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The "I Don't Knows" of Demonology

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There is much we do know from God regarding Satan, sin, demons, and the war they’ve been raging against God’s purposes and people. As early as Genesis 3 and as late as Revelation 20, Scripture provides insight into much of the who, what, where, when and how concerning the devil’s beginning and ending.

Yet, there is much we don’t know as well. I was poignantly reminded of this as I read through the questions that were texted in last week in our service. It was the fourth week in our summer series “Doctrine that Goes the Distance,” and the topic was demonology. Though you’ll probably be seeing the phrase “We simply don’t know” a good bit in the coming paragraphs, perhaps you’ll find my “best guesses,” opinions, and related information, as well as the questions, intriguing and stimulating. Regardless, here’s my take on some tough questions.

Since only God is all-knowing, how does Satan know to tempt you with past or “secret” sins or temptations you’ve never voiced?

You’re right, Satan isn’t all-knowing, but neither is he all-ignorant. He is powerfully perceptive, as well as destructively deceptive. So how does he find out about our personal weaknesses and past sins and develop temptations to “steal, kill, and destroy?” While we don’t know a lot about this, consider these options.

First, Satan’s system (i.e., the world) appeals to many of the things in our past (and present) we think are secret. He may not know yours specifically, but he knows humankind in general. Combined with our own sinful nature (i.e., the flesh), you may sense he is warring with you quite personally when really he is simply attacking and making appeals to areas he knows to be common to all people. Technically, he didn’t know your “secret” sin, but practically you feel like he did.

Second, Satan and his regime have other ways of finding out about our specific weaknesses than voice only. I believe they communicate based on what they see, read, and hear, not only from us, but from others as well. Where we go, what we watch, what others say and what we say about others, etc. all are things which the enemy can and will use to wage war against us.

Can we have victory over sin in this life or is it just a matter of enduring?

Yes, we can experience victory over sin’s power in this life (Romans 6), but sin’s presence will not be eliminated until Christ’s return (or our death). I apologize if, in my insistence that we “endure evil,” I unintentionally communicated that victory isn’t possible. Frankly, the fact that Christ has already won the victory is precisely why we can endure evil, say no to temptation, experience character change, and pursue holiness. Victory is more than possible; it’s promised! Still, even in this Satan will hound us. In other words, live in the victory Christ has won, and with his resurrection power kill sin in your life. But simply be aware that your battle with evil will continue till you’re present with the Lord.

If we cannot approach the throne of God because of our sin and God’s holiness, how can Satan, full of sin, stand before God?

I think S. Michael Houdmann, trusted CEO of Got Questions Ministries, provides some excellent insight on this issue: When we say, “God cannot allow sin into heaven,” we simply mean that God cannot allow human beings who are still in their sin to live in His presence. But it is possible for God to command a sinful being to stand (temporarily) in His presence in order to commission him (Isaiah 6), to exact an account from him (Job 1-2), or to judge him (Revelation 20:11–15) without compromising His holiness.” [Read his full answer here.]

Did sin/evil start with Satan?

One thing we can say for sure: he was the first to sin. So in that sense, yes, sin started with Satan. But what made Satan sin? Or, as another questioner curiously asked, “How was Satan, being in the very presence of God in heaven where there is no sin, able to sin?” The origin of evil is the question of the ages, and why Satan sinned, as well as the other angels, is something we’ll continue to wrestle with until God consummates the kingdom and we no longer “know in part” (1 Cor. 13:12).

Why not go ahead and chain all the demons? Why wait for a later judgment for some?

First, the belief that about 1/3 of the angels fell is something we derive from comparing Hebrews 12:22 with Revelation 12:3–9. It seems to fit and make biblical sense.

Second, why Jesus only choose to immediately chain a portion of this 1/3 is unknown. This is their initial judgment, and more (a final) judgment is reserved for later when Jesus judges Satan and the rest of the fallen angels/demons. Keep in mind, though, that since all things are created and designed to maximize God’s glory (Rev. 4:11), a general and biblically grounded reason is that God must know that he will receive greater glory for this type of punishment than had he done so to all of them immediately.

