Updated: May 11, 2020
The Big 3
The Old Testament is void of such but there are three verses in the new that have been the centerpiece of every spiritual warfare teaching I’ve ever heard. We’ll examine each of the “big 3” and see that they actually do more to help us see Satan’s limited role than establish him as the other half of power that we should RESPOND to.
1. ...Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him… 1Peter 5:8-9 (NIV)
2. ...Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7 (NIV)
3. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against...spiritual forces of evil… Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)
At face value this sounds like combat. How can I possibly teach you to RESPOND to the details of your life as if they were the very hand of God when ½ of those details are the devils doing?
Before we’re done exhuming the context of these scriptures we’ll see that these are actually 3 of the clearest teachings of God being the one directing the affairs of our life and RESPONDING to him as our answer opposed to focusing on the devil.
The first 2 “resist the devil” scriptures both follow the exact same Old Testament quote. - “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5 & James 4:6. Yes, both authors use the exact same quote from the Old Testament when introducing the subject of resisting the devil (and it’s the only 2 times the quote is found in the New Testament). I hope from the outset you will see that exactly like in the Old Testament, the only way Satan can win is to get us into a position of being “opposed by God”.
If we have devil problems we’ve actually got a bigger problem than that. Being “opposed by God” - now that’s trouble my friend. How is it that we find ourselves opposed by God? Pride, (only the most common human trait that we all have to overcome). Pride is hard for us to see in ourselves but its twin, self-centeredness is a little easier to spot. Do yourself a favor, ask someone who knows you well if you are self-centered because that’s Satan’s primary destruction door.
With humanity “looking out for #1” (pride) It’s really no mystery that destruction is so prevalent in our world but it’s not the devil we need to be fixing things with, it’s his judge and ours with whom we must deal. The destroyer’s goal is to keep us where he can destroy - opposed by God.
Let’s start with Peter. What does he mean when he encourages us to “resist the devil”?
So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you. 1 Peter 4:19
2 Types of Suffering
Peter teaches two categories of suffering…
1. Suffering that is caused by our sin.
2. Suffering that pleases God.
Every Bible commentary I’ve read agrees that “suffering that pleases God” is the theme of 1Peter. Now that we’re grounded in the cement of what God wants us to get from this book – let’s see where “resist the devil” fits in.
“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
With the help of Silas whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. 1 Peter 5:5-12 (NIV)
Let’s go verse by verse (Scripture is in bold)
1 Peter 5:5 - “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
This OT quote is found directly in front of the only two times (here and James 4) we are instructed to “resist the devil”. Coincidence? We’ll see not, this is Satan’s only plan.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand,
God’s mighty hand refers to his activity in our lives that is too mighty to avoid. We can disregard his still small voice if we want to, but we can’t ignore his mighty hand because it is controlling our circumstance.
Although we can’t avoid his mighty hand, we can, in pride, believe - “I’m too good for this situation, I deserve better…” In the context of 1 Peter there is only 1 circumstance the mighty hand of God is referring to; their current suffering, (he doesn’t mention any other issue in the book). If instead of pride, we’ll humble our hearts under his hand (under the circumstance, the trial) and say “God, I’m not above this problem and if in some way you can advance your kingdom through this, I’ll receive it with gladness”.
that he may lift you up
If the situation that God’s mighty hand was currently dictating didn’t feel like a push DOWN he wouldn’t have to promise a lift UP. But God’s real promotions are after a lot more perseverance than we’d like.
in due time.
God has a due time, and the humble person is the one who recognizes his need to submit to God’s timing and trust God to lift him up. The prideful just can’t wait it out. Their lack of real faith always gets proved right here. It seems to them and to others that they’re not “winning” and they just can’t stand it. They don’t see God working anything out, so they’re as jumpy as a cat on a hot roof, desperately looking for the way out of their trial. Just imagine if Joseph would have bought this lie while in slavery or prison, he’d never have made it.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Anxiety is the universal human response to being down. There’s only one possible way to deal with it...realize that our father has us in the palm of his mighty hand (vs 6) and this pain is serving a greater cause. I’ve spent hours meditating on this scripture and I’ll promise you this.
To whatever degree that we cannot see God’s hand as:
1. governing our situation
2. caring for us
Anxiety will fill our heart to that exact same degree.
Try to cast out anxiety any other way. Try every spiritual warfare secret you want and then come back to RESPOND when they all fail but I can save you some time. I’ve already hunted down every trail. Only perfect trust that God is completely in control and working for your best will cast out your anxiety.
It’s the prideful person who insists that they are better than their current circumstance that always finds anxiety on a rubber band. They cast it out in a fit of faith only to find it bouncing back all the harder. What they’re calling prayer or faith is actually another version of human pride always striving to elevate myself into a superior position. The one who humbly trusts God knows that their current difficulties will work for the good because “he cares for you”.
