It has been said “You are what you eat.” A truer statement however is that “You are what you think.” Few people realize the significance of our thoughts. It is our thoughts that guide our lives, control our world, shape our future, and create our destinies.
This does not happen in a magical way, or through the much-discussed and often-mocked “power of positive thinking” but rather through a single basic principle of human psychology.
If you have ever been to a counselor, therapist, or psychologist, they will likely tell you at some point in your session that thoughts create emotions, and emotions lead to certain behaviors and actions. So our actions and behaviors are determined by how we think.
Therefore, if we want to change our actions, we must begin by changing our thoughts. To change how we act, we must begin by changing how we think.
If there is destructive habit in your life you wish to change, or a negative behavior you desire to get rid of, the first step in this process is to start thinking in new and different ways. These different thought patterns will lead to different emotions which will, in turn, generate new actions and behaviors.
This basic connection between thought patterns and human behavior is revealed all over the place in Scripture.
For example, Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2 that we can begin to transform our lives into what God wants and desires by the renewal of our minds. As we learn to think differently about ourselves and others, this leads us to live differently as well.
It is for this same reason that Paul instructs the Corinthians to take every thought captive, making it obedient to Jesus Christ (2 Cor 10:5). As we learn to control our thinking, conforming our thought patterns to the values and vision of Jesus Christ, our lives will change as well, becoming more like Jesus every day.
And then there is Philippians 4:8, where Paul tells his readers to think on whatever is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, right, and praiseworthy. Why? So that we can experience the peace of God in our lives and with other people (Php 4:7, 9). The entire world wants peace, and Paul says we can have it by changing how we think.
This is the truth we come to in Ephesians 6:17a as we look at the fifth piece of spiritual armor, the helmet of salvation.
We have seen already learned about the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the sandals of the gospel, and the shield of faith, and now we learn about the helmet of salvation.
As with the previous four pieces of spiritual armor, we will consider the helmet in three ways. First, we will learn how the helmet helped the Roman soldier in battle. Second, we will look at what the helmet is for the Christian, and how it can help us in life. Finally, we will learn how to put on the helmet of salvation.
The Helmet for the Soldier
The Roman soldiers had the best helmets in the ancient world. While many other nations used helmets made by wrapping cloth or leather around animals bones or hooves, the Roman helmet often had a chinstrap, a visor, and was designed to cover the back and sides of the neck.
The helmet in Paul’s day was most often made of heavy bronze or iron, and had additional pieces of metal which came down to protect the side of the face. The soldiers would often pack their helmets with some sort of cloth or padding to make them more comfortable on the head.
The highest ranking officers might also have helmets that were plated in gold or silver. Many helmets also sported large, colored crests or plumes made from feathers or horse hair. These were often used to signify rank or to show identification with a particular legion, but most archaeological evidence suggests that these decorations were not used in battle, but were only used during celebrations and military parades.
The helmet often had a little ring attached to the top of it, by which the soldier could fix the helmet to his belt or backpack when marching. The plume could also be attached to this ring. But since the helmets were hot and uncomfortable, the helmet was typically only worn during battle or military parades. At most other times, it would be taken off and set aside.
But what purpose did the helmet serve?
Obviously, just as with any helmet today, the helmet was designed to protect the head. Construction workers wear helmets to protect their heads from falling objects, football players wear helmets to protect their heads during clashes on the football field, and motorcycle riders wear helmets to protect their heads for when they get in an accident.
Similarly, the Roman soldier’s helmet protected his head from damage that would come from swords, arrows, and rocks on the battlefield.
In this way, the soldier’s helmet was a last line of defense.
The shield, which we considered in the previous section, was the first line of defense. The shield took most of the damage and was used to fend off the worst of the attacks. If any attack got past the shield, the soldier would hopefully be able to fend it off with his sword, which will be considered next. If the sword missed, it was probably best to take the attack on the breastplate.
But the helmet was the last line of defense.
