by Pastor Dan Miller
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Dan Miller’s book Spiritual Reflections.
Angels have enjoyed a remarkable degree of popular appeal in recent years. Serenely mounted on everything from lapel pins to wallpaper to clothing—even appearing in the flesh on television—these heavenly creatures continue to intrigue.
There are limits, of course. You don’t talk about fallen angels in polite company, to be sure; at least not if you are serious. Well, pardon me if you please, but in all seriousness, I do believe in Satan—not the silly, red-suited guy equipped with forked tail, pointy ears, goofy smile and nasty pitchfork. That caricature is a fiction of utterly no consequence, unless one considers the collective smirk it elicits from people coddled unawares in the lap of the real thing. I believe in the angelic being created to attend the throne of God, summarily dismissed for rebellion against the Creator, and now hell-bent on disrupting, among other things, the faith of God’s people (Ezekiel 28:12ff; Luke 22:31-32; 1 Peter 5:8).
If you possess even a modicum of confidence in biblical authority, you must believe in Satan, and you have to act like you believe in him (Matthew 4:1ff; Luke 13:16; Acts 26:15-18). Which means, in part, you must be on the beam as to his designs, of which there are at least two, broadly speaking.
In the first strategy, Satan seeks to crush the faith of God’s people. He employs persecution, opposition and/or difficulty to tempt believers to abandon their faith—or at least to live it out below the surface in the hushed confines of a subterranean anonymity that creates no waves and stirs no interest.
Satan’s second strategy is to dilute the faith of believers. Here the tack is not to crush faith by means of worldly opposition, but to water it down by means of worldly influence. Intimidation is replaced with accommodation as Satan chips away at the distinction between God’s people and the world until the two look, and act, and think as if one.
These two strategies are clearly witnessed in the history of the church. In the first three centuries following Christ, Christians were routinely maligned, fined, imprisoned and even martyred for their faith. Like a roaring lion, Satan bared his teeth against the church and sought to intimidate her to silence, if not crush her to death.
This Satanic strategy proved effective, to varying degrees, but in the midst of all the carnage and oppression, Tertullian could legitimately boast to the Roman emperor that “the blood of the martyrs is seed.” Kill one Christian leader, Tertullian explained, and you steel the resolve of those who loved him and inspire others to replace him. Kill a Christian and you force unbelievers to consider the claims of a Savior for whom people are willing to lay down their lives.
Tertullian was right, and Satan knew it. So at the dawn of the fourth century, Satan shifted strategies, as it were. While persecution had failed to destroy the faith, it had succeeded in softening the resolve of many Christians. Prominent leaders pined openly for state toleration and societal acceptance and proved willing to accommodate pagan philosophy in order to secure them.
In AD 313, the Roman emperor, Constantine, stunned the empire by legalizing Christianity for the first time in her history. In short order, the once persecuted sect became a wildly popular religion. Scholars estimate the Christian population of the empire rose from ten to between eighty and ninety percent in a single century. But in the process, it became difficult to distinguish Christians from pagans. Switching sides, many never changed hearts.
Satan continues to employ these two strategies today. In parts of our world, Christians endure intense pressure as Satan strives to crush their faith through opposition and persecution. Along vast stretches of our planet, governments, and factions operating with tacit governmental or police approval, actively harm and oppress believers.
While forms of persecution are not unknown on our shores, dilution appears to be the preferred strategy here. In America, the polluting stream of Satanic deception flows unabated into the waters of distinctive Christian theology and practice. Our theology is consistently diluted by reverence for the philosophies of the world. Our lifestyles and use of resources are diluted by our attention to the world’s priorities. Our witness is diluted by our submission to the world’s expectations. In a word, the distinctiveness of our message and its implications is thinned by the diluting effects of accommodation to the world system Satan operates with such mind-numbing attractiveness.
God calls His people to be acutely aware of Satan’s strategies (2 Corinthians 2:11) and to actively resist them (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9). If history yields any wisdom for this battle, Christians must consider that perhaps our most vulnerable weakness is the innate desire to fit in comfortably with an unbelieving world.
Under the pressure of persecution, we naturally long for the world’s acceptance and are sorely tempted to make unfaithful adjustments to secure it. Under the influence of accommodation, we naturally long, not only for the cool acceptance of the world, but for her genuine approval, and are sorely tempted to make unfaithful adjustments to secure it. In either case the temptation is to become like the world, which is precisely what Satan intends and precisely what God hates (James 4:4; 1 John 2:12-17).
The only antidote is to so love God that His smile supersedes every Satanic design on our affections (1 John 2:15; James 4:4). Only genuine love for God will equip the believer to withstand the violent storm of persecution and the sweet poison of accommodation.
While the rewards may seem few, they really are not—not here, and not at the dawn of the eternal age when faith becomes sight and Satan becomes history (Luke 18:28-30; Hebrews 12:2-3; Revelation 20:10). On that glorious day, no more crushing of faith, no more diluting of faith, only victorious faith, unadulterated and forever free (Revelation 7:13-17).
|Dan Miller has served as senior pastor of Eden Baptist Church (Savage, MN) since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College (Owatonna, MN) with a B.S. degree in 1984. His graduate degrees include an M.A. in History from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He is nearing completion of D.Min. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL). Dan is married to Beth, and the Lord has blessed them with four children.