April 5, 2020

Filtered Input (The Armor, part 14)

In my youth, I had a very brief romance with motorcycles. Oh, I still love to look at sick choppers and big bad hogs, but my Honda Trail 70 and I had a falling out which permanently diminished my desire to ever again ride a bike. One of the things I really love about biker culture is the seemingly endless assortment of helmets available. You can create any aesthetic by simply changing from a simple open-faced helmet to a sci-fi themed full-face modular model. Or perhaps you want a more military look: you can choose from simple kaiser helmets or something that resembles special ops gear. The possibilities are endless!

A helmet’s primary purpose is to protect the brain, which is both the biological control center of the body and home to our minds, or thought processes. However, the helmet can protect more than just the brain; the helmets mentioned above provide various levels of protection for the eyes, ears, and mouth as well.  The eyes and ears are vital to our experience of the world around us.  What we see and hear has a huge effect on what we think.  The mouth is very important with regard to how we affect the world (specifically, people) around us.  The Biblical Helmet of Salvation has much to do with both how we perceive the world, and how the world perceives us.

Image by Steven Iodice from Pixabay 
Let’s turn our focus toward the Roman military helmets which first-century Christians would have been familiar with. Some types leave the ears open, while others cover the ears completely.  The advantage to having your ears covered is enhanced protection of the sides of the skull, but it brings with it a serious disadvantage:  you can’t hear as well.

What about protection for the eyes?  Most versions protect the face only with hinged cheek guards, providing good protection on each side, but leaving the eyes open and vulnerable.  Some helmets covered the entire face, leaving just the eyeholes open, which would provide much greater protection. Only small objects that could fit through those eyeholes would pose a threat to the eyes, but along with that protection comes the hindrance of a restricted field of vision. 

Various helmets were worn for different divisions of troops, depending on what those particular soldiers would be doing. In many cases, the need for added protection outweighed the disadvantages of impaired hearing or vision while wearing the helmet. Regarding motorcycle helmets, the same kind of impairments have led to numerous states repealing helmet laws for motorcyclists. I know from personal experience that while a full-face helmet with a flip-down visor does a fine job of protecting the head, it makes it many times harder to see and hear, and thus to react to the environment around you. Riding without a helmet does allow for greater awareness, freedom, and flexibility, though the rider does so at their own risk.

So what does this mean for us, spiritually?  The result is counter-intuitive.  The physical helmet brings protection, but can impair the wearer’s ability to perceive the surrounding environment.  You might now ask, “If the same is true of the Helmet of Salvation, wouldn’t that mean that God wishes to hinder our ability to observe and interact with the world around us?” 

The answer to this question lies in properly understanding how to interpret the symbolism:

A person who isn’t spiritual doesn’t accept the teachings of God’s Spirit. He thinks they’re nonsense. He can’t understand them because a person must be spiritual to evaluate them.

Our question above is flawed. It reveals a non-spiritual way of trying (and failing) to understand the teachings found in God’s Word.  Even so, the answer to it is still a resounding, “No.” 

Where the physical helmet impairs vision and hearing, God’s Helmet of Salvation narrows our focus down to what God wants us to allow into our minds.  Indeed, this is central to the idea of bringing every thought into captivity.”  If we accept the truth that all actions begin with a thought (James 1:14-15), and also that our thoughts must be protected (2 Cor 10:5), we must then ask, “Where do our thoughts come from?” 

Nobody thinks in a vacuum: our thoughts are influenced greatly by what we learn from observing (seeing and hearing) the world around us. Consider how a baby learns to talk.  When my son was quite young, my wife and I were overjoyed to hear his first word.  Our joy continued to grow as he learned more and more words, and finally he could begin to speak in complete sentences. 

