Be Ready to Speak of Jesus

Evangelism as Spiritual Warfare

On my desk sits a book with a dark image on its cover: a Christian soldier stands alone, surrounded by spiritual enemies. Seven arrows and a spear aim at his heart; death and the devil draw close. The soldier has some armor and a shield, but he still looks desperate — outmatched, outmanned, and utterly aware of it. He folds his hands and looks to heaven.

As a portrayal of the Christian’s spiritual warfare, the image holds some merit. We live in “the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13). Lies fly toward us like invisible arrows as we engage “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). We often feel besieged and beleaguered, tempted and tossed, pushed down and kept down. O Lord, we cry, deliver us.

If we imagine, however, the saints of Christ always defending, and never advancing, our idea of spiritual warfare needs a sharper blade. As Richard Lovelace writes, “In folk religion the posture of the Christian toward fallen angels is defensive; in Scripture the church is on the offensive, and the blows it receives from Satan come from a retreating enemy” (Dynamics of Spiritual Life, 136).

“We are, first and foremost, not a church attacked, but a church attacking.”

Our Lord Jesus did not commission his disciples to hunker down and protect themselves, but to launch the world’s most epic offensive (Matthew 28:19–20). We are, first and foremost, not a church attacked, but a church attacking. And so, among the spiritual weapons Paul hands believers in Ephesians 6:12–18, we find not only “the sword of the Spirit,” but also “as shoes for your feet . . . the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15, 17).

Peace in our hearts, gospel on our lips, we are messengers of the triumphant Christ, the tide of war irreversibly on our side.

The Soldier’s Shoes

Some uncertainty surrounds the Christian soldier’s shoes in Ephesians 6:15. In Roman warfare (from which Paul seems to have drawn some of his imagery), a soldier’s shoes helped him to stand firmly under attack — and in context, Paul calls Christians to “stand” three times (Ephesians 6:11, 13–14). So maybe “the readiness given by the gospel of peace” means our readiness to stand immovable in the true gospel rather than being “tossed to and fro . . . by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).

On the other hand, Paul’s language here bears a striking resemblance to the prophet Isaiah’s description of the happy gospel messenger: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness!” (Isaiah 52:7). Iain Duguid notes that the words feet, good news, and peace appear closely together only three times in Scripture: Isaiah 52:7, Nahum 1:15 (an echo of the Isaiah text), and Ephesians 6:15. These shoes, then, seem made for more than standing firm: they’re made for marching.

Notice also the fury of the devil’s attacks in Ephesians 6. In this battle, flaming darts fly, swords maim, and helmets get tested. Only “the whole armor of God” will guard us (Ephesians 6:13). Consider, however: Upon what kind of church is the devil likely to launch such a full-throttled assault? Upon a calm and quiet church? Upon a church that keeps to its own business? Upon a church that shares the gospel only on Sundays and in small group?

Perhaps. The devil hates faith in Christ wherever he finds it. But his real dread is an advancing church. The feet he hates most are marching feet, tramping feet, feet whose forward steps thunder his coming doom (Romans 16:20).

“Wherever they go, Christian soldiers are willing, eager, ready to talk about Jesus.”

Just as Pharaoh didn’t mind the Israelites until they multiplied, the devil may not mind silent churches all that much. But he will unleash his powers to keep the front line from advancing, to keep the church of Christ from placing one more foot on his domain of darkness. He will bend back his bow against any man or woman who embraces Paul’s ambition: “[Pray] for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly” (Ephesians 6:19).

Evangelistic Misconceptions

Paul’s description of the church’s evangelistic task corrects some common misconceptions.

First, Paul hands this armor to the whole church, not just its pastors and evangelists. Yes, the risen Christ has given “evangelists” to the church (Ephesians 4:11), those wonderfully restless saints who itch to speak of Jesus and seem to do so effortlessly. But Jesus gave such evangelists “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12), a work that includes speaking “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). Some Christians are formal, gifted evangelists; every Christian is a messenger.

Second, Paul has in mind proactive, not merely reactive, evangelism. Christians who follow Jesus faithfully may indeed attract notice and even questions, and our gospel shoes make us ready for such moments (1 Peter 3:15). But the feet of God’s messengers are “beautiful” precisely because they “bring good news” (Isaiah 52:7), not because they offer it when asked. Such shoes send us to people and places we never would have approached otherwise. They spur us to cross oceans or cross streets, strike up words with strangers and ask bold questions, invite over neighbors no one else would.

Third, faithful evangelism relies far more on will and desire than it does on methods. No doubt, methods can be helpful in evangelism. But methods cannot create a desire to share Christ where it doesn’t already exist. So, in Ephesians 6:15, Paul fastens upon the Christian soldier’s readiness: “As shoes for your feet . . . put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” Wherever they go, Christian soldiers are willing, eager, ready to talk about Jesus.

With Christ Our Captain

Perhaps, like me, you need help putting on these shoes. I can think of two recent situations where I was not ready and missed a wide-open opportunity to speak a word about Jesus. On many days, I find myself far more ready to work, rest, read, play, eat, or even do chores than to say “Jesus” to a friend or neighbor. How, then, might we become more ready to speak the gospel of peace?

“Every faithful word you speak has the authority of the King behind it. Every hill you see will one day wave his flag.”

In some ways, simply meditating on that word readiness might begin to shape our daily prayers and plans. Ready Christians, or Christians who want to be ready, have a habit of praying, “Lord, give me opportunities to speak of you today — and give me the courage to take them.” They also have a habit of putting themselves in places and among people where opportunities are likely to arise.

But the most stirring thoughts come from remembering the kind of spiritual battle we’re fighting — and what Captain we follow.

He Came and Conquered

Consider, first, the Captain you follow. Unlike some, he does not issue commands from the back of his army. Nor does he hide himself among his troops, like some Ahab wearing another’s robes (1 Kings 22:30). No, before he ever handed us shoes and called us to go, “he came” (Ephesians 2:17). He came and preached peace. He came and made peace. He came and became our peace (Ephesians 2:14–15, 17). He rode not just at the head of the army, but alone, utterly alone — our solitary Victor, high and lifted up.

And now, his every call comes with a promise: “Behold, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). The shoes he hands us are an invitation to run in his beautiful footsteps, to publish the peace he won, and all along the way, to know a fellowship with him that comes only as we advance his cause.

He Will Fill the Earth

Then, second, look to where your Captain leads. When Paul mentions the “rulers” and “authorities,” the “cosmic powers” and “spiritual forces of evil” in Ephesians 6:12, he surely means for us to see them as fearsome enemies. But he also means for us to remember what he wrote in chapter 1, where he tells us that Jesus, our risen Lord, is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Ephesians 1:21). He is, moreover, “head over all things,” with the church as “his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22–23).

Christ, our exalted and unassailable Captain, already holds dominion over every foe. Their time is short, their days numbered. His kingdom has already spread to a degree terrible for our enemy to see. And the spreading must continue. His kingdom will advance until the gates of hell lie fallen beneath the feet of the triumphant body of Christ.

And so, J.I. Packer writes to every trembling evangelist,

You are not on a fool’s errand. You are not wasting either your time or theirs. You have no reason to be ashamed of your message, or halfhearted and apologetic in delivering it. You have every reason to be bold, and free, and natural, and hopeful of success. (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 116)

Every faithful word you speak has the authority of the King behind it. Every hill you see will one day wave his flag. Don’t imagine, then, Christian, that you are a soldier simply on defense. Yes, take the whole armor of God; shield yourself from assault. But put on your shoes as well — and pray and run and speak beneath the banner of your advancing King.