Nobody wants to get hit on the head, even if they are wearing a helmet. If you have ever worn a helmet, you know that it does not feel good to have your head hit, even with a helmet on. No soldier would go into battle and stick his head out into harm’s way, thinking, “Go ahead and whack away on my head with your sword. It’s okay, because I’ve got my helmet on.”
No, the helmet is there so that if you get hit in the head, it will protect you from getting greater damage.
After all, it is much better to get a dent in the helmet than to get an arrow or sword in the head, right? Even a person who is wearing a helmet can receive great damage—such as a concussion—if they are hit in the head, but the helmet will protect the head from receiving even greater damage than if the helmet had not been worn at all.
But why is it so important to protect the head? Obviously, because that’s where the brain is! You protect the head because of what is actually inside your head—the brain. Without the helmet, if you sustain an injury to your head, depending on the damage, anything can happen from loss of certain bodily functions like walking or talking, to partial or complete loss of memory. You can get something like a concussion, or enter into a coma.
If the damage to the brain is severe enough, you could become paralyzed or even die. Furthermore, it is not just the brain that the helmet protects, but also the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. Humans have five senses, and the helmet protects four of them.
With all of that in mind, let’s move on to discuss what the helmet is for the Christian.
The Helmet for the Christian
So what is the helmet for the Christian?
In Ephesians 6:17, Paul compares the helmet to salvation.
But what is salvation? When most people hear the word “salvation” they think of having their sins forgiven so they can escape hell and go to heaven when they die. Or something along those lines.
But this is not what “salvation” means in the Bible.
The word “salvation” (and similar words like saved and Savior) is the most misunderstood word in the Bible. Despite how the word is used by most Christians, there is not a single passage in Scripture which clearly equates it with gaining eternal life or going to heaven when we die.
So what does the word mean? The basic definition of “salvation” is “deliverance.” It means “to be rescued, delivered.” (My course, The Gospel Dictionary, will eventually have a lesson on the word “Salvation”.)
And we can be delivered, or rescued, from almost anything negative. Whenever you see the words “salvation” or “saved” in the Bible, you should pause, substitute in the word “deliverance” or “delivered” and then look in the context to discover what sort of deliverance is in view.
When you do this, you will see that salvation in the Bible is deliverance from enemies, sickness, premature death, the devastating consequences of sin in our life, and a wide variety of other calamities.
But not once does “salvation” refer to going to heaven when we die.
When the disciples are out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and a great storm comes upon them, they cry out to Jesus, “Lord! Save us!” (Mark 4:35-41). When they say this, are they asking Jesus to forgive their sins and help them go to heaven? No. They want to be delivered from the storm. They don’t want to drown.
So here in Ephesians 6:17, when we see the word “salvation,” we should stop, substitute in the word “deliverance,” and then look in the context to discover what kind of deliverance is in view.
When we do this, we see that in the immediate context, we are struggling against the wicked spiritual forces that Paul listed in Ephesians 6:11-12. So the salvation of Ephesians 6:17 is the deliverance from wicked spiritual forces and their evil schemes. The helmet of salvation protects our minds, thoughts, will, and emotions from the wiles of the devil and the evil plans of the principalities and powers of this dark age.
Once we realize this, the astute student of Scripture might recall that salvation was also mentioned back in Ephesians 2:8-9. And not surprisingly, in the context of talking about salvation, Paul referred to the prince of the power of the air which is at work in this world to deceive and destroy (Ephesians 2:1-3).
So even in Ephesians 2, the salvation, or deliverance, that Paul has in mind, is deliverance from the wiles of the devil and the ways of wickedness that dominate this world. When Paul writes about salvation in Ephesians, he is not thinking about going to heaven when we die, but about living in this life free from the deceiving powers of wickedness that guide and direct the lives of most other people.
“Salvation” in Ephesians is to live free of satanic deception in this life, with our eyes open to see things as they really are so that we can know how to think about and treat other people.
Specifically, in Ephesians 2, Paul describes the exact form of deception he wants his readers to be liberated from. In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul writes about the racial and religious divisions that occur between various people groups, and how these divisions were caused by the spirits of accusation and wickedness, but Jesus has torn all such divisions down.
