Christ has provided us with armor that is sufficient to withstand all of the devil’s accusations, and the helmet of salvation performs the vital function of protecting our minds. In sharp contrast to mindless faith, Alistair Begg stresses the importance of engaging our minds from a Christian perspective and thinking properly about salvation. Not earned or deserved, justification is God’s gift for all who believe. By understanding Scripture and trusting unreservedly in the finished work of Christ, we render Satan’s insinuations powerless.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to follow along as I read from Romans and chapter 5. Romans chapter 5, beginning at the first verse:
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, … endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
Gracious God, we thank you for the wonder of what we have sung. We pray now that as we turn to the Bible, it may be actually your voice that we hear, beyond the voice of a mere man. Grant that we might hear your promptings and pleadings and wooings and winnings. For this we long, and we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
Well, we’re still in our studies in Ephesians chapter 6, and I invite you to turn there and to the phrase which is the focus of our study for today. You’ll find it there in verse 17: “and take the helmet of salvation.” “Take the helmet of salvation.”
If you ever wonder what it’s like to have to study the Bible and prepare to teach it, just imagine what it was like this past week to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and the phrase “and take the helmet of salvation” and start from there. And after you’ve thought for thirty minutes and you’ve looked at the sheet of paper, there’s still nothing on it at all. Well, eventually you run out of time, and Sunday comes, and here you are.
Well, we have been very clearly reminded by Paul that the same grace that reconciles us to God antagonizes us to the Evil One—that we’re naive in the extreme if we fail to understand that to become a follower of Jesus Christ is to be immediately introduced to warfare of a significant nature, spiritual warfare. The nature of the enemy we have considered, and the resources provided to us in Jesus have been the focus of our study. And so, we have been following along, and this morning we essentially come to the last piece of the armor. You may look down at your text and say, “No, there are two more pieces.” But I think, strictly speaking, the helmet is the last piece of the armor. A sword is not armor. It is a weapon. And so we have “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” and then we have prayer. And I think the distinction is valid. I may be proved wrong. But we’re not putting on the shoes to kick people. We’re not putting on the breastplate of righteousness to attack them and run at them. The helmet of salvation is all protection. But we’re going to turn to the point where we take up the weapons that are provided for us. But that’s not this morning. This morning, we are here in this helmet.
Now, I wonder if you’ve been as helped as I have been by the poetry of Wesley in a hymn that he wrote on this section of the Bible, which I don’t think has ever really been bettered. And I have found myself saying it to myself quite routinely as I’ve been going through this passage. You’ll remember it begins,
Soldiers of Christ, arise
And put your armor on,
Strong in the strength which God [provides]
Through his eternal Son.
Strong in the Lord of hosts
And in his mighty pow’r,
Who in the strength of Jesus trusts
Is more than conqueror.
In the second verse, which I won’t quote to you, he begins, “Stand then in his great might, with all [your] strength [complete],” and the third and final verse begins, “Leave no unguarded place.” It’s wonderfully helpful. If you’re unaware of it, you might take it and sing it to yourself on the way home, or have someone else read the words to you.
But what we’ve been learning in the process is that to put on the armor, which is the exhortation of Paul here, is then to resist the accusations, the insinuations, and the lies of the devil himself. And how is that done? Well, it is done by trusting in Christ alone. Those of you who were present last Sunday morning will recall that we ended our study by the singing of that hymn, in order that we would understand clearly that all of the resources are provided for us in Christ, and any potential victory that we have over the Evil One is on account of our being held up, enclosed in, supported by these things.
And we have said from the beginning that behind this exhortation there is the picture of the Roman soldier. And behind the picture of the Roman soldier there is the picture that emerges in the Old Testament of God as a warrior. Of all the things that people think about God, you’ll seldom have somebody suggest that he is a warrior, but in fact, God is depicted as a warrior. And in Isaiah chapter 59, he strides out when men are looking for salvation and looking for victory, and the warrior comes out wearing the helmet of salvation as the worker and the bringer of salvation.
Now, what we know as New Testament readers is something that Isaiah and the people who lived in Isaiah’s day, six hundred years before Christ, did not know—namely, that the fulfillment of that Old Testament picture, of the warrior who brings salvation, is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. And you will perhaps remember that of all the things that are said about why Jesus came, one that stands out in this context, most helpfully, is in 1 John 3:8, where John says, “And the reason Jesus came was to destroy the works of the devil.” “To destroy the works of the devil.” And the question is inevitably raised, “Well, has he done so?” And the answer to that is yes, he has—that at the cross, the battle has been fought and won on behalf of all who believe.
