here are three major hindrances to following Jesus Christ: the world, the flesh, and the devil (Eph. 2:1–3). These hindrances hold us in blindness and bondage before we come to faith in Christ. After conversion, they interact with one another to create a challenging array of problems, internal and external, for every disciple. We will examine them individually, making observations along the way about how they work with one another to hinder our progress in the life of grace. Every era has had its own blind spots, and ours is no exception. A notable example in our day is the denial of the existence of the devil.
Secularization, driven along by a naturalism that denies the existence of anything spiritual or metaphysical, has had a profound effect on Americans, whether they are believers or not. In 2002 Barna Research reported that “Six out of ten Americans (59%) reject the existence of Satan, indicating that the devil, or Satan, is merely a symbol of evil.”1 In 2009 Barna reported that 59 percent of professing Christians also rejected the existence of Satan.2 Only 26 percent strongly agreed that they believe Satan is real.
Unlike our ancestors, we hear few sermons today about “things unseen,” such as heaven, hell, angels, or demons, and most believers give little thought to the reality of spiritual battle that surrounds them. Church historian Richard Lovelace says, “A study of this subject throughout the history of Christian experience reveals that leaders in most other periods of the church’s history have found conflict with fallen angels to be a regular feature of their daily existence and have sought to cope with it in biblical terms.”3
Commenting on this strange state of affairs, John Stott said,
It is unfashionable nowadays in the church (even while satanism flourishes outside it), to believe either in a personal devil or personal demonic intelligences under his command. But there is no obvious reason why church fashion should be the director of theology, whereas the plain teaching of Jesus and his apostles (not to mention the church of the subsequent centuries) endorsed their malevolent existence.4
C.S. Lewis also commented on our tendency toward imbalance in this area. “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”5 Clearly, American society and the church have swung strongly to the first error.
No doubt the devil is very pleased with this development. Just as spy rings can be more effective when their existence is unknown, so the devil and his angels are more effective when people are unaware of their existence. As Lovelace notes, “Most of the devil’s advantage depends on the ability to move among human affairs undetected.”6
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