What the Bible says about
Struggle against Satan's Influence
(From Forerunner Commentary)
After reading this, some carelessly assume that, if Israel had just obeyed God, they would have taken over the Promised Land without having to confront the people already there. This is most assuredly untrue. The blessings and cursings establish a biblical principle for God's people:
If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. . . . But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I will also do this to you. . . . (Leviticus 26:3-4, 14-16)
In a similar way, the promises of Exodus 23 are conditional. The bestowal of blessings depends upon obedience to the covenant. In covenantal matters like this with God, a Christian must expect reciprocity.
Notice this principle spoken by the prophet Azariah in II Chronicles 15:2: "The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you." Will God bless rebellion by His people? Absolutely not! He answers rebellion by removing His protection.
Consider: Does God make growth and overcoming easy for us, even though He promises salvation? Are there no battles to fight while overcoming? If God completely smoothed the way for us, what would we have to overcome? If He smoothed our way, how would He test our loyalty? Would we be prepared for His Kingdom? Of course, He does not make it easy for us. Each of our paths is designed and tempered to test us on the level of our natural abilities and gifts (I Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, each Christian's way will be difficult; each will have to fight many battles at his or her level.
If God completely smoothed the way, it would create a walk-in-the-park scenario, eliminating the possibility of God's law being written in our hearts. When other biblical information is added to God's promise in Exodus 23, we see that what He guarantees is that He will drive out the people of the land, making it far easier for the Israelites than if He were not involved at all. God is comparing situations with and without His intervention.
In the analogy, the people of the land are symbolic of human nature, which cannot be made subject to God and His law, according to Romans 8:7. Like human nature, the people of the land could not be driven out without God's help. We can conclude that Israel would have been totally unable to accomplish even what they did had not God been with them.
How can we know that Exodus 23 is not an outright promise that Israel would not have go to war at some point in the conquest of the land? Seeing several scriptures together will make this clear. First, notice Deuteronomy 8:1-3. Clearly, God tests us to see where we stand, revealing to us at the same time where our weaknesses lie. Our standing must be revealed to both God and us because His work in us is a cooperative effort with us. Tests are not normally easy; tests are often clarifying experiences, exposing our strengths and weaknesses. They are designed to reveal spiritual and moral progress or lack thereof, and in so doing should motivate growth in areas of weakness and produce confidence in areas of strength.
We can now add I Corinthians 10:11-13 to our understanding:
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
An admonition is an instructive warning. It is not a "chewing-out" but a sobering, thought-provoking prod. Overall, Paul is encouraging us that God is carefully monitoring the tests we experience so that we do not get in over our heads. The sanctification process requires our cooperation with God, and He does not want to lose us through extreme discouragement.
Though He manages the operations of His creative process, His work definitely does not eliminate our involvement. Knowing that God carefully monitors each of us helps us to understand why the Bible cautions us to be careful in how we evaluate each other. God knows, but we certainly do not know all the factors working in other Christians' tests.
In Exodus 23:22-31, God makes six promises and gives one command to the Israelites regarding their conquest of the Promised Land:
1. I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.
2. I will cut them off.
3. I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.
4. I will send hornets before you.
5. Little by little I will drive them out from before you.
6. I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand.
His one command, in verse 31, is, "You shall drive them out before you."
Consider what these seven statements reveal. The entire context suggests confrontation between God and the people of the land. However, the command, "You shall drive them out before you," should give us pause. There is more to this than a first glance might indicate. The easy assumption that God would remove every impediment upon Israel's entrance into the Promised Land proves false; that is not how it worked out in history. In addition, the Israelites knew for a certainty that they would have to face the people of the land in multiple confrontations.
In addition, they had already experienced a strong indicator of God's will for them regarding warfare when He permitted the Amalekites to attack the rear of Israel's column (see Exodus 17:8-13). That clash was only the first of an intense spate of battles in which the outcome hung in the balance on occasion. They knew that further warfare was a strong possibility.
Exodus 23:32 adds another factor that strongly hints that God would not simply drive the inhabitants from Canaan: "You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods." If He were going to drive the Canaanites completely out of the land before the Israelites, why would He need to make this warning? There would have been no people to make a covenant with!
