Training and equipment are wasted if a soldier runs away at the first sound of gunfire or cowers behind his defenses. Bombs begin falling and bullets whizzing. An uncertain soldier begins thinking. How are my wife and children doing? Did I make the right decision to become a soldier? I wish I was with my friends at home. What if I die? He is distracted. He hears the shout to move forward. He knows he must obey the order, but his feet feel like blocks of cement. He sees his buddies rise over the trench and hears their urgings. The enemy approaches. Will he fight?
When Life Gets in Our Head
The Christian life is very much like this. We have a glorious and victorious Captain. He has provided everything necessary by way of training and equipment, or gifts and graces. His promises are many and sufficient against any attack. If we would but don his armor – the same he wore – the enemy would be swept from the field. Besetting sins, sudden temptations, even widespread persecution must in the end fail to defeat God’s holy, believing, praying army. But like the uncertain soldier, life gets in our head. Pressures of work and family mount. We begin neglecting closet religion. Small defeats grow into larger ones. “I will not commit this sin again, Lord,” we have often said, only to find ourselves falling flat on our face. Am I really a soldier of the cross? Do I know the Lord? Non-Christians and casual disciples seem to be having more fun and not struggling nearly as much as I do. They are always telling me to “lighten up.” Maybe I should.
More despairing questions arise. What good has praying done me? God says he will forgive my sins and help me, but I am so bad that he would never forgive me. It would be much easier to yield to temptation than to fight, especially since I shall probably fall again. A famous preacher was exposed as unfaithful to his wife. If he fell, what hope is there for me? That family in the church has a reputation for godliness, but I know how harshly the parents treat their children. My family is worse off than theirs. Will I be raised from the dead and see Jesus face to face? Has not science demonstrated that the world operates on natural principles and that “religion” is simply the product of a collective neurosis? And if God has decreed everything, does my decision really matter? If I walk away from my duty, God ordained it, so is it not really his fault? Who am I kidding? I talk a good line, but in quiet moments, my sins come back to me like an old movie – bad quality, poor editing, unwatchable.
The helmet of salvation does not deal so much with a particular fighting tactic but with the overall battle plan. More specifically, is my head protected against the discouragements that regularly confront us in the battle? Discouragement led Asaph to envy the wicked and ask, “Have I cleansed my heart in vain” (Ps. 73)? Elijah also fell into a season of discouragement (1 Kings 19:10). The Hebrew Christians were so discouraged in the face of a second wave of persecution that they were thinking seriously about turning away from Christ back to Judaism. It is easy to be defeated before we begin the battle, or to feel defeated in the midst of it. Like the torn soldier, we just want to go home. Are the old doctrines worth defending? Must we really stick so closely to God’s word when it comes to worship? Should we narrowly walk in the old paths of obedience when the supposed new paths of easy grace are so inviting? Throw in the world’s ridicule of our faith, the many defeats in our own life, and the embarrassing discomfort we feel during a sermon, and it is too much to bear. Then the preacher starts talking about our main enemy, the devil – what can I do against him? Let me go back to my old life, or at least have a little taste of it now and then. I do not want to renounce Christ, but I want to have a little fun before I die. How can he expect me to stay strong when so many are lying wounded on the battlefield? And so the discouraging darts fly thick and fast. They stick in our head. No single one is fatal, but together they weaken our resolve to fight and bring on a serious crisis of faith.
Salvation on Our Head
But then God comes to our rescue and says to us, “Away with these defeated, despairing thoughts! I am your salvation!” Salvation is an enormous word. It means “total deliverance from all evil.” It includes all that “great salvation” accomplished by God in his Son. By the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are delivered from sin’s curse, penalty, and power. By his obedience, we are righteous before God, and no one can lay a charge against us. He has judged the prince of the world and cast him out; the kingdoms of this world now belongs to God and Christ our Mediator (John 12:30-33; Rev. 11:15). Salvation is God’s pledge of present help in all our difficulties, so that even if our circumstances do not change, God changes us in them and walks with us through them! This battle is worth fighting because of God’s great salvation. We can know and enjoy and glorify him when Satan’s darts thickly fly. He loves us, is at peace with us, is working all things together for our good, and intends good for us, even when men intend evil. It is of utmost significance that we remember what God has done for us, is doing, and promises to do in the future. Salvation does not mean that the present will be easy, but God is our ever-present help in time of trouble. When we are discouraged and want to give up, we must look to God our Savior and call upon him. Remembering his salvation, its joys, difficulties, progress, and destiny, will help us to see the whole battlefield. We may be defeated at present, but not for long. The Lord of Hosts has saved us. He is saving, loving, and keeping us.
