Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Satan

Amazing grace

That saved a wretch like me
I am not wretched because of things others have done to me, even though those things may have been horribly wretched. I am wretched because of the things I have done, the choices I have made.

God is not a sadistic puppet master who made me do bad things, then condemned me to eternal punishment for doing them. There were always better choices available to me, but I always wanted to blame someone else for my wrong choices.

Eve did not force Adam to eat of the fruit. The serpent did not force Eve to pluck the fruit and bite into it. God did not force Satan to rebel against Him. None of these things were pre-determined. Neither were the bad choices that I made. I am wretched because I deliberately made those bad choices.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
It was hard to see that it was grace that brought me face to face with my wretchedness, that made me feel the crushing weight of my guilt and fear the utter hopelessness of my situation. Yet without that I would never have made the next step.

I admitted to myself and to God that all my problems were of my own doing, nobody had pushed me, all my problems were caused by choices I had made.

And grace my fears relieved
Suddenly, unexpectedly, that crushing weight of guilt, and the fear of God’s judgement were gone. God’s grace had come down and I was forgiven and free.

That is why grace is so amazing.

Darkness was upon the face of the deep

When first created the earth was tohu and bohu  – “without form and void,” as the AV translation has it. The words could also be translated “confusion and emptiness.” And there was darkness over all this chaotic mass – not a physical darkness, which would be meaningless before the vision of the Creator – but spiritual darkness was present here from the very beginning and would soon begin to manifest its subversive presence in God’s creation.

“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” I much prefer the “moved” of the AV to the “hovered” found in many newer translations. “Moved” indicates a purposeful surveying of the chaos below with a plan for what it would become. The first indication of that purpose was shown when He said “Let there be light,” and instantly there was light, and a clear demarcation between light and darkness.

Not much later, God caused the dry land to rise up out of the water, then proceeded to populate the land with vegetation, animal and bird life and finally humanity. The sequence of the events in the days of creation are significant. The conflict between light and darkness, between the sea and the dry land, are themes that play out all through the narrative of the Bible, and these conflicts existed before man made his appearance on the earth.

I will not say much about darkness and light, for I suspect the concept of the powers of darkness and the God who brings light are at least somewhat familiar to most people.  Water and the sea are often used in the Bible as symbols of the  unstable state in which most of the people of the world exist. Consider the following verses:

Revelation 17:15 – And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
Psalms 18:4  – The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.
Psalms 65:7 –  Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.
Isaiah 8:7  – Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks.
James 1:6  – But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

There are fearsome creatures in this water, of which leviathan appears to be the chief. The description of leviathan in the book of Job led many commentators in past years to identify leviathan as a crocodile. Fearsome though a crocodile may be, the turmoil and devastation caused by leviathan goes far beyond the powers of a crocodile. More recent writers conjecture that leviathan was a water-dwelling dinosaur. Perhaps that gets us a little closer to the physical description, but the Biblical passages describing leviathan go beyond even that. They appear to describe a mighty spiritual power that is behind the stirring of the waters and the tossing of the waves of this world – Satan himself.

Isaiah 27:1  – In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

The dry land – eretz – is meant to be a place of safety and stability for those who put their trust in God. Nevertheless, the book of Revelation shows us the prototypes of two forms of false religions. One arises out of the sea of confused humanity that does not know God and its power comes from the dragon, or Leviathan. This is paganism and all forms of false religion. The other arises out of the earth, has the appearance of a lamb, yet speaks as the dragon. This is counterfeit Christianity and is as dangerous as the first.

God promised a land to His Old Testament people – eretz Israel. They did possess it in peace for a short time. The teaching that some near day God will once again rule from eretz Israel is fantasy and delusion. He has something much better in store for his people. The description of the new Jerusalem shows a land where there is no more darkness and the sea is now a solid and safe sea of crystal . There are no more monsters; there is no evil, no sorrow. The redeemed of all the ages shall dwell there in peace and joy in the presence of their Lord and Redeemer.

 

The cause of divisions

At one point in Jesus’ earthly ministry, those who doubted suggested that He performed miracles through the power of Beelzebub, or Satan. “But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand?” (Luke 11:17-18)

Division is characteristic of our world today, in every area. There are conflicting ideas about nutrition and health, about child training, education, about the environment, about mental health, about the best way to help the poor and the homeless. There are conflicting truth claims about religion, conflicting doctrines among Christians. Does this mean that God is divided?

Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 7:29, says: “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” That is, God wishes to lead mankind in a way that is upright and simple to understand, but we have invented innumerable alternatives to His way.

We didn’t invent those alternatives all by ourselves; we had help. The serpent in the Garden of Eden suggested to Eve that there was perhaps an alternative to God’s instruction about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Since that time, Satan has made it his business to suggest to each one of us that we are being treated unfairly by others, even by God Himself. Although those suggestions come from outside ourselves, we become guilty when we accept them and act on them.

Satan is not divided against himself. Division is his stock in trade. He sows division between children and parents, husband and wife, between close friends and even between Christians. His goal is to cause division and mistrust until everyone stands alone, trusting no one but himself or herself. We see this between nations, in relations between employers and employees, between citizens and governments, between members of a congregation and their pastors.

This is not to say that there are not injustices. Those there are aplenty. But every time Satan suggests a way to alleviate an injustice he makes the situation worse. We should not think this to be an accident and that the remedy would work if only better people were put in charge. If we are listening to the suggestions of Satan, he will see to it that no permanent remedy can be achieved.

God offers a way to find peace in the midst of this chaos and to mend broken relationships. But we first have to become reconciled to the fact that we live in a broken and unjust world. We cannot expect that others will always treat us fairly; injustice is part of our lot in life. Our role is not to correct the injustices done by others, but to correct the injustices that we have done, to learn to treat others with respect and love so that we do not repeat our acts of injustice.

Jesus left us this promise in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” One day He will return to judge all those who have been unjust in their dealings with others. May we not be found in that number.

If any man defile the temple of God

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

This simple little statement of the Apostle is often misunderstood. What he is not saying here is that we should not defile our own physical body. That is not a good idea and is dealt with in other places. In this particular passage he is warning against defiling the church of God. The old fashioned “ye” is the second person plural subject pronoun. He is not addressing one person but the whole church at Corinth, and by extension all members of the church in all ages. Thus we have a plural subject and a singular object: “the temple of God.” This is the church and the Apostle is plainly saying that if any person will defile the church, God will not take it lightly.

Remember the story of Achan? He took a little of the forbidden booty from the destruction of Jericho and hid it in his tent. This was just his little personal misdeed, wasn’t it? No one else need know. The result was that thirty-six Israelites died when they tried to take the next city. Achan’s sin affected the whole camp of Israel and he and his family had to die for Achan’s “little” sin.

How much does the church suffer today because of careless Christians who think that it doesn’t matter what they do when no one is looking? We are playing into Satan’s trap when we think like that and leaving an opening for him to attack the whole church. Do we expect God to take such a thing lightly?

How to catch a monkey

If you want to capture a monkey you first need to get a wooden box and fill it about half full with stones. Then cut a hole in the lid just large enough for a monkey to get his hand through, throw some peanuts on top of the stones and securely fasten the lid to the box. The only other thing you need is a rope strong enough that the monkey cannot break it. Now you take the rope, hide behind a tree and wait for a monkey to come along.

When the monkey appears he will be tempted by the smell of the peanuts, he will go closer and closer to the box, look around for any sign of danger, then thrust his hand into the box and grab the peanuts. When he tries to pull his hand back out he cannot because now it is a fist full of peanuts. He will try and try to get his hand out, but he will not let go of those peanuts.

That’s all it takes to trap a monkey. Now all you have to do is walk up behind him, put the rope around his waist and tie it. Then you can break the lid to set his hand free and let him eat the peanuts.

Or so the story goes. I do not have any first hand experience with this method, never having been in a land where monkeys roam and not having any desire to catch a monkey if I had been.

However, I’m afraid that too often I have been that monkey. Satan laid a trap for me, I grabbed what was offered and then I was trapped. Why is it so hard to let go of those things that we know have led us into a trap? Is there anything in this world that is that important?

Triumph in the cross

Jesus entered enemy territory when He came to earth, and He knew it. Satan and He had been adversaries since the Garden of Eden when Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, asking her, “Did God really say you shouldn’t eat it? You must have misunderstood, it’s good for you.”