You say, “Well, there seems to be a lot of activity going on if the battle has been fought and won.” Well, that’s one of the reasons that we need to put on the helmet of salvation, so that we can think properly about these things. The picture that I’ve used throughout is a simple picture from chess, about which I know relatively little—and if you played me, you would understand quickly. But in chess, checkmate finishes it up. And you can produce checkmate very quickly if you’re very good and if you’re playing somebody like me who’s very poor. And the poor person will say, “Oh, but can’t I make a few more moves?” And you may say, “Well, you can make some moves if you want, but you cannot alter the outcome,” because checkmate is inevitable. And so, that’s what we have in the cross: more moves being played out, more antagonism, more enemy warfare, without being able to affect the outcome.
So, to put on the helmet of salvation, which is the exhortation here, is then to trust in all that Christ has accomplished. To trust in all that Christ has accomplished. It’s no surprise that we would be given protection for our heads and therefore protection for our minds. The Roman soldier’s helmet was a combination of decoration and protection. You’ve seen pictures of it with a plume on the top, often made of brass or of bronze, filled with felt or with sponge in order to make it possible to wear, a bit like a crash helmet or a military helmet even today. And it was of such significance that only an axe or a hammer would really be able to penetrate it. And it is this picture that he now gives to us. For those who are facing the challenges in Ephesus and each of us facing the challenges where we live, he reminds us that we’ve been provided with the protection for our heads and therefore for our minds.
Now, what I’d like to do is to consider this along three lines: first of all, to think very particularly about the importance of the Christian mind—the importance of the Christian mind; and then, secondly, the importance about thinking properly about salvation itself; and then, finally, a call to believe in Jesus himself.
First of all, then, the importance of the Christian mind.
I recalled this week that I had heard a lecture some time ago. In fact, when I went back to check, or when I was helped in checking, I discovered that it was 1996 when I went across into Pittsburgh, to Sewickley, because the late John Stott was there, and he was giving two addresses that day in St. Stephen’s, Sewickley. I can’t remember who came with me; I didn’t go alone. And off we went, and we were not disappointed. And he gave a talk along the lines of one of his books, Your Mind Matters. And it was very good. I took comprehensive notes.
And I remember that he began with what was like a big joke for John Stott, because he really didn’t do jokes. But he began his talk by saying there were two people, and they were in a grocery store, and they were bemoaning the state of the world. And one was complaining about how devastating everything was and how overwhelmed they were by it and how it was stressing them in every dimension—to which the friend replies, “You know, you need to take things a bit more philosophically. Stop thinking!” And that was his joke. You see? It went over very well then, and as it did now. That’s why he shouldn’t do that kind of stuff.
But he pointed out that the twentieth century, he said, had spawned ugly twins. Ugly twins: one, mindlessness, and two, meaninglessness. Mindlessness and meaninglessness. Now, if you think about it, that’s quite a helpful picture. Let’s not bother for the moment with the notion of nihilism and meaninglessness and futility, but let’s think just about mindlessness. And let’s be honest enough to recognize that it is one of the charges that is leveled against the Christian soldier—the man or the woman who says that they are men and women of faith, and if they’re bold enough to say that they’re actually men and women of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Because, of course, it is not unusual—in fact, it is quite common—for faith to be regarded as a kind of illogical belief in the improbable happening, and for people essentially to say, “You know, the real thinking people are those who think along these very rational lines. And therefore, we feel sorry for you that you’ve had to come up with this as a crutch or as a walking stick just to help you navigate your way through life.” I’m sure you’ve had that said to you.
Well, what is the answer to that? The answer to that is to retreat or advance, if you like, to the Scriptures, and to say to ourselves, first of all, “Well, is that how the Bible is presented to me? When I read the Bible, do I discover that it invites me just to feel things? When I read the Bible, does it try and sweep me up in an emotional surge? When I read the Bible, does it ask me to disengage my thinking processes in order that I might then become this person of faith?” And the honest answer has to be no, it does not. In many cases, what it does is it causes us to think so deeply that we cannot quite unravel the jigsaw puzzle, that it introduces us to complexities that are metaphysical in their dimensions. And through it there runs a line, and that line is running historically, yes, and rationally.
