“Some Christians do not want to acknowledge evil at all, and then there are those Christians who do believe that Satan is alive and well and working in the world. Some are so adamant in their denial of evil that they prefer to cling to a stylized version of angels with beautiful white wings and chubby baby faces that are only here to do good [they are our guardians].”*
It seems that many believers struggle with the idea that the devil is real. In fact, some just don’t want to think that there is a dark force that is creating havoc. It is too scary. The whole idea is just too negative.
John Stott also thinks that Christians struggle to understand evil, not quite sure about how to fit it into the Christian worldview. He writes in his book The Cross of Christ that Christians generally are in opposing camps about this subject. On one hand they would like to be victorious as Jesus was victorious, but on the other, they know that all of us live in a world full of temptations. Every day we know we fail in our attempt to beat back the devil. We just don’t have the power to live the perfect life of Christ; we literally sin and fall short of the glory of God. The devil snares us in his traps every day.
Some may prefer to put blinders on, refusing to admit that Satan is working on them every. Stott seems to say that these Christians are naïve as he writes that the Bible provides proof that the devil has been defeated but he has not yet conceded defeat. He has been overthrown but he has not been eliminated. The truth is, he continues to wield great power.
He refers to our life with Jesus and Satan as a continual “tension”. “On the one hand we are alive, seated and reigning with Christ….on the other we are warned to watch out because the same evil one ‘prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’” [Stott, 235].
To Christians who want to claim Christ’s victory over Satan, Stott refers to them as “triumphalists.” They see only victory and refuse to acknowledge warnings about the power of evil.
Others Stott refers to as “defeatists”. They only see “the fearsome malice of the devil and overlook the victory over him which Christ has already won” .
Is there some middle ground? Do Christians have to be in either the triumphal camp or the defeatist camp?
Stott avoids the trap of making some type of subjective choice. He just writes that we should look at the evidence in God’s word. New Testament writers concentrate on four ways that Christ frees us from. These writers concentrate on the law, the flesh, the world and death. Maybe this is the answer. Like Stott, we need to look at that evidence.
First under Christ we are no longer under the tyranny of the law. Some might think it unusual that the devil has used God’s law to enslave us, but that is exactly what the Apostle Paul tells us: “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith could be revealed” [see Galatians 3 and Romans 6]. When Christ came, the judgement (or the curse) of the law was removed (Jesus took the curse). God wants us to try to live righteous lives through faith in Jesus, not live condemned lives through the law. God wants obedience, not condemnation.
Secondly, through Christ we are no longer under the tyranny of the flesh. This refers to our fallen nature. As Adam and Eve were self-centered, so are we. All the sins that we can choose to commit can make us slaves to sin; we become wrapped up in the ephemeral pleasure that sin offers. Paul lists sexual immorality, idolatry, occult practices, hatred, jealousy, anger, drunkenness etc. Jesus came to defeat this slavery. Our old sinful self was crucified with Christ and we have a chance to have a new body, free of sin [at least we can have hope of trying to live a less sinless life]. Christ won the battle over the flesh. We are ordinary humans so we must continue the battle daily, but in Jesus we have an Advocate, one who understands us and extends grace to us [a forgiveness we don’t deserve].
Next Jesus lifted the world from our shoulders. Stott writes “if flesh is the foothold the devil has within us, the world is the means through which he exerts pressure on us from without.” Most Christians know what the “world” means. It refers to godless human society. John writes that one cannot love Christ and love the world because the world ridicules our faith, persecutes Christians and infiltrates the church with “worldly” values. Jesus stated “I have overcome the world” for “everyone born of God has overcome the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it who overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” [First John 2: 15-16]. What happens to people who become believers? Slowly but surely their values change as the lure of the world’s values become weaker and the power of the cross transforms their minds.
Finally Christ frees us from the tyranny of death. Fear of death is universal, but in Hebrews 2: 14 it says “Jesus Christ is able to set men free even those who all their lives have been ‘held in slavery by their fear of death.’” As we have discussed flesh and the world [the major factors in sin] we now can admit that Jesus took the sting out of death when he gave us hope in our victory over sin. Stott writes “It is sin which causes death, and which after death will bring the judgement; hence our fear of it” . Since Christ died for our sins, they can be taken away. Now that we have been forgiven, death can harm us no more. Paul writes “Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting? Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” [First Corinthians 15: 55-57]. What should be our attitude toward death? It is still an enemy, “unnatural, unpleasant and undignified” but it has lost its power to harm and to terrify. Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” [First Corinthians 15: 26].
Stott does not state if he is a triumphalist or he is a defeatist. Of course he believes in the almighty powers of God and His son Jesus so I would say he would tend to be more triumphalist than defeatist. Does he ignore the existence of evil? I refer the reader to his statement above: [the devil] “has been defeated but he has not yet conceded defeat. He has been overthrown but he has not been eliminated”. I did not comment on the discussion Stott has about the six ways that God defeated Satan by putting His Son on the cross.** include the discussion he has right before the section on the four ways that Christ frees us from the power of the devil. Maybe that tips his hat, for it is an extensive explanation of six ways that God defeated Satan by putting his son in the cross.** Instead I chose to explain the “four tyrants” Christ has overthrown, an “evidence-based” discussion based on New Testament writing. over which Christ won the victory. Stott says Christ ushered in the new “aeon” or age which “is characterized by grace not law, the spirit not the flesh, the will of God not the fashions of the world and abundant life not death” .
He ends his exposition with the simple words which mean so much: “This is the victory of Christ into which He allows us to enter”.
Thanks be to God.
*This is a paraphrase from my post of May 12, describing how Christians attempt to comprehend the existence of good and evil in the world.
**For this discussion of the “six ways” see pages 227-234, based on theologian Mike Green’s book I Believe in Satan’s Downfall.