The reason trusting God’s CARE is so important is precisely because the current problem would tempt one to believe he didn’t CARE.
NOTICE WHERE SATAN GET’S MENTIONED
It is into this tender space, where we are suffering and already naturally anxious, tempted to believe God that doesn’t care that Satan enters:
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, 1 Peter 5:8-9
We’re already anxious because God’s mighty hand (unavoidable) is disciplining us for our good. His promise is to lift us UP but right now his hand seems to be holding us down. Even without the tempters help the fruit on that tree looks like a way out. Why would God possibly deny us that fruit? It’s obviously a step UP (and doesn’t God only want us UP). What do you suppose the roaring lion (devil) is doing here? The exact same thing he does everywhere he shows up in the Bible!
I’d have more patience for the warfare baloney if this weren’t so plain. I’ve sat through 3-day seminars where “resist the devil” was quoted 100 times and the clear teaching was that if I would apply their warfare secrets the problem that Satan had brought into my life to keep me DOWN would have to flee and I’d be UP with them. Never once did anyone actually open to 1 Peter and read this in context - they just used that phrase “resist the devil”. They wouldn’t have needed to finish the paragraph – just finish the sentence to debunk their theory.
Stand firm against him… 1 Peter 5:9a
In case the word resist sounds overly militant the (NLT) does what it’s become famous for, make the Greek language understandable. Like Paul’s warfare passage in Ephesians, we’re being asked to STAND FIRM.
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:9b
If resisting the devil was our ticket out of trials the rest of the sentence is senseless. Peter is pleading with them to realize that we all suffer as a part of God’s growth plan. When we realize that we are not alone and even Jesus and his Apostles suffered it puts God’s strength in our legs. Clarity concerning our pain comes to mind and we’re ready to join the family in the real grace of God (see vs 12).
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:10
(Just in case he hasn’t been clear, he pounds it home again. God’s true followers will be willing to suffer with him and “do the next right thing” regardless of how tough it is. Like Joseph in slavery they won’t take Potiphar’s wife’s (Satan’s) tempting offer but their faith will cause them to humbly wait for God’s promotion. If that promotion doesn’t come until the next life...that’s God’s business. My job is to trust and obey him.
To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. 1 Peter 5:11-12
The true grace of God strengthens us to overcome true tests. Tests that will prove what kind of faith we have. Enough of the false, this is “the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.”
I love the (NLT)’s verse 12, as the (NLT) so often does, it brings the Greek language into English more clearly.
...My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. Stand firm in this grace. 1 Pet 5:12 (NLT)
1. Stand firm in this grace.
2. Stand firm under God’s mighty hand.
3. Stand firm in our circumstance trusting God to lift us up.
4. Stand firm in God’s test.
5. Stand firm and give all our anxieties to God.
6. Stand firm and trust God
7. Stand firm and resist the devil’s suggestions of a quick way UP.
All different ways of saying the same thing.
No wonder my “resisting and binding the devil” didn’t have the effect I had hoped all those years. The sad part is how much joy I missed. Once we see God’s mighty hand for what it is and understand that He’s the one in charge, we can - Cast all our anxiety on him because he cares for us. I could never defeat anxiety before I realized God was leading affairs – and looking for a RESPONSE from me.
The Real Devil
To make sure we see reality, let’s back up from Peter to see Satan’s activity wherever he shows up. Obviously his goal is to drag us down but how does he accomplish this?
When he first shows up in the garden? Is he using his power to bring them DOWN? Or is he the one tempting them to believe their life wasn’t good enough and showing them a higher path? Satan is introduced to us…suggesting ways UP.
When he shows up in the New Testament is he standing in the way of Jesus’ success and or is he the one offering success as a detour.
Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, "All these things I will give you, if …” Matthew 4:8-9 ESV
Sounds like a way UP. What if Jesus simply re-defined success? Satan’s offer could have all seemed so noble. Jesus did come to win the world after all. Satan was merely showing a path there without a cross. But Gods success involved pain. Satan didn’t show up trying to push Jesus DOWN, but offering him a ticket UP.
Peter is telling us that a similar thing will happen to us.
For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21
It’s no mystery why Satan is called this world’s ruler. (2 Cor 4:4) It has nothing to do with his power, but to a world desperately seeking UP at any cost – he’s the king. The king of discontented souls is always helping his subjects find greener pastures.
We are going to spend eternity in heaven because one man realized that success = God’s will – not all the kingdoms of this world.