With salvation upon our head, we are like the Roman soldier with his plume-topped leather cap, embossed with regimental insignia and strips of brass. A dart glances off. If glances off. Momentarily dazed but uninjured, his wits quickly return. He remembers where he is, who he is. We must remember who we are as Christians. We are saved men and women in Christ. Yes, we may be temporarily knocked down by discouragement, but we are forgiven and upheld by God’s power. He is there to pick us up. We are secure in Christ, clothed with his perfect righteousness, and loved by our mighty Captain. Look – he is holding up the standard! He is worthy of our efforts at obedience, prayer, biblical worship, and faithful parenting. Our weakness is serious but temporary; it is no hindrance to him. We are the redeemed of the Lord. With a shout, we rise and move forward – looking unto Jesus, calling unto him, following him. We can pray, and God will hear us, for our Savior is interceding for us. We can learn to endure disappointments and overcome our sins. We are indwelled by the living, reigning Christ and his Spirit of truth and holiness. These are the kinds of salvation thoughts that make up our helmet. They will cause Satan’s darts of discouragement to glance off.
This is a fighting helmet, for God’s salvation is his declaration of war against sin and Satan. His defeat at the cross, God’s saving promises in our lives, and the glory coming – the devil seeks to obscure these truths and make us doubt them or be distracted by substitutes. He is perfectly contented with a humanitarian or social gospel. He is not fazed when the gospel is confused with reforming society or improving the family or being relevant. The one thing that he cannot defeat is the child of God who understands and believes the cross, the empty tomb, and reigning glory of Jesus Christ on his head – in his head. He does not want men to hear a clear message of mercy and forgiveness through Christ’s active obedience, precious blood, and mediatorial reign. These give men hope of deliverance from their sins. He therefore attempts to bog us down in the ditches of life’s disappointments. He wants us to look out upon the world of men and be very afraid, retreat within our enclaves of sectarian comfort or elitist pride. He wants us preoccupied with our failures and sins so that we forget that God has redeemed us and judges us not as we are in our weakness but as we are his saved, justified, and adopted children. He wants us distracted on secondary issues so that we forget the main point of the battle: salvation – deliverance from sin, help, mercy, and forgiveness now as we seek to obey God, and hope, joy, and peace in the future. Wear this helmet and fight; fight, and win!
Hope on Our Head
Even with this helmet on, we must pass through many tribulations (Acts 14:22). The failure to take seriously that we are in a war creates many false expectations about being a child of God. In war, inconveniences, physical weariness, emotional strain, and even temporary defeats are to be expected. Yet, the very difficulties that prove we are in a war are often the things that cause us so much discouragement! They should rather lead us to rejoice in God’s rescuing grace. We would not see the war, much less participate in it, had he not made us alive in Christ! Once we are alive, God places the “hope of salvation” upon our head (1 Thess. 5:8). Hope is not wishful thinking but the assurance that God is faithful to his promises. The battle may rage, but we shall prevail by the power and promises of God. Sin shall not have dominion over us. Death will not have the last word. Sorrow will be turned to joy – maybe not today or tomorrow, but God will perfect that which concerns us. Hope in God thus enables us to persevere in the midst of our struggles and sins. Tempted and sometimes falling, hope flashes its insignia and says, “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Rom. 7:17). Yes, we are responsible and must repent, but sin no longer defines us but righteousness in Christ. Hope keeps us coming to him for cleansing and strength. Hope rekindles joy and the fighting spirit. It helps us to see our struggles as a necessary part of the contest, that our present afflictions are working for us an eternal weight of glory.
