Identifying and Resisting Satan’s Attack | Part 1 of 5
After one of my sermons, Pastor Bryan asked if I would share more about some of the heresies mischaracterizing Christ’s atoning work on the cross. This post is the first in a series of five in which I’ll try to do that.
I want to begin by pointing out that theology, our doctrine of God, isn’t an abstract or esoteric pursuit. It guards us against the schemes of the devil (Eph. 6:11).
Think back to the garden of Eden. When Satan deceived Eve, he began by lying about God. These lies set the stage for disobedience to God's word. Sound doctrine guards us against these schemes by training us to identify those lies. We attain sound doctrine by learning what the Bible says about God, adhering to it, and using it to discern heresies.
In this series, we'll examine Satan's strategy to undermine our trust in God. We'll also examine the arguments of those who use the same strategy to deny a certain doctrine: penal substitutionary atonement (PSA). While I can’t speak to any author’s particular motivation, I can say that certain popular personalities within the church attack this biblical doctrine with the same approach as Satan, accomplishing the same goal of deception.
A word of clarification may be helpful before we start.
At times, while preaching about a passage, I occasionally describe a movement, denomination, or individual that attacks the truths in the passage. Whether it’s a false teaching that comes from an evangelical, Protestant, Catholic, or any other affiliation, the purpose is the same: to make the truth clearer by exposing the lie. The purpose is not to name, shame, or defame. Rather, it is to bring us all closer to a true knowledge of God while strengthening our theological immune system.
Christians are called to develop critical thinking skills so that we can identify errors on our own. There have been many people in my life who heard me say something wrong and took it upon themselves to share the Bible’s teaching with me in order to help clarify my thinking. This happened to the great preacher Apollos, too (Acts 18:24–28). Perhaps you can think of mature believers who have done the same for you.
I have ventured many times into disagreements about the Bible's teaching. However, at the end of the conversation, I am frequently grateful to God for the opportunity to see him more clearly. Correcting falsehoods about God in our thinking is one of the most loving things we as Christians can do for each other. Knowing God intimately and truthfully is, after all, one of the core promises of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:11).
On the other hand, one of the most unloving things a Christian can do is to say nothing when someone is held captive by a false doctrine that undermines the Bible's clear teaching. This kind of "tolerance" gives Satan undue influence over the minds of sincere people who need the truth. Wrong thinking about God is the ultimate scheme of the devil. When God gives us an opportunity to correct a false doctrine, love should motivate us to speak up.
By observing Satan's schemes in action, we will be better prepared to detect his lies and lovingly guard others. The attempt to cancel PSA is just one of Satan's attacks within the church today. As we break down his method of attack, my hope is that all of us will be better prepared to detect and correct similar deceptions.
An Admonition and a Warning
As we prepare for this study, let's remember what 2 Timothy 4:2-3 says, "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and teaching." (4:2) This is a positive form of preparation. It's a five-part admonition for pastors and elders to preach the word, be ready always, correct, rebuke, and encourage the church. These practices protect the church from Satan's attack.
This passage also warns about a vulnerability in the church that Satan can exploit: "For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear." (4:3) Through false teachers, Satan attacks the church, infecting the church with heresies that promise to satisfy our sinful desires.
We see a consistent message here: some use God’s word correctly to build up the church, while others misuse it to undermine the church’s sanctification.
As you reflect, I would encourage you to think back, look around you, and prepare for the future.
Think back to the times when someone lovingly redirected your theology back to the Bible. What was your blind spot? How did you feel when you were first confronted with the error? What led you to acknowledge it and change your view?
Look around you. What are the areas where Christians are weak today? What biblical doctrines are unpopular in the church? Where might you have blind-spots?
Prepare for the future. God wants to use all of us to build up the church. How can you pray for God to strengthen the convictions of the church? Where do you need to grow in your theology? What books of the Bible are you least familiar with? What mature Christians can help you grow? What immature believers can you disciple?
In my next post, we'll look at Genesis 3:1 to see the first way Satan misuses God’s word.