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The Sword of the Spirit: What It Is & How It Empowers Us

The words Sword and Spirit in bold with copy from the article behind them, on a blue background.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.—Ephesians 6:17

Are Christians in a war? If so, how do we fight in this war? These are important questions for every follower of Jesus to consider, because the Bible tells us that we are indeed engaged in a spiritual battle against the kingdom of darkness. This is not a war for land, nor a battle fought with physical weapons. This is a war for love, a war to defend and spread the love of God that has been lavishly poured out on all of the world. A war to resist and overcome the kingdom of darkness, that fights to keep us from experiencing God’s love. A war to see ourselves and others as God sees us: a family of beloved children, created in his image and destined for his glory.

In this article, we will explore what the Scripture says about this war, and how we can fight it with the armor and weapons that God has provided for us—including the sword of the Spirit.

The Spirit, a weapon against the powers of darkness

The apostle Paul describes the battle that we are fighting as a battle against “the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12 NIV). These forces seek to distort our perceptions of reality through lies, accusations, and temptations—causing people to rebel against God, fear one another, and take advantage of those most vulnerable. But we are not helpless against these powers of darkness. God has given us his armor as a defense and his weapons to fight back. We have been equipped with divine truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation—and with a divine word (Eph 6:14–17). God has also given us his Spirit, who empowers us and prays for us (Eph 6:18).

S. M. Baugh’s article “How the Divine Armor of the Messiah Becomes Ours,” suggests that Paul was influenced by the popularity of wrestling competitions in his cultural context and that he wanted to emphasize the importance of standing firm in faith against the enemy. He went on to say that Paul was pointing to Jesus as the ultimate example of a victorious wrestler who wore God’s armor and defeated the forces of darkness in his life and through the cross. This is the same armor that we are exhorted to put on to continue the fight against the kingdom of darkness.

Baugh did an excellent job describing each piece of armor in his article. I want to pick up where he left off and take a deeper look into the only piece of armor that is used as a weapon, the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph 6:17).

The word “sword” that Paul uses is the Greek word machaira, which was a short sword or possibly even a dagger. The machaira was a straight double-edged blade that a Roman soldier would use in close combat.

Our spiritual battle

The war we are fighting is against the kingdom of darkness, a darkness that distorts our perception of reality and causes us to hide or rebel from God, to fear and objectify others, and to live in shame from the lies of the accuser.

In 2 Corinthians 10:3–5, Paul says that although we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. He says that “our weapons are not worldly,” but “have divine power to demolish strongholds.” Paul defines these strongholds as arguments and pretensions that set themselves up against the knowledge of God. He says that we must take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Spiritual strongholds are patterns of thinking that oppose God’s truth and will. Strongholds are rooted in lies that have been exalted above God’s realities and purposes.

Pastors, Write Deeper Sermons in Less Time

The battleground where this spiritual war is taking place is in the mind or heart (the Bible often speaks of them interchangeably). The mind/heart is the seat of our consciousness and the source of our actions. This is why the helmet of salvation that is included in the spiritual armor that Paul describes in Ephesians 6 is vitally important in our spiritual warfare against the kingdom of darkness. The helmet of salvation protects our minds, our thoughts, our will, and our emotions from the lies and schemes of the devil. The helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit are the last two pieces of armor that Paul mentions, and they cooperate with each other because the way we think is greatly impacted by the words we hear and speak.

The sword that is the Word

Paul told the Ephesians the sword of the Spirit “is the Word of God,” which actually probably does not refer to the entirety of the Bible (though it is surely not excluded!), but to specific sayings of God, especially the gospel.1

But how do we know if the word we are hearing is truly from God for us at that given moment in the battle? This is a good question, because it is tempting to cherry-pick Scriptures to make them say what we want them to say. Answer: the Word of God sounds like the voice of Jesus. Any Spirit-inspired Word we hear will sound and align with what we see in Jesus. Jesus is the incarnate word of God, made flesh. Jesus is what God has to say! Jesus is the light of the world that destroys the works of darkness. The Spirit-inspired Word of God works like a spiritual sword, slicing through the lies of darkness and revealing the truth of God’s love.

The sword of the Spirit is like a surgeon’s scalpel that can remove the cataracts of sin from our spiritual eyes. Cataracts are a condition that causes the lens of the eye to become cloudy, impairing our vision. This is how the kingdom of darkness deceives and enslaves humanity. Sin clouds our spiritual vision and prevents us from seeing God, ourselves, and others clearly. This causes us to have a distorted or false view of God’s character, or of his will, his promises, and his love. It causes us to have too low or too high self-esteem; it causes us to have guilt or pride or other unhealthy emotions that affect our identity and worth. It may even cause us to have prejudice or hatred, indifference or apathy, judgment or criticism, or other unloving attitudes that affect our relationships and interactions with others.

The sword of the Spirit can cut through these cataracts and restore our spiritual vision. It can reveal the truth about God, ourselves, and others. It can show us the true image of God that is revealed in Jesus. It can show us who we really are and what we have in Christ. It can show us who others really are and how we can love them as Jesus loves us. The sword of the Spirit can heal our spiritual blindness and enable us to see with clarity and accuracy.

Meditating on the sword of the Spirit

One of the ways the sword of the Spirit has been healing and transformative for me has been through meditating on specific words from God. I have discovered the spiritual practice of lectio divina to be deeply formative during my times of meditation. Lectio divina is a Latin phrase meaning “divine reading.” It is an ancient practice of praying the Scriptures that dates back to the early years of the Christian church. It is a way of meditating on God’s word that involves four steps: reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating.2 It involves:

  1. Opening my heart and mind to God’s voice: I start with a prayer asking God to speak to me through the Scriptures and to give me understanding.
  2. Reading the Scripture slowly and attentively: I choose a short passage from the Bible, usually a Gospel passage, and I read it carefully, about three times. I pay attention to the words, phrases, images, and emotions that stand out to me.
  3. Meditating on the Scripture: I quietly reflect on what the Scripture means and how it meets me where I am.
  4. Praying with the Scripture: I respond to God’s word with my own words. This usually looks like a time of giving thanks, making confessions, asking for help, or interceding for others.
  5. Contemplating with the Scripture: I end by resting in God’s presence and enjoying his love. I listen for God’s voice and guidance and surrender my will and plans to his will and plans.

I have no doubt that we are fighting a spiritual battle against the forces of darkness. I have not been exempt from experiencing the pain and heartache of this battle. But I have also discovered that my only hope for living a victorious life and of being a light in the darkness is through my surrender to the loving presence and faithful leading of God. From this place of weakness, I am finding my strength; from this place of rest, I am finding my victory.

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Take Your Bible Study Deeper, Faster
  1. “In Ephesians 6:17, the Word of God is the prophetic, Spirit-uttered gospel, by which Christ’s treasured people have been cleansed (5:26; cf. Heb 6:5), which gives the church the most solid ground on which to make its stand. It is not a word of warning and threat in the context, but the scriptural word, by which they can turn aside temptations and the attacks of Satan as did Jesus during his time on earth (Matt 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–10).” S. M. Baugh, Ephesians (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), 556.
  2. Alan J. Hauser, “Biblical Interpretation, History of,” ed. John D. Barry et al., Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
Written by
Keith N. Smith Jr.

Keith has been married to Mia since 1998 and they have four amazing daughters. Keith is the founding pastor of Gateway Church in Wooster, OH, and is the spiritual life director at Kingsway Christian School. Keith is also an adjunct professor at Malone University and a city coordinator for 24-7 Prayer.

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Written by Keith N. Smith Jr.