This morning we move to the 5th piece of armor that God has given us, his protection so that we don't have to be shaken and battered by our fallen world, so that we can stand strong. God wants us to be able to stand strong and firm, even in the difficult world in which we live. Today we move to the helmet of salvation. Just as the helmet protects our heads, a body part that is just plain essential to life, the part of the body which makes us really ourselves, where we think and act, God's gift of salvation is the greatest of gifts. It protects our very essence. If everything else fails and we know God's salvation, we are OK. If we know God will save us, what do we ever need to fear?
Our text for this morning is, again, Ephesians 6:10 17. "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
Methodists were once noted for a strong emphasis on personal salvation. And why not? It's very biblical. Jesus told even the religious leader, Nicodemus, "You must be born again, (or born from above)." But in recent years we have struggled with the concept. I think we've developed an allergy to those people who try to put being born again into a box, saying you have to have a certain experience, sudden, emotional, for it to be real. United Methodists usually see through that. When Jesus told Nicodemus about the new birth he guarded against that kind of thinking by saying that being born again is like the wind, it’s unpredictable . You can't put it in a box. We can't dictate to God that someone can only be born again a certain way.
So I fear that we really have developed an allergy to the idea of being born again. We can be so careful not to squeeze people into a mold that we don't give any guidance at all. We can be so patient to let God's Spirit work gradually that we don't give the process the encouragement that it needs. Mostly I speak to our congregation as people who know Christ and have really been converted. And mostly I preach on themes for those who are already converted. But there may well be some here who have gotten comfortable doing church things, but have never gone all the way to making a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and never yet experienced God's salvation for themselves. And if you are out in the battle without the protection of the helmet of salvation, you are very vulnerable to the devil’s accusations that God can’t love you so you need to go it alone. If he can convince you of that one thing, he’s happy. He has cut you off from your God.
So this morning, as we talk about putting on the helmet of salvation, I want to try to explain as simply as I can how God's gift of salvation works, how we can put it on. This is the most important issue of our lives, so I encourage you to think very carefully about what I say.
The plan of salvation can be summarized in four basic concepts. Let's run through them together.
The first concept is that God loves each and every one of us and God's will for each of us is for a good and abundant and eternal life. God's plan for you is nothing but good. It's a better plan than anything you could come up with yourself, to be a person who really is in the very image of God. What a high calling! It includes the Old Testament idea of shalom, of living in right relationships with all those around you, right relationships with family and with neighbors. Right relationship with God, so that we have no need to fear or hide. It includes the New Testament concept of the abundant life, to be all we can be, to be strong and capable, whole and free, to live a life of love and joy. That's the goal. That was God's plan. Can you dare to dream of such a life for yourself?
But if that's God's plan, what went wrong? Is our world full of people living in glorious harmony and love? No, it's not. I skimmed the front section of the Tribune early this morning. You know what I found there, wars, crime, social problems. And yesterday was pretty much the same. And if I went down to the Harold Washington Library and went through the archives of the Chicago Tribune, how far back would I have to go to find 1 issue without a record of human sin and destructiveness? I don’t think there ever was such a day.
God gave us the wonderful gift of freedom so that we could choose to love. But we have used that gift to pull away from God and live selfishly instead. In some people that selfishness comes out in terribly destructive behavior, the crimes, the violence, the sins against other people that cause deep emotional wounds.
So there is now this big gulf between us and God, caused by our sin. God’s up here and we’re want down here.
But most of us can say we've never robbed a bank, murdered anyone or started a war. In fact, most of us can point to some good things we've done, maybe a lot of good things. Most of us here have gone to church pretty much, contributed money, helped out in church projects. That’s what these arrows on the chart represent. We all work out our own systems to try to say we are good enough on our own. We pick and choose the commandments we think we can keep and conveniently overlook the ones we are missing. But do any of these arrows reach all the way up to God? No. None of us are good enough to earn our way to God. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23.
The most important question is. How have I responded to God? If we do 25 good deeds a day for fellow human beings every day of our lives, that's great. But what about the way that we treat the God who created us, who gave us every good thing we have? If we are always really nice to our fellow human beings, but we turn our backs on God and go our own ways, even if those ways don't seem too bad, we are breaking the heart of our father in heaven, we are refusing to give God the thanks and glory that are his due. We are sinners. That hurts God's heart and it hurts us. We are not created to function without that love of God in our hearts. As long as we keep our hearts closed to the loving touch of God, we will only be able to go so far in loving and serving. It's not in us.