Satan is an enemy of this hope. He would have us believe that our sins will keep us out of God’s kingdom or that praying is a waste of time. He would have us believe that the world is too wicked and that we are too weak to make a stand. He would fill us with doubt, frustration, and impatience. Hope says, God will keep saving us. He will perform what he has promised (Phil. 1:6). Hope says, “The Lord of Hosts is our refuge.” He has already raised us from the dead to new life in Christ; he will raise us now when we call upon him for faithfulness and strength. He will one day raise us permanently – from the dead, out of our corruption, away even from the presence of sin. Our hope is a person, Jesus Christ. When our disappointments and discouragements are greatest, we have an anchor for our soul within the veil (Heb. 6:19-20). It is our Savior. He has entered there as our advocate before the Father and “ever lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25). Salvation always leads to Jesus Christ. He is the “Lord our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6; Rom. 5:21). No one can pluck us out of his hand. Our sins and struggles cannot. Satan cannot. He will lose none whom the Father has given to him (John 6:39-40).
Filled with gospel hope, the Christian soldier is very future oriented. He sows the good seed so that another may reap. He prays for his future generations. He thinks about the joy of his departure to be with the Lord. At many common levels, we endure inconveniences and difficulties because of a future blessing. A planned vacation the week following motivates to complete our work the week before. Few people say, “Well, I do not want to go on vacation, so I will not work.” How much greater is our motivation and hope! Our Savior holds the crown of life before us. Soon we shall hear his soul-thrilling, “Well done, enter into my joy.” In this life, present faithfulness will bring incredible blessings to future generations of our family. Perhaps you are struggling so that not you but your grandchildren will be blessed in ways you cannot imagine. The Christian soldier has a lively hope! Receiving salvation means that we are ever after dominated by “that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, that I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3:8-10). Whatever else the Christian may do or be, he is hopeful about the future because he has salvation in his heart, Christ in his heart, heaven and the resurrection in his heart. God planted these seeds in him. He has the battle strategy of salvation on his head. He knows that all his struggles and sorrows are leading to something wonderful, joy beyond words, life with God forever.
Protecting Our Head
To take the helmet of salvation is to commit oneself to the full scope of God’s salvation promises and his wise accomplishing of them in our lives. In his providence, he may put us in an out of the way place all our lives – or right in the thick of the battle. The battlefield is always changing – if personal trials subside, we must help another. There are seasons of strength and energy; there are seasons of sickness and old age. All have a part to play; all need to keep in mind God’s great salvation and its consummation. He will bring us to heaven. He will throw death and hell into the lake of fire. A final trumpet will sound and the battle will end with Christ’s victorious return to earth. We must think often upon this when tempted and tried. We may be weary, but victory is promised to the faithful. We may not feel like fighting, but our Savior did not feel like dying. Where did he find the strength? The joy set before him (Heb. 12:2). He understood that God’s path to salvation and glory is to endure trials and to fight faithfully. He had the whole plan of salvation upon his head.
It is the same with us along every front in the battle. The daily struggle with children and in our marriages is more manageable if we refresh ourselves morning and evening with the hope that God will bless our seed and glorify his name on the earth through them. The same is true of the church’s battle for doctrinal orthodoxy, worship fidelity, and discipleship faithfulness. The Christian businessman or school teacher struggles in his corner to take, hold, and increase it for Christ. The occasions for despair and frustration are ever present, of course, but we must never lose hope. The present hostility of the world and the deadness of men’s hearts must not lead us to opt for the easier, broad path of relevance and least resistance. It has never worked, for such a decision takes off the salvation helmet. Salvation living, salvation parenting, salvation witnessing means war. It means struggle and difficulty. In every age, the church has done best when she has been filled with gospel hope in God’s power and understood that tribulations are necessary for her sanctification and for her testimony to the power of God in the world. Rather than allowing Satan’s darts to discourage, she has been led by them to seek God more fervently.
Still, we are but dust, and it is difficult to keep this helmet firmly attached. Under the pressures and frustrations of life, we lose sight of God’s big, salvation picture. Nevertheless, we must not “grow weary in well doing” (Gal. 6:9). We shall reap a harvest if we do not faint. And along the way, hope gives us fresh impulses of joy and peace. Where did our Savior find these? His delight was to do his Father’s will. He had peace because he was obedient and trusted his Father to fulfill all his saving purposes. We shall find joy and peace, strength and resolve, in the same path of trusting obedience. God shows the secret of his covenant, his nearness, counsel, and love, to those who fear him (Ps. 25:14). If we wait upon him in prayer and believe his promises, he will renew our strength. He crucified his Son for us and will give us everything else we need for life and godliness (Rom. 8:32). This is our salvation and our hope.