The gospel is full of odd comforts. Discovering I’m afflicted with depravity brings the relief of the doctor’s diagnosis: “There is something wrong with me. It’s not all in my head.” More importantly, it provides the good news that in Christ there’s a cure for what ails me.
The doctrine of sin is not the only strange solace the gospel offers. It also tells us that we have an Enemy who walks around roaring like a lion looking to destroy us, so we should watch out (1 Pet. 5:8)! Many of us already feel like we’re in the middle of a battlefield, with an ancient foe wreaking havoc and destruction. The Bible says we’re right.
Unfortunately, we are tempted to forget this in our daily walk with God. As Fleming Rutledge notes, we read our Bibles and live our lives as if “there were only two dramatis personae, God and humanity” in the drama of redemption, contrary to the New Testament, “which presents three.”
Even those of us who believe the Gospels—which show Jesus came casting out demons, aiming to “bind the Strong Man,” and flinging Satan down like lightning—can tend to act as if all that stuff was way back then in biblical times.
Yet the Bible says Satan is at work now and we dare not forget it. Indeed, it’s not enough to know we have an enemy. We need to know his “schemes” (Eph. 6:11) and what resources we have in Christ against him—what Puritan Thomas Brooks called our “precious remedies against Satan’s devices.”
In The Crucified King, Jeremy Treat identifies three main ways Satan works: deception, temptation, and accusation. In other words, he is a wicked whisperer.
First, our Enemy whispers lies about everything, but especially about God. And he’s good at it. He lied to Adam and Eve, leading them to believe God was harsh, self-protective, stingy, and unconcerned with sin or disobedience. Satan does the same to us today.
To reject those lies, we must listen to God’s Word and hear of God’s opposition to sin and unrighteousness, as well as his compassion, self-giving love, and goodness toward us in the gospel. We can learn to trust that God is kind, sovereign, and wise.
Second, Satan also whispers temptations to those of us who wander along, blithely unaware that “sin is crouching,” trying to destroy us by inflaming our desires. This is not a matter of excusing ourselves and saying “the devil made me do it” every time we fall into sin. Still, Scripture calls for vigilance for a reason.
Beyond that, many of us are beaten down by shame, feeling defeated by the same old sins, or even horrified at the dark thoughts that can cross our minds. Remembering Satan is a whispering tempter helps to acknowledge that those thoughts, those temptations, are not us anymore. Not in the depths of who we are in Christ, at least. God has truly redeemed us. We pray in real hope that the Spirit of the Obedient Son who resisted Satan in the wilderness can help us resist Satan as well so that “he will flee” (James 4:7).
Finally, our Enemy whispers accusations. Much of the condemnation and guilt we live with is not the holy conviction of God but instead is the work of the Accuser, the one who lives to condemn the saints (Rev. 12:10).
But Christ has robbed those accusations of their force by wiping away our guilt through his death on the cross (Col. 2:14). And he sends the Spirit of God not as our Accuser but as our Advocate, testifying to our hearts that we are God’s dearly loved children. As Martin Luther counseled a distraught friend:
When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.”
All this is another way of saying, “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” and then recall that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:1, 4).
Yes, we have a foe looking to harm us, but even more, we have a mighty God of peace who has promised to “crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20).
Derek Rishmawy is a doctoral candidate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.