So, for example, when you read in the Gospels themselves—take any of the Gospels. The Gospel of John: he tells us towards the end, “There were many more things that Jesus did; we don’t have the capacity to put them in this book.” But these things were recorded, these signs were recorded, in order “that you [might] believe”—that’s an exercise of the mind—“and that by believing you [might] have life in his name.” When Mark begins his Gospel, he starts straight out, “This is the good news of Jesus.” And then Jesus speaks, and he says, “The time is fulfilled, … the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe [the good news].” It’s a call to believe. Christianity is supremely and first of all a call to think. To think! In fact, it is a call in Christ, as a soldier of Christ, to think deeply and to feel deeply. The compassion and the necessity of the outworking of this good news has to then express itself in other ways. But for now, we’re thinking about the importance of our minds.
What you find in the Gospels is historical. In fact, if you remember in our studies in Luke—which reduces the number substantially—but I’ve always been intrigued by the way in which Luke begins chapter 3. Now, he’s writing a Gospel. He’s not writing a history book. He’s not writing a biography, although there’s biographical material. He’s writing a Gospel. He’s writing good news. And this is how he starts his third chapter: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias [the] tetrarch of Abilene…” I won’t read any further on. What in the world are you doing here, Luke? He’s setting the reality and the truth of the Gospel within the historical context of the time. He’s reminding the reader—the thinking reader—that this is not something that has been scrabbled together out of the air. These are real events, in real time, involving real people.
So the apostles, when they begin their preaching after the resurrection of Jesus, they do the exact same thing. In fact, there would never be a New Testament without the resurrection of Jesus. It’s questionable whether any one of us would even have heard the name of Jesus of Nazareth without the resurrection. And therefore, they then launch into the then-known world with this amazing story, proclaiming the need to think.
Paul, when he addresses the Ephesians—you can read it in Acts—it says that he reasoned and he persuaded them in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. And he used to do this every day. The people would come in and listen. And he wasn’t just singing songs to them. He wasn’t just trying to get them to have an emotional experience. No, he said, “I want you to think with me today.” When he did the same with the Thessolonican people, it says that “he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving.”
So, for those of you who want to come at this on a very rational basis, here you are. Consider the evidence. Apply your minds to it. But don’t come with this nonsense about “science deals in the realm of rationality, and faith deals in the realm of mindlessness.” It is not so.
Just this week, one of the obituaries in The Times was of a young geneticist from St Thomas’ Hospital. She died as a collision on her bicycle in Central London. And as I read the obituary describing how she’d invested her life in seeking to come up with answers to deep genetic questions that involved illnesses in children, of deafness and so on, for which there was very little money involved at all, and this was her great commitment—and it made the point that she was testing and reexamining, and testing and reexamining, as inevitably science must, trying to reproduce the same circumstance to make similar deductions. But Christianity is by definition involved in events in history that are unique and unrepeatable.
Now, when we begin to bow underneath the thinking of this, we have to do so in the awareness of the fact that the context in which we go back out into a Monday is largely one that affirms the independent validity of every notion of religion, the independent validity of every spiritual experience. That is immediately a problem for the Christian soldier. Because the Christian soldier, who is wearing the helmet of salvation, is unable to embrace that pluralism. The Christian soldier is unable to affirm that relativism. The Christian soldier is stuck, if you like, with the exclusive claims of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Christian soldier inevitably is confronted with the responsibility of affirming truth as it is revealed to us in Jesus and seeking to establish or affirm not the uniqueness of Christianity per se but the uniqueness of Jesus—that we are prepared to say to our world that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world [to] himself.” That is the incarnation. That
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only [Jesus] could unlock the gate
Of heav’n, and let us in.
That is the atonement. That it was in triumphing over sin and death and the grave that he arose triumphant. That is the resurrection. That he has ascended to the right hand of the Father, from which he will come to rule in power and in great glory one day.
In other words, the Christian mind is brought under the framework of revealed truth in the Scriptures: the good, the bad, the new, the perfect. God made the world beautifully and always good. Man rebels and sin enters into the world, and through sin death—the bad. The new: in the person of the Lord Jesus; in him you will have life and life in all of its fullness. “Yeah, but life is still full of sin and disappointment and darkness.” Yes, because this is the new, but it is not yet the perfect. This is where we live.