One final word on Peter. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 1 Peter 5:6
We’ll only stay faithful if we’re convinced that God lifting us UP is the ultimate purpose of him allowing us DOWN. UP destroys everyone it touches who doesn’t know how to handle DOWN. When God lifts us UP, he can use us there because his promotions come on the heels of crushed pride. When God lifts us up, we know that we’re exalted by God, not by man or by manipulation or by any of Satan’s offers of -UP. This is exactly what James is talking about when he tells us that when we face trials of many kinds (James 1:2) to
1. Consider them pure joy.
2. Ask God for wisdom.
The reason we need to ask for wisdom is because only God knows what’s going on when we’re DOWN and he’s the only one who can open our eyes as to what to do. The people who blindly assume that everything DOWN is Satan and just launch into binding the devil are not over-comers.
On to James
The fact that the only two chapters in our Bible that instruct us to “resist the devil” also happens to be the only two times the same quote concerning our pride appears should be our first clue that the universal human craving for UP is the train that the devil rides on.
The chapter in James that includes the phrase “resist the devil” is very unique. We won’t find another chapter in all of the New Testament that is even close to as confrontational as James 4. This chapter has 28 what I call “confrontational sin statements”. Here’s one appetizer.
You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? James 4:4a (NLT)
Buckle up, 27 more coming. James is going to show Peter how to confront human pride IN SPADES!!! He’s showing human nature at its absolute greedy worst, fighting to get to the top James 4 is the strongest slap in the face in our Bible.
“God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” (Exact same quote as Peter - the softy)
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7
Here’s the supposed “spiritual warfare” verse. Note that just like Peter James teaches that resisting the devil comes directly on the heels of submitting to God. What James makes even more obvious than Peter is that submitting to God is the hard part. It’s 99% of the equation, requiring sacrifice. Now notice James jumps right back into confronting us for our fight to the top. Satan or spiritual warfare is far from the real topic.
Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; James 4:8a
Yes, sinners fighting to the top are going to find themselves playing the same song as the devil and part of (a small part) the process of getting off of this joyride to the top is “resisting the devil”. You’re resisting the tempter who’s encouraging this sinful insanity.
…purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. James 4:8b
Divided loyalties - yep, we’re going to have devil problems.
A few verses down James says…
God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. James 4:12
The warfare teachers taught me that Satan the destroyer had this power. Seeing what the Bible teaches about the devil actually increases our fear of God not Satan. He has no power to destroy until the judge turns us over to him.
After reading this chapter if we are reaching for our warfare light-saber - it’s only to cut back our own ego.
My Experience with the Warfare Teacher.
When I first started in ministry I met a man who’d been on the mission field. I was fascinated with his stories and I developed a great relationship with him. He had a big heart and lived a giving sacrificial life. He was in every way my spiritual elder and I grew greatly through our relationship. But things didn’t end well and that is why I’m so concerned about even slightly wrong ideas; they create wrong lifestyles.
He’d swallowed this warfare teaching and once we believe evil will run wild if we don’t maintain our faith, it puts us in an odd spot. Imagine millions of termites surrounding your house. Their destruction begins and stops based on your faith shield being in place. The second you let your guard down, they are loosed. Without realizing it my friend had nibbled on the ultimate antitheses to grace. This was works at its finest. It’s a good question to ask about your view of prayer. Does it place all the pressure back on you?
Everything hung on him and his prayer life. When things didn’t go as he wanted (does life ever line up perfectly?) he got aggressive.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Philippians 5:4,5 (NIV)
Paul makes clear what our lifestyle should be, but gentleness doesn’t work if we’re responsible to control demons.
We had him in to our church a few times but every time he came, at least one person would leave because of his over-aggressive ways. One time after he went off on a rant about how someone in our church should start picking up the tab for his children’s private schooling I started a series of very direct conversations with him, but things never changed. When I finally told him that we were going to part ways and no longer support his ministry he let me know that “this was just the devil attacking!”
It turns out that he was losing support from more than just us and all his troubles fit neatly into his spiritual warfare thinking. I feel like crying as I think of how amazing of a heart this man had. He wasn’t evil, but wrong thinking always ends poorly. Since our separation was something bad he didn’t need to seek God and do any soul searching, it was a simple process for him.
It’s bad for me (DOWN) It’s the devil Bind the devil.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you… James 1:2,5 (NLT)
Ask God for wisdom because only he knows the cause of our DOWN and he’s willing to share with humble hearts. God is always in the lead in his children’s lives, rejoice because we know that if we will RESPOND – good things are on the way. Or we could fight the devil - you choose.
2 Down; 1 to Go
We already discussed our final warfare champion (Ephesians 6) in the book so just a little extra here. This one is the biggest hammer in the warfare bag. Paul wrote this from prison and from this scripture it is (incorrectly) taught that the devil had imprisoned Paul who was instructing us how to help him break the devil’s power so he could be FREE.