Here’s the good news—at least 2/3 of the angels stayed true, loyal, and faithful, serving God. And since they are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14), that means there are more of them serving us than there are demons opposing us. Hallelujah!

Does the enemy tempt angels just as he tempts us?

Paul referred to God’s angels—I think he’s speaking of the ones who did not fall—as “elect” in 1 Timothy 5:21: “I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels…” So apparently, God had chosen them. As with humans, and regardless of your position on election, the Bible speaks definitively about God’s undeniable involvement in choosing who would be saved. I believe this is also true with angels, not in regards to being “saved,” but in regards to who of them would not sin. Did God give them all a one-time choice to obey Him or not? Were they created with a free will, then God removed that after the fall of their leader? Is it because their former leader is no longer there (i.e., Lucifer)? We simply don’t know. We do know that the angels who followed Lucifer are lost and condemned, and that, according to 1 Timothy 5:21, the rest are “elect,” indicating to me they are secure. Just as we believe God’s “true Israel,” his elect on earth, will never fall away/be lost, I see no reason from Scripture to think more angels will fall or rebel against God like Lucifer once did.

Consequently, I’d say angels are no longer being tempted as we are. Keep in mind, however, that there is no verse that explicitly says this. It’s a deduction we arrive at from implication.

How much of our physical battle is really spiritual warfare? For example, fear—Is it a state of mind or are we in a spiritual fight?

How about this answer: both! To use your example, there are times fear is simply a human reaction to our surroundings. A child afraid of the dark, a woman afraid of walking home alone, a man afraid of parachuting—you get the idea.

But sometimes fear is rooted in the devil’s attack. In fact, Paul told Timothy that God doesn’t give his children “a spirit of fear” (2 Tim. 1:7). So some fear is Satan’s tool to keep us from trusting God. Obviously detecting when it’s a Satanic temptation and when it’s a human reaction is something very personal, so it’s hard to answer your question specifically as to how much of our battle is one or the other. I’m content knowing it can be either and that God will show me as I’m sensitive to him the moment I sense fear gripping me unnecessarily.

From the Archive: Getting Off to a Good Start

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As you begin the journey of 2014 2017, no doubt a great first step is to commit to daily Bible reading. As David wrote, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). The decisions ahead of you in the next 365 days need not detour you as long as long as Scripture is your guide.

Before you hit the delete button amidst your chuckling, thinking 1) you’ve heard this a thousand times before and 2) at least among believers, this is the second most common new year’s resolution (probably only behind losing weight) and nothing really new, stop and ask yourself some probing questions: Did I faithfully read the Bible last year? What changes would I experience if I increased my intake of God’s Word? Do I really understand the flow and message of Scripture? Have I ever really read the Bible all the way through? Am I being proactive in helping my family/children get the most out of the Bible? Am I really content with my current level of Bible reading and Scriptural meditation?

My guess is that, after pondering those questions, most, if not all of us, would admit we could benefit from an increase in our intake of the Bible. I know I could! So instead of closing out this post, act! Take the first step and start a reading plan. Then voice your intentions to one or more of those closest to you; this will help provide some accountability. Finally, starting today, get off to a good start and begin reading. Whether it’s through this plan we have developed or another one, like this one here described in this insightful post from the Gospel Coalition on the same subject, make today the first day of your 2017 journey through the Bible.

My prayer is that I, and this blog’s readership, continue to become immersed in Scripture and enamored with God; disciples known by their commitment to the Word of God and the passionate worship of God. As our culture, ironically enough, grows increasingly intolerant of biblical Christianity, it will be crucial that Jesus’ true followers know clearly what He said. That’s revealed in the Bible. What do you say we read it like never before? Ready? Set? Read!

Posted by Todd Stiles with 0 Comments

13-Year-Old Napkin Notes

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It was somewhat surreal, and a little surprising. Not that I had expected something really different, but it was still a reason to raise the eyebrows a bit. 

That was my reaction to an email from Pastor Chris, one that contained a letter and some initial “napkin notes” I wrote back in 2003. The letter was to the elders at Grace West Church, and the napkin notes? Broad vision strokes for First Family Church. It seemed like just yesterday that I was jotting down those thoughts, yet here it was 13 years later, and much of what I was reading now had concrete names and places.

