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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.

"But I Can't Forgive"

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“You don’t understand. I simply can’t forgive him.”

There have been multiple times while working with people who have been hurt deeply that I have been told this exact thing. The person would insist that forgiveness was not possible. 

As I have explored the why behind someone making this bold statement, I realized there is more than just resentment and bitterness behind the words. At first, I often thought the person was just choosing to be hateful instead of embracing what was best for them and mandated by our understanding Lord. I thought I was seeing the results of a cold heart and unloving spirit showing its ugly head, despite the reminders of God’s forgiveness toward us for every sin we have or will ever commit. 

However, what I discovered, in many cases, was that these dear people didn’t understand what forgiveness really meant.

Many of us have heard the catchy phrase, “forgive and forget.” So much so, that people have started to equivocate the two words, thinking that forgetting is the same as forgiving. They aren’t the same! 

I realized that some people were saying they couldn’t forgive because they knew they couldn’t forget what was done to them, at least not anytime soon, and perhaps never. They were being honest in admitting that they couldn’t commit to forgetting something they knew they weren’t going to; and they were totally right. Unless you have brain surgery or something of the sort, you aren’t going to be able to simply forget a memory you have stored away. 

One reason I was forced to explore their reasoning further was because God promises that when we face temptation to sin, He will always give us a way out so that we don’t have to sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). If that is true, then it couldn’t be true that these people couldn’t forgive, since God has commanded us to forgive others.

The problem was the fact that they thought they had to forget in order to forgive.

It was so freeing to them when they realized that forgetting had nothing to do with it. Our goal is to be like Christ, who is God incarnate. Does God forget our sin? No. He is God. God is omniscient (knows all). He doesn’t all of the sudden just “forget” our sin. He chooses not to recall it (Isaiah 43:25).

So if forgiveness isn’t forgetting, what exactly is it? Well, what does God do with our sin if He doesn’t forget it? He no longer holds it against us. He doesn’t bring it back to us and shove it in our faces (Psalms 103:12). Forgiveness is committing never to bring that sin up again for that person’s harm. That includes not bringing it back up to that person, others, or yourself. That is still quite a lot to swallow. Clarifying forgiveness doesn’t make it easy, but definitely doable. 

On a practical level, that means that when you forgive someone, you are not allowed to remind them of it again. You are not allowed to talk about what they did with other people in a way that would be harmful to them. You are not allowed to dwell on it yourself.

Now this is where the difference between forgetting and dwelling on it comes in. It isn’t wrong to remember it (you can’t help it), but you aren’t allowed to continue thinking about it when you remember it. You can’t replay it over and over, and remember how angry it made you feel, and consider the best ways of revenge, etc. When the memory returns, strive to remember that you’ve committed to forgive them just like God has forgiven you, and then move on to a new topic of thought. Not always easy, but right and best.

There can be times to bring that sin up to that person again, if there is a recurring pattern, but that would be an example of bringing it up not for their harm, but in order to help them see a pattern of sin in their life that needs to be addressed. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to forgive it, but we could rightly bring it up in order to help them be more like Christ by changing that pattern in their life.      

Thank the One who not only gives us commands that are best for us and show His beautiful character, but also gives us the ability to follow them. Committing not to bring up a sin to someone, others, or yourself in order to harm the offender is one of the ways God brings peace to us that is beyond our understanding (Philippians 4:7).