And so the second concept is the concept of sin. The problem of the world is not that we just need more money or better education, although those have an important place. The problem is that we are turning our backs on God. When we are offered the helmet of salvation, just what is it that we are saved from? We're saved from our own sin. We have all at times joined the rebellion against God in our own ways.
And God cannot support a rebellion against what is right and good. He cannot bless us when we are going the wrong direction. In fact when we are going the wrong direction we may well find God is against us. We may experience the wrath of God, his deep displeasure over sin and selfishness. And we try to bury that awareness of having failed God, through drinking, through keeping so busy we don't have time to think or feel, maybe we even hide from that sense of guilt by filling our lives with good family activities or church work.
We like to think everything will be all right, that we'll all go to heaven in the end. But that's not what Jesus said. He said that the gate to heaven is narrow and few find it, not many. And if we choose to avoid the presence of God on this earth it would be cruel for him to bring us to heaven where his presence will be everywhere, overwhelming and inescapable. No, if we choose on this earth to live apart from God he will honor our choices for all of eternity, and we will spend eternity far from the presence and grace of God.
So the bottom line is we all need to be right with God. The French mathematician and philosopher, Pascal said that there is a God-shaped hole in every heart. We will never find true peace until we find it in God. Can you feel inside yourself the emptiness of being apart from God? Can you feel it? Can you admit it?
Now the situation could easily degenerate into a stalemate. We distance ourselves from God, then he punishes us more, then we go more distant, and deserve more punishment. Most of us who are parents have had days when we got into the downward spiral with our children, where they misbehave, you have to discipline them, then they feel hurt and misbehave more.
But God has acted decisively to break the spiral, to get us back into the family. He's a gracious God, a wise and loving parent. And that's the third concept, the most amazing one. God has reached out to us in the most incredible way. God took human form, being born as a baby among us.
He came to us; he went more than half way. He comes to us even when we are in rebellion. When he came all the hidden rebellion against God came out into the open so that it can never be denied again. We killed him. We killed the Son of God. That ought to sober us up. How could that happen?
He made it clear that sin is terrible, that he will not compromise. Every sin must be punished. But he took the punishment on himself. He died for our sin.
But most of all he just plain showed us how much he loves us. Jesus took such rejection and mistreatment and he forgave us. He loved our kids. He healed our sick. He forgave the sinners who opened up to him. Even after we killed him, He rose from the dead and spoke words of love and mercy. God has made a way out of the stalemate. We may have heard the story a hundred times of a thousand times before. We can get so used to it, even immune to it that it loses its force. Jesus Christ, the son of God died for you.
And that leaves just one final step for us. The core of it is a simple act of obedience and faith, to take him at his word that he loves us, to stop hiding, to stop running away, to stop covering up. And, instead of trying to run everything ourselves, to choose to follow him in all that we do. Accept him as your Savior and Lord.
Here’s a chart to begin illustrating the change that is needed. The circle is your life. In the center is a throne. And the letter “S” is sitting on the throne, representing a choice to make all the decisions ourselves. The cross represents Jesus. Where is he? He’s way out on the periphery. And these dots are all sorts of things you do and they are scattered and out of order.
This chart shows the change that is needed. Where is Christ now? He’s on the throne. And self is right beside him, but now kneeling at his feet in submission, so that he is calling the shots. Now self is studying God’s word and praying and hungry to obey in every way.
And what happened to all those dots that were scattered? There have all come into order and peace. And that doesn’t happen overnight for most of us. But many of us can say that this is what is really happening to us as we seek to serve God.
But there may be some here who are realizing that you've never taken that step. Maybe you’ve done a lot of good church things well, but you’ve never gotten right with God. Maybe you are realizing right now that it is a step you need to take; you want to take, even if it’s scary. And of course it’s something that can be done anytime or anyplace. But if you've never made that step before, or if you are here and just not quite sure where you stand with God, I invite you to make sure today, this morning. What a tragedy it would be if some of us were in God's house year after year without ever really meeting God himself.
God offers you the helmet of salvation. He has wonderful plans for you. If you’ve never done it before, say it to God today. Lord, I put you on the throne of my life. I trust that you will forgive me my sins. From now on I serve you. AMEN