I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that the overall themes of small groups, church planting/multiplication, a strong staff, and missions are woven all throughout the letter and penciled scratchings. You can see why my facial expression was one indicating pleasant surprise—God was growing this type of fruit right here within this local faith family! Frankly, a few chuckles accompanied the raised eyebrows as I remembered the times I wondered if what lay ahead was actually possible. For instance, 

  • We started with seven Lighthouses. Could we recruit and train enough leaders year by year to keep up with our growth? Would our church respond well to this form of community and care?
  • We bought land, but then tabled our construction plans. Would we ever find a permanent place we could afford? 
  • We noticed a core group in Bondurant as well as an excellent opportunity. Would 40 people really answer the call to go to Bondurant?
  • An open door existed in central Asia. And God gave us a potential planter. Would both merge in the right way? Could we really plant a church halfway around the world?
  • Cross-cultural missions continues to gain traction, and multiple people sense God leading them to live overseas as gospel “partners.” Can we send and support them appropriately? Can we mobilize everybody else for God’s passion here as well?

But little by little, through the ups and downs and the good and bad, God was—and still is—actually accomplishing His will right in the middle of our messy lives and young church. Those initial thoughts are becoming a humble and delightful reality by God’s grace and goodness. 

By no means am I saying we have arrived. Not at all! There are many miles left to travel, much yet to learn. There are corrections to make and adjustments to aim for. But the call to keep on keepin’ on is always heard with a bit more clarity when you look back and see the Lord’s faithfulness. He has not been detoured by our mistakes, nor derailed by our missteps. Not our sin nor our success has thwarted His sure will. Seeing that truth in the rearview mirror always provides a more beautiful windshield vista.  

I’m probably not alone. Raised eyebrows and under-the breath chuckles are things you’ve experienced as well, right? That’s often our reaction when we spot God’s sure but admittedly slow hand of divine providence. You see, God’s work crawls along at a pace few of us actually notice sometimes; we too many times fail to see His sovereign will being fleshed out in the midst of all our life’s intersections and connections. After all, God’s sovereignty moves ever so subtly. But moving it is. Confidently. Completely. Convincingly.   

That’s why it’s always too early to quit. Though you may not see it, though you may be unaware of it, and though you can rarely pin down the specifics, rest assured God is working. He’s faithful to his Word, committed to seeing us—you—all the way through to the end. Galatians 6:9 is precisely spot-on: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

In a peculiar way, reading that email reminded me of what occurs when you see a wall tapestry. Ah, yes, the front is always beautiful, and makes visual sense! But turn it around, and what do you see? A scrambled mess of threads that appears to have no order or purpose. But it actually does—to the designer!

So it is with our lives. Our church. Even this world. God is weaving His purposes and accomplishing His plan, even in the times when you don’t think it looks right or makes sense. The Grand Designer is working. He’s active. He’s in control. And sometimes all it takes is a 13-year old email to help us see it.

 

in Prayer

Praying According to God's Will

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Praying is the priceless privilege of the sons and daughters of God.

Yet, it’s not a “give me whatever I want” type of attitude that should characterize us when we pray, but rather an “according to your will” mindset. Just what is meant by this phrase “according to your will” and how do we practice this type of praying?

In my opinion, praying “according to your will” involves at least three things:

1. Praying in the Spirit. Since we don’t know how we should pray, at least in times of trial (Rom 8), the Spirit intercedes for us. Paul also encouraged this kind of praying in Eph 6. Who knows the will of God better than the Spirit of God?

So praying in the Spirit — allowing God the Holy Spirit to intercede for us — is part of praying according to his will.

2. Praying in Jesus’ name. This is where we get any and all authority to enter God’s presence so confidently and boldly, so praying according to his will must mean, to some degree, not approaching God on our own merit. So though we come boldly, we come dependently, and humbly.

We assume nothing, but only cling to Christ’s work as the basis for all our requests. If that attitude of dependence slips into an attitude of assumption, we’re not praying according to his will. It is precisely this attitude of dependence that, like Jesus, causes us to cry out in prayer, “Not my will but yours!” Anyone truly dependent upon Jesus in prayer will understand that God’s will is foremost, just as Jesus understood this in the garden.

