Results tagged “Satan” from Reformation21 Blog

The Adversary and the Intercessor

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I love the hymn "Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners" - but one line makes me uncomfortable every time I sing it: "Jesus! What a strength in weakness! Let me hide myself in him; tempted, tried, and sometimes failing, he, my strength, my vict'ry wins." Sometimes failing? How about many times...often...frequently? I need the strength of Jesus every day because I am incredibly weak and full of sin. My heart is covered with more than enough nooks and crannies on which Satan can get a handhold through temptation to pull me down.

Recently, the words of Jesus to Peter in Luke 22:31-32 have been a source of great comfort to me in my struggle against sin and temptation: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." In these verses we see two prayer requests - Satan's demand to shake us to pieces, and Jesus' intercession to uphold us when we fall. We see as well the ministry that results due to the prayer of Jesus. In the experience of Peter's denial of Jesus and his repentance, our hearts find hope.

Several things stand out from Jesus' opening words to Simon Peter - "Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat..." First, notice that Satan's request is violent: he desired to sift the disciples (the "you" in Luke 22:31 is plural) like wheat, shaking them through a sieve, as it were, breaking them to pieces, and bringing them to ruin. Just as he was permitted to assault Job and his family violently, so Satan is allowed to afflict the eleven, and Peter in particular, with grievous effect. He seeks to devour us as well, and so we must be watchful (I Peter 5:8). Second, recognize that God at times grants Satan's requests and accedes to his "demands," at least in part. Though the Scriptures are clear that God is never the source of sin or temptation (James 1:13-15), yet it is plain from the disciples' experience following these words that the sovereign God, while not allowing Satan to "have" His elect ultimately, is willing to give us over to Satan's temptations. This is a sobering reality, and in part should lead us never to be surprised when we fall into grievous sin. To be sure, we ought never to be satisfied in or content with our sin, for which we are always responsible - yet we shouldn't be surprised by it either. Third, never forget that Satan must ask permission of God to tempt and try us. We see this reality in the experience of Job (Job 1:6ff.), and here in the life of the disciples. Satan does not have absolute, sovereign sway over us, but is limited - he prowls about like a roaring lion, yes, but he is a lion on a leash. There is comfort in knowing that Satan cannot do to us whatever he might wish, but must submit to the will of our loving heavenly Father.

We also find incredible hope in the fact that while Satan our adversary desires our harm, Jesus our Priest intercedes for us: "...but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail." If the shaking of Satan is terrifying, even more assuring is the praying of Jesus! Jesus prays for Peter in particular (the pronoun here is singular), knowing that he will bear the brunt of the devil's assaults, and must rise to lead the weary band of disciples after the resurrection. He prays that Peter's faith will not give out totally. If Peter were left to his own strength and pride, surely he, like Judas, would fall and never get up again. But He who always lives to intercede for the saints (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34) knows and can sympathize with our weaknesses, since He has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He knows our peculiar sin struggles, and knows how to pray most pointedly in our time of need. The prayers of Jesus are effectual, and they are fervent. Therefore "the righteous man falls seven times, and rises again" (Proverbs 24:16). Our hope in time of temptation is not found within ourselves, but in the heavenly throne room, where the Lord rebukes the accuser, clothes us with His righteousness in place of our sin, and empowers us to walk in His ways with greater and greater delight every day (see Zechariah 3:1-7).

That brings us to the final thing Jesus' words to Peter teach us: when we are tempted and actually fall, the prayers of Jesus on our behalf drive us to repentance and ministry to others in their time of weakness (cf. I Samuel 12:19ff.). "And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." Jesus' words prophesy not only Peter's denials, but his reaffirmation of faith (see John 21); and they lay out his mission of encouragement, reinforcing, and helping the weak (cf. I Thessalonians 5:14). God's purposes in allowing Satan to sift us like wheat are many. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, "The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave, for a season, his own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends" (WCF 5.5). One of the "sundry other" goals of God in leaving us to ourselves is to equip us with patience, understanding, and ability to support those who would fall around us. He equips us for ministry through our own failures. He turns our evil to good.

Are you tempted, tried and frequently failing? Hear Jesus: though God allows Satan to shake you, Jesus is praying for you, that your faith will not fail. So when you fall, get up, and turn your trial against your enemy, using it for the good of those around you, and the glory of God.

Did God Really Say?

