The citizens of Feldkirch, Austria, didn’t know what to do. Napoleon’s massive army was preparing to attack. Soldiers had been spotted on the heights above the little town, which was situated on the Austrian border. A council of citizens was hastily summoned to decide whether they should try to defend themselves or display the white flag of surrender. It happened to be Easter Sunday, and the people had gathered in the local church. The pastor rose and said, “Friends, we have been counting on our own strength, and apparently that has failed. As this is the day of our Lord’s resurrection, let us just ring the bells, have our services as usual, and leave the matter in His hands. We know only our weakness, and not the power of God to defend us.” The council accepted his plan and the church bells rang. The enemy, hearing the sudden peal of bells, concluded that the Austrian army had arrived during the night to defend the town. Before the service ended, the enemy broke camp and left. The hope of salvation is so powerful. It is a helmet for us in the time of trouble. It protected the people of Feldkirch, and it will protect us also.
Paul continues on in his description of the armor of God, coming now to the helmet. We have seen that every piece of armor is vitally important if the believer is to fight Satan properly. The helmet is no exception. After all, a helmet protects the head. Most people generally want to keep their heads. So, if that is so, then we must cling to salvation literally for dear life. Now, a helmet is a very easy piece of armor to understand. There really isn’t anything I need to explain about how a helmet works. It has always worked the same way through the history of mankind. It protects the head. The only thing remaining is to explain the term “salvation,” and then examine how it protects us. It does not somehow protect our logical mind. Ancient people did not think of their mind as being in their head, believe it or not. They believed that their “brain” was part of the chest. So, we should not be looking for some kind of mysterious way in which salvation protects our minds, although it certainly does do that. It is another part of the armor that is essential, because it protects an essential part of us.
Salvation means two things in the Bible. Firstly, salvation refers to that point in time when we come to faith in Jesus Christ. At that point in time, we are justified by God’s grace when He declares us not guilty, and also declares that we are heirs of the kingdom of God. This happens because Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to be ours. Furthermore, God adopts us as His children, and implants the Holy Spirit in us so that we will become more and more holy throughout life. So, our sins are all forgiven when we come to faith. In this sense, we will never be more saved than we are right now.
However, that is not the only way that the Bible uses the term salvation. We only have to go to 1 Thessalonians 5:8 to realize this: “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” The hope of salvation indicates something that we do not fully have yet, since no one hopes for what he already has. In this sense, the Bible means the whole Christian life from conversion all the way through life, through death, and including resurrection from the dead. That is something that we do not have, at least in its fullness. We must keep in mind these two definitions of salvation, because great confusion can happen if do not keep them distinct. For one thing, when we think of salvation as that point of time when we come to faith, we have to exclude all works of any kind from that salvation. In that salvation, works play no part whatsoever. However, in the broader sense, which includes our whole lives, our works do play a role. They are essential, as a matter of fact. So, are works necessary for salvation? No, in the first sense, yes in the second sense. If we include works in the first sense, then we have to do something to obtain favor with God. The Bible everywhere condemns such thinking. However, excluding works from the second sense would mean that it doesn’t matter what we do.
However, we must be even more careful, because we cannot say that our works are done in our own strength, nor can we say in any way that eternal life depends on them. Our good works earn rewards above and beyond salvation, but they only earn those rewards because of God’s grace. As one writer puts it, God crowns His own gifts to us. Ultimately, they are to be for God’s glory, and not our own. However, God has promised that He will reward us for those good works.
So, it is this understanding that helps protect us. How does it protect us? Well, for one thing, Satan is always seeking to attack our salvation. There are a myriad of ways he does this. He will seek to get us to be afraid that we have sinned our way out of salvation, or that because God has hidden Himself, He has abandoned us. Or, that we are just a little bit better than our neighbor. The answer to all these things is still to come back to the Gospel.
So what do you do when you have sinned, and you feel guilty about it, and are afraid that God has given you over to your sin? Maybe it is a sin that you have committed many times, and cannot seem to get over it. What do you do? You remember your helmet. Salvation is not something that you can take on and off. In that respect, actually, it is not like a helmet. However, when we remember that we are always at war, then the parallel becomes exact again, because as long as we are at war, we need to have our helmet on. I remember a scene from a war movie where a surgeon was not wearing his helmet. The commanding officer told him that he had to wear a helmet. The surgeon said that he couldn’t use his stethoscope if he wore his helmet. The general told him to cut two holes in his helmet so that he could. We like to put up excuses for not wearing this helmet in wartime, but the fact is that always having it on is the wisest course of action. So, back to our question, what do you do? Remembering your helmet means that you remember what Christ has done for you. You remember that you are now a temple of the Holy Spirit. You remember that God will always forgive a penitent heart. There are no exceptions to that. A penitent heart God will not despise, says the Psalmist. We need to come back to the Gospel. Our forgiveness once for all is dependent on what Jesus has done for us. When that happens, we are forgiven of all our sins past, present and future. However, that is not the only kind of forgiveness we need. That kind of forgiveness saves us from the wrath of God. However, when we sin as Christians, we incur God’s fatherly displeasure. That means that we need to ask forgiveness every day for our offenses. That is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “forgive us our debts.” That is, forgive us our sins, forgive us what we owe and cannot repay. After you have asked God for forgiveness, then you need to pray to the Lord for help and strength to resist that temptation better the next time it comes around. This is extremely important to remember, because victory on the battlefield of sin is a cumulative thing. The more battles you win by God’s help, the less that sin will have any hold over you. It is always an uphill battle, but there is increasing victory that you can have.
Now supposing your particular problem is not a particular sin, but rather that you doubt your salvation. This helmet is impervious to Satan’s attack. If you are in fact truly saved, then the helmet will not come off. Comfort for doubters can be found in the promises of God. Remember this, that if you have ever truly experienced the grace of God, you cannot lose it. God may be hidden from you right now, but that is only to make you seek Him more. It is never to make you doubt. Only Satan wants those doubts. God wants you to trust Him more. These promises will enable us to doubt our doubts. Salvation is not temporary. Salvation is permanent. The story is told of the great Englishman Oliver Cromwell on his deathbed. He asked the ministers there (John Owen and Thomas Goodwin, both renowned Puritans) if we could be sure of salvation. They responded by saying that if he had ever experienced true grace, then he could be sure that it had never left. On hearing that, Cromwell was happy, and he said that he had no fears then, for he knew that he had received grace before. Fortunately for us, grace is not dependent on our feelings. Just because we feel something wonderful doesn’t mean that it is grace. So also, just because we don’t feel wonderful doesn’t mean that grace is absent. Grace makes itself known in strange ways sometimes. Grace always makes us grow, and that is a hard thing for us to learn.
And so, whether our problem is a particular sin, or whether it is doubt, we need to put on our helmet of salvation, which is sure to protect us from Satan’s blows.