15. Receive the Ephesian Helmet of Salvation

Check Your Panoply

WE ARE ALL familiar with the Isaiah quotation which Paul uses in Romans 11:26 in order to prove the future salvation of all of Israel:

“Arriving out of Zion shall be the Rescuer.
He will be turning away irreverence from Jacob.” (Isaiah 59:20)

The section in Isaiah from which this verse is taken deals with “Salvation, Ieue’s Work” (as the Skeleton Index shows) and is split up into smaller units, with two of them under the subheading Ieue Removes Evil. For the time being, we are interested only in verse 20 (as quoted above), and in verses 16 to 18, since they form the balancing couplets under the same heading as well as subheading. One of the center couplets (17a) reads:

“And He will put on righteousness as a coat of mail
And the helmet of salvation on His head.”

In two beautiful figures of speech, divine righteousness is likened to a coat of mail, and divine salvation to a helmet. Thus this section of Isaiah reminds us of the fact that any salvation is God’s work which He performs by removing evil.

Paul, who so often makes reference to Isaiah, has used the same figures of speech in Ephesians 6:14 and 17. The context is, of course, different, for the panoply of God is given to us that we may enjoy a present salvation from the assaults of the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials, and from the stratagems of the Adversary. The basic idea, however, is the same: Salvation by removing evil.

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While our celestial status is the underlying thought in Ephesians 6, the general theme in First Thessalonians is our meeting with the Lord in the air. This tryst will bring us salvation out of the coming indignation which will sweep over the earth when Israel goes through the days of the great affliction. No member of the body of Christ, however, will be left behind when the Lord comes to call us up into the air. Should we even be drowsing instead of watching, since we are under grace, God will not turn against us, for He has not appointed us to suffer His indignation, but rather to participate in the rapture.

We are reminded here of Romans 5:8-10: “God is commending this love of His to us, seeing that, while we are still sinners, Christ died for our sakes. Much rather, then, being now justified in His blood, we shall be saved from indignation, through Him. For if, being enemies, we were conciliated to God through the death of His Son, much rather, being conciliated, we shall be saved in His life.”

God’s indignation is not meant for His former enemies who are now conciliated to Him and living together with Christ, in spirit (while walking in newness of life) on earth, and who will in fact, after the rapture be living together with Him in the celestial realm. Being constantly aware of this truth will protect our renewed minds (like a helmet), against any disturbing thoughts, that anything could ever jeopardize our salvation. This is forcefully expressed by Paul’s figure of speech in First Thessalonians 5:8-10. “Putting on . . . the helmet, the expectation of salvation . . . through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for our sakes, that, whether we may be watching or drowsing, we should be living at the same time together with Him.”

There is a point of similarity between the Thessalonian and Ephesian helmets. Both are intended to protect the believer’s mind from enervating ideas that do not originate from God’s Word for today. Other than this, we note only points of difference; the most notable being the fact that the Thessalonian helmet is to be put on, while the Ephesian one is to be received. In other words, we have to cooperate with the Lord while appropriating the truth dealt with in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:10; we have to familiarize ourselves with this truth and keep it in mind. There is, however, nothing like that to be done in Ephesians 6:17a; here we cannot take the helmet in order to put it on our head. We have to wait until we receive it from the hands of our Lord, Who has promised it to us.

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Even if our understanding of the Ephesian letter is rather limited, we will have to admit that it is the grandest of all the Pauline epistles, since nowhere else in God’s Word is the light and power of divine truth more concentrated than it is there. These facts are even more impressive when we remember the circumstances under which Ephesians was written.

Paul was a prisoner under military custody at that time. Luke reports (Acts 28:16,30,31) that the apostle was permitted to remain by himself together with the soldier who guarded him. From this, it seems that he was not confined to the walls of the Praetorian barrack for a period of two years since the account says that he lived in his own hired house and was permitted to welcome visitors and herald the kingdom of God without any restrictions. Most expositors believe that Paul was chained to the soldier who kept guard over him since they take it for granted that he wrote Ephesians and Philippians during those two years (Eph.6:20; Phil.1:13).

