and take the helmet of salvation,
Ephesians 6:17 ESV
We come now to the fifth component of the armor of God, the helmet of salvation. With truth as our belt, righteousness as a breastplate, readiness of the gospel as shoes, and faith as a shield, the protection of a helmet for our head must now be fitted on, that we may be able to withstand the schemes of our enemy in this evil day. As has been our general pattern, we first address the doctrine that Paul is presenting (in this case, salvation), and then we will note how this doctrine equips us for our wrestling against the cosmic powers over this present darkness.
THE HOPE OF SALVATION
While preparing for any sermon series, a few passages stick out immediately with ideas and points to address. Those ideas do not necessarily always pass through my actual study of the passage, yet the text still presented a clear direction for the sermon early on, which makes me the most excited for preaching those sermons. There are, however, frequently portions of Scripture that I approach with a degree of hesitation because, until I begin studying the passage, I am not at all certain how to actually preach that particular text.
Haggai provided blatant examples of this. While preparing to preach Haggai, I was thoroughly excited for the call to seek the kingdom of God first in 1:1-11, God’s promise to shake all nations in 2:1-9, and the assurance to Zerubbabel in 2:20-23 that prefigured his coming descendent, Jesus. On the other hand, I had very little idea what the overall point of Haggai’s series of questions for the priests meant in 2:10-19 before I began to study it.
Here in the Kingdom War portion of Ephesians, I was particularly looking forward to preaching on wrestling against our spiritual foes, standing firm against them, and girding ourselves with the belt of truth. The helmet of salvation, unfortunately, fell into the second category of passages. I had little idea for where this sermon was going to go until I dove into studying it. Thankfully, the wading into texts like this one without many ideas beforehand leads to some of my most beloved time in the Word.
My lack of clarity came largely from one large question: what does Paul mean by salvation? That might seem like an easy question to answers since Ephesians has repeatedly presented both the nature and wonders of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Yet that is precisely the point. Is Paul now calling the whole plan of salvation a helmet, almost as if to top off the armor of God by saying, “take up all of it as a helmet for your head,” or by salvation, is Paul referring to a particular element of our redemption, just as he has been doing so far with righteousness, the readiness of the gospel of peace, and faith? I think that the second is most likely. I believe that Paul is referring to a particular aspect of our salvation or, more accurately, the culmination of our salvation. Allow me to explain.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, we find a shorter parallel passage to our present description of the armor of God, which reads, “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 differences are numerous. There is no reference to the belt, shoes, shield, or sword. The breastplate, here, describes faith and love instead of righteousness, and love is not even mentioned in the Ephesians 6. The two uses of helmet, however, are similar to one another, since they are both helmets of salvation. Yet 1 Thessalonians 5:8 adds hope to the equation. This is fitting since it is contextually within Paul’s discussion of the coming day of the Lord, which we should take a moment to read in its entirety:
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 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. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
The day of the Lord is a term found within the prophets that refers to the final day of judgment, which we now know is also the second coming of Christ to judge the living and the dead. That day will be both the greatest and most terrifying day in all of history. For the people of God, it will be the day of rescue, final redemption, and the beginning of everlasting rest and joy in the physical presence of our Savior. For those who reject the gospel, it will be severing of even the common grace given them during this life and the beginning of never-ending torment and the deathless dying under the wrath of the Almighty. Therefore, Paul is calling the Thessalonians to live in light of this imminent day, for that day is our hope of salvation, the completion of what God began in us whenever we first believed the good news. Hope, as we briefly noted last week, is necessarily bound the future. We hope for what we do not yet presently see, yet we hope for it by faith, for faith is the present assurance of future hope. It should be no surprise, then, that Paul calls Christ’s return our blessed hope.
Yet the question remains: is Paul speaking particularly of the hope of salvation in Ephesians 6:17 as well? I believe that the progression of the armor indicates that to be the case. As we will see again next week, the pieces of the armor are bookended by the truth generally and the Word of God, which is the source of eternal truth. The four middle pieces begin with righteousness, which refers to our being clothed with the imputed righteousness of Christ. Here is our justification, the once for all forgiveness of our sins and renewed communion with the Father through Jesus as our Mediator and High Priest. The shoes then indicate how this gospel of our peace with God and with men makes us ready for present obedience to God, which is our current work of sanctification. Faith is also our shield for this daily battle, for as we stumble against our own sinfulness we cling by faith to our established righteousness in Christ and our hope of final deliverance. Finally, the helmet of salvation seems to naturally fit as the secure hope in that promise of our eventual glorification, the complete destruction of our sin and our resurrection into corruption-less bodies. I do, therefore, believe that the helmet of salvation is particularly referring our glorification, the hope of our fulfilled and completed redemption.
THE LIFTER OF MY HEAD
Psalm 3 is a meditative prayer to God about the hope of salvation, written during Absalom’s rebellion. Although David already emerged victorious from one civil war, this one cut far deeper. First, it came from David’s own son, and second, it came after David’s promise from the LORD of a never-ending kingdom. It was war that ended with both David’s victory and heartbreak at the death of his son. As one writer notes of David’s grief for Absalom’s death, “Never was it more evidently displayed that war may be almost as tragic to the victor as to the vanquished.”
David begins by lamenting the vast number of his foes, who cry out against his very soul, “There is no salvation for him in God” (v. 3), and it ends with his confident assurance that “salvation belongs to the LORD” (v. 8). The verses that lie in between move from expressing to confidence in God’s salvation to calling upon God to rise up against his foes. In verse 3, he calls God his shield all around him, his glory, and “the lifter of my head.” Hope of salvation does indeed lift one’s head.
