Ephesians 6:17 “Take the helmet of salvation,”
This word ‘salvation’ is in my text. What a wonderful word. I am going to preach to you about salvation, about being eternally saved in every respect from all the influences of sin. I am going to explain to you what God accomplishes when he makes men and women complete, because salvation is exclusively a work which Jehovah alone has done both for us and in us. Salvation is never something that a man is able to do, any more than a man can create or sustain the universe. Saving sinful man is God’s unique prerogative. I want you to know that what I am going to say is going to be straight and plain teaching from the Bible. I would be happy for you to tell anyone that you went to this church today and that the preacher spoke about people being saved, that he quoted these famous words from the letter to the Hebrews, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” I want you to tell people that this was one of those churches where men and women are urged to be saved and where the way of salvation is explained, and that the entire congregation is encouraged, most earnestly, to avail themselves of God’s salvation. “Be saved today!” the preacher says.
I am saying all this because the apostle Paul has come in his description of the Christian’s armour to this fifth piece, the helmet, and it is a ‘helmet of salvation.’ What is he talking about? What is this salvation that the Bible teaches?
1. SALVATION IS DELIVERANCE FROM SIN WITH ALL ITS CONSEQUENCES.
What has sin done in our lives? Four things sin has done;
i] Sin has made us weak.
Listen to a fine mature Christian talk about his own experience. He says, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing . . . For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Roms. 7:18ff). Have you had any experience of that? You want to give up cigarettes – how sensible that would be. There is no special buzz in smoking a cigarette. All you can hope for is that it maintains the status quo, but for all your intentions you can’t stop. You have become addicted to nicotine. It is ruining your health, but you have to keep smoking. Or you have started to look at pornography, and now it is getting worse and worse, child pornography and other unspeakable aberrations and a powerful lust inside you shouts for flesh. You know that it is evil; you don’t want to do it, but you keep on doing it. Sin has made us weaklings. We will destroy our own lives and the lives of those we depend on through such weakness. We say, “I never will watch that stuff again,” but like Paul we have to confess, “I cannot carry it out.”
Since the fall of our father Adam there is a bias to sin in everybody. I know of a man named Hector Hall from Boston in Lincolnshire who one Monday in the last couple of months went with his wife to their local supermarket. Ann put a pound in the lock to get a supermarket trolley but she soon discovered that this trolley had a mind of its own. It would not go straight, and she struggled constantly with it. Eventually the only way they could get around the supermarket was by Hector pushing and Anne steering at the front. I am saying that that wayward trolley is a simple picture of every single person in the world. We cannot go straight by our own strength and by our own power. We are like Paul having the desire to go straight but being unable to carry it out.
God’s first task in saving us is to deal with our weakness, and God does that by coming by his Holy Spirit into our very lives, and giving to us a new strength and divine power. God changes our disposition. He begins by giving us understanding of simple truths, overcoming our ingrown prejudices so that we don’t switch off when the preacher says he is going to explain the way of salvation. God takes away the offence which once we felt at such ‘salvation’ language. He helps us to understand what is the real issue in our lives. He gives to us a desire for scriptural truth, and an energy to change accordingly. The Bible says that that transformation is so radical that it can be compared to a new birth, or that we have been newly created, or that we have received new life, or that we have been raised from the dead. So that now we find ourselves desiring what before we dismissed. Now we appreciate what before we mocked. We now admire purity, and modesty, and gentleness, and self-control, and kindness, and we want to live like that more than anything else in the world. That is the first step in salvation, a deliverance from weakness by the power of God. It is like the two hands of Hector and Ann on that supermarket trolley making it go the way they wanted it to go. So God the Father, and God the Son and Go the Holy Spirit put their hands on our lives for good, directing, guiding and strengthening us. He does that for every single Christian from the moment he begins to save us. He delivers us from the sin that has made us weak.
ii] Sin has made us guilty.
