A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 3/19/00
The Helmet of Salvation is not just another piece of armor; it is the crowning piece of protection, the capstone of the equipment, and the last piece put on. It is therefore in one sense a summation of all. But to see this, we must recapture the biblical concept of what Salvation is.
The definition of salvation implicit in the practice of too many modern Evangelicals is too negative, narrow, and limited. Its focus is on escaping Hell, on what one is saved from to the neglect of what one is saved for. This pragmatic evangelistic focus is right as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough to capture the biblical concept. It reduces Salvation to Justification, and misses the process of Discipleship in its emphasis on the moment of Decision. But the Great Commission does not command us to collect Decisions, but to make Disciples. The "Decision" is necessary and important, but unless it issues in Discipleship it is of no value and does not save; for we are saved by the Grace of God working in our lives, not by some nebulous "decision" alledgedly made at some point in our past, especially if it has no impact on our present lives.
The biblical concept of Salvation by contrast is not less but more than the Evangelical caricature. It is positive, broad, and all-encompassing. Think of some typical NT usages of the word.In Luke 2:29-31, Simeon has just seen the infant Jesus. He looks at him and says, "I have seen God's salvation." In fact no deliverance has yet been wrought, but in the Person of Christ he sees a light of revelation to the gentiles and the glory of God's people Israel. In Luke 19:9, Zaccheus has just undergone an astonishing transformation that reorients his whole life. In response to that, Jesus says, "This day Salvation has come to this house." In Rom. 1:16, Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for Salvation for those who believe. Forgiveness is surely part of this, but it is not in itself an exercise of power. What is? In Phil. 2:12, we are to work out our Salvation in fear and trembling because it is God who works in us. Works what? Hebrews 2:3 refers to so great a Salvation. In 1 Pet. 1:5, Salvation is ready to be revealed in the last day. We won't even know all it involves, in other words, until Jesus comes back. And in Rev. 7:10 a multitude of the Redeemed in white robes ascribes Salvation TO our God and to the Lamb. Surely Salvation is FROM them--the narrow concept is not something they need to receive. So obviously there is much going on here that does not lie on the surface. Elements of Salvation
If I were to try to define Salvation in its fullness, I could not do better than to appeal to the verse from which this whole epistle of Ephesians unfolds as a flower from a bud, Eph. 1:3. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." Salvation is not just avoiding Hell; it is the restoration of all that we lost when we fell. It is the full-orbed work of the whole Trinity in our lives to bring this about. It is the establishment of Shalom: Peace, understood not just as negative (the absence of strife) but as positive: the complete fulfillment of our natures as they were originally made in the image of God. All this--nothing less--is what we put on when we put on the Helmet of Salvation.
The elements of this Salvation then include,first, Conviction of sin (Jn. 16:8). It is not pleasant, but it is a great benefit for God to make our real problem inescapable to us. Then there is Calling (Jn. 6:44). God doesn't just provide forgiveness and say, "Take it or leave it," but actively draws us to Himself--and otherwise, we could not come. Then there is Regeneration (Jn. 3:3), the New Birth, where we who were dead in transgressions and sin are made alive in Christ. Of course there is Justification (Rom. 3:23-24), in which we are declared innocent with respect to the Law, Christ having died as a substitute in our place, so that indeed we are freed from the threat of eternal punishment. And at that moment there is Adoption (Jn. 1:12), as God makes us His children and establishes a personal relationship with us as Father rather than as Judge. But there is also Illumination (Jn. 16:13), in which our minds are enlightened to understand those spiritual things which the natural man does not receive and cannot know (1 Cor. 2:14). Then there is Sanctification (Rom. 6:4, "walk in newness of life"), the process by which we are made in experience and reality what God has already declared us to be and accepted us as being in Justification, i.e., righteous. And He joins us to His Body the Church (Eph, 2:19-22), so that we are no longer alone but part of the Household of Faith. Plus, he gives us Spiritual Gifts (1 Cor. 12:7), so that we have a role to play in that Church, as load-bearing stones in the walls of the Temple God is erecting to the glory of His Son, a contributing part that noone else can play. Then there is Preservation (Jn. 6:39), by which we are kept in faith until the end so that we are indeed saved. And then there is Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20), the gift of eternal life. And finally, Glorification (1 Cor. 13:12), when we see Him face to face and are confirmed in righteousness to live with Him in glory forever. Salvation is not just missing Hell; it is ALL of this, as one indivisible package which God gives to his children through faith. This--nothing less--is what we put on when we put on the Helmet of Salvation. Implications of Salvation
What are the implications of this view of Salvation? How, in other words, do we put on this Helmet and use it as equipment for spiritual warfare?First, we must Understand the Gospel. Salvation as a mere fire insurance policy is a caricature of the biblical concept. It focusses on me-- do I get a nice eternity or a nasty one. But, as we have been seeing, the Gospel is not ultimately about us but about God. Let us conceive of a salvation worthy of the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Second, we must Enunciate the Gospel. There is indeed a Hell to be shunned and a Judgment from which to flee. But if that is the only thing we say, we are urging people to escape a catasrophe that they don't much believe in. This is rather futile. We should not downplay that part of the message--it is essential--but remember that there is so much more. Let us call people positively to Someone worth believing in and worth living for! Finally, we must Activate the Gospel, begin to live in the light of it. If Salvation is mainly fire insurance, then it is enough for Christians to be just a little more honest and less grossly immoral than their worldly neighbors. It is enough for the Church to be seen as a semi-optional club for Believers, not something we must live and die for. But if Salvation is Restoration to the Purpose God had for us in Creation, then it is not enough to define ourselves as less bad than the World. We must be willing to have our lives radically redefined by Christ. It is not enough to simply blunt the edges of the excesses of the World's way of doing things. We must be, as individuals and as a Community, people who make the riches of the glory of the Grace of Jesus Christ visible in the world.
So let us indeed walk worthily of our calling, worthily of so great a Salvation--by putting on the whole armor of God, including the Helmet of Salvation.
Here endeth the lesson.