The Tyranny of the Devil

“Be self-controlled. Be Alert. Your enemy the devil goes about roaring, seeking one to devour. Oppose him firm in the faith, knowing that these things are being endured throughout the world by your brothers.”

(1 Peter 5:8-9)

“And the dragon became angry about the woman and departed to make war with her remaining offspring — those who keep the commands of God and who have the witness of Jesus.”

(Revelation 12:17)

As a Christian in this fallen world, life can be hard. We know the promise that Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33) and thus, in Him, we also have overcome the world by faith (1 John 5:4). We know that the world will hate us (1 John 3:13) and that we are engaged in a war with the powers and principalities of evil in the world around us (Ephesians 6:12). Yet, that does not lessen the reality that life can be really hard — choices of doing the right or the wrong thing, times of grieving in the presence of death, persecution and mocking for the faith that we have, life is not easy.

Perhaps that is why we most need to be reminded that, as Christians, not only has Jesus’ blood paid the penalty to satisfy the Law of God, but his blood has also broken us from the power of the Devil. Yes, the Devil is still a tyrant. And yes, the Devil is still an accuser. And yes, too, the Devil still seeks to prowl and destroy and can make our lives miserable. Yet, the Devil has no eternal power over us and can do nothing to us apart from the permission of God, which means the Devil is often God’s tool to refine the Christian in faith.

But why does the Heidelberg Catechism speak of Jesus’ blood as that which breaks the power and tyranny of the Devil? The author of Hebrews puts it this way:

“Therefore, because the children share in the blood and flesh, he also similarly partook of it in order that through death he should exhaust him who holds the power of death, that is the devil.”

(Hebrews 2:14)

Peter similarly writes:

“And if you call upon him as Father, who is an impartial judge over the deeds of all, live in fear during your time as an alien, knowing that not with the perishable silver or gold you were ransomed from your vain lifestyle inherited from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ — like a lamb without blemish and without defect.”

(1 Peter 1:17-19)

Do you see what these texts are saying? The power that the Accuser had over us was that we stood guilty before the Law of God. Yet, with the death of Christ on the cross, he removes our guilt, taking it upon himself — Jesus being the substitute to fully satisfy the Law of God for all of God’s elect. And if Jesus has done this, then the power the devil has over us is exhausted — completely and thoroughly. There is no nuance of the Law that Jesus did not satisfy and thus the Devil is without power.

And, for those who go through trials in this life where it seems as if the Devil is perpetually pouncing, this is good and encouraging news. Sadly, there are many who would rob the Christian of this assurance. They would argue that the death of Christ only creates a potentiality not an actuality. In other words, they say that Jesus’ death makes it possible for a person to be released from the Devil’s grasp, but there remains in the hands of the individual believer an action that must be taken to turn this potential into something that is realized. In most cases, that action is a choice that the person must make to ask for this release.

You might say, but what inmate in prison would not ask for release from their bondage? The reality is that many prisoners do not. They have become accustomed to their cells, they are afraid of what release might entail for them, the comfort of their wicked ways shines brighter to them than the moral obedience required in society. Further, in the kind of prison that unbelievers are in, from the point they enter the world, is such a kind as those in prison do not realize that they are in prison. They are bound and they know no different. And so, if they do not know they are enslaved, how is it possible to ask for release? Further, if they believe they are free agents, how will they believe those who will tell them otherwise? No, they must be given ears to hear that will register and understand their predicament and new ears, just like new life, must come from God, not man.

In addition, the presumption that man must ask for release implies that there is some small nuance of the Law that Jesus’ blood did not satisfy. And if one suggests that Jesus’ blood does not satisfy even the smallest bit of the Law, does that not contradict what Jesus said when he claimed to come to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17)? I do not think that even those who claim you must ask for Jesus’ fulfilled work would be so bold as to suggest that Jesus’ death is lacking, but that is the implication of their view.

Think of it in this way. If someone commits a crime and is sent to prison for a five-year sentence. At the end of his (or her) designated time, that person is set free. Not only does that person not have to ask to be set free, but were that person to ask to remain in prison for another 3-5 years, his request would be flatly denied — the demands of the law have been satisfied, it would be unjust to keep you in prison for a crime that is no longer held against you. And, if such is the case with earthly prisons, how much more so when it comes to eternity? 

No, if one suggests that a small portion of the Law has not been satisfied (namely the request to make it your own), then the Devil still has leverage in your life. Perhaps you did not ask in the right way. Perhaps you need to ask more frequently than you have done so. Perhaps the asking did not “take,” could it be that since you still struggle with sins that you were mistaken in your asking? Do you see how easily the Devil can exploit this gap? If a weed gets its roots set in even the smallest crack in your concrete walkway, it will grow and expand that crack — it will even break the concrete to pieces if left unchecked long enough. And this idea of “decision theology” leaves open no mere crack, but a chasm large enough to bring doubt through.

No, loved ones, the Bible is quite clear that Jesus’ work is sufficient to save and there is nothing we can add to it and nothing we can take from it. That means the Law has been fully and absolutely fulfilled by Jesus for God’s elect. God then applies that salvation in His time by giving people spiritual rebirth and faith so that they might have ears to hear the call of the Gospel and that they might have lips to repent of their sins and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Yes, the believer makes a confession, but the confession is not that which applies salvation to their soul, no, the confession is the response to God’s saving work in their lives. 

And thus, believer, take heart, for Jesus has overcome the world and in faith, we too are overcomers.

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