Guilt feelings are what you experience when the car behind yours flashes its blue light and pulls you over. Guilty is your state before the law of the land for breaking the speed limit in a thirty mile zone. All the world is guilty before the God of the universe; there are no exceptions, because we have all sinned and fallen short not only of what our own consciences say, or the dictates of the ten commandments, but fallen short of the glory of God. When your life is measured by God’s absolute standards it doesn’t measure up. Jesus noticed a man who was praying in the temple, and he impressed Christ very much. His very posture impressed our Lord – he wouldn’t stand tall and gaze around. He looked down at the floor, and he beat his breast. His words when he prayed impressed our Lord – he said quietly, “God . . . be merciful to me a sinner.” He made no excuses for his behaviour. He was guilty before God and all he could do was cast himself on the divine mercy. Isn’t that hard to do? Our pride and self-love makes it so hard for us to bow before God. But my point is this, how much harder is it for the just God to show mercy? You think of the Nazi leaders who were tried in Nuremburg after the second World War, men guilty of the atrocities of Belsen and Auschwitz . Would it be easy for those judges to look at those men who had been found guilty of organising the gas chambers and the furnaces in which millions of men, women and children had been killed and burned and then say to them, “It’s all right. We’ll show you mercy. You can all go back to your nice homes and families. Let bygones be bygones”? It would not be easy at all. There is the cry for justice, and righteousness in every human heart because we are all made in God’s image. “Are those men not going to be punished?” So what of God himself? I tell you it was not easy for God to forgive a sinner like King David who took a man’s wife and arranged for him to be killed.
Do you know that it cost God the life and death of his only begotten Son Jesus Christ to forgive sinners? You know how the life of the Son of God ended, in an agonizing, humiliating, wretched, embarrassing death on Golgotha . What was a cross designed for? It was the instrument invented to slowly kill the very worst criminals giving them maximum pain. It was for the death of rapacious murderers, and it represented the worst judgment that the greatest judicial system in the world could mete out. To the Jewish people especially it was a uniquely horrendous thing, the ultimate sign of being cast out and cut off, and that’s precisely why God chose this death and summoned his beloved Son, Jehovah Jesus, to suffer it. God determined it would be by this death because on the cross, Jesus had become the guilty substitute so that you could be pardoned. He had become the Lamb of God to whom was imputed our blame. On the cross, Jesus had to bear God’s own ban, that is, his curse, his anathema, the righteousness of his judgment, the fullness of his wrath without any holding back. Jesus Christ had to be treated as the guilty sinner. You remember how Paul puts it: “He who knew no sin became sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus on the cross was looked upon by his Father (who magnified and adored righteousness) as one who was a criminal, as one who himself deserved judgment and so was hung by nails on a cross between two other criminals. Jesus was there on the cross in our place.
The cross is the instrument of that punishment, and the horror of the cross is not just in the physical pain. You yourself can almost feel that pain as you read the New Testament – all the things that went with it, even when the garments are placed back on him after the whipping and you can feel the linen sticking to his wounded flesh. You yourself cringe when that crown of thorns is pressed down on his head; you imagine the pain as the soldiers take that stick and beat him repeatedly over the head with it. The physical pain is obvious to us all, but deeper than that is the fact that he is now the object of his Father’s wrath. God is not sparing him even though he’s his lovely boy. He’s crucified and he hangs there as the cursed one, as the incarnate anathema, for three hours of darkness, and I am saying that it is only through the dying of Jesus that we sinners can be forgiven and be pardoned of our sins. That is the price that Jesus paid for our redemption. Think what the cross cost the loving Father and the Son and the easily grieved Spirit. The cross accomplished redemption from our guilt; by Golgotha our blame was once and for all dealt with, and done away with. Sin had made us guilty, but God has established this way of showing us mercy through what his Son Jesus Christ has done.
iii] Sin has alienated us from God.
The phrase “illegal aliens” has passed into the language. There are people who have no legal right to be living in the British Isles , who entered the country declaring that they were just coming for a few weeks’ vacation, who have stayed on but are in hiding from the authorities. They are aliens; they cannot vote; they cannot get any state aid if they are starving or sick; they don’t have police protection because they don’t want the law to know that they exist. Living in the back alleys of our nation these are the illegal aliens of the land.
Sin has caused us to be alienated from God. Paul tells the Colossians that, “once you were alienated from God” (Cols. 1:21). You didn’t have a Father’s love providing for you everything you needed; you didn’t have a Father’s rebuke when you were behaving wretchedly; you weren’t running into your Father’s presence telling him how much you loved him and thanking him for his love and goodness to you. You weren’t looking forward to a Father’s inheritance. You were skulking around in the shadows, hiding from God, not wanting his eyes on you, dreading his interference. “Let me live my life my way. Keep out!” you yelled at God, because you were alienated from him.
That is how it is with all the world. How few are overjoyed when you start to tell them the good news about God’s love in sending Christ to be the Saviour of the world. They don’t want to hear about a Saviour. There is an enmity in their hearts towards him. When God sent his prophets into the world men treated them horribly; they threw Jeremiah into a pit; they put Daniel in a lion’s den; they cast three Old Testament Christians into a furnace. When God sent his Son Jesus Christ into a prepared nation men killed Christ, and then they started to kill those who preached his message, and they are doing so today in many parts of the world, because men are alienated from God. They do not want God interfering in their lives and telling them what they have to do.