However, since Luke does not mention his bonds, it might be that the Apostle was under a lighter form of military custody, with a soldier accompanying him day and night, but not chained to him. No such indulgence, however, was granted to Paul at the time when he composed his prison epistles, for he refers to himself as “conducting an embassy in a chain,” meaning that his right arm was handcuffed to the soldier’s left, twenty-four hours a day (though the imperial guards used to relieve one another in this duty). It is possible, of course, that Luke had this stricter form of military custody in mind, even though he did not mention the chain in his account at the close of the book of Acts.

Such were the circumstances when Ephesians was written; there was not only the constant clanking of iron links which accentuated every restricted movement of the apostle’s fettered hand, there was also the permanent presence of a Praetorian soldier which meant the complete loss of privacy. We are not told how much Paul had to suffer from the coarseness and capriciousness of his guards; but we know that the symbols of military custody dominated the scene when he described the ways and means leading to a present enjoyment of the celestial status, in spirit.

Outwardly, the apostle’s life was filled with military sights and sounds—it is no wonder that he compared the believer in his celestial strife to a soldier with a belt girded about his loins, for the belt made it apparent, at a glance, that the guard was on duty. And so Paul went on to describe the various parts of the panoply along the lines suggested by the Roman style of equipment with which he had become so familiar. The close-fitting helmet was quite different from the one used today by military and other personnel. Under ordinary circumstances, the soldier would put it on himself (as suggested in 1 Thessalonians 5:8), especially if he belonged to the rank and file.

In order to emphasize the fact that the Ephesian helmet is not to be taken, but to be received, we ask the indulgence of our readers for introducing a parable taken from modern times.

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Man is created to live on the land and breathe the air in the lower atmosphere; he is in no way fitted for staying permanently in its higher layers or in the depths of the sea. No man in his right mind would think of going in either direction without sufficient protection against the dangers surrounding him in a hostile element, be it the higher gaseous spheres and the empty spaces beyond, or into the darkness far below the surface of the sea.

When speaking of diving today, one may suppose that a “frogman’s” outfit is all a person needs for this purpose. However, the face mask and the aqualung are only suitable for minor diving jobs. When dives are made to a few hundred feet, shallow water diving equipment is no longer suitable. Diving operations of any magnitude, such as salvage work and the like, require deep-sea equipment, consisting essentially of a complete waterproof covering, including a pair of weighted boots, a flexible diving suit with a metal ring at the neck into which a copper helmet is screwed, secured by a safety lock.

There are even a few armor-plated diving suits in use today which are lowered and raised by means of a cable and allow the diver to observe and make limited movements. Putting on such a suit would be impossible without the diver’s full cooperation. He certainly has to do something in order to get into it. But when this is done, he has to receive the helmet from the helping hands of other crew members. They will put it on his head and be fully responsible for screwing and locking it safely and tightly to his metal breastplate. Then they will check jointly to see if the air supply and communications system at the back of the helmet is in working order. All of this is important because of the combined water and atmospheric pressure the diver will meet when going below the surface to a considerable depth.

It would be an extremely dangerous undertaking for even the most experienced “frogman” to work at a depth where the pressure is higher than the unprotected human body can stand. And an incomplete deep sea outfit would be just as dangerous as none at all. No diver would ever try to go down a few hundred feet with the helmet as his only protection and forget about the rest of his equipment. The helmet is of no use if it cannot be fastened to the breastplate which is an integral part of the diving suit. If he had no boots with lead soles, no heavy sheets of metal, one over his chest and another over his back, he would not even be able to preserve his balance and go down to such a depth as necessary. From this we see the importance of complete diving equipment, including a helmet which the diver will receive from his crew members provided he has already put on his diving suit.

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Believers today who are disposed to that which is above will find themselves in strange surroundings on this earth. Whenever they try to enjoy their celestial status now, while still in this lower realm, they will experience the hostility of the chief who has jurisdiction down here and seeks to cut off their supply of spiritual vitality from above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Such spiritual strength is as important to us as is the air supply and communications system to the deep sea diver; if he has received his helmet, a continuous flow of air will be furnished to him, and he can communicate with his crew members. In a similar way, a continuous flow of spiritual vitality together with a constant enjoyment of our celestial status will be given to us when we receive the helmet after having put on the other parts of God’s panoply.

