The Defeat of the “Strong Man” (Arnold)

Powers of Darkness: Principalities & Powers in Paul's Letters by [Arnold, Clinton E.] When Jesus was answering the Pharisees’ diabolical accusation that he cast out demons “by the ruler of demons” (ἐν τῷ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίων) he gave an illustration:  “…No one is able to enter a strong man’s house and steal his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can thoroughly plunder his house” (NET).  That is a powerful illustration of Jesus’ power over the kingdom of darkness.  Here’s how Clinton Arnold nicely explains it:

From the context of Jesus’ words it is clear ‘the strong man’ is a reference to Satan, and his ‘house’ corresponds to his kingdom.  ‘Possessions’ [or property] are Satan’s greatest value and are not things, but people. Satan holds unbelieving humanity in bondage.  Christ has come to engage this ‘strong man’ and plunder his house; that is to release the captives in Satan’s kingdom.

This passage thus becomes a very important testimony to Jesus’ mission.  It provides additional clarification to the nature of the atonement. Jesus came not only to deal with the problem of sin in the world but also to deal with God’s prime supernatural opponent – Satan himself!

Jesus’ many exorcisms clearly demonstrate his power over the evil one.  They also provide numerous examples of Jesus’ ability to ‘bind’ Satan and ‘rob his house.’  In Mark’s account of the Gerasene demoniac, a man plagued with perhaps thousands of demons, it is highly significant to note that ‘no one could bind him’ (Mk. 5:1-20, esp. v. 3).  With only the concise command, ‘come out of the man, you unclean spirit,’ Jesus freed this man from horrific demonic influence.

The exorcisms, however, were not adequate by themselves to deal in any decisive way with the devil and his powers; that is, to ‘tie him up.’  They can only foreshadow an event of much greater importance.  Early Christian tradition uniformly looks to the cross/resurrection event as the point of fundamental significance in Christ’s conflict with the powers (Jn. 12:31-33; Acts 2:34-35, [etc., etc.]).  It was through this event that Satan and his hosts were dealt the fatal blow that spelled their final doom.  The strong man was defeated.

Clinton Arnold, The Powers of Darkness, p. 79-80.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Make Him Church (S)hop (Screwtape)

The Screwtape Letters by [Lewis, C. S.]

I love this section of Screwtape Letters where Screwtape, the older demon, gives his young demon-nephew Wormwood some tips on duping “churchgoing” Christians.  Screwtape says that if Wormwood can’t get a certain Christian to skip church altogether, the next best thing is to get him to church shop/hop, in a cynical and critical way, never opening up to receiving nourishment from preaching or joining the fellowship. After all, it’s harmful to Satan’s cause if a Christian becomes a living, serving, and active part of loving church fellowship that humbly receives the Word.

“My Dear Wormwood:”

“You mentioned casually in your last letter that the patient has continued to attend one church, and only one, since he was converted, and that he is not wholly pleased with it.  May I ask what you are about?  Why have I no report on the causes of his fidelity to the parish church?  Do you realize that unless it is due to indifference it is a very bad thing?  Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.”

“The reasons are obvious.  In the first place the parochial organization should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires.  The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction.”

“In the second place, the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil.  What he wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise – does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going.  …This attitude, especially during sermons, creates the condition (most hostile to our whole policy) in which platitudes can become really audible to a human soul.  There is hardly any sermon, or any book, which may not be dangerous to us if it is received in this temper.”

“So pray bestir yourself and send this fool the round of the neighboring churches as soon as possible.”

C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, chapter XVI.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Don’t Forget about Satan! (Kuyper)

Abraham Kuyper, “To Be Near Unto God”

For various reasons, sometimes Christians forget that Satan and his demonic horde really exist.  We know the stories in the Gospels where Jesus sent the demons running, but we sometimes forget the fact that Satan really prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour us (1 Pet 5:8).  We know that the NT epistles tell us to watch out for Satan’s schemes and attacks, but it’s not always on our minds (Eph 6:11, 2 Cor 2:11, etc.).  No doubt Satan loves it when Christians forget about him and his demonic ways.  I appreciate how Abraham Kuyper put it:

It should be carefully observed, that like a thief, Satan is most pleased when his presence and his work are not noticed. In circles where his existence is denied or ridiculed, his hands are altogether free to murder souls according to his liking. But that he can be so strangely forgotten by those who are more inclined to believe the Gospel, offers him the finest chances to poison souls. We may be sure that in all this denial and in all this forgetting of the actual existence of Satan, a trick of Satan himself operates. When the mighty spirit of Christ moved the waves of the sea of life in Palestine, Satan did not succeed with this for a moment, and Jesus compelled him to show himself. But now he succeeds in keeping himself in hiding, and unseen and unnoticed, from the ambush, to inwork his character, and consequently with better effect.

Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near unto God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co., 1918), 553.

Satan is crafty in his evil and even disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:4).  This isn’t to say that Satan is behind every door and every bad thing that happens, but it is to say he’s real, he’s on the prowl, and he’s trying his demonic best to wreck the peace and purity of the Church and the life of the Christian. Be on your guard, brother or sister!

Thankfully, Christ is on the throne and not even Satan and the hordes of hell can separate us from our Lord (John 10:28).  Satanic attacks may be real and fierce, but just as Jesus prayed for Peter, he’s praying for his people today, that their faith will not fail (Lk 22:32).  In Christ, and clothed with the armor of God, we can do all things through his strength – including resisting the devil or fleeing from him (depending on the circumstance).  The victory belongs to the Lord – and those who are in Him!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

How/Why Can Faith Resist Satan? (Watson)

 In his exposition of the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one), Thomas Watson explains how faith can be so strong as to resist Satan’s temptations in such a way that he flees from us (cf. James 4:7):

[Faith can resist Satan and put him to flight because] it brings the strength of Christ into the soul. Samson’s strength lay in his hair—ours lies in Christ. If a child is assaulted, it runs and calls to its father for help. Just so, when faith is assaulted, it runs and calls Christ, and in his strength overcomes. “In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Ephesians 6:16

Faith furnishes itself with a store of promises. The promises are faith’s weapons to fight with. As David, by five stones in his sling, wounded Goliath—so faith puts the promises, as stones, into its sling. 1 Sam 17:40. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Heb 13:5. “A bruised reed shall he not break.” Matthew 12:20. “Who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able.” 1 Cor 10:13. “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” Romans 16:20. “No man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” John 10:29. Here are five promises, like five stones, put into the sling of faith, and with these a believer may wound the red dragon. Faith being such a grace to resist and wound Satan, he watches his opportunity to batter our shield, though he cannot break it.

Indeed, this is why Paul said that faith is a shield “with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:17 NASB).

The above quote is from page 274 of Watson’s The Lord’s Prayer.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Your Judge is also Your Advocate and Savior (Toplady)

 One of the most difficult struggles in the Christian life is the constant struggle with sin and guilt.  We aren’t perfect; we still have remnants of the old man in us.  This world is no friend of grace, and Satan won’t leave us alone.  But Jesus is our Savior.  He died, rose again, and is now constantly interceding for us.  I love how Augustus Toplady wrote about this in a letter to a friend on March 6, 1767:

…Satan, no doubt, will be ever ready to bring in the indictment, and conscience cannot help pleading guilty to a great part of the charge: but remember, that your judge is, at the very same time, your advocate and Savior. He is a lover of your soul, and was the propitiation for your sins; they cannot be too numerous, nor too heinous, for mercy like his to pardon, nor for merit like his to cover.

Only flee to him for refuge, fly to the hiding place of his righteousness, death and intercession; and then, the enemy can have no final advantage over you, nor the son of wickedness approach to hurt you, in your everlasting interest. Assault you he may, in your way to the kingdom of God; overcome you he cannot, if you look, or desire to look, to Jesus for safety; lie at his blessed feet for protection; lay hold on his victorious cross for salvation; and then you shall find him gracious to relieve, mighty to deliver, and faithful to uphold. Cast [your] anchor on his love, and be happy, rely on his omnipotence, and be safe.