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By questioning what God really said, the serpent infamously enticed Eve to do more than simply assess whether God's Word was trustworthy. The serpent's question lured Eve, and Adam in her wake, into a radical reordering of their relationship with the One who had spoken. The question enticed Adam and Eve to attempt an autonomous empirical investigation as to what the past really meant and what the future might hold, to assume that they and God were equal partners in a fundamentally unpredictable world, to think they could become, as it were, "like God" -- all on the basis of the groundless innuendo that God had not spoken clearly and reliably to His creatures. The Spirit's recording in Scripture of the satanic question and its devastating consequences reminds the church today that postmodern suggestions of new ways to handle God's perspicuous Word may not be innocent exercises of a new intellectual humility, but rather latter day echoes of an ancient and insidious voice.

Happily, Reformed Theological Seminary, Covenant Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary, with editorial oversight by Dr. David B. Garner, have cooperated to provide the church with a new aid to resist that voice in Did God Really Say? Affirming the Truthfulness and Trustworthiness of Scripture. This collection of essays draws on seminar papers delivered by scholars from the contributing institutions at the 2011 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. I had the privilege of attending nearly all of those seminars and knew then that this would be a book worth having. Here are some clips to give you a little taste of what you will find in this new volume:

"For the sake of the church, these studies present the historically Reformed understanding of the objective and inherent clarity and certainty of the Word of God" (Forward, Robert C. [Ric] Cannada, Jr., Bryan Chapell, Peter A. Lillback);

"To put it frankly, there is an unnerving sympathy within evangelical scholarship for seeking light in darkness, for synthesizing antithesis, and even for wedding belief and unbelief" (Introduction, David B. Garner);

"The confession is setting forth the notion here, radical in its context, that one determines what Scripture is not by going somewhere outside of Scripture, but by Scripture itself" ("Because It Is the Word of God," K. Scott Oliphint);

"To say it a bit differently, the doctrine of inerrancy is not only about the truthfulness of the Spirit-inspired Word but also about the trust a Spirit-led people invest in that Word" (B.B. Warfield's Church Doctrine of Inspiration," Michael D. Williams);

"The church's full affirmation of these books does not show that it created or constituted the canon, but is the natural and inevitable outworking of the self-authenticating nature of Scripture" ("Recent Challenges to the New Testament Writings," Michael J. Kruger);

"It is natural for the flesh to bridle when what we think is right is challenged. It is not so easy to care about the individuals and enclaves who are perceived or real opponents of Christian teaching" ("Grounds for Grace in the Debate," Robert W. Yarbrough);

"But we are made in the image of God, and the language God has given us as a gift is designed by God" ("God and Language," Vern S. Poythress);

"The question is simple. Given that God inspired the Bible, what effect did that inspiration have on the biblical text?" ("N.T. Wright and the Authority of Scripture," John M. Frame).

"Rather than viewing the Creator/creature distinction as an obstacle to understanding, we must rather see that our very creation in God's image establishes clear duty to God's Word, an ontological imperative, a religious obligation to obey the covenantal demands expressed in the perspicuous words of our Creator" ("Did God Really Say?" David B. Garner)

Let us feast on these essays, think deeply, and resolve to recognize and resist all echoes of the serpent's query.

When Satan comes to church

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The famous Welsh preacher, Christmas Evans, once vividly described what he imagined Satan would look like if he came to church:
The way in which a man hears the Gospel is an index to the state of his heart and the nature of his affections and desires. If we were to suppose that Satan came into the congregation, what kind of hearer would he be? He is the inveterate enemy of all truth, righteousness and godliness; and the sanctification of the soul, devotion, and spiritual affections in the worshippers of the house of God vex [annoy] him sorely [greatly]. If one day, then, in human form he took his place amongst the hearers of the everlasting Gospel, we may fancy that, in order to hinder and annoy as much as possible, he would take his seat in a conspicuous place, either under the pulpit or in front of the gallery, before the eyes of all. Then he would pull ugly faces and close his eyes, and appear as if asleep. He would most anxiously guard against giving the slightest indication of being touched by what was said. Not a trace of conviction, submission, peace and joy should on any account ever appear. He would scowl and knit his brows and shake his head, and show every disapproval of the Gospel he hears, as if he would change every man in the place into the same devilish disposition. Such, I say, would be the deportment of the arch-enemy as a hearer of the Word of God. But have we not seen many that have the name of Christ upon them an exact picture of this?
Quoted in Owen Jones, Some of the Great Preachers of Wales (Stoke-on-Trent, UK: Tentmaker Publications, 1995), 179.
What picture do you paint when viewed in the pew from the pulpit? Are you in any way a hearer who militates against not only benefit to your own soul, but the doing of good to all those who can see you, hear you, or sense you when the Word of God is being preached?

