By Greg Forster; part one of a series.
In this series, I’ll be looking at our daily work as a holy war to destroy the devil’s works. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” He won the victory for us on the cross, of course. But as our work becomes cruciform it becomes a vehicle of the cross’ power, a weapon in Christ’s hands, forged for the holy war.
In this initial post I’ll unpack the idea that Jesus came to do his work in order to destroy the devil’s work. In subsequent posts I’ll look at how that works out in our work.
In her recent comments on Charlottesville, Jenn Woodruff Tait mentioned mainline ecclesial traditions that place opposition to Satan at the center of Christian life. In my evangelical context, I’ve been highlighting this as a missing piece in our theology for years in my church groups. And I always find that there’s at least one other person in the room who just cries out, “Thank you, I’ve been trying to get people to pay attention to this forever, but no one takes it seriously!”
I recently had the great privilege and great fun of recording a series of video interviews about the gospel with theological educators here at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. They were very pleased to hear that I wanted to include the holy war between God and Satan as an element of the gospel. One in particular was emphatic in asserting that this is essential to a full picture of what Jesus is doing and what we are to do. After years of carrying the torch for this, I was very encouraged by the response!
The thing to understand about Satan is that he hates you, because you look like God, but he also has much bigger plans. If getting humanity to sin had no other effect but to make us eternally miserable, that would have been enough for Satan, because he loves our misery. But that was not the big prize.
Satan is playing for the whole world, and playing for keeps. We were made to rule the world as God’s kingdom, with God as our king. After we fall, we still rule the world because we’re made in God’s image. But God is no longer our king, because we’re now at war with him.
As sinful people, we are under the control of Satan. Our guilt, shame and fear because of our sin dominates our psychology. Satan can use that to manipulate us. We are all walking around with a gaping hole in our hearts where the holy love of God is supposed to be. Satan promises to fill the hole – fill it with money, sex, power, status, control – if only we will do the things he wants us to do. Lacking any hope, people without the gospel really have no other life but to chase these illusions.
This puts Satan in control of the world. That’s why three times Jesus calls him the archon (ruler) of the world, and once calls him “the god of this world.”
That’s why, in the temptation of Christ, when Satan tells Jesus that he rules all the kingdoms of the world and will give them to Jesus if he worships him, Jesus does not reply: “Satan, you’re crazy. You don’t rule the world, God does.” On the contrary, Jesus accepts Satan’s claim that he rules all the nations. Think about it: If it weren’t true, this wouldn’t even be a temptation. If Satan doesn’t rule the world, he has nothing to tempt Jesus with. The story would be meaningless.
Now, of course we know – and Jesus knew – that Jesus was going to get all the nations of the world anyway. The temptation here was not that Jesus would get to rule all the nations. The temptation was to skip to the end of the story without having to endure the middle, the turning point, the big shocking twist. The temptation was to reclaim the world as his own without purifying it of sin.
Without having to go to the cross.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the thing to understand about Jesus. I said before that Satan hates you, and would be happy to make you miserable if that were all he could do, but he has bigger plans. Well, Jesus loves you, and he saves you because he loves you, but he also has bigger plans.
Jesus goes to the cross because he loves you and wants to save you, and because he is holy and intends to destroy evil and cleanse the world. The cross is not just for saving. The cross is for destroying – destroying hell and all its works.
By reconciling us to God, Jesus brings us back into his kingdom and destroys the power of guilt, shame and fear. He takes away Satan’s power to control us. As a result, among those who are following Jesus, lives are transformed. Addictions are broken, malice and slander are opposed, the poor are lifted up, and justice and mercy are done by all to all.
Jesus and Satan are engaged in a holy war for the fate of the whole world and everything in it. It’s the ultimate “winner takes all” battle. The winner really does take all.
The battleground is human hearts. If Satan can keep us from turning to God, he can not only make us miserable, he can keep ruling the part of the world we control. If we turn to Jesus, God will reclaim the part of the world we control into his kingdom.
In the end, the whole world has to go one way or the other. We know which way it goes, of course, and we know that only the return of Jesus can bring that about. Yet our daily lives also carry out the struggle to make our little corners of the world less and less like what Satan wants them to be like, and more and more like what Jesus wants them to be like.
Our work works out of Jesus’ work to destroy the devil’s work. Stay tuned.