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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Does Satan still ask permission to attack?

Do you think Satan still asks for permission to wage spiritual war on saints? If so, can we know when we're under attack?

This is a question submitted to the Truth & Circumstances podcast, but as it is more of a straightforward theological question, I’ll tackle it here.  It also goes well with what we discussed in our prayer meeting last night.

Does Satan still ask for permission?  This question rightly assumes that at least at some point, the devil had to ask permission to carry out His activities.  There are a couple of biblical references we tend to think about in this regard.  First, there is the opening narrative of Job, where the Lord gives Satan broad latitude to attack his servant (Job 1:9-12; 2:1-6).  It’s clear there that Satan couldn’t go beyond the boundaries given to him by God.  Second, there is the conversation on the night of the Lord’s arrest, when the Lord Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…” (Luke 22:31).  This indicates two things: (1) Satan is disrespectful; but (2) he can’t just do whatever he wants.

So does Satan still ask permission to wage war against the people of God?  I can find no biblical reason why this would have changed.  God’s character has not changed.  He’s still sovereign over all.  There is no indication in Scripture that the Lord has given a blanket permission to the devil to do anything he wants.  There is also no reason to think that God has taken away the devil’s ability to wage war.  To the contrary, the New Testament is filled with warnings about this enemy and his desire to work us over.

1 Peter 5:8 reads, Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Ephesians 6:10-18 is a long passage dedicated to the reality of our warfare against evil spiritual forces and the resources given to us to wage this war.  In that passage, Paul warns about “the schemes of the devil” and “the flaming darts of the evil one.”   It must be the case that the devil is still under the sovereign control of God, and that God allows him to work when that work will accomplish God's ultimate ends.  At the same time, the devil is a dangerous foe whom we should take seriously. 

Can we know when we’re under attack?  The devil is no moron.  He disguises himself as an angel of light (2Cor 11:14).  Deception is his wheelhouse (Gen 3:1-6; 2 Cor 11:3).  He likely is not going to put out a billboard, making it obvious how he’s going after us.  He will be subtle.  But there are some indications in the NT about how he works and we can regard these things as warning signs:

When you’re your devotion to the Lord is growing cold (2 Cor 11:3). 
When you are being bombarded with temptation (1 Chron 21:1; Matt 4:1-10; Acts 5:3; 1Cor7:5; 1Tim 5:13-16). 
When your gospel work is being hindered (Mark 8:33; 1Th 2:18). 
When you are struggling with ungodly anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness (2 Cor 2:11; Eph 4:26-27). 
When we are experiencing relentless thoughts of accusation (Zec 3:1; Rev 12:10). 
When we entertain blasphemous thoughts (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5). 

These would be the more overt signs that he is involved, but again, he is subtle.  We know from the Scriptures that he is something like a field marshal, orchestrating attacks coordinated with our other two enemies, the world and our own flesh (Eph 2:1-3).  It would be hard to imagine the world and the flesh working against us in ways where the evil one is not involved at all. 

We are not called to flee from the evil one, but to resist him (James 4:7; Eph 6:10-11).  As we discussed last night, we have two major offensive weapons in this fight: the sword of the Spirit and prayer (Eph 6:17-20).  We can wield the first as Jesus and David did – memorizing it and using it in times of temptation (Matt 4:1-10; Psa 119:11).  We can wield the second by praying against the enemy and his devices as he attacks the church and tries to prevent the spread of the gospel (Eph 6:18-20).  Or we can combine the two, by praying offensively – praying the imprecatory psalms against the evil one, psalms like 3, 35, and 83. 

Here is some wonderful news: when we resist in the ways prescribed in the NT, by resisting the devil, he flees.  He flees not because he is afraid of us, but because we stand in the power of the risen Christ who defeated him.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Call to Fast and Pray