If you are a preacher, do you see "an exact picture of this" in front of you when you stand to preach? Perhaps you can tell the tale of the man who huffs and puffs when certain truths are preached, of the woman who would sigh loudly and roll her eyes when certain texts were announced, of the hearer who slammed down his Bible, slumped in his seat and folded his arms when he disliked the emphasis? Some of us have walked - or do walk - with heavy tread to the pulpit, knowing that every sentence will be a fight. It troubles the soul, distresses the mind, grieves the heart, and hinders the effort. It is a hard and painful thing to preach with the devil in the front row, but our task is not - first and foremost - to please the ears of the congregation with their fancies, but to reach their hearts with God's truths.

Evidence of malevolence

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If you wanted evidence of the cruel intelligence and brutal vindictiveness of the Adversary, ask a preacher about the coincidence of his preparations and temptations. You will begin to understand why it was that Luther flung an inkpot at the devil while seeking to translate the Scriptures.

Is he seeking to preach on humility? Opportunities for pride will present themselves. Is he seeking to demonstrate that the true believer's assurance lies, in part, in a development in vital piety and progress in the battle against sin? Be sure that he will be battered with temptations to sins new and old which would rob him of his own sense of peace. Self-control? He will fight with lusts within and without, with gluttony and with laziness. Family life? He will argue with his wife. Patience? Other drivers will prove particularly incompetent on the roads. A peaceable spirit? Annoying people will get involved. Love for the saints? Someone will be obnoxious. Vigour in service? He will fall sick or be tempted to fritter away his time, leading to battles against doubts and despondencies legitimate and illegitimate. Often in the very act of preaching he will be assaulted by blasphemies, lusts, distractions, the very presence of which are calculated to rob him of his assurance, his power, his concentration, his credibility - real temptations to real sins which, if even the temptations and his struggles against them could be seen for a moment, might seem entirely to disqualify him from his office. And if things seem at any point to improve, the voice of pride is quick to suggest that this is down to his plans, his labours, his gifts: "Didn't you do well?"

Alongside of this, in a more generic sense, every effort to reform his own life or to promote increased holiness or zeal in the church will be met with countless distractions and intensified opposition against him and against the church as a whole.

Every high point he seeks to conquer for the Lord Christ he finds more stoutly defended than he ever imagined, and the more intently he pursue his goal the hotter the battle becomes.

In part, this is due to a heightened awareness of sin. As he unpacks the issues, as he studies the strategy and tactics of the enemy, he becomes more conscious of the ways and means employed to contend with the saints. He finds increasing evidence of certain sins in his own life because he is increasingly aware of what to look for; he finds exposed his lack of holiness in a particular area because he is more attuned to what ought to be present. He becomes more conscious of outcrops of sin and lacunae in holiness among the congregation precisely because he is increasingly sensitive to the contours of godliness that ought to be present.

However, this is also because of heightened aggression. Whether in himself or in others, he finds that there is a real battle taking place in the life and service of the Christian, a battle in which he himself is called both to take a prominent part and to set an example. He finds in his own experience as both sheep and under-shepherd the evidence of malevolence, the marks of a cruel will opposing every effort to press on in order that he might lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of him (Phil 3.12). He is left in no doubt that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph 6.12).

So, let us not underestimate the reality of this spiritual warfare, nor its specific and aggressive manifestations, not least in the life of the man whose particular duty it is to explain, apply and model the godliness which God requires, personally and corporately.  Do not expect the ministry to be a life of ease, but a life of perpetual and increasing striving against sin and for godliness. Pray for your pastors and teachers, that they might withstand in the evil day, and having done all, might stand (Eph 6.13), and so help you to stand also.

Amidst all this evidence of malevolence, where is the evidence of grace? It is right there, in the fact that the preacher is still wrestling, still preaching, still striving, still standing and even renewing his strength so that - contrary to all he deserves and all he might expect and despite all the opposition he faces - he mounts up with wings like eagles, he runs and is not weary, he walks and does not faint (Is 40.31).