Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Resisting the Devil

“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7

There are not too many episodes recorded in the Bible that show us a one-on-one conflict between Satan and another person. That is because the Bible is not about Satan, but instead is a revelation of God’s glory. I believe Satan was allowed into the story revealed in Scripture to demonstrate God’s glory by contrast. He is the opposite of God in every way. While God loves to create, restore, and heal, Satan loves to destroy and devour. God works only toward our good, making us effective servants for the kingdom. Satan wants to incapacitate us.

After the fall of Adam and Eve, we don’t see Satan in the Bible again until the story of Job. Satan approaches the throne of God and makes a heavenly wager. Job does not worship God because He is worthy of worship, he accuses. Job only worships God for what blessings he gets from the relationship. So God allows Satan to take away every blessing in Job’s life. Yet in spite of Satan's efforts, Job remains faithful. Satan’s response? He slips away, not to be heard from again for a very long time.

Jesus went head-to-head with Satan at the onset of His earthly ministry. Three different times, Satan tried to tempt Jesus, attempting to goad Jesus into proving His Sonship. Each time, Jesus thwarted Satan’s attempts with Scripture. Jesus was not on earth to prove Himself to Satan. He came to die for the sins of those He loved. Defeated, Satan again flees.

What can we learn about resisting Satan from these two stories? Let me suggest one more anecdote to help us reason this out.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are of sailing Bolton Lake with my dad. He had purchased a Barracuda sailboat when I was in middle school. It was a two-man boat, which we hauled over to the lake after dinner many summer evenings for an early evening sail. Dad was a patient teacher, and I loved going out with him to skim together over the water as the sun sank toward the horizon. One thing I had to learn from the start was to pick a point on shore as a focus when steering the boat. You didn’t look at the boat, nor did you look at the water around you. Instead, you picked a goal on shore, and kept your eyes pealed on that point. That way, as you steered, the boat would stay a steady course and keep a direct route toward where you were headed.

What do these three stories have in common? Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us to run the race with endurance, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Just like when steering a sailboat, fixing our eyes on a focal point will keep us headed in the right direction. Satan would like us to instead keep our gaze on the “sin that so easily entangles.” But that would be counter-productive to winning the race. Instead, our focus must remain constantly on the finish line.

Job’s focus was set on his God. He knew God to be faithful and good. Therefore, the circumstances that Satan set around him could not deter him from his course. His eyes were on the finish line. Jesus came to the earth for a specific purpose. Revelation tells us that the Lamb “was slain before the foundation of the world.” Jesus knew why He was here and what He had to do. Satan tried to entangle Him, too. But the focus Jesus had on his purpose never once wavered. And so Satan slunk away.

How do we “resist the devil”? We keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Our focus must not waver from the finish line we are striving toward. What Satan lays at our feet to trip us up will not keep us from where we need to head. Not if our gaze is trained on the focal point.

Last week some circumstances in my life threatened the course I was running. All too quickly I allowed my focus to veer off of the One I was running toward. I had lost my bearing. I actually became physically ill from the stress of the situation. Because I began to look at what was around me, instead of the God who saved me and already had my course planned out, my world began to wobble. Only when I got my eyes on Jesus again, and focused on who I was in Christ, was I able to gain my equilibrium back and continue down the track. Satan would like our failures and shortcomings to incapacitate us. But it is not about US at all. When our eyes are trained on Jesus, Satan loses his influence. And as God has promised, that is when he will flee.

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