In Jesus, we have seen the truth that all are accepted, all are loved, and all are forgiven by God. Since this is the truth revealed in Jesus, we can now live at peace with other people rather than at war with them. We can love and accept, rather than condemn and kill.
The greatest deception of the devil in this world is that God hates people who are not like us, who do not look like us, who do not behave like us, who do not believe like us, and that God wants us to condemn and shun them. Such ideas are the lies of the devil.
Jesus revealed the truth, and now, we who have seen that God loves, accepts, and forgives all, can live in similar ways toward others. When we do this, we will experience the salvation of God. We will experience peace with other people (Ephesians 2:14-18). This is what Paul has in mind when he writes about salvation in his letter to the Ephesians.
Salvation in Ephesians is not about going to heaven when die, but about living at peace with other people in this life.
Salvation in Ephesians is deliverance from the lies and deceptions of the devil that cause us to hate, condemn, and kill other people.
Salvation in Ephesians occurs when we change how we view and treat other people, especially those people we would rather hate.
So the helmet of salvation is a change in the way we think, view, speak, and talk about other people, especially those people we used to consider our enemies. How we view and treat other people all begins in the head, with how we think about them.
And since our thoughts come from the brain, this is why Paul equates salvation with the helmet. The helmet protects our head.
Our head, or our brain, forms our thoughts. Our head also contains our eyes, allowing us to properly see other people as loved, forgiven, and accepted by God. Our head contains our ears, allowing us to hear other people, with their perspective, ideas, and concerns. Our head contains our mouth, allowing us to speak friendly words of encouragement and acceptance toward others.
And this truly is what spiritual warfare is all about.
Previously, in Ephesians 6:12, Paul stated that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of wickedness.
Yet we humans continue to think that we struggle against other humans. The helmet of salvation reveals to us that we can be saved, or delivered, from thinking about other humans as our enemies. We can see that they are victims of spiritual lies and oppression just as we are, that they also are fellowship solders in this battle against the spiritual forces that wish to tear us down and pit humans against one another.
So in order to be saved from the lies that create disunity, hatred, bloodshed, and violence in our world, we must put on the helmet of salvation and learn to see others, think about others, and talk to others in ways that reflect Jesus, rather than in ways that reflect Satan.
Toward this goal, let us turn now to learn how to put on the helmet of salvation.
Putting on the Helmet
To begin with, we must first of all recognize that the helmet, like all the other pieces of spiritual armor, belongs to God. Isaiah 59:17 speaks of God putting on the helmet of salvation when He goes out to do battle against wickedness.
The fact that the helmet is something God wears when He battles against wickedness proves that this salvation does not occur when we gain eternal life so we can go to heaven when die, for God does not need such salvation.
But God does work to bring peace to this world by destroying the wicked works of the devil. God puts on the helmet of salvation to deliver the world from the lies and deceptions that lead people to hate and fight one another. God wants us to join Him in this struggle for peace, and so gives to us His helmet of salvation to wear.
So how do we wear it? How do we put on the helmet of salvation?
It begins with how we think about other people. The helmet protects our brain, and the thoughts of our brain guide our emotions, which in turn determine our actions. So if we want to treat people like Jesus treated them, we must learn to think about people the way He thought about them.
And what did Jesus think about people?
He thought every single person on earth was worth dying for. Jesus thought that each and every person had unsurpassable worth. Jesus infinitely loved every person, including those who hated Him and wanted to kill Him. When Jesus thought about people, He didn’t think of anyone as an enemy, but only as people who had been trapped by sin and the devil.
So we can begin to think about people in similar ways.
Rather than judge and condemn people who are different from us—whether they are of a different race or religion, of a different economic or political position, or of a different age or sex—we can start thinking about people as worthy of our love and concern.
We can refuse to believe that anyone is our enemy. We can begin to think about others as trapped in sin and deception, so that our job is not to fight against them, but to rescue and deliver them from their enslavement.
When we put on the helmet of salvation, we begin to think about other people differently.
