Paul continues with his picture of the Christian soldier. Having described first the necessity of understanding truth and applying it personally, and secondly the necessity of imputed and imparted righteousness for Christian living, he them mentions a third detail, which he explains under the figure of shoes. This third detail is the readiness or preparation of the gospel of peace.
When we think of shoes, what ideas come to mind? They enable us to keep our balance, they provide protection as we move, and they enable us to move more quickly. The Roman soldier’s sandal met these requirements. On the sole of the sandal there were studs, which helped him to keep his balance; these studs also gave protection from enemy traps (which were spikes of wood or metal hidden just below the surface of the ground); and they helped him march quickly from place to place.
It would be easy to read this verse as saying that the Christian soldier is here being urged to pass on to others the gospel of peace. No doubt it is important for believers to be doing so. But that is not what Paul has in mind. He is not saying that we are being prepared to pass on the gospel; rather he is saying that the gospel prepares Christians to defend against the enemy. A Roman soldier had always to be ready for a sudden change in the enemy’s tactics. Each Christian has to be ready as well because he does not know when the devil will change his tactics.
Paul mentions something here which may seem contradictory when he says that in order to fight a successful war we must have an awareness of peace. This peace is not with our enemy but with our Commander, but it is a reminder that we were once at enmity with him. Yet Paul is not referring only to a cessation of enmity; he is also referring to an experience of peace in our hearts; he is not only referring to our Christian standing before God, he is also referring to a Christian’s sense of security. The first aspect concerns the removal of hostility, which occurs at conversion; the second concerns the confident sense of God’s favour, which should be our ongoing experience. The first is reconciliation between God and us; the second is assurance. Paul is saying that the preparation we need to fight the devil is an understanding that we are reconciled with God and are enjoying the assurance of his favour.
This twofold meaning to this piece of armour is similar to the way Paul has referred to the two previous pieces. The belt of truth is an understanding of biblical doctrine and a truthful, sincere character; the breastplate of righteousness is both Christ’s imputed righteousness and the Holy Spirit’s imparted righteousness. This is a reminder that often we have to have a twofold perspective on divine blessings: our continued experience comes out of a fixed, divinely-given reality. Our sincerity comes out of a true assimilation of God’s fixed Word; our practical righteousness comes out of being given the unchanging righteousness of Christ as our standing; and our enjoyment of divine peace comes out of the permanent state of being reconciled to God.
We will look tomorrow at what Paul means by peace.