Saturday, March 27, 2021

Naming the Enemy

In his remarkable little book Towards Spiritual Maturity, William Still describes what he calls “the three dimensions of the Cross.” Christ deals with sin as power, sins as deeds which bring guilt, and Satan as the Christian’s enemy: “root [sin], fruit [sins], and brute [the devil].”

That third dimension is important. We tend either to ignore or to exaggerate the activity of the devil. Our counseling, for example, does not always reflect the New Testament’s teaching that our fundamental struggle is “against the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). Many Christians confuse sickness and sin with demon-possession. How devil-like to push us to one extreme or the other.

In the New Testament, the spiritual enemy is portrayed in various ways. He is a liar (John 8:44) and the hinderer of God’s work (1 Thessalonians 2:18). The most graphic portrayal of him is in John’s vision of his overthrow in Revelation 12–13. John helps us recognize the enemy’s strategy by giving him titles. He sees him as the serpent of the Garden of Eden who has devoured so many creatures that he has now grown into a mighty dragon (Revelation 12:9). Four titles are used:

(1) The Deceiver. He uses his agents to “deceive the inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 13:13–14). He looks like a lamb, but his voice is that of the dragon (13:11).

From the beginning this has been his activity. “The serpent deceived me, and I ate,” confessed Eve (Genesis 3:13; cf. 1 Timothy 2:14). As the god of this age he blinds minds (2 Corinthians 4:4). We experience that whenever we fall into sin, temptation fills our horizon and we lose sight of what lies beyond it; we stop thinking clearly. Later, in our grief, we say, “If only I had seen the consequences.” But we were deceived and blinded.

What is the safeguard? Remember how the enemy tried to deceive Jesus in the wilderness temptations? But our Lord had hidden God’s Word in His heart; He was able to think biblically, that is, clearly. He saw through the deception.

(2) The Devil (Revelation 12:9). This name (from a compound of the Greek verb throw) means “mud-slinging” or slandering.

But where does the devil sling mud? On God’s character. He began to do this in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were surrounded by an abundance of good things: the creation, the animals, the river, the trees, the flowers, the fruit. But the serpent said, “God has put you here to mock you. Did He say ‘You must not eat from any of these trees’?” (Genesis 3:3). God had done no such thing. He had given them everything to enjoy (Genesis 2:16). Only one tree was forbidden (2:17).

Do you see the devil’s slander? He was “mud-slinging” on God’s loving, generous character and accusing Him of being a cynical monster. It is one of his favorite strategies, and we should not be “unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11). “Look at your circumstances,” he whispers, disguising his dragon voice, “God doesn’t really love you.”

What is our defense? Here is Paul’s: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Let the Cross persuade you of His love.

(3) Satan. Some commentators suggest that the root idea here includes attacking someone from an ambush. The attack is unexpected and the attacker is hidden.

Think of Job. He was ambushed; he had no idea that Satan was behind his suffering. Or think of Jesus when His dear friend Peter took hold of Him to restrain Him from going to the cross. But He recognized the source of the attack: “Out of my sight, Satan” was His response (Mark 8:33). His physical eyes saw Simon; His spiritual sight recognized the enemy.

Thankfully, God protects us from Satan even when we do not realize it. But how can we develop Jesus-like discernment? By Spirit-aided digestion of the solid food of God’s wisdom. Thus we are “trained … to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

(4) The Accuser of the brothers (Revelation 12:10). He keeps a diary of our guilt and failure. In God’s courtroom He accuses us (cf. Zechariah 3:1–2); in the courtroom of our own consciences, we hear the echoes. John Newton knew about this. He was “bowed down beneath a load of sin by Satan sorely pressed.”

Can we conquer him when he whispers that we are not fit to be Christians? Yes! John saw how: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11). But what is our testimony? It is this: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). So we can sing with Newton:

Be thou my Shield and Hiding Place

That, sheltered near Thy side,

I may my fierce accuser face,

And tell him Thou hast died.

It is always a first principle of warfare that we know our enemy and our resources. That is as true of spiritual conflict as it is of military combat.