When you grow up in church, you can develop an odd vocabulary compared to the rest of the world. A pew, a vestibule, and a sanctuary mean completely different things to a church goer. We might think of a sanctuary as an auditorium dedicated to worship, while a non-church-goer might picture a wild bird refuge instead. And what on earth is a vestibule anyways? Can’t we just call it a lobby?
Kidding aside, “salvation” is one of those words that gets an odd meaning in church circles. We think of salvation as a person receiving God’s forgiveness from their sins. This is truly one of its meanings, but not its original meaning. To understand the next part of our armor, we need to understand the meaning of this word.
In addition to having clothed yourselves with these things, having taken up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to put out all the flaming arrows of the evil one, also take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.Ephesians 6:16-17 ISV
The Greek word for salvation, soterios, is based on the root word, soteria, which means: defender, defense; saving, bringing salvation; hope of future salvation.
To gain a broader perspective of “the helmet of salvation”, let’s look at another passage talking about helmets and salvation.
4 However, brothers, you are not in the darkness, in order that the Day of the Lord might surprise you like a thief. 5 For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to darkness. 6 Therefore, let’s not fall asleep like others do, but let’s stay awake and be sober. 7 For people who go to sleep, go to sleep at night; and people who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let’s be sober. We must put on the breastplate of faith and love, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God has not destined us to receive wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus, the Messiah, 10 who died for us in order that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.1 Thessalonians 5:4-10 ESV
So what is this salvation? What are we saved from? According to this passage, we are saved from the wrath of God upon unrepentant sinners. Jesus is our defender who covers us with His righteousness so that we don’t have to experience God’s terrifying wrath against sin. This is a beautiful gift that I can’t even begin to fathom.
Several words in the passage grabbed my attention. Paul made several comparison between awake vs. asleep and sober vs. drunk. I had always assumed that verse 10 used the word “awake” to refer to living Christians and “asleep” to those who have already died. But that doesn’t fit with the context of the rest of the passage. It seems that the helmet of salvation has something to do with how alert we are in this life.
Since a helmet protects the head and therefore the brain, perhaps this spiritual helmet protects our level of alertness. Let’s examine the contrasts in this passage…
A sober person is aware of his surroundings and is able to react to threats with accurate assessments and quick responses. He has clear speech, precise movements, and self-control. On the other hand, a drunk person is slow to realize threats, slow to react, and clumsy in response. He lacks self-control and has reactions that may be powerful, but are unfocused.
A person who is awake is actively engaged in his surroundings, fully aware of events around him. Living in reality, he is fully able to act, attack, or defend against a threat. He is also fully dressed and prepared. In contrast, a person who is asleep is passive in his surroundings, and depending on his level of sleep, may be completely oblivious to any threats. He is living in a dream world generated by his own mind. He is also not fully dressed and ready to act. By the time he awakens, he may be too late to fend off an attack.
Christians who are awake and sober are able to protect their hearts and minds through the knowledge that they will encounter God’s love instead of His wrath. They understand the need to be vigilant and watchful. Through their alertness, they protect and warn other Christians who are living in dream-land.
Christians who live in a state of sleep or intoxication are oblivious to the spiritual world. They fail to recognize the enemy’s traps and the temptations that come from within. They have a false sense of security which lulls them into complacency. Thinking they are safe, they drift off into sleep, not realizing that the enemy is waiting for the right moment to take them down.
When we come to Jesus in repentance, He forgives our sins and clothes us in His righteousness. While His covering may protect us from the wrath to come, we still have to choose to be awake and sober. We can ignore the clash of kingdoms around us or we can put on our helmet, staying alert to the battle between good and evil. Let’s focus on the deliverance that Jesus has provided and will provide for us. Wear the helmet of salvation, never drifting off into complacency.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.I Peter 5:8 NIV