used in addition to the rest of the armor of God.
By examining some of the attributes and spiritual benefits of faith, we can begin to understand and value its importance.
1. We are justified by faith.
As human beings, we all sin: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The penalty for sin is death: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
What we, as humans, earn is a death penalty—because we all have sinned. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, it is possible to be given the unearned gift of eternal life.
This justification of our sins before God requires faith on our part: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).
The grace of God that washes away our sins—that justifies us through faith—enables us to keep fighting. Without that justification, we’ve already lost the battle. Our sins would remain unforgiven, which means the death penalty would still be hanging over our heads, and nothing would ever change that.
But because of grace, we can be justified before God—and our faith in that justification becomes the shield of faith that protects us from the fiery darts of Satan.
For more information about the role of grace in our lives, please refer to our article “What Is Grace?”
2. Faith makes it possible to please God.
Good things happen when we please God. Consider these two passages about the blessings God desires to give to those who live their lives in a way that is pleasing to Him: “When a man’s ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 16:7). Also Luke 12:32: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
With its many biblical examples of people who were faithful to God, Hebrews 11 shows how vital and rewarding it is to please Him with our faith: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (verse 6).
Because faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” it allows us to see beyond how things are right now and focus on what they will be one day.
Faith allows us to trust that a God we can’t see will fulfill His promise to establish a future we can’t imagine. The more we exercise that trust in obedience to Him, choosing the right way over the easy way, the more we please Him.
3. Faith enables us to overcome.
Christians are admonished to overcome evil, rather than giving in to or being overwhelmed by evil. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
The elements of spiritual armor listed in Ephesians 6 are for the purpose of defending ourselves against evil and the attacks of Satan. The shield of faith goes one step further by allowing us not only to defend ourselves, but to actively overcome evil:
“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).
Our faith in God and the promises He has made can be strengthened when we consider the example of Jesus Christ, who overcame the forces of temptation He faced.
He admonished His disciples to bear this in mind as He faced His crucifixion: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
4. Faith allows us to shield each other.
The Roman soldiers of Paul’s day were sometimes subject to a virtual shower of arrows that rained down on them from above. For example, when laying siege to a walled city or a fortified hill, they had to advance while arrows were launched from above them. As a protection to enable them to advance, they used a formation known as the testudo, or tortoise formation.
The tortoise formation involved banding together in order to raise shields against arrows coming from any direction. The soldiers formed a tight square. Those in the front raised their shields in front of them. Those on the sides faced to the side and raised their shields.
Similarly, those in the back faced the back and raised their shields. Those in the middle raised their shields overhead to protect against arrows flying in from above. In this way, no part of the band of soldiers was left exposed.
The Greek historian Plutarch described the testudo as follows:
“But the full-armed infantry, facing round, received the light troops within; and those in the first rank knelt on one knee, holding their shields before them, the next rank holding theirs over the first, and so again others over these, much like the tiling of a house, or the rows of seats in a theater, the whole affording sure defense against arrows, which glance upon them without doing any harm” (Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, chapter 60).
The apostle Paul spoke of the need for the Body of Christ to be joined together, helping each other, much like the band of soldiers who raised their shields to defend each other: “From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).
Jesus is looking for our faith
A shield, whether it be physical or spiritual, can only be effective when it is raised. This requires an ongoing state of preparedness and patience on our part.
Jesus raised the question, in the context of patient endurance through difficulties and trials, of whether He would even find faith on the earth when He returns. “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7-8).
To truly be faithful, our unshakable belief in the promises of God must be enduring. The shield cannot remain effective if it is lowered. To personalize Jesus’ question: When the Son of Man comes, will your shield of faith be raised?
Learn more about faith and the other aspects of spiritual growth and conversion in our free booklet Change Your Life!