Exodus 34:11-12, 15 repeats this command even more forcefully. If we take Exodus 23 and 34 at face value, the Israelites would have no opportunity to make a covenant with the people of the land because they would never encounter them to be tempted to make a covenant with them.
If the Israelites came into the land and began tearing down altars, would the people of the land have just stood around and let their revered high places be destroyed without resistance? No way! We can compare this to the confrontations many of us faced when we came to believe God, causing us to stop observing Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and Sunday worship and to begin keeping the Sabbath and God's holy days instead. Did our families, friends, and employers give us no resistance to these changes, which severely disturbed these relationships? Did they not defend their lifelong practices?
Because they would have close contact with the land's inhabitants, the Israelites had a choice to make: They could either compromise with the inhabitants regarding their cultures or follow God's commands. The latter choice entailed doing things like destroying altars, which would produce intense confrontations—warfare. The evidence indicates that the Israelites expected that they would have to go to war.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part One)
True Christianity is not an easy way of life. Yet many of this world's religious groups that call themselves Christian would have us believe that accepting the blood of Jesus Christ is the end of all of our problems.
That claim, though, is misleading at the very least—and an outright lie at the most, depending on the material supporting such a claim. Many influences attempt to knock a Christian off the path entirely or in any case cause him to stumble. A Christian must be discerning, taking great pains to maintain his balance against three primary enemies: his human nature, the world, and Satan. Regardless of his age, social status, education, or gender, these foes dog his heels.
The Christian truly has a fight on his hands, if he is serious about glorifying God by his life and achieving the growth that will give God abundant evidence of his sincerity in seeking Him and being in His character image.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Two)
What did He give "these twelve [whom] Jesus sent forth"? What is an apostle? It is one sent forth with a message. Thinking about the principle in Romans 10:17, that faith comes by hearing the word of Christ, Jesus gave the same words to those He sent forth! They are the ones who have the message that will produce saving faith!
When we read about fracturing of the church during the first century—in the books of James, I and II Peter, I, II, and III John, and Jude—we find direct and indirect references, sometimes very strong, in which the apostle writes, "Remember what we have taught you." Other messages were coming into the church, and people were falling for them because they were susceptible to them—they were too weak to reject them and to discern the deceit in them. They believed them, and then what was the result? Disobedience. This factor separates those who believe from those who do not. Those who believe will obey God. Those who do not believe will not obey Him because "the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).
We find ourselves in a battle, a struggle, between the carnality that remains, which is attracted by false messages, and the truth of God, which is the right message, the proper faith. Paul describes it in Galatians 5:17 as a war going on in us (see also I Peter 2:11). By the power of God's spirit, we have to make the choice as to which one we will submit to.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wisdom of Men and Faith
The Kingdom of God will be the recipient of slings and arrows and wars and temptations, and its own people will need to be violent in return. He means "forceful." It will take a titanic struggle to enter it because so many things are acting against us. Jesus warns us it will not be easy. We are going to have to work vigorously and "violently" at times, to force ourselves to do what is right, because the Kingdom of God is now under siege in so many ways. Therefore, we have to fight as warriors in battle and violently engage the enemy.
From John 17:11-18, we know that the Kingdom functions in the world, and Jesus is not going to take us out of it. But He asks His Father to give us His protection from the Evil One so that we can at least have that added strength. We must constantly deal with the world, human nature, and the Evil One himself, as well as his demons.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 2): Leaven
Was Paul a novice in the faith when he wrote the book of Romans? God would hardly allow a novice to write Scripture. The apostle Paul was one of the most mature Christians who ever walked the face of the earth. But he saw himself being torn—the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. Paul was in the middle, having to make the choice. If he had not grown spiritually, he would never have seen the conflict; his mind would have passed right over it. Thus, on the one hand, Paul delighted in his understanding of the purpose and perfection of God's law, yet on the other, that insight produced much dismay in him because he could see how far short he fell, from time to time, of its perfection.
The existence of this inward conflict is not a sign that the person is not sanctified. As long as we are in the flesh, we will never be entirely free of this struggle. Human nature does not go down without a fight. It must be overcome! In a way, this evil entity within us actually becomes part of the means of our perfection.
