ACST 28. Sin: The War

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The phrase “spiritual warfare” is often used in evangelical circles to denote attempts to deliver those oppressed and possessed by demons. The phrase actually has wider implications than that. It is a metaphor which describes every aspect of the Christian life.

Paul described his personal struggle with sin as a battle between the law of his mind and the law of his flesh. He said “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”[1]

Like Paul, all humanity is involved in a war with a formidable Adversary whose goal is to enslave the human race. He utilizes a variety of strategies which have proven over the millennia to be quite effective. Each attack that Satan and his kingdom workers perpetuate against humans is designed to cause an ever-increasing progression from sin to bondage to further sin and further bondage.

Warfare

The Christian life is described as a war.[2] The means by which we live out our faith in the midst of the enemy is called doing warfare.[3] It is not an easy life, but a struggle, a conflict.[4] To succeed in this life is to fight the good fight.[5] By God’s grace we are more than conquerors.[6] He will ultimately destroy all of our enemies, and his. But the battles today are very real. If one chooses to ignore the conflict, she is liable to become a casualty of war.

What the Adversary Wants

John 10:10 has been mentioned in chapter 1 of this book as an example of how the context of a statement in Scripture helps interpreters understand the statement. The thief in that text is not Satan, but a false shepherd, in contrast to Jesus, the good shepherd. While it is true that Satan can be described as a thief, it is not good theology to derive from John 10:10 that Satan’s strategy is to steal, kill, and destroy. The ultimate result of Satan’s warfare upon humanity will be just that. All who are not rescued by Christ will eventually suffer the second death: permanent destruction in Gehenna hell.

What the adversary wants today, however, is not our destruction but our bondage. He wants to control the lives of every human being on this planet, and bring as many with him to the fires of Gehenna as possible. He has organized a battle plan – a set of methods[7] and designs[8] that he uses to enslave and keep enslaved. The more one knows about these strategic means that the devil uses, the more likely she may prevail in the battles that ensue throughout her life.

Selfishness

God is sovereign over the universe he created, and he deserves to be honored and worshipped by that creation. Satan does not have to convince humans to rebel against God. He merely has to convince humans to make themselves the center of their own universe. The sins recorded early in Genesis bear this out. Taking of the tree did not seem like such a bad thing. The act was being judged on the basis of human desires, human assessment, and human goals. Once Adam and Eve had taken of the tree they saw what the sin was from God’s perspective. As Cain was bashing his brother’s head in – he was obviously not thinking about what this act would do to Able, or to Adam and Eve for that matter. Selfish pride, depression and anger blinded Cain to both the reality and the consequences of his sin.

Selfishness is the method that keeps people addicted to substances that slowly destroy them. It makes people stop and stare when they should be running like the wind. At its heart, selfishness is rebellion against God’s sovereignty. It leads to sins which are enjoyable, and cause the sinner to seek more and more of the same. At the same time, it blinds the sinner to the consequences.

Acts of selfishness progress in a continuum from sin to sinful lifestyle to sinful obsession to sinful addiction. The further along in the continuum the harder it is to break the bondage. The Bible warns that “for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”[9] The world says “if it feels good, do it.” But there will be consequences to living selfishly.

Falsehood

Another of the major strategies in the war against humanity is the pitting of falsehood against some other belief. It is not always a simple issue of truth against deception. Satan often pits lie against lie. In doing so, he need only convince his victim that one lie is not true, and the victim swallows the second lie. Notice how deceptive the serpent’s words were in Eden:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “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.”

There are three lies in this passage, and each of them is hidden within a truth statement. First, Satan asked if God had prohibited all the trees in the garden. The answer is no, and the woman was correct in pointing out that it was only one particular tree that was prohibited. The deception, however, began at that point. Satan was beginning what would become Eve’s preoccupation with the forbidden fruit.

The second lie is Satan’s as well – but it comes out of the mouth of Eve. She stretched the truth a bit when she responded by saying that God had forbidden even the touching of the fruit. Perhaps the serpent then touched the fruit to show Eve that he suffered no ill effects.

The third lie was the clincher. It too was hidden in a truth statement. Taking of the forbidden fruit would endow the humans with god-like knowledge of (experience with) good and evil. Who would not want their eyes to be opened? Who would not want to be like God? Who would not want an experience that has never been experienced before? The falsehood was found in what Satan did not say. He did not tell of the banishment and painful consequences that humanity would have to endure. Satan is the liar and the father of lies.[10] Falsehood is another of the mighty weapons in his arsenal against human beings.

Depression

Cain’s sin of murder was at least partially motivated by his damaged self-image. God had accepted Abel’s offering, but did not accept Cain’s. The story is told in Genesis 4:

In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.[11]

Cain’s anger was a manifestation of embarrassment depression. It so wounded his self-image that Cain disregarded the sanctity of his brother’s life. God had warned Cain that sin was crouching at his door. His depression put him in a dangerous position – like someone who has a vicious animal waiting to kill him. Cain did not pay attention to the warning.

Fear

Another major strategy that Satan uses in his war against humanity is fear. Fear can cause a person to forget to do what needs to be done, or to do something she would never do otherwise. When someone is intimidated, she can lash out in an attempt to embolden herself. The result is often violent and harmful. The Bible says that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”[12] It also says that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”[13] Love is the emotion that we ought to exhibit, but often fear gets the best of us.

Fear was the motivation behind the Babel incident. That story is found in Genesis 11:

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.[14]

The people at Babel were afraid of being dispersed over the face of the whole earth. That was what God wanted from them. Their fear gave them unity, and eventually caused their disunity. Satan was at work behind the scenes at Babel to get the people to give in to their fears and go against God’s will. Today, Satan uses fear to organize one nation to war against another. He uses fear to embolden us toward violence – or to paralyze us and prevent our acting in faith.

[1] Rom. 7:23-25.

[2] 2 Cor. 10:3; James 4:1; 1 Pet. 2:11.

[3] 2 Cor. 10:4; 1 Tim. 1:18.

[4] Col. 1:29; 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:2; Heb. 10:32.

[5] 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7.

[6] Rom. 8:37.

[7] Gk. methodeias (Eph. 4:14; 6:11).

[8] Gk. noemata (2 Cor. 2:11).

[9] Rom. 2:8.

[10] John 8:44.

[11] Genesis 4:3-8.

[12] 2 Tim. 1:7.

[13] 1 John 4:18.

[14] Genesis 11:1-9.

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One response to “ACST 28. Sin: The War

  1. I did not forget chapter 27. There were some ideas in it that I have not found elsewhere. I want my editorial committee to look at that chapter before I publish it. Stay tuned.

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