Beginning the Battle
When a strong man, fully armed, guards
We have a challenge before us, clearly sounded in the passage from Ephesians which forms the basis for our stud In order to meet the challenge to be "strong in the Lord," we must expect to learn much about this kingdom of evil, these wicked spirits in high places whom Paul says lie behind the insoluble problem of human evil.
The Apostle indicates that the only ones who can successfully battle against the Devil's forces are Christians. "For we are not contending against flesh and blood" Who are the "we"? Surely this is not man, in general, but these are Christians who are indicated in the word "we."
The world struggles because of the powers of evil, but the Christian wrestles against them. Now this is not a position that is peculiar to Paul, but it is a consistent teaching all through the Bible. The Bible indicates at n every all men are victims of these invisible forces. All men therefore, without exception, are victims; but only believers can be victors.
No Threat from Within
Jesus himself makes this point absolutely clear. There is a story in Luke of our Lord's reaction that was presented to him as he to the challenge was casting out demons. This activity of our Lord, by the way, is an area of his ministry which is continually questioned by those who choose to approach the scriptures intellectually. They do not like this business of casting out demons it in various ways. We will say more about but in the biblical account certain ones said his ability to cast out demons came from his relationship with Beelzebub, the prince of demons--another name for Satan. They said it was by Satan's power, by Beelzebub's Power, that he was casting out demons.
Beelzebub means "Lord of the garbage." The Jews regarded hell as a cosmic garbage dump and in a real sense they were right, for that is exactly what hell is--a wasted life, a garbage dump. And because a garbage pile always attracts flies, they called Beelzebub the Lord of the Flies. These people were accusing Jesus of casting out demons by the authority of Beelzebub, the Lord of the flies.
But Jesus said, "No, you are quite wrong. If that were true, then obviously Satan's kingdom would be divided against itself, and Satan would actually be pitted against the demons under his authority." Jesus states very simply that Satan never does that. Satan never fights against himself. He is too clever, too cunning, far too astute ever to divide his forces in that way, for be knows that if he did, his kingdom would fall. Jesus is suggesting, therefore, that any man who is under the control of Satan has no hope of deliverance apart from an outside, intervening force. Here is how he puts it: 'When a strong man, "fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace" (Luke 11:21). Who is the "strong man?" Satan. What is the "palace?" The world. Who are the "goods?" Mankind everywhere. In the Luke 11:21-23 passage which presents this figure of the strong man there are three great principles which emerge. The first is that man, alone against Satan, is powerless and hopeless. This is the unchanging position of Scripture. John says, "We [Christians] know at we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the wicked one" (John 5:19).
It is the position of the Bible that the world has fallen under the control of Satan. Not the world of trees and mountains and lakes and seas--that is God's world--but the world of organized human society has fallen under the control of Satan and there is no possibility of an escape apart from an intervention from without. For, as Jesus says, "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace his goods are in peace." There can be no threat from within to Satan's control. It is just here that our Lord puts his finger on the reason for the continual failure of the usual methods men employ to correct evils and wrongs -the usual methods of reform. They fail because, they do not come to grips with the potential problem. All our efforts to correct the evils we see in life are simply rearrangements of the difficulties. We succeed only in stirring them around a bit until they take a different form. But our methods can never solve the central problem of evil because they cannot come to grips with the power of Satan. As C. S. Lewis so aptly put it, "No clever arrangement of bad eggs will make a good omelet." When the full cycle of problems is run through, it begins again, and we say, "History repeats itself."
Tried, But Not True
What are the usual methods of human reform? You can list them easily. Almost invariably they are legislation, education, and an improved environment. Every problem we face is usually approached by using one of, or a combination of, these three. Legislation is law, it is merely the control of the outward man and has nothing to do with ' and cannot do anything to, the inward man. It does not change the basic nature of man but merely restricts him under certain conditions.