Overcoming is a long process, and it requires diligent and humbling effort to subdue our human nature. However, we must never allow ourselves to fall into the attitude that all of our effort is somehow justifying us before God—even though it pleases God and gratifies us. The holiest of our actions, the holiest of the actions of the holiest saints, are still full of imperfections and defects. Even some of these are done from the wrong motive. They could even qualify as being nothing more than a splendid sin in God's sight. Nevertheless, we are saved by grace through faith. Even with that, God requires that we make an effort to do what we can on our part.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Nine)
1 Corinthians 2:13-14
Without God's Spirit, we were limited to producing only things within the capabilities of the spirit in man coupled with the influences of Satan. Though we could produce wonderful material things, the spiritual and moral fruit was overwhelmingly bad. What else can Satan's spirit produce? But now, as the saying goes, "the sky is the limit" because access to the Spirit of God empowers us (with God's help, of course) to produce the life God Himself lives—eternal life.
However, doing this will not be easy because the Christian becomes a man with two natures. The old nature, ingrained with the thinking patterns and habits learned in this world, which lies under the sway of the evil one (I John 5:19), and the new divine nature, received as a new birth from God (II Peter 1:3-4), exist together. These two are irreconcilable antagonists—with the Christian in the middle, forced to make choices between them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit
1 John 3:9
Sometime in the past, one may have heard that "cannot sin" applies to Christians when resurrected as spirit beings. This is probably not correct because the whole context of the passage involves the here and now—today, during our physical lives. John is describing a situation in which we have opportunities to sin or not.
"Cannot sin" does not mean that it is impossible for us to sin, but rather, it is an act that we will not permit ourselves to do. Many of us have likely said to a child, "You can't do that!" Yes, they could do it, but we have determined that it is totally unadvisable. This is the gist of John's meaning: A person who is born of God is unable to sin habitually.
Why? Because of the divine nature being within him! This does not mean that he will not slip or that he will not even sin willingly and willfully from time to time, knowing full well what he is getting into. There is still weakness in human flesh. However, the converted person will repent and fight the weakness tooth and toenail. He will not live in sin! God will not abide in sin, and if His Spirit is within us, and we choose to continue in sin, then He will withdraw His Spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eight)
It is commonly held that mankind cannot be “at one” with God until Satan is bound. Consider, though, how much this belief diminishes God's power while elevating the status of the wicked one. God will bring all those alive during the Millennium to salvation without Satan being around, even as He is perfecting the firstfruits now with Satan around. God is sovereign, and thus neither limited by Satan's presence nor dependent on it.
During Christ's final Passover, He speaks at length about what His upcoming sacrifice would make possible. His confident statements demonstrate that a close personal relationship with God is entirely possible even while Satan is still the ruler of this world. Jesus promises to love and manifest Himself to those who love Him and keep His commandments (John 14:21). He declares that both He and the Father will make Their home with those who love Him (John 14:23). His work allows humans to abide in Him, even while Satan deceives the whole world (John 15:4-5, 7). He assures us that we can have peace in Him, even as the world—under Satan's influence—is against us (John 14:27; 16:33; see also Acts 10:36; Romans 5:1; 8:6; II Corinthians 13:11; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 2:14-17; Colossians 1:20; II Thessalonians 3:16). He reveals that the gift of eternal life is entirely His to give (John 17:1-3), and there is no proviso regarding Satan's presence. He promises oneness through the Father's keeping (John 17:11, 20-23)—not through Satan's binding. All the things covered in His prayer are not limited to the original disciples, “but also for those who will believe in Me through their word” (verse 20).
Jesus teaches that it is quite possible to be one with the Father and Son without Satan being bound. When we are brought to Christ, He “delivers us from this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4) and “from the power of darkness” (Colossians 1:13). Satan is powerless to stop God's work (see Job 1:10-12; 2:4-6). Since God's converted people are walking proof of oneness with God in the face of the Devil's influence, it makes no sense to conclude that humanity can be one with God only once Satan is bound.
The world needs the same covenant the elect are under now. Satan's binding will be a tremendous gift to those alive during the Millennium, so in no way should it be diminished, as it will remove a great deal of spiritual pressure. But is Satan's influence so vast as to prohibit the Father and the Son from working out Their plan in the Millennium? Certainly not!
David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Five)
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