There are friends I would rather no one know I have. In the past, I’ve introduced you to two of these friends, World and Flesh. One surrounds me; the other is part of me. These should be my enemies. They distance me from God and dampen my love for Christ. However, I find myself drawing them closer than I should. The enemy that should repulse me most is often the one I pretend isn’t there, while walking hand in hand with him. He is the devil.
You might ask how I don’t notice the ugly guy walking alongside me in my spiritual life, but here’s the thing, he doesn’t appear as someone ugly, but as an angel of light. “For no wonder, Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14, NASB). He’s the suggestion in my ear that it is more noble to be honest and sin, then do good with an impure motive. He helps me provide the degrading criticism to my friend, in the name of improving my friend’s character. I hear in his words the encouragement to be honest in my faith at the risk of being perceived as holy and aloof, by compromising and looking like everyone else.
When my vision is clear and I see the road to take, he jumps in front of me and creates a road block. Paul experienced this, “For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us” (1 Thessalonians 2:18, NASB). He creates obstacles to discourage me. I adopt platitudes and convince myself I’m loving my neighbor by not bothering him with my faith. I choose to set my convictions aside, interpreting the devil’s speed bumps as stop signs in the will of God. When there is resistance to my values, Satan persuades me that God is twisting my path. I accept sin, believing grace should abound.
God gave me a foundation of truth from the Bible, illustrated in history. The stories of Scripture reveal God’s character. This foundation shows his love for me in the present, for God has thought of me, sending Christ into my life today. The devil focuses me on the future, making me fear it, wanting me to gain material wealth from what lies ahead and every other pleasure which comes before me. In his fictional work, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has a senior devil propose to his younger nephew a way to derail the Christian’s faith. While trying to hinder believers, the young tempter is to remember, “Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”
I assume that devil will appear big, loud, and abrupt. But often he is the soft voice, the gentle touch, and path of least resistance.
I listen to Satan’s whispering, taking it often as my own thought. My proper response would be to remember Jesus’ response to Peter. Peter listened as Satan had him oppose Jesus’ notion of going to Jerusalem and dying. Jesus had no intention of letting the devil sway the conversation. “But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23, NASB).
There’s the rub. How often I forget to ask the question of what are God’s interests. I ask about my own interests, seeking to love myself. But I ignore the interests of my neighbor and espouse the great virtue of doing what is right in my own eyes to serve God and my neighbor best. Yet, the interest of my neighbor and myself is always found in God’s interest because he is the one who loves me and my neighbor the most.
Again the devil in Lewis’ story, Screwtape, speaks of Satan’s approach. “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” I assume that devil will appear big, loud, and abrupt. But often he is the soft voice, the gentle touch, and path of least resistance. Paul warns of Satan’s nature. “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3, NASB).
Apart from what Satan puts in my life, I need to also consider what he keeps out of it. Screwtape talks about how easy it is for Satan to tempt believers, “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” The simplicity and purity of devoting my life to Christ should be my focus. I need to take God at his Word, recognizing the straightforward commands to love God and my neighbor as myself. To derail my spiritual walk, Satan only needs to make me forget this focus.
Satan convinces me that he has great power. I fear at times what he might do to me. I wonder, within myself, how much of the world represents his strength. I forget the great one who lives within me. I could never measure the height of God’s power or the Lord’s might; and with Satan’s power beside it, there is no comparison. Satan can no more move against God’s power than an ant can move the planet out of the orbit of the sun.
My enemy, who I befriend, has but one power over me. He lies. He changes my perception of the world. He makes me see things backwards and upside down. He convinces me of truths other than God’s.
What I believe and how I think determine how I live. Satan has no power over me. He uses the simple lie, and then relies on me to use my own strength to carry out his wishes. He gives me a faulty prescription, and I think the unfocused, blurred world is reality. When I put on the glasses of God’s truth, the devil’s power fades away. Christ lives in me.
For those choosing to live outside the Kingdom of God, Satan blinds them to truth. “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The devil renders Christ invisible. He directs the minds of unbelievers to the flawed world and blames God. He promotes self-sufficiency, virtue without foundation, and a form of godliness without God. He attributes the problems in culture to Christians, the intolerant, and the weak. Again, the lie is his strength.
A final word from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape reminds me of the need to stay fixed on Jesus. “Do not be deceived… Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of [God] seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” No matter what Satan hides from my view, I must obey the truth of God. When God tells me to love him, to love my neighbor, to put his Kingdom first, I must see beyond the barriers Satan puts onto the landscape.
There are weapons that I can use in the battle against this false friend. (Ephesians 6:10-18) My faith is my shield. God’s Word is my sword. His righteousness protects my heart. My feet are surrounded by his truth and move me through the world. Trust, truth, and righteousness are my pursuits. When I trust God, I don’t trust the devil. When I know the truth, I see the world through God’s eyes. When I cling to the righteousness that Christ gives me, apart from my own works, I can’t be shaken into a false sense of guilt. My sins can’t be used against me, because Christ has forgiven them and made right living possible.
It’s a struggle. These three friends, the world, the flesh, and the devil are really my enemies, I work at leaving them behind. I need to remember when I stumble, Christ picks me up. I must hold to the hope before me and the real future Christ has promised me—a new world and a new body which will no longer be plagued by sin. But for now I take responsibility and endeavor to follow God, God’s Spirit, and pursue the Kingdom.
When I walk with Christ as my friend, I am dead to the world, the flesh, and the devil. I am transformed to God’s character in my thoughts, my actions, and these enemies have no power over me.
And of the devil?
“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night’” (Revelation 12:10)
My false friend, the devil, he will lose his place. Before Jesus returns, he will cast out Satan. Satan will begin the road to his final judgment. Humanity will see him for his true character. My flesh will be exchanged for a new body, the world will be made new and perfect, and Satan will be thrown into a lake of fire.
When Christ returns, my enemies will be brought to Jesus’ feet. They will no longer be able to pull me from him. I will see God face to face and find my true friend.