My son didn’t just pick up on words and sentence structure out of thin air.  He learned to speak because he heard other people speak to him.  What went into his mind changed him in a profound way.  He heard the words spoken by others, and his brain came to associate these strange sounds with people, objects, and actions.  After a while, his brain figured out how to make similar sounds (words) come out of his mouth.  Later on, his brain learned to put these words together in a way which allowed him to communicate his thoughts to others in complete sentences.  Let’s put a fine point on this: what went into his mind affected his thoughts, and those thoughts eventually led to actions. 

Each one of us goes through much the same process every day.  We read books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, Facebook posts, tweets, and so on.  We look at pictures posted on Instagram, watch TV shows, movies, documentaries, and news programs.  We listen to music, talk radio, and (obviously) other people.  If you want proof that what you look at and listen to affects what you think about, and consequently influences your behavior, look no further than your nearest screen!  Whether it’s a smart phone, computer screen, or TV, we endure (and are even sometimes entertained by) the ever-present advertisements.  Ads appear in printed media like newspapers and magazines, and are featured prominently on giant billboards.  They’re everywhere!  Companies spend billions of dollars every year on commercials and ads in order to influence you to buy their products or services. And guess what?  IT WORKS! 

The Bible recognizes and addresses the fact that we are greatly affected by the things that we see and hear – especially by the things which we regularly allow into our minds because they are somehow attractive to us.  This phenomenon is not unique to the digital era, the age of information.  In fact, the Book of Job, possibly the oldest book of the Bible, touches on this very point…

 “I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman?”
~ Job 31:1 (NKJV)

Job knew that if he kept his eyes and mind focused on a young woman, lustful thoughts were virtually certain to enter his mind.  He made a conscious and purposeful decision to control what went into his mind; he surrendered his eyes to God’s will; he brought his thoughts into captivity under God.  In this very brief scripture, Job gives us a perfect example to follow.  He put on the Helmet of Salvation. 

Take away my foolish desires, and let me find life by walking with you.
~ Psalm 119:37 (CEV)

Making the decision to let God guide what we see and hear is the very essence of the Helm of Salvation.  You might now ask, “How do I do this?  How do I know what God wants me to allow into my mind by what I see and hear?”  It takes work.  It takes discipline.  Fortunately, there is a process which you can follow:  evaluate the content (the actual message) that is being communicated, and compare it to the word of God.  There is a saying which was quite popular several years back, and it applies to this process perfectly:  “What would Jesus do?”

If Jesus were walking about with us on the earth today, what movies or TV shows would He watch?  What music would He listen to?  What books would He read?  I firmly believe that Jesus could look upon and listen to any kind of media available today, no matter how vulgar, vile, or repugnant it may be, and He would not be led to sin.  But I am not Jesus.  You are not Jesus.  We do not have the strength of character that Jesus has.  Scripture makes this clear:

Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.
~Psalm 51:5 (HCSB)

…for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
~ Psalm 103:14 (NIV)

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.
~Romans 7:15 (NLT)

We must be careful when we watch movies and TV, when we listen to music, when we read books, and so on, because we can easily be tempted into sin by what the world displays before us.  The solution to our dilemma is always the same:  compare what you are seeing or hearing with what the Bible teaches.  If the message contained within it is contrary to the word of God, then run! 

Flee sexual immorality…
~1 Corinthians 6:18 (NKJV) 

flee from idolatry.

… flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.

Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
~2 Timothy 2:22 (NKJV) 

Notice that the last two scriptures listed above present first the removal of a temptation and then the replacement of it with something good.  This is the heart of what the Helm of Salvation does within our hearts and minds when we consciously, purposefully, and deliberately make the choice to put it on.

Do be careful when evaluating the various forms of media available today that you judge them based on content, not on style.  While this idea is important in every area which has been discussed, it seems to be particularly important in regard to music.  Always keep our primary mission in mind:  to reach out to the lost and point them toward Jesus.  In many cases, the music we use to praise and worship God in church or to edify (to build up or strengthen) our congregations of believers will not touch the heart of a lost person.  While you may not personally like or enjoy the way a piece of music sounds, keep in mind that different styles of music speak to different people.  Jesus met sinners where they were at, and we should make every effort to do the same.

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