Education is one of the worst so-called remedies for a deranged personality, a twisted mind. The position of Scripture is that all of us are born into this world with twisted minds. (Some are more twisted than others: they are the ones that we call "twisted minds". To educate a twisted mind is but to make it more clever in its wickedness. The educated criminal is a far more clever, more subtle, more difficult criminal, to catch. The educated mind, approaching human personality problems, throws a shiny patina of knowledge over them which only serves to cover over the real difficulties. Education does not basically change man; it only makes him more clever.
An improved environment does not change him, either. When you take a man out of the slums, for example, and put him into a nicer environment, you do absolutely nothing to the man himself. In a little while he will make that new environment a slum as well.
Now I do not mean to suggest that we scuttle these traditional approaches to reform. They have certain values, but they do not come to grips with the basic problem. This is why, after a lifetime of trying to change man with these methods, those who are knowledgeable thinkers in this area always end up with a terribly black outlook on life. Listen to these words by Bertrand Russell, of whom," as a friend used to say, "there is none whomer," the high priest of the cult of freethinkers:
The life of man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, toward a goal that few can hope to reach and where none can tarry long. One by one as they march our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent death. Brief and powerless is man's life. On him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls, in pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way. For man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gates of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day.
Those eloquent words catalog the sheer despair into which man falls when he is far from God. There is a growing sense of despair everywhere you turn today. It is the unconscious realization of man's helplessness under Satan.
From Darkness to Light
Now look at the next verse and our Lord's words in Luke 11: 22: "But when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he tares away -his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil." Who is this "stronger one?" It is Jesus. He is speaking of himself. He says when a strong man, fully armed, guards his palace, his goods are at peace and nothing can be done about it, least of all by the goods themselves. But when one who is stronger comes, he breaks the power of Satan. Here is the second principle the Lord is revealing in this passage; it is the "good news" of the gospel. We sing it:
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.
In the mystery of the cross of Jesus and in the power of his resurrection, applied by faith, we men and women who have been born into a society which is under the control of the satanic mind, discover that the force which ruins us is broken and its power canceled.
That is why this Christian gospel is so exclusive. That is why Christians are perfectly justified when they say there is no other answer to the problems of man; there is no other power which can touch the basic problem of human life. There is only one "stronger one" who has come into the world and has come to grips with the power of this dark spirit and broken his power over human life.
How many there are who can testify to this throughout the Christian centuries! Not only prostitutes and alcoholics and dope addicts, not only those who have been gripped by the power of evil habits, but also those who have been held by the power of evil attitudes---temper, lust, self-righteousness, bitterness, and pride.
The strongest chains are not those around the body, but around the mind. The writers of Scripture make that clear. In one place we read, 'The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 4:4). And that great document on human liberty, the Epistle to the Romans, opens with that basic thought. Paul suggests that the greatest antagonism against the gospel does not come from the uneducated but from the educated--those who, "thinking themselves wise, become fools," and change the glory of God into a lie.
But the gospel declares that Jesus Christ has come to set men free. John says Jesus came into the world "to destroy the works of the " (I John 3:8). There is no adequate explanation of his coming apart from that. Paul says he has "delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son." (Colossians 1:13). Paul himself was chosen as an apostle to the Gentiles, and, in that dramatic conversion experience on the Damascus Road, he said to the Lord whom he saw in his glory, "What will you have me to do?" Jesus replied, "Stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose delivering you from the Gentiles--to whom I send you that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God" (Acts 26:16-1 41).
This is what the gospel is for; it has no other purpose. If we try to channel it first into smaller areas of life, such as applying it to social concerns, we only reveal how far we have mistaken Its The gospel will ultimately find its way there, certainly, but it must make its first impact upon this basic problem of human life. Mankind is in the grip a power which it is helpless to do anything about. e only one who can deliver us from it is Jesus Christ. He has already done so in themystery of his cross and through the power and glory of his resurrection.
When a person believes that and commits himself to Christ, he discovers that the gospel becomes practical in his own experience. This is what we call "conversion." But conversion is only the beginning of the battle; very soon, a new Christian becomes aware of the evil forces at work to destroy him. If he goes no farther in his new life than to believe his sins are forgiven, he will remain in bondage to those sins, living a life of conflict and frustration. But the battle is fought on the ground that we have been delivered from the dominion of darkness, and brought out of the power of Satan into the kingdom of God.