We might imagine that a soldier without helmet in battle would be constantly tempted to lower his head, feeling less secure with the fray raging around him. We can also imagine that a helmet would offer a greater amount of security against the flaming arrows raining down at any time, since the risk of receiving an arrow through the brain would be greatly lessened. With his head protected, a soldier is emboldened to lift his head toward the enemy before him.
This, too, is the benefit of our hope; it emboldens and empowers God’s people for war. In fact, I would venture to make the argument that the rampant worldliness plaguing Western Christianity today has at least some of its roots in a loss of hope. If Christ’s return is our blessed hope, then it should be the great promise of eventual victory that fuels everything that we do. If, however, this vision of future salvation is lost, what hope remains? Without the coming day of the Lord as the church’s driving hope, many who claim the name of Christ have begun to set their sights of worldly hopes of salvation.
This is the great hole in much of what is currently being called the social justice movement within the church. God’s people are certainly called to care for the poor, the orphans, and the widows (and as the prophets reveal, we should be quick to repent our failures to do so), yet our fundamental strategy for transforming the world is to make disciples of Jesus. The world’s care for the poor is a perfect example of 2 Timothy 3:5, “the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” For example, while it is right to give people new clothing, their real need is to have a new heart, a new vision for the world around them, and a new community where both belonging and support are found. This is what the gospel alone can provide.
This turn in the church toward worldly, false hopes comes only through adopting the world’s counterfeit salvation. Consider two cultural trends today and what they indicate about our culture’s faux hope of salvation.
First, I believe that a society’s drug of choice is a good indication of that society’s state of mind. Alcohol and opiates, for example, both tend to be used as pain suppressants, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Hallucinogens are used to treat the dullness of life. But the drug of our day is marijuana. Without diving into the weeds about the particular ethics of marijuana use, a survey from 2017 found that one of the highest reported benefits of marijuana use was for “anxiety, stress, and depression relief.” I do not believe this is a coincidence. Although we live during one of the safest times in human history, fear and depression continue to be growing and debilitating problems, and our drug of choice reflects this.
Second, the growing call for socialism is not accidental in paralleling our post-Christian dive into secularism and neo-paganism. For the secularist and the pagan, the appeal of a socialistic utopia is a logical one. If this life is all there is, why not try to make is as fair and safe as possible? And without God, government is the highest authority in existence; therefore, control and transformation of the government is great objective, since only the government has enough power to enforce the equity that socialism demands. While both the Bible and history offer warnings against such a system, we should not underestimate the eschatological hope behind socialism. Many revolutionaries are ready to burn down life as we know for only the faintest hope that the socialistic utopia will actually work this time.
I mention these two trends to help us grasp the state of the world around us, but there are many more that we could have discussed, such as the treatment of safety as a virtue. Nevertheless, we can note that our society is fearful, anxious, stressed, and depressed, and they are placing their hope in things that cannot save. God’s people cannot follow this pattern. Fears and false hopes are tactics of Satan as a roaring lion to tempt us away from our hope in Christ. We must stand firm against his lies. Repeatedly, we are promised a life of trials and suffering, a life of constant war; however, our Lord has also already promised us the victory. Regardless of the church’s faults, failures, and fractures, the body of Christ cannot be defeated. His kingdom is coming, even now, and the gates of hell can do nothing to stop its progression forward. As the hymn rightly says, we are “victors in the midst of strife.”
In fact, it is often through trials and suffering that the church rises in triumph. In speaking of Satan’s war against the church, John wrote, “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11). History has proven true the testimony of Tertullian that the blood of martyr’s is seed. Sprinkled with joyful and forgiving blood, the gospel becomes a message too power to contain or squash because the peaceful face of dying martyr is the face of hope, the face of someone who securely and steadfastly saved.
Indeed, Peter seems to expect hope to be the distinguishing mark of a Christian for unbelievers (1 Peter 3:15), which is fitting because, in addition to the protective element, helmets also served as identification markers during battle. The Spartan helmets are likely the most iconic, but distinctive helmet designs helped identify friend from foe in the heat of the battle. Even within armies, different units would sometimes have different kinds of helmets in order to help the commanders to better understand the movements of the battle.
It is no accident that Paul will conclude this section on the armor of God by asking for prayer to declare the mystery of the gospel boldly. Evangelism is a crucial (although neglected) element of spiritual warfare, for the kingdom of God expands with each person who is delivered “from the domain of darkness” (Colossians 1:13). Furthermore, we should all feel the pull to proclaim this good news since we were once in the same condition as the rest of the world: “separated from Christ… having no hope and without God in the world” (2:12). Yet now we “have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:18-19). We, who once had no hope, now have a steadfast and encouraging hope, which we are now joyfully able to proclaim to others who still have no hope.
A hopeless Christianity is a false Christianity, and so is a Christianity built upon false hopes. We must be a people known by our great and steadfast hope, and in midst of world of false hopes, we will shine like lights in the darkness. Have you, therefore, taken up the helmet of salvation? Are you rooted in your unshakable hope of eternal life in Christ, come what may?
With everything that we have discussed in mind, let us conclude with Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 once more:
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 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. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
 Walter J. Chantry, David: Man of Prayer, Man of War, 249.
 One of the greatest defenses against poverty, after all, is belonging to a supporting community; thus, the body of Christ is truly the best long-term strategy against poverty.