Now, my dear friends, unless we’re putting on the helmet of salvation on the average Monday morning, we will be suckers for all of this that comes against us. And it is too bad when the people—myself included—in trying to teach the Bible, do such a poor job that it causes the listener to switch off, causes the listener to say, “Well, there’s no reason for me to continue thinking. There’s no logical progression at all in what this character is on about.”
But Paul, again, you see, is very concerned on this respect. He says to Timothy, as a young pastor in Ephesus, “God did not give you a spirit of fear but a spirit of power and of love,” and notice, “a sound mind.” When he exhorts him to stand against the tide that pushes against him, he says, “And as for you, Timothy, keep your head in all situations.” When he writes to the Corinthians, he says, “I do not want you to be children in your thinking.” When he warns the church at Rome about being absorbed into an alien culture, he says, “Let me tell you how you’re going to manage this: by being transformed, and transformed by the renewing of your mind.” “The renewing of your mind.” A mind “in every thought renewed and full of love divine.”
Well, that’s as much as I will take time to say concerning that: the importance of the Christian mind.
But we need to go on from there and consider the importance not only of thinking but of thinking correctly about salvation. Thinking correctly about salvation.
That’s why it is called here “the helmet of salvation.” Because our protection from the enemy of our souls and all of his evil schemes is once again grounded not in how I feel but in what I know. That’s why one of my favorite verses is Isaiah 26:3: “You [will] keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” “Whose mind is stayed on you.” How do I deal with the thoughts of my mind, many and various as they are? How do I bring them under control? How do I wrestle them to the ground, as it were, when I am experiencing all of these insinuations and accusations? Now, you can go and find books on the power of positive thinking that will go much along these lines. What they all are missing, of course, is the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to subdue our rebel cries and to enable us to trust Christ.
So, the protection, then, in the helmet to counter the attacks of the enemy is salvation. It is his saving power which is our only defense against the enemy of our souls.
And Paul, throughout his letter, has been making this clear. He’s grounding all that he’s saying at the end in what he has reminded them of at the beginning. He has reminded them of the vastness of God’s love. Back in 2:4, he says to them, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…” I remember one of my friends telling me that he became a Christian on the day one of his friends said to him, “Have you ever known the love of God for you in Jesus?” And the man said, “No, I never heard of such a thing.” “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved,” and he comes back and says it quickly again. And what was it that these folks in Ephesus had done to deserve this? The same thing that you or I, if you’re a believer today, have done to deserve it: absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Now, that’s why we read from Romans chapter 5. And I can tell already that we are in this position as we were in the first hour, and we will need to come back to this in the evening. But let me set up our evening study now by pointing out to you that Paul, in giving to us the letter of Romans, spends from 1:1 to 3:20 establishing the need for salvation. He takes these first three chapters to explain man’s predicament as a sinner before God. And so, for example, if your Bible is open around there, you’ll see, quoting from the Old Testament in 3:11,
None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.
Not a very nice description of humanity, is it? And man, in his pride, recoils from this: “You’re surely not telling me this.” Well, I’m not, but the Bible is. This is the Bible’s verdict on humanity in sin: no one is righteous; no one actually seeks God.
So, if that is the predicament, what is the solution? Well, that’s when you get to verse 3:21, and the great transition: “But now,” he says, “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” And so he makes it clear that although man as man could never enter into the presence of a holy God on the strength of who or what we are, God, in Jesus, has provided the means whereby we might have a right standing before God, and that right standing before God in Jesus is for all who believe.
If your Bible is open—I hope it is—you will see that. Verse 22: “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who attend church.” No! “For all who are baptized.” No! “For all who are doing their best.” No! “For all who love religion.” No! “For all who believe”! “For all who believe.” “Who believe.” The provision is made for all who believe.
And he uses three illustrations. I’ll give you the first one; you can do the second and third on your own. There in verse 24. There’s no distinction: we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God—verse 23—and here we go: “and are justified by his grace as a gift.” “Justified by his grace as a gift.” That is the first of the three illustrations he uses. The second one you can find is from the slave market: redemption by the paying of a price. The third one is from the sacrificial system, hence the propitiation. But the first one is from the law court. And some of you are lawyers here this morning. When the accused is brought before a judge, they are either justified or condemned. The accused is not made righteous or unrighteous but is declared either righteous or unrighteous. So the accused is either acquitted and set free or is found guilty and punished. And what Paul is pointing out in this remarkable little section is the good news of the gospel: that the sinner, who deserves condemnation, is justified through faith alone, in Christ alone, not as a result of deserving but as the result of the receiving of a gift. Christ at Calvary has taken the sinner’s place.