But we also begin to see other people differently, for the eyes also are part of the head. We can view people as God views them.
God views all people as His children. He infinitely loves each and every person. He sees the dignity and value of every person, and desires that each person discover and develop their unique characteristics so that each person can shine with glory and beauty in this world.
God does not view any person with loathing or hate, but only with love and respect. God views each person as worthy of His time and attention. God never rejects anybody based on how they look, how they dress, or how they behave.
In God’s eyes, every person is beautiful and amazing to behold.
We can learn to develop similar eyes in viewing other people. Rather than try to get on another to conform to a mold or pattern of what we think the perfect Christian looks like, we can encourage one another to discover our unique areas of giftedness and passion, and then help one other pursue those with wild abandon (See my course on Spiritual Gifts for more about this.)
We can look at people as God views them, with eyes of wonder and amazement at our diversity.
We can view people as worth loving and knowing.
We can put on the helmet of salvation by learning to speak differently about other people. The Bible warns us everywhere about the dangers of the tongue, and so if we are going to fight for peace, love, and unity among all people, we must watch the words that come out of our mouths. We must speak the truth, but say it in love (Ephesians 4:11), so that others are built up, encouraged, and edified by what we say.
We must tell people that they are forgiven and accepted, not just by God, but by us as well. We must speaks words of beauty and praise to other people for the good things they do and the accomplishments they attain.
The words that come out of our mouths are one important way of donning the helmet of salvation.
Finally, related to the words we say, we can be careful about hearing the words that others say.
The Christian soldier who wears the helmet of salvation seeks to protect what comes into his or her ears, especially in regard to other people.
We will not listen to baseless accusations, slander, or gossip about others. We will not listen to negative and cutting remarks that someone might say about someone else. We will allow only statements about others that are positive and uplifting to enter into our ears. In this way, we will make sure that the helmet of salvation stays strapped firmly on our heads.
In all these ways, we wear the helmet of salvation, thereby creating and encouraging peace in this world. As we think about people, view people, and talk about people in ways that reflect Jesus, we will no longer view others the way the world does, as people who are different from us, and need to be shunned, condemned, or even killed.
Instead, we will begin to see that the vast array of differences are all part of the beauty of humanity, and that we can celebrate these differences with wonder and joy. In this way, we will be wearing the helmet of salvation, and will be led into the way of peace.
As you know, the Roman Empire eventually crumbled and no longer exists. At least not as a political power upon the earth.
And do you one of the factors that led to the decline of the Roman Empire? Some historians argue that the beginning of the downfall of the Roman Empire was when Roman soldiers stopped wearing their helmets. Gibbon, in his book The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, notes that relaxation of discipline and the disuse of exercise made the soldiers unable to survive the fatigue of service. They complained of the weight of the armor and finally obtained permission to lay some of it aside—in particular, the helmet.
This lack of protection and discipline led to weaker armed forces and ultimately, to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
The church has been given an important piece of spiritual armor with the helmet of salvation.
It helps us maintain unity, love, and forgiveness within the church and in how we treat other people. The helmet of salvation creates peace between people groups who formerly were at war. It creates love where there was previously only hate.
But if the church sets aside the helmet of salvation and returns to the ways of accusation, blame, slander, hate, and violence toward other people, we will crumble and fall, just as did the Roman Empire.
So wear the helmet of salvation. Watch what you think and say about other people.
Make sure you view people with the eyes of Jesus Christ, as people of unsurpassable worth.
Speak to other people, or about other people, with words of love, grace, compassion, and forgiveness.
When we think, see, hear, and talk about other people in this way, we will be wearing our helmet of salvation and will be transforming this world into a place of love as peace, allowing the kingdom of God to live, thrive, and grow in our midst.
Do you want to learn about spiritual warfare and how to put on the full armor of God? If you want to defeat sin and gain victory in your life over temptation so you can better follow Jesus, take my course on the Armor of God as it is explained in Ephesians 6:10-20. This course costs $297, but when you join the Discipleship group, you can to take the entire course for free.