Praying in his name is not only our way of clinging to his authority, but also of modeling his attitude.

3. Praying in line with the Word. This is probably where most of our requests go awry. The Bible is filled with specific ways to pray — for our enemies, unselfishly, forgivingly, unceasingly, to name a few.

Since God’s Word reveals God’s will, we can assert quite clearly that praying in a manner inconsistent with God’s Word isn’t praying according to his will. As Gary DeLashmutt, one of the teaching pastors at Xenos Christian Fellowship, says, “The more your perspective is soaked in God’s Word, the more you will pray according to its priorities, and the more you will see God answer your requests (Jn.15:7).”

My opinion? If these three are the first things we aim for in our prayer, whatever other mystery and complexity is involved in praying “according to his will” will not be a problem, for we will be so delighted by God and in God that we wouldn’t want anything other than God!

Posted by Todd Stiles with 0 Comments
Tags: bible, god, prayer, will

Observations from South Asia

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Cardboard houses all in a row. Yet in the middle of it a church was there, serving and preaching the beautifully good news of heaven in what seemed like a hellhole of human existence. God’s church, alive and well, had come to the slums.

A small, cinderblock room tucked invisibly between two street shops. The open-air sales stands were two of literally hundreds along dirt roads so noisily crowded with bikes, rickshaws, people, and cars that finding the believers meeting there was close to risking your life. But there they were, packed inside and seated on the floor. God’s church, alive and well, had come to those streets.

A back patio of sorts behind the two-room house. Strung from the roof was a clothesline that hug lowly, weighed down by clothes, distracting your attention from the toys, open fire pit, and garbage all around the edges. In the middle? A pastor shepherding God’s people with the Word and by the Spirit, graciously leading them towards obedience to all that Jesus commanded. God’s church, alive and well, had come to that village.

A closet-sized space lit only by a small window and a cracked door that led to a roof-top overhang. And this was after five dark flights of stairs. Yet, the light of Life was seen immediately as the faith family gathered there in God’s name greeted us like we were their long lost family returning from a journey. God’s church, alive and well, was in the building.

Those are just a few of the snapshots I experienced in my recent visit to south Asia. I was beyond humbled, past amazed, and miles deeper than blessed. I’m left prostrate before a God so lovingly gracious and powerfully mighty that I’m appropriately fearful, more than ever, to speak on his behalf. I think the best word for this is “awe.” Yeah, that’s where I’m at. In awe of Yahweh, the eternal Three in One.

Yet, speak is what I feel compelled to do. And, oddly, more than ever. I desire to tell of his impeccable character, his incredible works, and his unstoppable plan. Not because he needs me to; heaven knows God doesn’t need anything. If only those on earth knew that.

Or because I need to. Using my service to God as some sort of self-medication designed to make me feel worthwhile is wicked idolatry and evil blasphemy. God will not be served up as a self-esteem fix. No, he will be worshipped, not worked. If you want to sense value, look at the cross. Stare at what God did for you, not what you can do for him.

But I know I—we—must speak because God’s glory leaves no other option. Declaring his marvelous praises becomes what we do, not because God needs it or we need it, but simply because we can’t not speak. Knowing who he is, as well as seeing all that he has done, is doing, and will do to accomplish his redemptive plan across the ages of the past, present and future demands our voice. So although we’re acutely aware we’re uttering words that represent the Risen and Ascended King, we venture out to speak. In awe, yes. But silent? No, that’s not an option.

With that in mind, I want to share three observations regarding God’s unstoppable plan to make his name great among the nations and spread his glory over all the earth that we, especially as Americans, need to ponder. Yes, this most recent trip brought these realizations to the surface. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. God’s current work of sanctification in my life revolves around adjustments he is making in me concerning the Great Commission, and much of it started last summer in my sabbatical. I truly look forward to sharing more in time. But for now, here are three observations for you to consider as you think about the indescribable greatness of our God and the life-generating power of his glorious gospel.

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To read more of Todd's visit to South Asia, visit his personal blog.

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