Monday, February 22, 2010

Imitation: 5 steps to embarking into Satan's subtlety

3 pieces in this series

1. Imitation: 5 steps to embarking into Satan's subtlety
2. Spiritual Counterfeits
3. Defining Discernment

Imitation: 5 steps to embarking into Satan's subtlety

In Bruce Walke’s Old Testament Theology he writes about man’s fall into sin and discusses the way Satan’s first temptation took shape. He suggests that this original act of temptation is an archetype of sorts. All of the temptation that would follow through the long line of human experience would mimic this one. Satan tempted the second human being in the same way he tempts the 20 billionth (or whatever I happen to be). It is not just Satan who works in this way, though, but all human beings. We are prone to following Satan in luring others into sin in the same way.

Here are five steps to leading another person into sin.

Be a theologian with a twist. There is little doubt that Satan is a theologian, and a skilled and outspoken one at that. He has had a very long time to study God and, as a leader among angels, once enjoyed free access to him and close communion with him. Satan knows God and knows about the character of God. But unlike the theologians we seek to be, Satan is a theologian who despises God with every bit of his being. When he turns to Eve and says, “Did God really say…?” he brings Eve into a dialogue that opens her mind to a new realm of possibility, one she would not have thought of on her own. He knows God well enough to know what God has said and done.
But there is more. Satan is not only a student of God but also of men. From the moment God first spoke of man, Satan must have been watching and observing. Knowing that man was the crown of creation, Satan was surely looking for an opening, a way to destroy this jewel. He became a student of the ways of men. As a theologian, a psychologist and an anthropologist, Satan has unique skill at leading men astray.

Turn commands into question begging. Satan takes the command of God and rephrases it as a question. “Did God really say?” What was a clear statement suddenly becomes hazy. Posing as a theologian he asks, “Are you sure about this, or is this only Adam’s testimony as to what God said? Are you sure? How do you know? Is this really a command? Can we discuss this a little bit? Is it possible that you misinterpreted what God said? Is it possible that there is some context here we’ve ignored?” Waltke says, “Within the framework of faith, these questions are proper and necessary, but when they are designed to lead us away from the simplicity of childlike obedience, they are wrong.” And so we see Satan raising questions of interpretation and authority necessarily designed to create doubt and confusion and to lead away from the simplicity of a childlike obedience.

Emphasize the one prohibition over abundant freedom. Satan carefully and deliberately distorts, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden” into “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” He overlooks the great freedom God gave Adam and Eve and instead overstates the one prohibition. He gets Eve to focus on the prohibition rather than the gift and the freedom. Instead of focusing on the Tree of Life, from which she was free to eat, and on the millions of other trees available to her, Satan got her to focus her heart on that one tree from which she was not allowed to eat. And Eve began to focus not on what she had been given, but on what had been forbidden. And suddenly nothing but what was forbidden could satisfy her.

Doubt God’s sincerity and motives. Satan casts God’s motives as self-regard rather than love. “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He convinces Eve that God is limiting her, that he is not giving her the full measure of humanity. He is holding back, reserving for himself things that she deserves to know and to experience. As Waltke says, we hear this message all around us today. “Be liberated! Be free! Self-actualize! Unleash your inner potential! The Serpent’s message even echoes in the church. Instead of sanctification, the church seeks self-improvement. Instead of holiness, the church seeks happiness.” When you hear such things, you can rest assured that the Serpent is once again at work seeking to convince you that you need to be something other than what you were created to be.

Deny what God says is true. In the final step, Satan flatly denies what is true. “You will not surely die.” The fruit of all of the doubt and the resentment is unbelief. If God’s words happen to hinder us from becoming what we want to be or from doing what we want to do, Satan convinces us that we can safely ignore them. In the church today many people de-emphasize sin because it may hinder the quest for self-actualization or it may make people feel guilty or damage their self-esteem. “Sadly many evangelical churches are in the process of buying into a guilt-free, pain-free, judgment-free gospel.”

In the face of such temptation, the woman yields to Satan’s denials and half-truths. “Having stripped Eve of her spiritual defenses, Satan’s work is done.” Without God, the decision will be made purely on the basis of pragmatism, of what works best to bring about the desired end, on the basis of aesthetics, of what is beautiful, and on the basis of self-improvement, of what will bring her supposed wisdom. It is only one short step from here to outright disobedience.

And so Satan works through questioning, doubt, focusing on what is forbidden and finally on outright denial of the truth. And Eve is only the first to be drawn in and to succumb to the temptation. Every one of us has fallen for the same old trap. If you think of your own life, I’m sure you will think of examples where this pattern was used against you, perhaps just in your own thoughts or perhaps in a book you have read (and there are many books in the bookstores, both Christian and non- where this same pattern is used). Satan’s first tactic worked so well that I don’t think he has ever felt it necessary to modify it too much. The shape of temptation has not changed.