Since that time, Satan had opposed the work of God by every means at his disposal. Far too often he had been successful, yet his ultimate goal of proving God’s love for mankind to be a failure had been continually stymied. Now here was the Son. Satan’s thought was no doubt the same as the wicked husbandmen in Jesus’ parable: “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.”

Satan’s plan appeared to have succeeded. He stirred up the religious leaders to use desperate measures to eliminate the One whom they perceived to be a threat to their positions and authority. Jesus hung on the cross, His lefe ebbing away. Satan felt victory within his grasp. Then he heard the terrible words from the cross: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Terrible words for the enemy of our souls, but wonderful, life-giving words for all of us who by our sins were responsible for Jesus being nailed to the cross.

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. (Colossians 2:13-15)

The importance of being weak

Maria Braun was arrested in 1966 for teaching a foreign ideology to young children in the Kirghiz Soviet Republic. She had organized classes for preschool and older children to teach about faith in Jesus Christ. Another lady was arrested with her and at their trial the judge sentenced the other lady to five years in prison, but gave Maria only three years because of her young age. Maria demanded the same sentence as her friend, declaring that she was able to bear it.

In prison, Maria continued to be a zealous witness of Jesus Christ — for three years. Then she suddenly declared that she had been rescued from faith in Jesus Christ and now believed in herself.

What happened? Some have blamed prison conditions and the relentless Soviet propaganda. Fellow believers saw that she had been faithful during the three years of her original sentence and believed that her pride had led her outside of the shelter of God’s protecting hand.

When we express a desire to be strong Christians, do we understand what we are asking for? Do we realize the danger of believing that we are strong Christians? “I could never do what so-and-so has done. My faith is strong, I have had so much good teaching, I could never fall like that.”

In saying this we step out from under God’s protective canopy and dare Satan to do his worst. He will, and we will fall.

The apostle Paul understood this. “ For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). He got the message when God told him that His strength was made perfect in weakness. “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

We cannot do great things for God. Yet when we acknowledge our weakness, He is able to do surprising things through us. May we be humble enough to allow God to surprise us.

Knowing who the true enemy is

While driving through downtown Saskatoon today, my wife and I noticed a billboard for the University of Lethbridge, which boasted “We teach you how to think, not what to think.” I wonder how true that is. As far as one can tell, the whole public education system in our country is committed to teaching and enforcing the doctrines of secular humanism – neo-Darwinism, atheism, the meaninglessness of life, etc.

The mass media are entirely supportive of this doctrine, acting in unison as a propaganda machine for it.  Some politicians may not be entirely at ease with this doctrine, but none dare say so openly.

Yet the “scientific” arguments of the New Atheists are incoherent and have no actual scientific foundation. Why is it that no one seems to be listening when it is pointed out that “the emperor has no clothes?”

It is because the people in academia and the media are only front men for a massive spiritual onslaught on mankind. Our true enemy is not people, but “the rulers of the darkness of this world.” Satan has duped people into seeing him and his messengers as angels of light, bringing the message of sweet reason to a world long held captive by belief in God.

However, the outcome of Satan’s message of light always tends to death. Christians are concerned, and rightly so, by the slaughter of millions of unborn babies and the creeping acceptance of euthanasia. There is also the slow and sure death of the soul as people are convinced that there is no meaning to life, no reason to hope, and no reason to care about others. Is it any wonder that suicide has become an epidemic in our day?

What the world needs is not better teachers, better reporters, or better politicians. They would all be subverted by the prevailing despair and spiritual darkness of our age. What the world needs is Christians who can explain why the existence of God gives meaning to all of life and to every individual life. God is not a vindictive monster who wants to make life miserable for us. He is a loving God who wants to give us a living hope that our life is precious to Him, that we can find joy and fulfilment in life, and that He has something even better planned for us in the life to come. It is true that “God is angry with the sinner every day,” but that is simply because sin leads to death and God wants us to live, truly live.

There are people who attempt to accommodate themselves to the thinking of the world, yet live as though they believed in God. They are attempting to appear intellectually respectable to the world, and at the same time fit in among Christians. Isn’t this the frog spirit described in the book of Revelation? Frogs are amphibious, able to seem at home  in the water (the world) and on the dry land (among Christians). This is not the way to lead an overcoming Christian life.