When there is alienation between two men then the one who has caused the offence must deal with it. He must put right what has caused the divorce between them. He must apologise for saying and doing what he did. If he has taken money he must pay it back with interest. If a letter needs to be written he will write the letter. Whatever the cause of the estrangement the offender must put it right, and plead for reconciliation. This alienation must come to an end but the sinning man must take the initiative. Let us look at the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau. Jacob had cheated his brother Esau out of his inheritance and birthright; after many years he returns to Edom where his brother lives. Esau knows he is coming, and so what Jacob does is this, he seeks reconciliation with Esau; “He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, ‘Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.’ He instructed the one in the lead: ‘When my brother Esau meets you and asks, “To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?” then you are to say, “They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.”’ He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: ‘You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. And be sure to say, “Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.”’ For he thought, ‘I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.’ So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp. That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak” (Genesis 32:13-24).
So Jacob longed to end the alienation because of his own wrongdoing. He sought to pacify his brother with these generous gifts, one after the other. But that was not enough; he was conscious of his own need to change in his own spirit towards his brother and for his brother to change to him and accept him. So Jacob spent the night in prayer wrestling with the Lord. Then the two brothers approached one another. What happened? Jacob “himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” (Gen. 33:3&4). There was an end to the alienation, and it was by the action taken by the one who had sinned.
This is not how it was done when our alienation from God was ended. It was the innocent party, the blameless and holy one, the much sinned against one, the holy God himself who took the initiative without any cooperation from the guilty party at all. God planned the way that the alienation could come to an end. He sent his own Son who lovingly came; Jesus kept the law of God for us. He suffered under its condemnation. He took away the offence that had driven God from us. He reconciled a holy God to sinful aliens. All that had driven us apart the Lord Jesus removed when he took responsibility for the offense and ended it, burying it all at the bottom of the deepest ocean. He accomplished the reconciliation. He ended the alienation and thus God became the Father of all who received him.
Let us be sure we know this. You have to receive Christ. After all that Jacob had done, all his sacrificial giving and prayerful longing for complete reconciliation, Esau himself had to receive him Esau had to hold Jacob in his arms, weep with joy and kiss him. So it is has to be with you aliens. All the machinery of reconciliation and sonship has been set up by God, but now you must receive Christ as the Reconciler into your own hearts. Without that you are still aliens. Christ may have died but you are still aliens. Jesus Christ is risen, but you are still aliens. God has been reconciled to favoured sinners, but you are still aliens. Consider these great words in the preface of John’s gospel, “to all who received him,” – hear it? These people received him into their lives – “to all who received him to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12&13). The end to the alienation has been accomplished by God alone, but the means he demands is receiving his Son Jesus Christ into your life, and all such are saved from alienation. They are made the sons of God.
iv] Sin results in lifelessness.
Remember Genesis chapter three. Here is the tree of life. Do you see it with all its verdant leaves and rich fruit? What a magnificent tree! The beautiful tree of life standing here, but there, a long way from that tree, are Adam and Eve, and unable to return to it. Forbidden to approach it, God ensures they do not, and so they are both dying people, and all Adam’s race are in the same condition. You think of a gardener who is pruning a tree; there’s not a single branch which he cuts off that can live as it lies there on the path. Apart from the tree the branch soon dies. Once the Lord Jesus Christ faced his disciples and this is what he told them, “I am the true vine.” There behind him was a vast model of a vine on one of the doors of the temple. The vine was a picture of the people of God. “I am the real vine,” said the Lord Jesus. Then he added, “and you are the branches.” A Christian is a branch in the real tree of life. A Christian is in Christ; he is joined to Christ; into him from Christ comes life and grace. He is fruitful for just one reason, because he remains in Christ. There are wonderful fruit growing in ordinary people who have received Christ into their lives; love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control. God has joined them to Jesus Christ, and his own life is daily imparted to them.
Let me illustrate this new life. Stuart Holden was in Egypt some years ago and he held some services for the soldiers. One evening he had a conversation with a sergeant in a Highland regiment. He was just as bright and shining for the Lord Christ as it is possible for a saved soldier to be. He asked him: ‘How were you brought to the Saviour’ This is his story:
“There was a private in the same company who had been converted in Malta before the regiment continued on to Egypt . We gave that fellow an awful time. I made that man’s life a terrible burden for him. One wet and rainy night, he came in from his turn at sentry duty. He was very tired and very wet, but before getting into bed he got on his knees to pray. My boots were heavy with mud, and I hit him on one side of the head with my left boot, and on the other side of his head with the right one, but he simply continued with his prayers. The next morning I found my boots beautifully cleaned and polished by my bedside! This was his reply to me, and it broke my hard heart. That day I was brought to repentance.”