2. Spiritual Counterfeits: Jn1:1, Eph6:13-25, Lion Witch and Wardrobe

Last week I received an interesting email from a member of a mailing list I participate in. He asked whether it is true that Satan works primarily by counterfeiting what is true. This is dedicated to understanding why discernment is so difficult to merge into. I show that there are internal, spiritual and cultural influences that seek to keep us from being men and women of discernment. It is the spiritual force that underlies the others and which seeks to keep us enamored with mere counterfeits of the truth. Satan, once the mightiest of the angels, is now the devil, on the prowl for those who have forsaken him and who are seeking after God. Satan seeks to lead us astray. His tactics rarely change for since the dawn of human history they have proven remarkably effective. Satan seeks to lead us astray, to deceive us, by offering us a counterfeit version of the truth. Satan offers something that resembles the truth but is actually error. He is crafty and subtle, offering something that seems so close, and still is so far away. “Did God really say?” were his words to Eve and they are the words he continues to use today. The Apostle says “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” and regards it as no surprise that “his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

I recently read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe again. I had not read it in many years and had forgotten many of the details. As I read it aloud, I was struck time and again by the insightful ways in which Lewis describes sin and evil. Significantly, The White Witch, the story’s evil character, seems to be unable to create but relies instead on imitation. Part of her magic is “that she could make things look like what they aren’t.” The winter imposed upon Narnia is not a real one, but a mere imitation or perversion of a real winter; the Turkish Delight she gives to Edmund is her imitation of ordinary food; the sledge she rides in is understood by many to be a deliberate imitation of the one used by Father Christmas. It is “a counterfeit, exactly like the real thing but a cheat. … Evil can only parody goodness, it cannot invent new forms of real beauty and joy. That is why in fairy tales you have to beware of attractive disguises—nice old crones selling apples in the forest, say, or angels of light.” A recurring theme in this story is that of the forces of evil attempting to deceive the innocent by counterfeiting what is good and right and true. By looking to the world of Narnia we see that C.S. Lewis had profound insights into the way evil functions in our world. This point is critical to my understanding of the work of Satan: he cannot create so merely counterfeits what has already been created, twisting and perverting what should be good and true and pure.

Satan is capable of perverting anything. Lewis makes this point in his Screwtape Letters. In Letter Nine, Screwtape addresses Wormwood on the subject of counterfeit pleasure.

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and
normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures, yet all our research has not enabled us to produce even one. All we can do is to encourage humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced and indulge them in ways which He has forbidden. We always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least mindful of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever-increasing craving for an ever-diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it’s better style.
One Example:

Consider an example of Satan’s subtle works of counterfeiting and undermining the truth. The book of John begins in this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). We learn a great deal from these few words. We see that Jesus is eternal for He (the Word) existed in the beginning, so that before God created anything, Jesus already was. We learn about Jesus’ divinity, for He was with God and really was God. These verses are critical to the Christian understanding of the Trinity and the person of Jesus. But let’s now look at the translation of these verses used by Jehovah’s Witnesses in their New World Translation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” Once again, we can learn a great deal from these few words. We see that Jesus existed in the beginning, that Jesus was with God and that Jesus was a god. And right here, though it is a single word, a single letter, a single indefinite article, the word “a” makes all the difference. Where John 1:1 clearly affirms the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses denies this critical doctrine, teaching instead that Jesus was merely one of many gods created by the Father. Where an accurate rendition of this verse teaches that Jesus is eternal, the counterfeit translation makes Him a created being. The difference is subtle but profound. It is the difference between beautiful truth and gross error. It is the difference between salvation and damnation. And this is how Satan works, always subtle, always crafty, always seeking to draw us away from what is true.

Satan is fully committed to our downfall and is committed to keeping us confused. He seeks to cause chaos and destruction by leading us away from discernment. He and his hordes of fallen angels seek to blur distinctions, to introduce subtle error and to introduce what is ungodly to the church. In our fight for discernment we must battle against the spiritual forces arrayed against us. Thankfully Scripture is not silent and describes for us the “whole armor of God” provides our defense.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:13-18a).

We have truth, righteousness, faith, salvation and the Spirit to guard us. We have the word of God to battle for us. Through it all we pray to the Spirit to protect and guide us against the schemes of the devil. In this way we can fight against and overcome the spiritual forces that are set against us and committed to our downfall. Through the power of the Spirit we can wage war against and defeat the spiritual forces that seek to lead us away from discernment by offering a clever and subtle counterfeit of the truth.
As Christians who value discernment, we need to be watchful for Satan’s counterfeits. It is important that we understand how he works that we may ensure that we do not allow him to overcome our defenses with his subtle counterfeits of the truth.

3. Defining Discernment

Through the months I’ve spent writing my book on spiritual discernment, I have wrestled with various definitions of the word. While several definitions have been offered by other authors, none struck me as being quite right or quite complete. I have offered a definition on this site and was glad to receive some good feedback on its shortcomings. I went back to the drawing board and eventually arrived at a definition that really seems to accurately represent what the Bible means by discernment. So here it is with a brief breakdown of its component parts. Of course much of the definition’s context is missing, but I do trust this will still prove useful. So here it is:
Discernment is the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right from wrong.
When we practice discernment, we are applying the truths of the Bible to our lives. We are attempting to understand the words of the Bible and trusting God’s Word to give clarity so we might see things as God sees them. Our goal in discernment is to do just this: to see things through God’s eyes through the Bible and thus to see things as they really are. Like wiping the steam from a mirror, we seek to remove what is opaque so we might see with God-given clarity.
To aid our understanding, we’ll now unpack this definition, looking at each of the individual components.