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In an earlier article of this series, we have tried to show that three different operations are necessary in order to make the Lord’s strength available to us:

(a) our cooperation
(b) the Lord’s operation
(c) prayer and petition

We have found that our cooperation is mandatory on four points:

(1) appropriation of the Word of truth
(2) appropriation of righteousness
(3) readiness of the evangel of peace
(4) taking up the large shield of faith

These four items of our cooperation are the prerequisites of our Lord’s operation in the following two points:

(1) giving us the helmet of salvation
(2) giving us the sword of the spirit

Is this not a wonderful divine promise? As far as the last two points are concerned, no effort whatsoever is required on our part. In much the same way as the deep sea diver relies on his crew members when receiving his helmet, so we can rely fully on our Lord, from Whom we will receive the Ephesian helmet which will complete our panoply and provide us with the invigorating might of His strength so that we can stand on our celestial allotment, in spirit, and withstand any hostile attacks.

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Instructions are given so that they can be carried out step by step, in the order given. In the case of the deep sea diver, no details are left to the discretion of the individual, since any failure to comply with the rules is almost certain to have fatal results. Any major diving operation on the bottom of the sea, even with the best man-made equipment, and while following the instructions strictly, means risking a man’s life, for anything might happen which is beyond the control of the surface members of the crew.

There is, however, no risk involved for us when we try to stand and withstand along the lines indicated in Ephesians 6:10-17. Our Lord’s promise (to invigorate us with the might of His strength) is valid as long as we follow His instructions step by step, exactly the way they are given to us. Their divine sequence should not be changed, nor should any step ever be omitted. We have already discussed the package of requests in Colossians 1:9-11 and we have pointed out that we are not authorized to pick out at random whatever we might regard as beneficial for us. The same applies to the “package” of instructions in Ephesians 6:10-17; we have to obey all of them if we do not want to nullify the effectiveness of our panoply.

A similar line of thought was developed in an article which our magazine published many years ago (volume XXIII, page 398) under the title “The Celestial Conflict” from which we quote the following two paragraphs:

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“Do not take the helmet of salvation! We should take the panoply and the shield, but it is only after we have taken the rest that we may wear the helmet. The girdle and the cuirass must be put on. The shield must be held aloft. Only then, and not till then, may we receive the helmet, which is salvation. It is God’s award to those who are girded with truth and protected by righteousness, and shod with peace, and sheltered by faith. Without these, our heads must be bared to the assaults of our adversaries. With them, we wear the helmet which proclaims us invulnerable.

“This helmet is not salvation from our sins or ourselves, but from wicked celestial hosts. If all this were needed to save us from sin, would anyone be saved? This salvation is confined to our contacts with unseen spirit forces. It is limited to the defense of our celestial allotment. It is deliverance from the mighty powers of darkness which seek to rob us of the enjoyment of our allotment among the celestials. Let us remember that this is the Godward aspect of Ephesians. It does not deal with our relationship to Christ as members of His body or our place in the new humanity. These are the Christward and manward aspects of Ephesians. Here we have a special salvation from the malignant world of celestial spirits.”

The introductory quotations from the prophet Isaiah have reminded us of the fact that any salvation is God’s work which He performs by removing evil. By providing us with a spiritual panoply, He keeps us safeguarded against any evil machinations of the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials and against the stratagems of the Adversary. In that way, God does not remove these evil spirits now from the scene (He will do so at a later date) but He keeps them at a distance so that they cannot harm us.

In closing, may we quote from UNSEARCHABLE RICHES once more, volume XXVI, page 122:

“We cannot take the helmet of salvation, as the Authorized Version exhorts. In all of its aspects, salvation is a gift. We may receive it. It is evident that no one can wear any of the armor here provided unless he is ‘saved’ in the usual sense in which we use this word. In that case, it would be the first piece of armor to put on. Here it is the last. It is ours only as long as truth, righteousness, and faith keep us unscathed from the assaults of the spirit world. It is a present salvation from unseen spirit enemies, not a past redemption from sin or a future deliverance from evil. We have no right to take it. It will be given to us when we equip ourselves with the cuirass, the girdle, and the shield. We need to have no concern about our head. Probably this is suggestive of the fact that Christ, our Head, is triumphant.”

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