Freedom is the warfare goal, but its definition is a moving target. I remember as leading questions were asked – “do you feel held back from victory in any area of your life?” The implication is that if we were praying correctly we’d be in utopia. Paul says we all “groan inwardly”4 longing for heaven. The normal dissatisfaction that healthy believers feel is spun into an enemy whose only defeat is through deeper truth. “Buy my book and learn how to BREAK-OUT into the high life”, I heard. I’d be kinder if this baloney weren’t so dangerous and also the exact opposite of what Paul is teaching.
Our aggressiveness is against our own fear and laziness but concerning Satan our command is simply - stand. Stand on the ground God has given us and refuse to let go of it, refuse the many and various suggestions as to why the ground we’re standing on is junk. Resist the flow of temptations that make another piece of property look better. Resist the urge to… (you get the idea).
Listen to a professional warrior defend his ground. David is… in crisis, in a cave, in temptation to despair while being hunted by Saul.
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; Psalm 16:5-6
In a cave he’s declaring his lot to be pleasant. That my friend is spiritual warfare. Most people grumble about their lot in life, not realizing they are singing Satan’s song.
What is this ground? It is the God ordained...place, lot, ministry, gifting, family, work, blessing, or norm for your life and you’re going to have to stand and refuse to be moved from it. (Remember Peter’s conclusion to his warfare teaching …what you are experiencing is truly part of God's grace for you. Stand firm in this grace. 1Pet 5:12 (NLT))
Friends, this is the big warfare scripture and it just so happens to align with the entire rest of the Bible’s teaching concerning the devil. Nothing new is introduced. Satan is depicted as our mortal enemy to be sure but what was he doing to Paul? He was tempting him to not stand, (RESPOND). Tempting him to believe that standing in this spot would be insanity.
Paul’s answer to this is asking for prayer (to God) that he (Paul) would continue to speak boldly for Christ (the very thing that got him thrown in prison) “as I should”.
I’ll never forget the evening I had spent studying this passage and those last three words, jumped off the page and I saw it. I realized that this passage was indeed the spiritual warfare kingpin but not as I had been taught.
Spiritual warfare is actually all about “as I should”. God has an ordained “as I should” every day of our lives and there is an enemy trying to talk us out of “as I should”. If our enemy can discourage us from doing “as I should”, he wins and all of humanity loses. Our enemy’s number one tool is talking to us about our own self-interest and how STANDING & RESPONDING is an unenlightened path.
This is exactly what we see Satan doing in the Garden of Eden, in the wilderness, with Jesus and everywhere else he shows up. Satan is seeking a deviant RESPONSE. From there he hopes to build into a series of wrong responses that becomes a deviant path which ultimately ends up in a deviant place called destruction. Paul isn’t introducing a new warfare secret. He’s simply putting a magnifying glass on the enemy’s role.
Similar to Joseph, Paul (from God’s perspective - the most elite person on the planet) is being asked to stand in the lowest spot on earth (a dungeon). We all deal with the enemy’s pressures to escape our assignments but the gap between what Paul deserved and his reality couldn’t be overstated. God tests us all with occasional gaps and the larger that gap is the harder it is to stand. Standing is real warfare.
Paul’s experience is eerily similar to Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane, listen to Jesus on his way there
"I don't have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.” (to Gethsemane) John 14:30 (NLT)
Both Jesus and Paul mention Satan on their way to their own Gethsemane (their test of darkness) but neither of them speak a word to Satan once there. They were both clear that Satan was coming to pressure them, but Satan didn’t create their crisis. God was in charge of both the cross and the cell, Satan was just paying a neighborly visit to see to it that these kings realized what fools they were being… “just look up here – you could rule”. Another helpful tip from the ruler of this world. Instead, They both:
committed in steel to do God’s will poured their hearts out to God resisted Satan’s advice and pressure reached out to friends
If we are going to survive the real version of spiritual warfare, I’d recommend all 4.
My goal in this chapter is to help you see that Satan is not the director of our circumstances - RESPONDING to God is always our answer. Towards that goal I’ve dismantled spiritual warfare to the point that by now you think I’m telling you that it doesn’t exist – I’m a bit over-extended. In reality, the pressure of number 3 above will be some of the most intense moments of our life.
He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. Luke 22:44
There will be moments when God:
1. asks you to “stand” in a difficult spot (“as I should” = hard)
2. allows “the ruler of this world” to show you how “crazy” you are
3. allows “the ruler of this world” to apply pressure to an already difficult spot.
4. all this to see what is truly in your heart.
Why does Jesus use the title “ruler of this world” for Satan before Gethsemane? Because it so perfectly describes his entire job description. The chief of sinners rules the entire world by keeping us fighting for UP. Gethsemane is a warfare scene because the man with the greatest UPside in the history of the world is about to scuttle Satan’s ship by accepting the greatest DOWN ticket ever. The ruler is allowed to make sure we see (with power and pressure) the seeming insanity of God’s path. In these moments when God allows him, evil brings a pressure that fully tests how waterproof your commitment is. If there’s a single pin-hole, his pressure will prove it.