Instead of becoming angry, this soldier had responded with compassion to his persecutor, and in so doing, he won him to Christ. This is life in Christ, taking opportunities not to retaliate, but to love our neighbours. What do you think might have happened, had this soldier responded with angry words? What might have happened if this young private had thrown back those dirty boots? There would have been no conversion. Solomon said: “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city” (Proverbs 16. 32).
Being in Christ, knowing his life in you is the greatest of all the privileges God gives in salvation. It is the climax of salvation. Every single Christian is in Christ and so we are totally new creations. We are not revamped and modernised old Christians with some improvements. This salvation is not a mere cosmetic job. The life of God flows into us day by day. There is risen and transformed life. There is elevatedness, majesty, purity and power. Theses are lives that have been touched by the power that made the world. These lives have been changed by the power which raised Christ from the dead. In these lives there is working the Almightiness of the Lord God. As we face the temptations of this life the way that we emerge from them declares that we face and overcome them by the power of an omnipotent Lord. As we undergo whatever this life may hold for us of suffering we have the courage and patience that would argue that the Lord holds us with his own strength and has made over to us all the resources of his own power.
2. PUTTING ON THE HELMET OF SALVATION.
The helmet used by Roman soldiers was made of bronze and had cheek pieces so as to give protection to the head. This helmet was the outstanding piece of armour he wore. It made him look a foot taller. His helmet and its crest elevated him above everyone else as he walked through a crowd. “There goes a soldier!” people thought. The helmet is salvation itself, this salvation I have described to you from weakness, from guilt, from estrangement and from lifelessness. God has delivered every Christian from all of that and brought us into a new kingdom. Do our minds fully appreciate all of this? Are we ourselves appropriating this comprehensive salvation and are we unashamed to stand out in a crowd as saved men and women? That is what it means when the Christian is being urged to put on the helmet which is salvation. Stand for what you are! God is expecting you to live like a man who has been saved from guilt and despair. It is not enough to bear testimony to the sincerity of your theological convictions but to the reality and the nearness and the relevance of this so great salvation.
Is it evident that we are putting on the helmet of salvation day by day? Our own lives, are they new? Are they different? Are they transformed, transfigured? Are they elevated, pure and noble? Are they patient and courageous? Are our lives all these things according to this measure and this standard? Is it salvation according to these four great changes? Jesus Christ has changed us; he has removed our weakness, guilt, alienation and lifelessness. He has done it all. In Christ I am different. I am united to, engrafted into, and a member of his body, of his flesh and of his bones. In me there is his presence. In me there is his Spirit. In me there is the power of a risen Saviour, and that is not the privilege of an elite. It is not the second blessing of the super Christian, but there is no child of God – I say there is no man or woman born again, but they are all people who have this incredible position, standing in this remarkable place, almost physically and psychologically, in union with a risen and a living Lord. Every saved person is facing the sufferings of this present time with him; they march into battle with him; they face all their obligations with him. That is the position of the ordinary Christian believer who is in Christ. We are in him not because our faith is great, but because our faith is real. The most backward believer, the youngest child in Christian experience, where does he stand, but in Christ. We are living people, transformed by the recreative power of Almighty God, and we are transformed because we are in Christ.
Are we putting that helmet on? Are we living according to this kind of salvation teaching? Are we living new, living transformed, living elevated lives? Are we living powerfully? Living in Christ? Living by the resources, living out of the power of the God who is our refuge. Our Redeemer is strong! Being in Christ does not make us only loving and pitiful and compassionate. It is not only meekness that men need to live the Christian life, but they need power. See what Paul exhorts at the beginning of this entire section, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (v.10).
There are days when the believer is backslidden, when he is in the depths, when he is in darkness and he has no light, but he is still a saved man. He is still delivered from the weakness and guilt and alienation and lifelessness of his former life. His temporary declension does not lessen the obligation. It is one of the things that ought to stand over us as a constant rebuke; what are we – having experienced so great a salvation – what are we doing in this particular kind of conduct? When our life becomes worldly or impatient and plaintive; when our lives become in terms of Christian ethics an irregular life, what are we doing, as saved people, in such a condition? You see the New Testament is taking what we are, and criticizing what we are doing. When I sin I am going to sin as a saved man because this salvation is there all the time. I cannot cancel my salvation when I want to be worldly. I am in Christ all the time, and if I am worldly I am still in Christ in my worldliness and I am disgracing my life in Christ. When a Christian from the Corinthian congregation visited a brothel he was not proving that he was temporarily ‘unsaving’ himself. He might sheepishly remove the helmet of salvation and leave it on the hatstand at the door, but he was still a saved man entering a whore’s bed. He was taking the members of Christ and joining them to a prostitute, and that is the horror of such behaviour.