Now, when this truth actually dawns on the heart and mind of an individual—when I come to understand this—then the gates of heaven, as it were, swing open.
Think of what this meant for little Zacchaeus, up the tree. When he heard Jesus standing on the front porch of his house and declaring to the people in his community, “Today salvation has come to this house,” people would have said, “Salvation to this house? Of all the houses, it couldn’t be this house!” Because he was the equivalent of a Nazi collaborator in Second-World-War France. He was a bad act. How can salvation come to this house, unless an individual is justified by faith as a gift?
What about the thief on the cross, when he says to his friend on the other side, “Hey, we are up here getting what our sins deserve, but this man, he has done nothing wrong”? He has kept the law in its entirety. He has fulfilled the plans and purposes of God. He is the Adam—the second Adam—who has fulfilled the law, unlike the first Adam, in whom we find ourselves, who has rebelled and broken the law. And the good news of the gospel, the gospel of our salvation, is that all who believe may find rest in this.
So what he does is he first of all proclaims the need of salvation, and then the means of salvation, and then, from chapter 5—which gets us to where we wanted to be—then, if you like, the results of salvation. And we’ll need to come back to this this evening, but let me tell you what they are, and then I’ll stop. They are at least these: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith,” number one, “we have peace with God”—whether you feel it or you don’t feel it—we stand in grace, and “we rejoice in hope.”
Now, Monday’s coming, when all the onslaught comes again—all the insinuations and all the accusations: “If you really were a decent Christian… If you were a decent pastor… If you were a” whatever it is. What’s the answer to this? To get up and say, “Oh no, you don’t realize how wonderful I really am”? “I mean, I am actually, I’m doing much better than last week; I had a tremendous week. I read the Bible three times this week, and I only read it once, or, like, half a time last week, and everything is going…” No, no, no, no, no, no. You will die. You will die. You will be wounded mortally in warfare with that. Put your helmet on. Put your helmet on! Think! Think!
I can rejoice in hope. I can stand in grace. I have peace with God. Sometimes shaky, but nevertheless, peace. Sometimes going on, sometimes hanging back, but peace. I have access, the way my children have access into my home. Goodness gracious, half the time they’re in there, I don’t know they’re in there! And the brood continues: “Oh! You’re here. Well…” But I don’t say, “Did you punch in the code? Do you have a wristband?” They have unlimited access. They’re my children. That’s what God says. Not because you’re great, not because you’re good, not because you’re making progress, but because you’ve been justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, because of the immensity of God’s love.
Well, Father, thank you. Oh, we speak of wonders that are beyond us. We delve into realms that our language is incapable of conveying. But Lord, let us hear your call to all of us. Let us hear the reply of Paul when the Philippian jailer asked him, “What must I do to be saved?” and Paul said, “Believe. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
Some of us have been trying to get ourselves cleaned up, ready for the believing party. Some of us have been working on some things we want to do so that we might feel somehow or another that we’ve made a significant contribution to our standing with you. It’s very humbling for us to realize that we have to say, “Nothing in my hand I bring, but simply to your cross I cling.” With Newton, I know two things: I’m a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior. Hear our prayers, O God, for your Son’s sake. Amen.
 Charles Wesley, “Soldiers of Christ, Arise” (1741).
 See Isaiah 59:17.
 1 John 3:8 (paraphrased).
 John 21:25 (paraphrased).
 John 20:31 (ESV).
 Mark 1:1 (paraphrased).
 Mark 1:15 (ESV).
 Luke 3:1 (ESV).
 See Acts 19:8–9.
 Acts 17:2–3 (ESV).
 2 Corinthians 5:19 (KJV).
 Cecil Frances Alexander, “There is a Green Hill Far Away” (1848).
 See John 10:10.
 2 Timothy 1:7 (paraphrased).
 2 Timothy 4:5 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 14:20 (paraphrased).
 Romans 12:2 (paraphrased).
 Charles Wesley, “O for a Heart to Praise My God” (1742).
 Romans 3:10–12 (ESV).
 See Romans 3:24–25.
 Luke 19:9 (ESV).
 Luke 23:41 (paraphrased).
 Acts 16:30–31 (paraphrased).
 Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages” (1776). Paraphrased.
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.