And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. Hebrews 11:6 (NLT)
The reason believing God is a rewarder is required for real faith is because real warfare applies pressure to an extreme…
Satan says…“Look around man, nothing good will come from this. It’s only down from here. You are soooo much better than this and you deserve soooo much more. Let’s just back away from standing there”
If we’re not convinced that God called us and that he rewards obedience (in spades) this pressure cooker will find us seeking the easy way up and out, like all sinners do. Make no mistake this devil is intense. And of all places for God to allow him to play his cards – we’re already in Gethsemane. The test is enough without him, but then the ruler of the world gets a green light. I’m convinced that the narrow path that few find refers to doing God’s will here. Most read that as only a few make it to heaven, no, only a few pass this test before giving in to the world’s way. Jesus’ sacrifice (standing) gets us to heaven, but it doesn’t make our sacrifice for us. That’s the narrow road that few find, which is exactly why our world is in a mess. The ruler of UP gets to prove whose path we REALLY want and most Christians won’t stand and do “as I should” in a dungeon.
Let’s examine Jesus’ warfare prayer after he told us the ruler of this world is coming.
He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. (When the “ruler” shows up, you will feel his presence) Stay here and keep watch with me.” (We’re all tempted to be alone in our pain - even Jesus needed a Life-Group)
He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (He’s fighting for “as I should”)
Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?
Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. (He’s coaching his team in warfare. They were about to be the leaders of his Church and facing the ruler’s pressure) For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” (Our only hope is God’s Spirit strengthening our spirit. Our flesh will always want the out and UP offer the ruler brings) Matthew 26: 38-41NLT
The gap between the God of life and death on a cross is unfathomable, but it purchased our eternity. Paul’s gap produced the eternal Word of God that has been the brightest light shining on Christ in all of history (Paul produced 4 of our NT books in this cell, and we’re feeding on them right now). That gap exists in our life. If God calls you to be a billionaire there will still be a gap - areas where in order to do God’s will you will have to struggle, even suffer. You will be tempted to abandon that God ordained - place, ministry, marriage, work. Maybe no one would even know you let it go. No one except God and you, but every step away from “as I should” to make life easier only sucks the joy out of living. Having “Jesus in your heart” while you run in the UP race only makes you conflicted.
Don’t Do it
More interesting to me than the discovery that there is not a single Bible example of Satan being bound or spoken to in any manner of warfare is that we are actually warned twice not to engage in such.
In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings. (I was one of a thousand people in a meeting where we were led to laugh at the devil. Yes, for 20 minutes we laughed and taunted the devil as a display of our “authority” over him. I could tell you nuttier stories but I think you get the point)
But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Jude 1:8-10 (NIV)
We were taught that God had given all his power over the devil to us so God would no longer engage – it was all up to us. I guess Jesus was never informed of that as he prayed to the Father –
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” John 17:15 (NIV)
Here’s the second time we’re told not to “war” with spirits.
…bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not heap abuse on such beings when bringing judgment on them from the Lord. 2 Peter 2:10b-11 (NIV)
Both Jude and Peter warn against teachers who display their power by boldly addressing evil spirits in a fashion that even God’s mightiest Angels don’t do. I encourage you to not join them.
So the Devil’s not a Problem?
Just because the devil has a limited role doesn’t mean he’s not wreaking havoc. It should be obvious that our world is in the process of being destroyed. Why?
We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one. 1 John 5:19NIV
This control has nothing to do with Satan's power. When Jesus refers to him as the "ruler of this world" it is the simple result of the world's choices. When humanity chooses to fight for UP, God places them under the ruler of their choice. God is absolutely in control but Satan is the "chief of sinners". Five minutes of evening news and it should be obvious - the destroyer gets a lot of hunting permits for one reason - we sin...a lot. This ultimately leads to God granting him the 3rd hat (destroyer). But is it as simple as sin = destruction?
If you’ll consider the world outside of Christ that is pursuing their own desires exclusively without ever considering God’s will it becomes obvious that even outside of Christ’s family sin doesn’t free Satan to destroy at will. Sin doesn’t automatically grant him freedom, he still has to go to court but every news outlet is reporting the same fact – he’s getting a lot more permits than we’d like. This world is in pain.
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. Luke 22:31 (NLT)
This is Jesus speaking to Simon Peter. Two questions come to mind –
1. Why doesn’t Jesus just bind the devil? (I’m hoping you can answer that by now)
2. Why does Satan ask God’s permission if sin frees his hands to “sift”, (destroy)?
One day the members of the heavenly court came again to present themselves before the LORD, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them.
