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The Work of Satan and the People of God

March 10, 2014

In his preface to the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis famously writes,

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.  One is to disbelieve in their existence.  The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

How do we develop the proper approach to dealing with Satan and his demons?  I think our approach must be informed by the Biblical witness regarding Satan and his kingdom.  Satan and his demons play a role from Genesis to Revelation—from the Fall to the end of the age, they are present in God’s creation.

Most people have a familiarity with Satan’s temptation of Eve in Eden that led to the fall of Adam and Eve and their descendants into sin.  This event is recorded in Genesis 3.  God had created Adam and Eve, placed them in a garden of paradise, given them all things and especially eternal life in his presence.  God gave them many trees from which to eat and springs of water from which to drink; however, he forbade them to eat from one tree called the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God warned Adam before the creation of Eve that if he ate of it he would “surely die.” Adam or God must have given Eve this same warning.

The Biblical introduction to Satan comes as he appears in the form of a crafty serpent bent on leading the newly formed humans into sin, death and eviction from God’s paradise.  Satan succeeds in leading Adam and Eve into disobedience by seducing them to eat from the forbidden tree.  The method he used to tempt them illustrates the same method he uses today.  What’s worse today is that we are already fallen, broken, wounded, vulnerable and apart from God.  We are naturally much more like Satan than we care to admit.

Consider Jesus’ rebuke of Satan when Jesus was tempted to forgo his march to the cross, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mark 8.33)  In addition to other lessons we learn from Jesus’ rebuke of Satan, we learn that the mind of people and the mind of Satan are similar corrupted.  The commonness includes the exaltation of self in rebellion against our Creator God.

In the garden, Satan presumes to speak in the place of God.  He sets himself up as judge and arbiter of what is good or evil.  In response to Eve’s recitation of God’s prohibition against eating (now touching) the forbidden fruit, Satan says, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Satan gets behind God’s words, contradicts them and reissues a false assertion as truth.  Jesus confirms his deceptive character when he says of Satan, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8.44) He always lies in pursuit of committing murder and damning others to death and hell.
adam-eve-temptation

Immediately after entertaining Satan’s conversation, Eve exalted herself to the place of God, evicting him from the throne of her life and usurping his authority to command and instruct.  She says to herself that the tree seems good for food, delightful in appearance and desirable for making one wise.  She deludes herself into thinking she has the authority over herself and creation to dictate what is good and what is wise.  She rejects God and submits to herself, which the reader knows is really the mind of Satan. 

She gives the fruit to her husband who also eats it.  Their eyes are immediately opened to a world of sin and death.  They are evicted from Paradise and the intimacy of their heavenly Father.  This was Satan’s goal, and he achieved it.  He is achieving it everyday.

The Christian theologian Stanley Hauerwas describes Satan’s temptation, “In short, the devil’s question invited them to assume that they were equal with God.”  This invitation comes to the door of the heart and mind of people everyday.  It comes in many forms.  The messengers change, but the invitation’s host is always the same.

Let me give you an example of one such messenger.  Former Roman Catholic priest Eugene Kennedy is an American psychologist, bestselling author, columnist, and a professor emeritus of LoyolaUniversity in Chicago.  The seasoned theologian recently published a book titled Believing.  I assumed the book would be something about the nature of faith, how people believe and why, and the outcomes of belief versus unbelief.  Rather, the author encourages readers to believe in themselves as the source of the abundant life about which Jesus taught.

“Human beings need to believe,” asserts Eugene Kennedy in his book.  Kennedy suggests that the human destiny depends on our learning to believe. Kennedy confidently claims that the “pervasive and intense” hunger of humans for belief is best satisfied by believing in themselves. He asserts that “the emerging consciousness of our time turns humans back to themselves.” For Kennedy, the Christian Gospel “bids us to go deeper into ourselves and our experiences, to find the kingdom within ourselves, in the powers that we can draw on to achieve what St. John describes as `life to the full.'”

This philosophy of believing may appear insightful.  It is certainly written with gusto and eloquence; however, it delivers a prescription for either delusion or despair. It is faith anchored in self and perhaps other people rather than the firm foundation of the Biblical Creator God and Savior Christ, as taught by the historic faith. Kennedy explains that “Faith makes us whole because it draws forth the realization of the fullness of ourselves through our true personalities.”

Kennedy adeptly transcribes the message of Satan to Eve.  He continues to convince people to follow and serve the exalted self.  This corroborates the overwhelmingly narcissistic ethos of our culture that depends on therapeutic affirmations and pseudo-authoritative self-reasoning for escape from the miserable state of our souls.   It is rare that I rate a book a one-star on Amazon.com; it is even rarer that I toss a book in the trash.  Kennedy’s book earned both.  You can read my full review on Amazon.

Martin Luther describes the state of the fallen world, “The world is insane.  It tries to get rid of its insanity by the use of wisdom and reason; and it looks for many ways and means, for all sorts of help and advice on how to escape this distress.”  Imagine the insane world looking into its own insanity for rescue.  That is the world of Satan and his kingdom.

In his Preface to Milton’s Paradise Lost, C.S. Lewis describes Satan’s world as “a world of misery and a world of lies and propaganda, wishful thinking and incessant autobiography.”  This is the default world of humans, and Christians are susceptible to it as long as we are in it.

