The ideas of spiritual alertness and self-control that we have explored over the last couple of days in 1 Thessalonians 5 apparently brought to Paul's mind the figure of a sentry armed and on guard. Paul in effect says, "As you stand on guard, watching for Christ's return, put on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet." Paul uses similar imagery in Ephesians 6.
The breastplate of old was like today's bullet-proof vest. If we put on faith and love, they will form a bullet-proof vest protecting our hearts from all the attacks of the evil one as we watch for Christ's return in judgment. Faith involves trust in God and his promises; faith brings with it a confidence that our sins are forgiven. The faith Paul talks about is a trust in God's love for us.
Heaven knows, our love for God and others often runs cold. If our protection from the evil one and preparation to face judgment were dependent upon our love for God or for other people then we would be ill protected and ill prepared. Thankfully, our hope of eternal life is not dependent upon anything that we do, it is dependent upon what God has already done for us. Paul makes this clear in the next part of the armor of God that he talks about.
The other piece of armor that Paul urges us to put on is the hope of salvation as a helmet. Salvation means rescue from all that would seek to destroy the fulfilling life God wants us to have. Salvation means health and wholeness. The ground of our hope is Christ's death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. If we place our hope in what Christ has done for us, then that will act as a helmet, protecting our heads, our minds, from all the seduction of the evil one. If we put on this helmet, then we will be able to "keep our head" in all situations. (See 2 Timothy 4:5.)
I read a Scripture yesterday that struck me with considerable force, given that I have been thinking and writing about judgment for the past few days. In John 5:24 Jesus says,
Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.This really ties together all the same points Paul is making in 1 Thessalonians 5. In essence Jesus says, "If we trust in God and the love he has expressed by sending his Son for us, then we do not have to dread facing some harsh judgment from God, either now or hereafter. Rather, we have already passed from death to life. We are already experiencing, and will experience forevermore: salvation full and free." That is glorious good news.