Jesus stood on trial before the man who would give the order to end His life.
As a praetor, it was Pilate’s job to decide whether this alleged “King of the Jews” was deserving of the death sentence His fellow countrymen were crying out for.
Pilate asked, “Are You a king then?” (John 18:37).
“You say that I am a king,” replied Jesus. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (verse 37, New Revised Standard Version).
Pilate replied with a rhetorical question that’s been rattling around the halls of philosophical debate for millennia:
“What is truth?” (verse 38).
It’s fascinating that, of all the pieces of armor Paul could have described, he started with the belt. Not the sword, not the breastplate, not the shield, but the belt. And of all the spiritual qualities he could have ascribed to it, he settled on something as foundational and basic as truth.
Why start there?
Simple: because without truth, everything else falls apart.
“We look for light, but there is darkness! For brightness, but we walk in blackness! We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes; we stumble at noonday as at twilight; we are as dead men in desolate places” (Isaiah 59:9-10).
The nation was imploding, and the prophet Isaiah could see it happening. As the people moved further and further from the laws of God, the fabric of their society began to crumble and erode into wickedness:
“For our transgressions are multiplied before You, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and as for our iniquities, we know them: in transgressing and lying against the LORD, and departing from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. So truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey” (verses 12-15).
Isaiah’s people had rejected truth—not just God’s truth, but the very concept of truth in general. This was a nation full of liars and deceivers who twisted the truth for their own benefit, and the result wasn’t too different from the problem we have today:
Truth is fallen in the street. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. It rarely even enters into the equation. We often talk about what we think, what we believe, what we feel, but less and less about what’s right and just and true.
How did God respond? Isaiah records that “the LORD saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice” (verse 15). So He took action:
“Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him; and His own righteousness, it sustained Him. For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak” (Isaiah 59:16-17).
Sound familiar? Centuries before Paul was around to write his famous passage, Isaiah gave us a glimpse of God Himself wearing the same iconic armor.1 Faced with spiritual depravity, God stood up and took action—and He expects us to take action too. As Christians, we’re engaged in combat “against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV). With that in mind, Paul begins by instructing us to “stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth” (verse 14).
We start with truth.
The belt of the first-century Roman soldier was more than some ornamental afterthought. It was a badge of identification and honor.
Off-duty soldiers didn’t go walking around town fully armored, but there were at least two pieces of clothing that made them immediately recognizable in a civilian setting—their hobnailed sandals (which we’ll get to soon!) and their belts (Stefanie Hoss, “The Roman Military Belt”).
The military belt was a vital piece of equipment for the Roman soldier because it held his sword—and without a sword, what good is a soldier? These belts (and the swords attached to them) were such a fundamental part of a soldier’s identity that when a soldier needed to be disciplined for misconduct, his superior might take away his belt for hours or days at a time. For a soldier to be seen beltless was a public humiliation.
This military belt, which was decorated with all sorts of buckles, dangling straps and metal pieces, gave soldiers a distinct jingle as they walked. Apuleius, a second-century Roman author, noted that an off-duty soldier was recognizable by his “habitus atque habitude”—his dress and manner (Metamorphoses IX, section 39). Experimental archaeology suggests that the belt contributed to both. Its weight likely gave soldiers a unique gait and posture—that is, it impacted the way they walked and even the way they stood.
The metal pieces of the belt were intricate, customizable and varied from soldier to soldier. It’s likely that each piece conveyed a message about its owner, and so all the pieces together would have helped to paint a cohesive picture of the soldier’s identity and his affiliation.
Is it any wonder that Paul called truth our belt?
In the world today, truth is fallen in the street. It’s disregarded, mocked or treated as so subjective that it becomes utterly pointless. By modern definitions, I can’t tell you what’s universally true—only what’s true for me. Your truth may be completely different—and yet equally valid.
With that world as our backdrop, we’re commanded to stand and take up truth as our belt. Not my truth, not your truth—simply truth. To take up the belt of the armor of God is to accept the existence of universal, indisputable, unchangeable truth. To wear it is to seek out and incorporate that truth into every facet of our identity, to let it define our habitus atque habitude—to allow it to change how we stand and how we walk.
The military belt made it easy to spot a Roman soldier—on duty or off duty—in a crowd. From its telltale jingle to its stance-altering weight to its complex visual elements, the belt was the soldier’s way of telling the world, “This is who I am.”
Truth must do the same for us as Christians in the army of God. Truth must be such an integral, nonnegotiable part of who we are that it gives us away as followers of Jesus Christ. God desires “truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6), and so should we.
And maybe that’s why Paul starts with the belt of truth—because putting it on is a statement about who we are, what we believe, and who we listen to. Jesus told the disciples, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). When He prayed to God the Father about those same disciples, He remarked, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:16-17, emphasis added throughout).
If we’re looking to understand the fundamental, objective truths of this universe, there’s no better place to go than the preserved words of the Creator of this universe. The more we interact with the Bible through prayer and study, the more God will help us understand what’s true, what’s not and how to tell the difference.
One of the psalmists told God, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Centuries later, the apostle John built on that analogy when he wrote, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).
The Word of God is light and truth. It exposes evil and provides us with a frame of reference in times of crisis. The adversary will be coming against us with lies, deception and cunning misdirection. To stand against him, we must place a love for the truth at the very core of our identity.
We must make truth our belt.
1 You might have also noticed that Paul left out some of these components when he wrote to the Ephesians. We’ll cover those toward the end of this Journey.