The meaning of Romans 12:2 is that we should not allow our thinking to be moulded after the prevailing thought of the age we live in, but that our thinking should be transformed by the renewing of the mind. That will set us free to allow God to use us to do His work here on earth.

The world needs such people. I believe that it would be possible to turn the world upside down once more if Christians could grasp the true liberating power of the gospel message. Yes there are people who desperately want to believe that there is no God to whom they will have to give account for their actions. Nevertheless, God has created all men and women with a heart that will feel empty and alienated until they experience the love of God. Don’t we have an obligation to speak plainly to the real needs of such people?

The apostle Paul makes three statements in Romans 1:14-16 that should be the motto of every Christian:

I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

I am ready to preach the gospel.

I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.

Do we feel that debt? Can we truly say that we are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ? How ready are we to do something about it?

And the darkness comprehended it not

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5).  Here is a verse where the English language seems to lack a word to fully express what is meant.  Darkness, and English synonyms such as obscurity, shadows, blackness, all indicate the absence of light.  The word used in French in this place is ténèbres.  I believe that Bibles in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese also use forms of the same word.

Ténèbres indicates a darkness that has an independent existence, not just the absence of light, but something that is opposed to light.  It is a moral or spiritual darkness, the opposite of the light of God.  In Ephesians 2:2 where the apostle refers to“the rulers of the darkness of this world,” the wording in French is “the princes of this world of ténèbres.”

The apostle John tells us in another place that “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19).  That is, the whole world is ruled by the powers of darkness.  Jesus came into this world as the embodiment of the light of God.  And the darkness pushed back.

The time came that Satan and the rulers of darkness thought they had succeeded in forever snuffing out the light of God from this world.  Then the light burst forth again with a brilliance that told them that they had forever lost.  The forces of darkness will never again be seen in heaven; the place reserved for them is called “outer darkness.”

Nevertheless, their fury against God, and their hatred of the light, drives them to take as many others with them as they can.  The forces of darkness are very real and they are constantly at work to ensnare people into their darkness.

The apostle Paul tells us that “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).  He sends his messengers to us, speaking as the voice of sweet reason and offering us a counterfeit of the light.  However, the more we listen to the “light” they are offering us, the darker the pathway before us becomes.

The only way that we can push this darkness back is to allow God’s light to illuminate our hearts and minds and to inform our attitudes and actions.  We are called individually to walk in the light.  One little light all alone is good, but it is better if those lights are gathered together in homes and congregations so that the light shines farther in this dark world.  As we walk together in God’s light, we are the light of the world and we are doing our little part to drive back the darkness that has so engulfed this world.

All power

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Matthew 28:18

These are bold words, yet coming as they did from the mouth of one who had risen from the dead we must grant their credibility.  The question then is, at what point was Jesus given this power?  Was it at the moment of his resurrection, or did he possess all power before that?

After the resurrection we see that Jesus still had a body that could be touched, he could prepare food and eat it; nothing in his appearance announced that he was now different.  Yet he joined his followers in a closed room without opening a door, then left the same way.  Some people might think of this as something similar to Star Trek characters being teleported.  However, it does not seem that Jesus was moving miraculously from one place to another in the visible world, but that he was slipping between the created and uncreated spheres, between that which is temporal and that which is eternal.

This is remarkable enough, but before his crucifixion and resurrection he turned water into wine, multiplied the loaves and fishes, healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons and healed congenital infirmities.

The greatest display of his power, however, took place on the cross.  The battle between Christ and Satan began in heaven and continued on earth.  Jewish leaders had expected Messiah to restore their earthly kingdom and give them dominion over their enemies.  Jesus had a much greater goal in mind.  At the very moment when it seemed that Satan had finally gained a complete victory, the mercy seat in the heavens was anointed with the blood of the Son of God and Satan’s hope of victory was forever crushed.  The veil of the temple split from the top to the bottom, showing that all mankind now had free access to the mercy seat.

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.  Colossians 2:14-15

It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Hebrews 9:23-26

What seemed to be a fatal weakness was actually a display of power that transcends any other that we could imagine.  That should give us a pretty good clue as to how God expects us to witness of his power to others.  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1:25

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.  Matthew 18:18-20

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