This helmet I suppose
Was meant to ward off blows
It’s very hot and weighs a lot
So off this helmet goes, so off this helmet goes.
So sings one of the characters in Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera Princess Ida—right before entering a duel! I used to belong to a fencing club, so I can testify that the kit required for combat—even with blunt foils—certainly matched that description: hot, heavy, and uncomfortable. Yet if you know the risks involved in that particular activity, you’re more likely to take seriously the need for proper equipment to engage in it.
But what is the proper equipment needed to face life? The answer depends on what you expect life to be like. Many people, including Christians, expect life to be a walk in the park. Because that is their expectation, they’re mentally dressed accordingly, in a t-shirt and shorts, with flimsy flip-flops on their feet. They aren’t alert and on guard, moment by moment expecting the assault of a powerful adversary. Instead, they’re sauntering through their days, carelessly enjoying the sunshine, not dressed in proper spiritual safety gear.
Helmet of Salvation
Let me give a specific example, what Paul calls “the helmet of salvation” (Eph. 6:17).
In order to put it on, you first need to know what this helmet is. Like the breastplate of righteousness, this piece of armor is borrowed directly from the description of the divine warrior in Isaiah 59:17. In fact, God’s righteousness and his people’s salvation occur together frequently in Isaiah. God’s righteousness—his reliable commitment to fulfill all his promises to his people—means he must act to deliver them from all their enemies, including the greatest enemy of all—their sin, and the separation from God it causes.
This firm promise of God provides the basis for their secure hope amid life’s trials and difficulties. That is why in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Paul describes this piece of armor more fully as the “helmet of the hope of salvation.” The Christian’s helmet is his or her sure hope of salvation.
Many Christians seem to have mislaid their helmets.
Yet many Christians seem to have mislaid their helmets. Most people are “hoping” to be saved, perhaps, but that’s not what Paul means. As far as battle headgear, that kind of “hoping to be saved” is as useful as a floppy sun hat. It won’t do you much good when the conflict grows fierce. In the Bible, hope is never a vague optimism that everything is going to work out in the end; rather, it’s a settled conviction about where you will spend eternity. Biblical hope is sufficiently sure that you can give a reason for it (1 Pet. 3:15). Yet many can’t offer a good reason for their vague sense that they’re going to heaven.
One evangelistic outreach program suggests asking, “If you were to die tonight and God were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?” Many don’t have an answer. Others reply, “I’ve tried my best to love people; I’m no worse than anyone else.” These people have an uncertain reason for their hope. If you’re relying on your own goodness to enter heaven, you can never know for sure where you’re going. Are you good enough for God’s standard? What if you do something dreadful later in life? When I look into my own heart and see all the wrong things I think and do every day, I know I don’t have any chance of entering heaven based on my personal record. Certainly, I could never be sure of going to heaven on my own goodness.
Sure and Steady Hope
But the Bible tells us we can know for sure that we’re going to heaven. The apostle John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). John wants us to know for sure we’re going to heaven, and he explains how: “This is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11–12). If we have Jesus, we have life. If we don’t have Jesus, we don’t have life. Eternal life is God’s free gift, which comes to us wrapped up in his Son. We receive Jesus Christ and his righteousness, and along with him we receive life. Turn your back on Jesus, and in the same motion you’re turning your back on heaven.
We have our helmet of the hope of salvation firmly in place and are now prepared to face life’s storms.
That is why believers can be sure about going to heaven. If attaining heaven depends on our best efforts, it must always remain uncertain. But if heaven is received as a free gift, we can know we have it for sure. As surely as we have received Jesus’s perfect goodness and asked for all our failure and sin to be laid on him, so surely we have received heaven. Dressed in the breastplate of Christ’s righteousness, given to us as a free gift of grace, we can be utterly confident of our eternal future: we have our helmet of the hope of salvation firmly in place and are now ready to face life’s storms.
Life is hard. That’s normal for followers of a crucified King. We’re engulfed by difficulties and temptations on all sides. We must wrestle with our rebellious hearts, as well as external trials. All the more reason, then, to be properly clothed. For when we face trials in the armor God has given, and the forces of darkness have done their worst and the fog of war finally lifts, we will be found standing firm in hope, in the strength provided by the Holy Spirit.