“All right, do with him as you please,” the LORD said to Satan. “But spare his life.” So Satan left the LORD’s presence, and he struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot. Job 2:1, 6-7 (NLT)
Yes there is a court, and God is the Judge. Satan must seek a judgement. Job teaches us that sin is not the only reason God issues Satan permits. Sometimes God does so for reasons he didn’t explain to Job and won’t to us either. (When we meet those who can fully explain God’s methods - run). I hope I’m not coming across like I can explain everything about God’s rule over Satan’s activity. Concerning RESPONDERS I believe that any openings that God allows Satan in our life will ultimately serve his Glory and our benefit (that doesn’t mean we’ll enjoy them). But our wilderness friends have already proven to us that things change when we refuse to RESPOND.
Satan isn’t free to simply destroy the rebellious at will but how God governs Satan’s activity in the lives of those lost in a dark world is never fully explained in scripture. What is revealed is that even when God does release the destroyer it does not please him. It’s not like he’s glad to pay back the sinners - rather he weeps over their destruction. Just because Satan gains God’s permission doesn’t mean he’s out doing God’s will. God’s permission and God’s desire aren’t the same thing.
But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.
Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation.” Luke 19:41-44 (NLT)
They failed to RESPOND God allowed destruction God wept over their plight
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)
Far short of destroying, Satan isn’t even free to choose what temptations we will face. God is not allowing evil free reign. It should be noted that the same Greek word for tempt is also translated test. God is over our testing and even if we fail (sin) Satan isn’t automatically given a destruction permit. Keep failing those tests though and we will find ourselves in the wilderness with destruction coming our way. Our loving father will make sure no temptation or test (and yes Satan is the tempter) is beyond our ability to resist, but he will not pass the test for us.
Although Jesus doesn’t directly address the evil in his presence here he does so very briefly earlier when he was tempted at the beginning of his ministry.
“Get out of here, Satan,”… Matthew 4:10a (NLT)
This small direct address after 40 days of standing makes it obvious that real warfare isn’t about engaging evil spirits, but it does leave the door open to declaring our victory over Satan’s schemes. If in that process we feel we are gaining traction by addressing him briefly – go for it. Just be clear that God is still leading this parade and we’re fighting to do his will rather than our own.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. Matthew 4:1 (NLT)
Binding the devil?
Not one time does scripture tell us to bind the devil. Not one time do we see an example of anyone binding the devil. This entire castle is built off of one misunderstood scripture (and it doesn’t even mention Satan).
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Matthew 16:19 (NIV)
The Bible is chock-full of symbolism and cultural references and this is a perfect example. If we don’t understand Jesus’ Jewish culture, it’s easy to see this misapplied.
I was told this meant Jesus was giving us all of his authority. We had the same keys he had; we had no limits. We could stop (bind) anything we didn’t want and loose anything we did want. It was all up to us, the only limit was the one we set on ourselves. Do you have problems? Don’t just pray about problems – bind them! Of course, those same teachers never explained why these same disciples had countless problems they failed to bind. I remember wondering when Paul was caught (for weeks) in that terrible storm at sea (Acts 27), why he didn’t just bind it. I accepted this teaching completely and during those years I bound biting mosquitos, hurricanes, gas prices, bad breath, and most importantly; the devil (no, I’m not kidding).
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you… 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NIV) I'll never forget listening to a minister explain this scripture as follows…“Paul’s mistake was to pray to the Lord when he should have been binding the devil. He didn’t get results because he hadn’t learned what we have”. The message was clear, once we learned to “bind the devil” properly; our problems would be over. I believed every word and became a binding champion. I think I may have achieved some constipation one time, but that was the limit of my binding success.
I was embarrassed when I discovered just how commonly understood in mainstream Christianity binding and loosing was. It’s so common that even Wikipedia has a perfect definition. Here's an orthodox understanding.
When Jesus disciples heard him give them the keys to bind and loose – they knew exactly what he meant. The bottom line we’ll discover in any Jewish encyclopedia is that binding and loosing was a common Jewish phrase for the Rabbi’s authority to serve as spiritual parents.
We have all felt the effect of our parents binding and loosing as we grew up under them. We found safety within the boundaries they bound us to and we found joy in this great big world by exploring freedoms they loosed us to explore.
Although we no longer use the phrase like they did in Jesus’ day we’ve all found peace within the framework of binding and loosing. Still today, our lives are governed by…
1. Communicating the rules (binding)
2. Granting freedoms (loosing)
Shortly after authorizing his disciples (chapter 19) Jesus comments on what a poor job the current authorized ones (Rabbi’s) were doing at binding and loosing.
“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, (yep, even when God’s ordained authority is off center you’re still better off staying in the family than going it alone) but don’t follow their example. (You’re the new ones authorized to “bind and loose” – do a better job than these abusive parents) For they don’t practice what they teach.