Here is one more example of how we are influenced by Satan to think for ourselves.  This comes from the issue of abortion and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy who shares the insane reasoning behind killing the unborn.  Kennedy offered the opinion in the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey that secured more foundation in America for unrestricted abortions.

In explaining his “reasoned judgment” in support of abortion rights, he opined, “Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.  At the heart of liberty, is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

That is the thinking that leads to holocaust in any form.  It also leads to our private sins—be they in our homes or in our minds.  This self-assertion and deluding pride  only leads to misery, defeat, death and damnation.

What else does the Bible teach about Satan and his demons?  Here are some revealing Scriptures:

Matthew 13:19   When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.

Luke 22:31  “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.

Acts 5:3   Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?

1 Corinthians 7:5   Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

2 Corinthians 2:10-11  If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven– if there was anything to forgive– I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

2 Corinthians 11:13-14  For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.

Ephesians 4:26-27   “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,   and do not give the devil a foothold.

1 Thessalonians 2:18  For we wanted to come to you– certainly I, Paul, did, again and again– but Satan stopped us.

2 Thessalonians 2:9-10   The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders,  and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.

1 Timothy 5:14-15   So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.  Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.

2 Timothy 2:24-26 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,  and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

1 Peter 5:8  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Revelation 12:9-10  And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world–he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.  And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.

The above Scripture from Revelation indicates four significant truths about Satan and his demons.  Christians need to keep these truths in mind.

1.         Satan is the deceiver.  The devil’s main mode of operation is to tempt people through deception.  This is confirmed throughout Scripture.  Living the Christian life depends on living according to the truth.  Jesus encourages us to follow him—the Truth and to continue in his word that we might know the truth.  He gives us the Spirit of Truth to be with us, and he prays that we might be “sanctified by the truth.”  From the position of truth, we can identify and reject the enemy’s lies.  He is an expert liar.  He speaks eloquently and subtly makes his words sound like our thoughts or even like God’s thoughts.

2.         Satan is the accuser.  He levies accusations against believers about themselves and about others.  I think these accusations make up many of the “fiery darts” we deflect with the “shield of faith.”  He has been thrown down and out of the court of heaven.  He no longer has an audience with the Almighty God.  As Jesus said prior to his death and resurrection, “Now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” (John 12:31)  And he was.  He still accuses and causes havoc among Christians who listen and internalize his words.  We are given ears to hear the voice of God and the gift of discernment so that we can reject Satan’s voice.  We have work to do, though.  The author of Hebrews identifies mature Christians “who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14)  We must all strive to become such Christians.

3.         Satan and his angels have been thrown down.  There is a horde of demons who follow Satan in the world.  I imagine them like a marauding gang of hoodlums who are constantly running rampant seeking open doors and windows through which they can enter to cause destruction.  If they check a house that is secure, they will be back during the next round to canvass it again.  Christians must be constantly vigilant to give these demons no foothold, no opportunity, no voice, no access and no time except to rebuke them, bind them and send them away.  All of our figurative doors and windows must be locked and the alarm system turned on.

4.         Salvation, power and authority have come through Jesus Christ to his followers.  Through the cross of Jesus Christ and the resurrection, God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.” (Colossians 2:15)  Satan and his demons are defeated foes allowed to function in the world according to God’s sovereign wisdom.  Jesus has given believers power and authority over demons, just like he had and demonstrated during his ministry.  Satan will lie, accuse, tempt and oppress as much as he can, but it is to no avail when we use the power God has given us to renounce ungodliness. (Titus 2:12)

In his book, Worship as Repentance, the theologian Walter Sundberg encourages the Christian response to the world and mind of Satan.  He writes, “If one accepts a fallen world, subject to the devil, deserving of judgment, where people waste their lives and find no ultimate satisfaction.  Into this world comes the promise of release, the offer of the grace of God. To receive this grace requires one thing and one thing only: repentance.”

I think James says the same thing in this way, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8)  When we repent of following our own wills and sinful ways and turn to God, God draws near to us with Salvation that includes healing and deliverance.

Jesus overcomes the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, on the road, in Gethsemane and on the cross by resisting the temptation of the devil to follow his own will.  Jesus rather submits to God.  He always obeys his Father.  This posture is revealed in his prayers from Gethsemane, “Not what I will, but what you will.”  This is the assertion of God’s will and victory over Satan.

The early 17th century Italian Jesuit Robert Bellermine summarizes the victory Christians can experience in their victory over Satan.  He writes, “From that victory of Christ it came to pass that not only men, as was Adam, but even women and children insult the devil and triumph over him. He is overcome by the grace of Christ, and so overcome that many display trophies of chastity, patience, humility, charity, although the devil eagerly and constantly casts his fiery darts of temptation and persecution.”

Christians overcome the devil in and through Jesus Christ.  The victory for Christians is demonstrated by living holy lives of Christian discipleship that are lived by grace for the sake of others and the glory of God.  Bellermine also emphasizes the reality that the devil does not give up his assault on Christians.  He will not give up his fight until he and all of his demons are thrown into the lake of fire that is his end. (Rev 20:10)  The above Scriptures indicate that the enemy seeks to devour, to oppress, to hold our wills captive, to slander, to tempt, to shame and condemn.  Without our fierce resistance, we will be victims of these during our lives in this world.

Christians can and do reign in life.  We can only reign by God’s grace, through living in the righteousness of eternal life freely given to us through Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:21)  Through Jesus, we must, in fact, exercise this dominion against the enemy.

 


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