The Helmet of Salvation

Gordon MackleyPosted on Monday, October 28, 2013 by Gordon Mackley

One of our songs for today, ‘For all the Saints’ commemorates All Saints (or All Hallows) Day, the first of November. Unfortunately this day (or more accurately the night before) has been hijacked to celebrate ghosts, witches, ghouls, demons etc. as Halloween.

The ‘Saints’ are actually all the saved over all generations who have gone before us. They are those who as the hymn states ‘by faith before the world confessed’. In other words, it refers to those who relayed the good news in generations past.

Others of the verses of this great song have some relevance to our physical lives and life beyond that and I shall come to that later.

First we need to look at a helmet and what is it for and then what is salvation, how to get that wrong and then finally our real hope and value of salvation and how it acts as a helmet.

What is a helmet? The Greek word ‘perikephalia’ is used in both New Testament references and in the Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament reading.

Its purpose is clearly to protect the head where any blows landed by an opponent are likely to cause severe injury or death. Different armies had different types of helmet so they also distinguished who was who in the heat of battle.

Chris Key mentioned previously that the shield in the armour is offered for free. This is also true of the helmet. You don’t need to buy it but you do need to take it and put it on. It will avail you nothing sitting on a shelf!

Additionally similar to putting on the uniform in an army, if you do put it on, certain responsibilities in battle follow from that choice. You cannot accept God’s offer of salvation and remain the same. You will depending on which phrase you wish to use be ‘born again’ or ‘become a new creation’.

This change relates to recognition. Which side we are on, needs to be noticeable. So we need this correct helmet of Salvation.

At the Battle of Antietam in Maryland on September 17, 1862, more Americans died in battle, than on any other day in the nation’s military history but one of the more bizarre parts of the battle was that some of the Confederate troops wore Unionist uniforms. The confusion on the battle field can be imagined.

Salvation (‘soteria’ in Greek) is by grace of God. We can do nothing to earn it but it does needs to be claimed.

We can note that salvation for the Jews revolved around saving the people, not individuals as this quote makes clear:

“Personal salvation is not a Jewish concept, as it implies a focus on the afterlife, which is not a significant focus of Judaism. In particular, any personal gain is a side-effect. In fact, focusing on issues of reward and punishment to some extent mitigates the good one is doing by tainting it with selfish motives.”

We do not follow Judaism, but Christianity. Even so we need to be careful that in regard to our salvation we are not seen to be ‘tainted with selfish motives.’

We should note that even in Old Testament Jewish thought, salvation was still by God’s grace. We should also note that the Old Testament passage, Isaiah 59:17 is very much allied to the physical life of the here and now and not to any life after death.

In the Luke 23 reading is the ultimate proof that salvation is by God’s grace.

39 “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence?
41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

There are two people who are not just ordinary thieves (crucifixion was the punishment for treason). These are more accurately described as ‘brigands’ or perhaps in more modern parlance, ‘terrorists’, those who stole to further their violent political ends.

They both want to be ‘saved’ (‘sozo’ is the Greek verb) and neither can do anything to save themselves in any way, hanging on a cross awaiting death. One of them simply wants Jesus to help him escape from the consequences of his actions so he can go off (and presumably carry on as before).

The other recognises God in Jesus and asks for a very different saving, to enter into Jesus’ Kingdom. It is the latter who accepts the true salvation on offer.

We need to be very careful that we do not make the mistake of the ‘unrepentant thief’ (as he is usually known) and not expect to get a form of salvation or saving that is not what God is actually offering through his grace. We should note that here it is completely about attitude.

Neither man on the cross is able to do any deeds to gain salvation and in that sense, they are exactly the same. However,

“The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
(1 Samuel 16:7)

In Job 29, Job reflects wistfully on his previous thoughts:

18 “I thought, ‘I will die in my own house, my days as numerous as the grains of sand.’ ”

Job’s ‘friends’ are guilty of a misunderstanding that can still creep into our modern day Christian thinking that because Job is having a difficult time with all sorts of nasty things happening, he must have done something worse than others and is being punished. If he had done what he said and been a good man, he would have had an easy and long life.