They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Matthew 23:2-4 (They’ve got binding down to an art form but they’ve never loosed a single soul).
The disciples had grown up immersed in the guilt and condemnation their teachers (Pharisees) controlled them with. Jesus expected them to do a better job. When the ones with the keys have servant’s hearts, God’s kingdom flourishes because people find God’s purpose of joy behind his every command. But those on authority kicks are like abusive parents, In Isaiah 22 he says (the original key holder, see footnote #1) “will be a father to the people”.
This would all be so simple if Christ only loosed us and our only job as his church was to proclaim freedom, but it’s not that simple. The straight and narrow isn’t simple to stay on. It’s easy to lean right and live under a burden of guilt (too bound) or lean left and fall apart as we stretch our freedoms too far (too loosed). They’re equally dangerous but in my 30 years of ministry I’ve watched many more people crash in their freedoms than their guilt. Before they crashed, these people never discussed their freedom with anyone in Christ’s Church. Who needs that chain of accountability? My friend, I’m no different than you and God declares that we all live with desires that will destroy us without regular course corrections. We’ve all grown up in a culture that opposes any authority, but God couldn’t be clearer – if we want freedom, we all need God’s family and authority.
This has more to do with having devoted Christ followers as true friends than it does getting the Pastor’s approval. As we walk in submission to Christ and open with each other Jesus has an amazing way of manifesting his directions to us all. I want to cross the finish line still serving God’s purposes on earth and I have zero hope of that without full connection to his Church. Sin still destroys so we still need to bind ourselves to God’s truth. Churches who handle this delicate binding and loosing balancing act well end up with a big happy family.
This family discipline is still important but consider the ominous task placed on Peter’s plate. He’s the new pastor and this whole family has grown up under abusive Rabbi’s. We all find our balance within our very private and personal understanding of God’s acceptance. Peter and the boys have a massive job in front of them and it all hangs on these keys to bind and loose.
The only conference of the apostles (the 12 + Paul) was recorded in Acts 15. What was so important as to bring them all together? They gathered to answer a purely cultural housekeeping issue. An issue that seems ridiculous to us today. They gathered to decide if the new Gentile believers needed to be circumcised.
It took them a long day of meetings and they finally concluded – no circumcision. There’s only one reason why we feel like that answer is such a no-brainer. We’ve lived inside a Church that has been properly loosed by its leaders and that loosing has become so foundational that we struggle to believe it was ever a question. We benefit in so many ways that we never consider because leaders do their job. Freedoms that never even cross our mind cost Martin Luther his sanity in the 1500’s.
The solidarity of Christ’s Church didn’t just hang on Peter though. God himself stepped in and answered that question and the questions of every successive generation. How does God do it? He makes their answers his, and the power of his Spirit confirms it… whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Jesus is confirming the Jewish tradition that what they decide – is what heaven decides. God is not going to have different answers than his Church. He so dominates his Apostles thoughts (and pens) at such moments that their words – are the very Word of God.
Did the Apostles bind or loose?
If we read the letter the Apostles agreed upon (Acts 15: 23-29) we’ll notice the Apostles not only said no circumcision, but they also issued two commands. They decided the new Gentiles must honor their Jewish brothers and also be sexually pure! So did they bind, or loose?
Do you see it? ...They did both.
They primarily loosed (no circumcision or similar legalism required) but they also bound (keep these two commands). Our walk with God is never balanced by one without the other. This type of cultural gate-keeping is exactly what binding and loosing handles and every new generation has new questions.
Here’s some modern questions Christians have.
What is acceptable…
Church attendance? During disease pandemic?
What exactly do I need to believe about…
Creation and Evolution?
Let’s use just this last one. Does a person need to believe everything in the Bible to be saved? If we have a revelation of Jesus but can’t swallow Jonah and the whale – are we in trouble?
To stay on topic, my point is you probably already have peace about that question and everything else on my list. You (just like me) have gained peace by submitting your life to spiritual authority. We usually don’t realize it – we feel like we’ve simply found a Church we enjoy, so we stick. In reality that leader has a profound effect on our inner peace with God. We end up bound to certain commitments while we’re loosed to enjoy the fresh air of grace.
I’m sharing how binding still functions but I’m not teaching that Church leaders today have the same authority those Apostles had. I cannot claim that God has made my answer to legalized Marijuana (which I’m not sharing here) his own. My book is not an addition to Scripture. That said, we have questions today they never faced and the Church of Jesus Christ has an amazing way of finding its center on Scripture concerning such issues.