Returning to the passage in Luke, we have seen, first, that man alone is helpless against the power of Satan. Next, our Lord speaks of the liberation that is available through belief in him, who has destroyed Satan's power. And finally, our Lord reveals one other principle in this passage: "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters" Luke 11:23). He is saying here that it is not possible to take a neutral stand and at mere profession is not sufficient. There are always those who say, "I understand something of the gospel, and I must confess that I believe there is much of value in the Christian faith. I am a friend of Christianity. I believe that it has a great moral impact to bring into our world, but I do not care to go so far as personally receiving Christ." I think I will remain neutral.
Jesus says this is impossible. There is no neutrality. "He who is not with me is against me." He who has not received deliverance is still under the bondage and control of the dark powers of Satan. There are no exceptions.
This is why Christ is the crisis of history. He spoke of himself that way-as the divider of men. As he looks at men, there are only two groups. There are those who are wholly with him because they are of him--they have received him, know him, love him, and have partaken of his life. And there are those who are against him. "He who is not with me is against me."
"On the other hand," some are tempted to say, "Well, if this is the case, then I want to be a Christian, but I don't know about all this inward control. I am willing to along with the outward forms. I'm willing to join the church, but inwardly I still believe in directing my own life and running my own affairs." But Jesus says you cannot do that. "He who does not gather with me scatters."
There is one thing which will reveal whether you are with him or against him: the influence of your life. Jesus Christ has come into the world to gather together the children of God. His is a gathering influence, tracking down divisions, binding hearts together, reuniting families, making people to live together in harmony, breaking down the barriers of race, healing wounds, bringing nations together. But there is also a force which scatters, which divides. What is it? It is self-centeredness. This is the most divisive force known in human life. When people come together, the thing that splits them apart is their vested, concern in their own affairs. They are self-centered.
Victor or Victim?
Therefore, the great question of life is: 'What is basic character of your life? Is it self-centeredness? Or is it self-givingness? Are you with him or against him? Are you with him in a healing wholesome ministry join a group, a family, an organization, a, a nation, are you a divisive factor? Do you line up? Do you cause them to quarrel with one another, come to odds with one another?
What, about your own family? You say you are a Christian. All right. Are your children drawn closer to the faith because of you? Or are they breaking away from it because of you? Our Lord cuts right to the core of life. Life is absolutely laid bare and is judged finally on the basis of our relationship to him. The evidence of that relationship is the influence that we exercise.
The question each person must ask of himself is, "Am I a victor, or a victim?" Then we must realize that we are helpless to do anything about this ourselves. Nothing we can do in ourselves can change this situation. We are not free. We are not able to carry out our own decisions except in a limited area, and it is our illusion of freedom which makes us imagine that we are free, unrestrained individuals. According to the Bible, apart from Christ we are under the unbroken, absolute control of an evil force which is controlling our thoughts and reactions. And we are absolutely helpless to do anything about this until that power is broken by the acceptance of the One who has come to of the Devil.
If you have not known that deliverance you can know it now. Perhaps you have had to say, "If what you have said is true, then I am still an unbeliever. I am still under the power of Satan." Then the gospel comes to you now and this is its message: In one moment of time you can pass from death into life. In one moment of commitment, trusting Christ and his work, no longer reckoning upon anything you are trying to do to make you good enough, you can say, "Lord, here am I. Save me." You pass in that moment from death into life. That is what conversion is. In those words you will open the door which permits him to do his saving work.
Our Father, may those who have been seeking for answers pass now from darkness into light, from the power of Satan into the kingdom of God, and be delivered, set free. For us, Lo , who have already experienced this and know something of the reality of this delivering power in our life, we pray that we may never forget that we, have been set free, that Jesus did this for us when we could do nothing for ourselves. May we have a heart filled with love for him, who loved us and gave himself for us. We pray in his name, Amen.
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