You know the story of Spurgeon’s grandfather whose heart was once broken in his ministry by the life and bearing of one particular professing Christian who was backsliding and had begun to frequent taverns and drinking. Young six year-old Spurgeon was grieved at what this man was doing to his grandfather, and he went out looking for the man and met him sitting outside the public house. He went up to him, looked at him and he said to him, “What are you doing here Elijah?” What are you, a saved man, what are you doing in this particular situation? What are you, a new man, doing here? What are you a man in Christ doing compromised like this? Where is your helmet of salvation?
So a believer has salvation. He has been delivered from guilt, delivered from weakness, delivered from estrangement from God. and delivered from death. God has established this irreversible status, this unending relationship, making it absolutely certain that a new lifestyle is going to be effected in our lives and conduct. We wear the helmet of salvation.
3. IT IS THE HEAD THAT IS PROTECTED BY THE HELMET.
You consider the importance of the head, the brain, and the mind of man centred there. Think of the way in which the New Testament describes our relationship with the Son of God. We are his body and he is our head. We creatures submit to our Creator head; the head gives orders to the body, not the body to the head. It is the head that tells the eyes and hands and feet what to do. How important that the head is protected and kept. Who can measure the importance of wisdom, and truth, and a clear mind? The apostle is drawing attention to the brain, the understanding and the thinking of the Christian. In other words it is so important to know clearly and be persuaded of what God has done for us through Christ in accomplishing our great salvation. There is no doubt about the fact that here we will be under pressure. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “The enemy comes and attacks our mind and our whole outlook. He says, There is nothing in Christianity; it makes wonderful offers but what does it give you? He returns to the attack and says: That evangelist to whom you listened and who urged you to become a Christian, told you that all your troubles would end, that you would walk down the road with a light step, that you would be in a new world, and that all would go well with you. But has it turned out to be like that? Are you not encompassed by trials and troubles and problems? Are you not finding yourself in a very weary, tiring campaign? Indeed, don’t things seem to be worse even than they were before you became a Christian; isn’t the fight hotter, and aren’t you being attacked as you’ve never been attacked before? So much for this Christianity of yours; it offered you so much, what is it really giving you in practice?” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Soldier, “The Helmet of Salvation,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1977, p.313). There is a battle for the mind going on and we must be persuaded of the nature of our great salvation. We must say to ourselves, “Through Jesus Christ every Christian is saved from the weakness and the guilt and the alienation and the lifelessness of sin. That is what God has done for us all – me included. He has not yet delivered me from temptations or the presence of sin, but one day he will. Until then I have the strength and the presence of Christ to keep me from hell.” Thinking like that is fundamental and indispensable to our salvation. The Christian life is holy and Christ-like, but it is rational and wise too.
I am saying that a mind that knows Christ’s great salvation is an immensely safe mind when the enemy attacks us. That mind has a refuge and a fortress against which the enemy may continue to launch his attacks, but in vain. This salvation makes us strong-minded. That is why it is crucial to sit under a ministry that constantly turns to the themes of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is important for our own peace of mind to have the countless cares and concerns that tend to flood in on us pushed back behind the ramparts of God’s great salvation. It is a priceless protection against the enemy. It is indeed a helmet of salvation.
Sometime Satan may lay siege to our minds so that our very sanity seems to be endangered. A missionary wrote, “ . . . and there was a time when I was so deeply depressed inwardly, without any external cause adequately to account for it, that I thought and feared that I was going mental, but I believed that the way to freedom and victory was by recognising that the trouble was satanic influence. This is what Scripture taught me, and to look elsewhere, on circumstances or people or my personal make-up would not be hitting the nail on the head . . .” That is what he wrote and this is how he described the consequences of putting on the helmet of salvation: “The only way in which I have received deliverance from the Lord has been by using my mind to lay hold of saving truths, and rejecting my feelings. As we grasp the facts of our salvation by faith, the works and devices of the evil one are exposed. We emerge gradually, step by step, to a full command of ourselves, our spirits, our feelings, our bodies, and our circumstances.” That is someone who has done what Paul says here; he has taken the helmet of salvation.
12th February 2006 GEOFF THOMAS