 Toplady, A. M. (1825). The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (Vol. 6, pp. 136–137). London; Edinburgh: William Baynes and Son; H. S. Baynes.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Justification by Grace Alone: Defense Against Satan’s Attacks (Gurnall)

 There are quite a few Bible truths and texts that help us when Satan comes to accuse and trouble us.  For example, we can think about the armor of God in Ephesians 6.  We could think about God’s promise that he’ll soon crush Satan under our feet (Rom. 16.20).  William Gurnall gave some helpful Christian advice on this topic as well.  One thing he said was this: when Satan comes to trouble and accuse you, study the “grand gospel truth” of justification by grace alone through faith alone:

“Acquaint yourself with justification in all its causes: the moving cause (the free mercy of God, being justified freely by his grace), the meritorious cause (which is the blood of Christ), and the instrumental cause (faith).  Also acquaint yourself with all the sweet privileges that flow from justification by grace alone (Rom. 3:24).  If an effectual door was opened into a person’s soul to let this truth in it would not only spoil the pope’s market but also the devil’s.”

Gurnall then gives an illustration of dogs chasing a rabbit.  Even if a rabbit hides in a hole or burrow, the dogs can follow its scent to find it.  Similarly, everything the Christian does has a scent of sin in it and Satan follows that scent until he finds us and makes us “ready to fall down in despair at his feet.”  What do we do then?   Well, we don’t point to our repentance or reformation since these are imperfect.  There are “sinful mixtures” in them.  Here’s Gurnall:

“This truth of justification by grace alone would choke all of Satan’s bullets, that you believe in him who said, ‘But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness’ (Rom. 4:5).  Therefore get into this tower of the gospel covenant, and roll this truth on the head of Satan as the woman who rolled the stone on the head of Abimelech (Jud 9:53).”

William Gurnall, The Christian’s Complete Armor, I.95.

[NOTE: I edited the above quotes for readability.]

Shane Lems
Hammond WI, 54015

Dear Devil, Go Eat the Dung (Luther)

In 1532 Martin Luther preached a sermon at the funeral of Duke John of Saxony.  He preached on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.  It’s a good sermon in many ways.  One helpful part of this sermon is where Luther explained how Satan, the accuser, uses the law in a crafty way.  He first tells us that we have to be good and keep the law, but then he reminds us that we haven’t kept the law.  “And with that thought he brings one into such anxiety that one is ready to despair.”  Luther continues:

And again when occasionally I have done something good, Satan is nevertheless able to turn it around in such a way that my holiness is reduced to nothingness. Then I make haste to seize hold of the article of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for my sins [I Cor. 15:31]; and this is precisely what Satan does not want to let into my heart. But what does go into the heart is that I have done this and not done that, that I have given alms, been good, etc., just as I can say of our beloved prince that he had a faithful heart, devoid of malice and envy.

In other words, if Satan can’t get us to despair about our many sins, he tries to get us to be proud of our obedience.  Again, Luther:

But by all means take care not to let anybody persuade you of this on your deathbed; for then the devil is not far away; he can throw in your face a little sin which reduces all such fine virtues to nothing, so that finally you come to such a pass that you say: Devil, rage as much as you please, I do not boast of my good works and virtues before our Lord God at all, nor shall I despair on account of my sins, but I comfort myself with the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose again, as the text here says.

Lo, when I believe this with my whole heart, then I have the greatest treasure, namely, the death of Christ and the power which it has wrought, and I am more concerned with that than with what I have done. Therefore, devil, begone with both my righteousness and my sin. If I have committed some sin, go eat the dung; it’s yours. I’m not worrying about it, for Jesus Christ died. St. Paul bids me comfort myself with this, that I may learn to defend myself from the devil and say: Even though I have sinned, it doesn’t matter; I will not argue with you about what evil or good I have done. There is no time to talk of that now; go away and do it some other time when I have been a bad boy, or go to the impenitent and scare them all you please. But with me, who have already been through the anguish and throes of death, you’ll find no place now. This is not the time for arguing, but for comforting myself with the words that Jesus Christ died and rose for me. Thus I am sure that God will bring me, along with other Christians, with Christ to his right hand and carry me through death and hell.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 51, p. 241.

Shane Lems