I was studying my own Bible the whole time and I was prideful enough to think I was gaining all my vision through my own energy. My teachers (and their teachers) probably thought that when they were 21 too, but every one of us found solid ground while grazing in the pasture of a true shepherd who was also personally submitted to authority. For every one of us that thread of faith follows a straight line to twelve blokes who sat around a campfire with God. I hope we can appreciate what God has accomplished by seeing to it that every new generation of his preachers were fed in this same line. Have there been tangent offshoots as new men with new revelations spring up? History is replete with their rise – and their crash. The church keeps finding its way back to center as only those 12 (and their personal disciples) penned scripture. Thus, the church finds its new answers listening to men who’ve suffered for truth rather than new success stories. Interestingly enough, the voices who’ve earned a hearing in the ensuing 2,000 years; have also suffered. There’s a cost involved in bearing God’s authority. We’ve all found reality as we hear the same Jesus within us confirm what we’re hearing through his ministers, who’ve heard through their ministers, who heard through….
Back to my main point. I’m securely bound to certain pillars while I’m loosed to enjoy an amazing life within the amazing grace of Jesus Christ. It’s not that I’m not open minded but I’m immovable concerning what I know. My faith is stronger than my desires or my private revelations. Not because of anything special in me. I’ve simply been bound and loosed by those 12 Apostles. Proper binding and loosing is a HUGE issue – exactly like proper parenting is. Are we affected to this day by how well our parents bound & loosed? Enough said.
We normally quote Jesus’ second use of the phrase, but his first mention of binding is actually the clearest.
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Matthew 18:15-18 (NIV)
To Jesus’ Jewish disciples this made perfect parental housekeeping sense. Helping a wayward brother back to center is exactly what binding does. But to spiritual warriors this makes no sense at all. The reason Satan is never mentioned anywhere related to binding & loosing is because it has nothing to do with him. Jesus was authorizing men who were true parents. If they had any ego or authority issues those inner sins were burned out in the intense heat of persecution. Anyone who longs for more guiding control over the church (binding and loosing) has no idea what they are asking for. There was little prestige in the Apostles role as God personally saw to it that the 12 original parents were in this for him alone. They all eventually gave their lives to follow Christ and to be our parents – and we’ve all been loosed by them.
The first thing that comes up when I google binding and loosing is Wikipedia and they give this same answer (as I’ve just explained) every Bible commentary gives. With this understanding being so plain it’s challenging to understand how binding the devil to stop our troubles was ever taught from these verses.
Now let’s move on to scriptures that actually mention Satan. I have sympathy for people trapped in the fear that most warfare teaching evokes. There are a few scriptures that seem to lean that direction.
Let’s go to the movies
I realize I’m swimming against powerful currents to convince you of biblical reality. Most epic movies display the hero directly overthrowing the evil monster. The most common scene is the ultimate revenge of the good guy killing the bad guy. It just feels right when it happens…but it couldn’t be farther from what we’re asked to do.
Don't let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. Romans 12:21 NLT
We want to conquer evil by out-muscling it; not “doing good”. What fun is that? God asks us to leave all the “muscle” to the only one with any…”Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, "I will take revenge; I will pay them back," says the LORD.” Romans 12:19 NLT
Some movies go to the next level and show us the evil spirits behind the bad guys but the ultimate revenge of applying greater muscle is exactly the same. Frodo and Gandalf are going head to head with evil itself in the Lord of the Rings. More recently “Stranger things” ends with the heroine “Eleven” using her higher powers to destroy evil itself. It’s a triumphant ending to be sure, one so convincing we’re amped up for spiritual warfare.
Then we see Jesus, destroying evil by allowing himself to be crucified. And instead of superior “spirit warriors” we see Joseph and Paul in prison cells praying to “stand firm” and do “as I should”. I’m sorry it’s not as cool as the movies, but Responders are overcoming evil in more epic ways than Hollywood could dream of.
For his kids, it’s God’s Spirit who is ALWAYS doing the leading, even when it’s into the devil’s playground. It almost makes us think…
God is actively and lovingly involved in all the events of our life, good and bad. He’s designed these events to lead us to a place called “Fruitful”. All he needs is for us – to Respond.
(1) 19“Yes, I will drive you out of office,” says the LORD. “I will pull you down from your high position. And then I will call my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah to replace you. I will dress him in your royal robes and will give him your title and your authority. And he will be a father to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court. When he opens doors, no one will be able to close them; when he closes doors, no one will be able to open them. He will bring honor to his family name, for I will drive him firmly in place like a nail in the wall. They will give him great responsibility, and he will bring honor to even the lowliest members of his family. ~Isaiah 22:19-24
 “The power of binding and loosing was always claimed by the Pharisees. Under Queen Alexandra, the Pharisees, says Josephus ("B J." i, 5, § 2), "became the administrators of all public affairs so as to be empowered to banish and readmit whom they pleased, as well as to loose and to bind." From http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3307-binding-and-loosing.