The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
The conflict between God and Satan is not a fight between two powers with equal chances of winning.
The symbol of Christianity isn’t the stable in Bethlehem but a terrible cross. Although many people use the cross as a decoration, it is nothing more than a cruel and repulsive scaffold, making it hard to understand what the good news is all about, let alone the message of victory of Christ’s cross.
There is nothing in the cross to suggest triumph. On the contrary, it is synonymous with injustice, humiliation and suffering. Nevertheless, Christian’s believe in the power of Jesus’ blood.
In the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis presents one of the beliefs of the early Christians that now seems somewhat strange: redemption is a payment to Satan. Without this idea, Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is incomprehensible. Compared to modern theology, the apostolic Christian saw sin as something serious. Early teachers considered that, as a result of sin, man belonged to the powers of darkness personified by Satan.
There was little doubt at that time about hell. It was seen as man’s just deserts for his sin. The church fathers suggested that the only possible solution was a pact between God and Satan. If God delivered Jesus Christ to the powers of darkness, Satan would deliver the souls of believers. Satan accepted, happy with the agreement. What he did not imagine was that he would not be able to keep Jesus in hell. By breaking through the chains of death, Christ rose triumphant in the resurrection, defeating Satan.
The first Christians did not see this as a form of trickery where God demonstrated that intelligence was more important than strength. If it was a trick, it was so because Satan took the bait, to use Gregory of Nyssa’s fishing analogy. Augustine, on the other hand, saw it more like a mouse trap. This all sounds somewhat grotesques nowadays, but I wonder if we haven’t lost something of the triumph of the cross. We talk of spiritual warfare and the power of darkness, but where is the triumph of Christ? It would seem that finding true liberation is up to us.
Those of us who believe that the Bible is the Word of God and trust in Jesus, cannot deny its teaching on the existence of evil spirits. Christians should, in fact, take this reality seriously in order to confront evil. Being aware of the existence of a spiritual conflict can be a great incentive to combating all expressions of evil, without fear of attacking God. There are however some excesses in that regard, which it is also important to warn against.
First, is the fear that verges on paranoia that exaggerates the power of the devil and evil spirits. Biblical teaching clearly subordinates the power of evil to God by emphasizing the victory of Christ over all his adversaries, both visible and invisible. The Scriptures provide a message of safety that inspires trust and confidence. This is also something that is often missing in much modern teaching on spiritual warfare, which gives too much importance to the power and influence of the forces of evil.
Second, there is also a risk of placing too much blame on Satan as a way of excusing the bad things we do. Our weakness as humans means that we quickly give into the temptation of denying our own responsibility when we do things or adopt attitudes that we shouldn’t. We always think that others are to blame. The Scriptures stop us from falling into that trap by insisting that we are ultimately responsible for our own conduct. It is somewhat dubious when people say that they are in the thrall of demonic powers, needing to be “liberated” from spirits bearing the same names as certain common vices.
Third, we need to be aware of the danger of entering into speculation regarding the spiritual world, of which the Bible gives little detail. There are many questions for which we simply don’t have the answer and the Scriptures are silent on subjects that we should also be silent about. The idea, for example, that we can know the names and rankings of certain evil spiritual powers, and the territories of influence, has no biblical basis whatsoever. It is moreover alien to the whole purpose of the Bible.
Fourth, there is also an imbalance in all the current buzz around spiritual warfare. The popular belief among many Christians is that it only affects those influenced by the occult and possessed by demons. The Scriptures however talk about spiritual war in terms of a moral combat that takes place in every Christian’s life. Demonic possession is a rare phenomenon, but Christians encounter trials and temptations on a daily basis. We are called upon to “put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).
Satan is identified in the Scriptures as the origin of evil, having planted its seed in humanity (Genesis 3), together with crime and lies (John 8:44). That is why John says that he is “the prince of this world” (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Does that mean that God has given him authority over man? Does he have authority over us because of sin? Is that why he was able to promise Christ all the kingdoms of the world?
While Adam was placed as the administrator and steward of God’s creation, Satan has no authority to govern over man, because man has never been his own master. The Fall does not transfer authority over man to Satan, because God never gave man sovereignty. It is only due to sin that man is “dominated by Satan” (Acts 26:48), captive under the powers of darkness (Colossians 1:13).
By defeating Satan on the cross, Christ vanquished him. He has removed his powers and authorities in full public view (Colossians 2:14-15) by destroying the master of death (Hebrew 2:14). Putting Satan in shackles in not part of the future but of the present. On the eve of his crucifixion, Christ was able to say: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31).
The problem is that the devil is still active, although his power has been vanquished. The relationship between Satan and man is based on the guilt and the sin that they share. When Christ pays for the sin of the redeemed, sacrificing himself in our stead, Satan has no power over us (Romans 6:14).
A VICTORIOUS LIFE?
If we are defeated by sin, it is because we expect to be. We think that it is only natural. But the Bible tells us that we are “[m]ore than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Christ is not only the prophet who announces the love of God and the priest who provides atonement for sin, but he is also the King that conquers hell. We are taking this good news to a world that no longer belongs to Satan but to Christ.
The good news that God announced in Eden (Genesis 3:5) is bad news for evil. Satan is cast aside and Christ will draw to him all the people in the world (John 12:32). Through the cross of Christ, God throws Satan out of the hearts of men, by taking them to the “kingdom of his beloved Son”. He has tied down the “strong man” and “plundered his House” (Mark 3:27).
Satan is judged, dispossessed and destroyed (Hebrews 2:14). He cannot stop the extension of the gospel by “deceiving the nations”. The devil will not be able to frustrate the sovereign purpose of God for his Church and the world any longer. Although evil still remains in the world, “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).
His victory still seems somewhat unreal. At Calvary, Christ appeared to have been defeated, but it was Christ rather than evil that won the day. That is the emphasis of the New Testament. The conflict between God and Satan is not a fight between two powers with equal chances of winning. We are fighting a mortally wounded enemy. His counter-attack is fierce, but desperate. His claim to sovereignty is a lie. “The kingdoms of this world” are not his. He is a usurper, without authority. God has got the whole world in his hands.
It is because our Saviour reigns that, in his power, if we “resist the devil…he will free from [us]” (James 4:7). With the “shield of faith” we can “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one”. Satan no longer has authority or power over Christians. In Christ, the believer is sure of victory. “The evil one cannot harm him” (1 John 5:18).
We can experience this victory (Philippians 3:10). Christ’s triumph gives us the strength to live our day-to-day lives. We are confronted by powerful forces, but we do not yield because we know that Christ is more powerful still. Strengthened by His power, we can overcome the evil we encounter. There is power without measure in the blood of Christ. The Crucified reigns.
José de Segovia, journalist, theologian and pastor of an evangelical church in Madrid (Spain).