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From the Summer 2012 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Hindrances to Discipleship

by Thomas A. Tarrants, III, D.Min.
Director of Ministry, C.S. Lewis Institute

 

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   From the beginning of the church, the devil has used error, deception, division, sexual temptation, persecution, and many other schemes to undermine congregations. He has also used these means to hinder ministers, missionaries, and others engaged in preaching and teaching God’s truth and spreading the gospel (including Paul, see 1 Thess. 2:17–18). And he has successfully captured many religious schools and theological seminaries that train ministers for the church, turning them into factories of error and heresy. In some cases, entire denominational hierarchies have been captured. False religions and heresies have been a persistent problem throughout the centuries and today are perhaps more numerous and widespread than at any time in history. Interestingly, Paul warns that in the last days, people will be at risk from “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).
   Social, cultural, and secular educational institutions are also prime targets. The world of ideas, the world of music and art in their various forms, popular culture, and the media are all arenas through which the evil one can subtly gain influence and disseminate anti-God ideas on a widespread basis with seeming credibility. For example, the ideas of Marx, Nietzsche and others like them have produced great evil and human suffering. The influence of existentialism on the youth culture of the 1960s is perhaps one example. Today’s postmodernism is another. Of course, this is not to say that all expressions of the world’s culture are demonic, only to say that they are vulnerable at points to exploitation by the devil. And undiscerning people can be brought under their influence.
   The personal life is where everyone must be especially alert. In Ephesians Paul warns ordinary church members against the “schemes of the devil.” He says, “. . .we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph: 6:11–12). This language describes an organized hierarchy of evil spirits that is arrayed against individual believers, churches, and even institutions of society. Thus Paul exhorts the Ephesians to “take up the whole armor of God that you might be able to withstand in the evil day” (6:13).
   Peter says much the same: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Pet. 5:8–9).
   How does the devil seek to ensnare us? Deception and temptation to sin are his standard tools. His chief goal for anyone who has come to Christ is to recover them. As J.I. Packer says,

Satan views him as an escaped prisoner and goes to war against him to try to recapture him. He tempts (i.e., tests) the Christian with malicious intent, hoping to find a weakness and betray him into a course of action that will ultimately lead him back into the prison out of which Christ brought him.12

   Specific approaches vary, but normally he tempts us to sin in our areas of weakness and at times of vulnerability. As one of the Puritans said, “The devil is a master fisherman; he baits his hook according to the appetite of the fish.” Packer observes that “he is always seeking to produce unbelief, pride, unreality, false hopes, confusion of mind and disobedience, as he did in Eden; if he cannot do this directly then he labors to do it indirectly, fostering unbalance and one-sidedness.”13 Examples in the Bible are illustrative. He ensnared Peter by means of fear (Luke 22:31–32). He filled the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira with lies (Acts 5:1–11). He captures many with sexual lust (1 Cor. 5:1). Paul warns married couples in Corinth who were devoting themselves to special prayer not to refrain from sex for too long, because “Satan may tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor. 7:5). Pride is a common snare (1 Tim. 3:6). Anger is a special danger and must be dealt with promptly and properly when it arises (Eph. 4:26–27). And there are many others.

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