I just wanted to post a reminder that the elders have requested that all who are able dedicate themselves tomorrow (Wed, Nov 15) to fasting and prayer for the healing of Phil and Adrienne Pittman and Hilda Phillips.  Phil and Hilda are both fighting cancer.  Adrienne is enduring a host of medical difficulties, most recently complications from a broken hip and hip replacement surgery.  So we are dedicating ourselves tomorrow to praying for their healing.  The day will culminate in a prayer service at the church at 6:30pm.
Some of us may have never fasted before, so I wanted to give a little instruction.  “Christian fasting is a believer’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.”[1]  Those who attended our prayer gathering two weeks ago are aware of the numerous kinds of biblical fasts.  I won’t reproduce all of those here.  The one we are recommending is what we would call a normal fast – abstaining from all food, but not liquids (Matt 4:2; Luke 4:2).  Some may want to fast for the 24 hours leading up to the prayer meeting, breaking the fast after the meeting.  Others for health reasons may not be able to fast that long, and may only be able to miss a single meal.  Still others may not be able to fast at all.  Whatever your ability, we are asking that you devote yourselves to prayer for the healing of these loved ones.
What is the purpose of fasting as it relates to prayer?  In his book on spiritual disciplines, Dr. Donald Whitney notes numerous biblical, spiritual purposes for fasting.  One of them is to strengthen prayer (Ezra 8:23; Daniel 9:3).  John Calvin wrote, “Whenever men are to pray to God concerning any great matter, it would be expedient to appoint fasting along with prayer.”  Whitney adds, “There’s something about fasting that sharpens the edge of our intercessions and deepens the passion of our supplication.  So the people of God have frequently utilized fasting when they have felt a special urgency about the concerns they lift before the Father.”[2]
The act of fasting is helpful in at least a couple of practical ways.  First, the discomfort of going without food is a constant reminder of the purpose for which we are fasting.  With every hunger pain, we are reminded, “I’m dedicating this day to praying for a specific urgent request.”  Second, the time that we would have spent eating can be given to praying for that issue.  We are afforded then more time to pray than we would on a normal day. 
Fasting is an expression of need for God to do what only He can do.  “Fasting is when we hunger for God – for a fresh encounter with God, for God to answer a prayer, for God to save someone, for God to work powerfully in our church, for God to guide us or protect us – more than we hunger for the food God made us to live on.”[3]  Many of us have been deeply troubled by the struggles that Phil, Adrienne, and Hilda have been enduring.  We hunger for God to help them, to heal them for His own glory.  So we are fasting as an expression of that hunger and to ask Him to do that very thing. 
Please join us in this.  And may the Lord be glorified. 

[1] Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 192.
[2] Ibid, 200-201.
[3] Ibid, 216.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Ministry in the Power of the Spirit

On Sunday, I mentioned in the message that Jesus’ ministry, like ours today, was Holy Spirit-empowered.  The Father did His works in the Son in the sense that He empowered the Son through the Spirit (John 14:10, cf 3:34).  I’d like to give a little more material here to establish that this is the case. 

Some folks are troubled to hear that Jesus did not minister strictly out of the power of His divinity.  That shouldn’t bother us.  That Jesus was empowered by the Spirit does not cast doubt on His divinity.  We saw from numerous places just in the book of John on Sunday, that Jesus is indeed God.  But the Bible is also clear that the Son ministered by the power of the Spirit. 

First, let’s remember the text mentioned on Sunday, John 3:34: “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.”  Here, John the Baptist explains Jesus’ ability to speak the words of the Father by pointing to the Father’s giving Him the Spirit without measure.  In other words, the Father gave the Spirit to the Son to empower Him to speak His words.  The Fourth Gospel so closely ties the words and works of God that it is legitimate to assume that the Spirit also empowered the Son’s miracles. 

The Gospel of Luke adds to the evidence.  In ch3, right after the Lord’s baptism, the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove (Luke 3:22).  The very next verse of narrative is 4:1: And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.  The next scene begins, And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee... (4:14).  During that trip to Galilee, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read.  What did He read?  From Isaiah 61:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (4:18-19).  After rolling up the scroll, He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21).  

So, Luke describes Jesus as being anointed by, being filled with, being led by, and walking in the power of the Spirit.  It seems that Peter would agree with this.  In Acts 10:34-43, the apostle speaks to Cornelius and his household about the Lord and “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”  How was Jesus able to do all that He did, including healing all who were oppressed of the devil?  “God was with Him.”  God the Spirit, to be precise.

Jesus understood the Spirit to be the source of His miraculous power as well.  In Matt 12:22-32, a demon-possessed man who was also blind and mute was brought to Jesus.  The Lord healed him so that the demon was gone and the man spoke and saw.  But when the Pharisees saw it, they said, "It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons" (Matt 12:24).  Here is an excerpt from the Lord’s response:

26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matt 12:26-28) 

Jesus then goes on to warn that while blasphemy against the Son is forgivable, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable (Matt 12:31)!  Clearly, Jesus believed that the work done by Him in His ministry -- words, signs, and wonders testifying to the coming kingdom -- were empowered by the Holy Spirit.  To attribute those works to the devil is to blaspheme the Spirit!

There is much to glean from this, some of which we’ll see as we continue our study of John 13-17 on Sunday mornings.  One blessed truth is that the Spirit who empowered Jesus for ministry has been given to us (John 14:15-17).  All the resources at the Lord’s disposal are ours.  We’ve only to believe, pray, and move!