Perhaps the ultimate example of this muddled view in current Christianity is those who preach a ‘Prosperity Gospel’.

If you become a Christian, you will get a nice easy life with lots of material ‘goodies’ as well.

This is promoted by a number of people usually in expensive clothes on ‘Christian’ television who will often remind their listeners of the need to send them suitable large cheques to enjoy this prosperity. With or without the call to send money, this is not what the Bible says.

Jesus speaking in Luke 9 instead states:

23 “Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?’ ”

Being a Christian is not an easy option. It can be very tough even in our culture and in other cultures can be literally life threatening.

Whilst relaxing is not a bad thing in itself, life is more than relaxation.

Chris Key previously referred to the ‘Parable of the Rich Fool‘ (Luke 12:13-21). Good things can so easily become idols yet the concept of, for instance, winning the lottery and then doing nothing but ‘taking it easy’ remains popular. This is actually to not live a life at all, in effect to ‘die’ to real physical life.

Some can get so carried away by the concept of eternal life that they do not really pay any attention to the physical life of the here and now. They regard salvation simply as a passport to eternal life ‘in heaven’ as opposed to eternal punishment ‘in hell’.

This smug attitude to ordinary life can easily lead to slipping into the life of the world whilst believing we are special. We can end up with the wrong type of helmet!

All of this represents the wrong attitude to salvation or being saved.

In a previous item on righteousness, I stated that it was all about covenant relationship. This is true also of salvation. I can do nothing to earn salvation but if I accept the salvation God freely offers me by his grace, I accept becoming a new person, I am ‘born again’, a ‘new creation’, becoming noticeably different (holy), doing God’s will above my own or at least starting on a lifetime’s journey to be able to do that!

Salvation is not about a passport to heaven. Jesus states in John 10:10,

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”

This is about human life in the here and now physical world. It is not focused on the hereafter of ‘eternal life’. That simply follows on from the current physical life on earth now.

Salvation is not about an easy life, but having the Holy Spirit with you to carry you through the difficult times which will come.

This is what being saved is really about and why it is a helmet to prevent us from dying both figuratively in this life and from death beyond that.

It also shows we are different people with saved helmets, which are noticeably different to those that others might be wearing.

That great old hymn ‘For All the Saints’ gets it right.

Verse 5 stresses the difficulties of life which will nonetheless be overcome. Verse 6 is about ‘paradise’ (literally a garden from Greek and originally a Persian wood, thus reminding us of the original Garden of Eden in Genesis 2). This is where Jesus told the brigand on the cross he would be at the moment of his death (‘today’ in verse 43). Verse 7 refers to the future resurrection to new bodies.

This brings us to the last reading 1 Corinthians 15:58,

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the lord, because you know that your labour in the lord is not in vain.”

This is not just an aside. This is in the midst of a great statement about resurrection by Paul. This statement therefore refers specifically to resurrection.

N.T. (Tom) Wright, former Bishop of Durham and theologian has this to say about it,

“But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the Gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the Kingdom.”

This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain.
 You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff.
 You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire.
 You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site.

You are – strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself – accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.
 Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness;
 every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation;
 every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk;
 every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures;
 and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the Gospel, builds up the Church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honoured in the world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God.

This is a wonderfully encouraging view of how what we do now fits into what God will be doing in the future. It is how being saved now supplies a wonderfully different design of helmet from the one that we might have imagined!

For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest”
by William W. How, 1823-1897

  1. For all the saints who from their labors rest,
    Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
    Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
  2. Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
    Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
    Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
  3. Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
    Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
    And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
  4. O blest communion, fellowship divine,
    We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
    Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
  5. And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
    Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
    And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
  6. But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day;
    The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
    The King of Glory passes on His way.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
  7. From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
    Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
    Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
  8. The golden evening brightens in the west;
    Soon, soon, to faithful warriors cometh rest.
    Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
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