Discernment is…

…The Skill…

Discernment is a skill. It is not an inherent ability like breathing or chewing, but a skill like reading or public speaking that must be practiced and must be improved. There is not a person on earth who has been born with a full measure of discernment or who has all of the discernment he will ever need. There is not a person who has attained a level of expertise that allows him to move on and to leave discernment behind. Like the master musician who practices his skills more as his acclaim grows, in the same way a discerning person will see with ever-greater clarity his need to increase in discernment. He will want to sharpen and improve this skill throughout his life.

God graciously enables and equips us practice discernment with increasing accuracy and confidence. Like other skills, discernment increases with practice. An apprentice to a tailor will at first make slow, hesitant cuts to a piece of fabric. His experienced tutor, though, will confidently make accurate cuts in one smooth movement. In the same way, what is at first difficult can, with practice, become more natural. The more we know of truth, the more our ability to discern will increase.

While the Bible does not make it entirely clear, it is likely the God did not immediately bestow upon Solomon the full measure of his eventual wisdom and discernment. It is more likely that God gave Solomon ability but required that he continually sharpen this skill. After all, God also granted Solomon “both riches and honor,” but these surely did not come in full measure that very day. Just as we are required to invest effort in learning what the Bible says and just as we are to strive after holiness, in the same way we are to work at the skill of discernment, attempting to become better at it through practice. This is clear from Hebrews 5:14 which reads “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Distinguishing good from evil, and doing so correctly and consistently, requires dedicated, ongoing practice. It is a skill. "What at first is difficult, can with skill, become more natural."

…of understanding…

The Hebrew word most commonly translated as discernment is otherwise translated as understanding. Discernment is closely related to understanding and depends upon a right understanding of God and His ways. Because we can only base what we do on what we know, we must first understand who God is and how He wants us to serve and honor Him. Understanding must precede both interpretation and application. This is clear throughout the Bible, but especially in Proverbs were Solomon continually ties knowledge, wisdom and discernment, not as separate disciplines, but as related. And so to be people of discernment we must be people who dedicate ourselves to studying, knowing and understanding God.

…and applying…

Discernment involves not only understanding, but the application of that understanding. This is where we see the interrelated nature of wisdom and discernment and where we see how difficult it can be to separate one from the other. Discernment is wisdom in action, wisdom applied, and here we seek to apply the skill we have been practicing. We do not only know (understand), but we also do (apply).

…God’s Word…

God’s Word refers to two aspects of God’s revelation: revelation of Himself through the person of Jesus Christ and revelation of Himself through speech, and in particular, the words that were recorded in the Bible. Though in days past God revealed Himself through words of prophesy and other forms of personal address, today we know Him through the Bible which God has given to point us to the Word of God as it exists in the person of Jesus.

God’s Word is Truth. In John 17:17, as part of His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus affirmed to His Father, “your word is truth.” God’s Word is the very source of infallible truth. God’s word is our measure; it is our source. Hebrews 14:13 says that “everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.” Conversely, then, those who are mature are those who are skilled in the word of righteousness. The word of righteousness, those doctrines that are fundamental to the Christian faith are synonymous with the word of God.
We can only worship and glorify God on the basis of what we know of Him. In order to be discerning, we must know and understand what is true about God. To do this we turn to God’s Word. And so, to be discerning, we must first be students of the Bible. We must study it, we must read about it, and we must hear it taught from the pulpit.
When we engage in discernment we attempt to use God’s Word to rise above our own limitations so we can see as God sees. Through the truths contained in the Bible, God allows us to see things with His eyes.

…with the purpose of separating…

God’s word is the standard we use to differentiate between what is true and what is false. The concepts of separating and distinguishing are inherent in the words of the original languages translated as discernment. Discernment implies that we are to separate things in order to understand their differences.
Like the laser level that shows with perfect clarity any deviations from what is straight, the Bible teaches what is true, leaving what is false standing out with glaring clearness. We use God’s Word as a tool to separate what is true from what is false. We use it to make the light appear lighter, leaving the dark to appear ever darker.

…truth from error…

A constant theme when discussing spiritual discernment is the importance of distinguishing truth from error. The Bible makes it clear that doctrine is either true or it is false. We are called by God to examine all theology and to make such binary distinctions. When we speak of truth and error we speak of doctrine and theology - about ways of thinking rightly and truly about God. We think about how we think, knowing that we what think inevitably affects how we act. What we think of God will necessarily impact how we serve Him. If we want to serve him in a way that is true and pure, we must think of Him as He really is, thinking of Him without error. Only when we have separated truth from error are we able to rightly worship God.

…and right from wrong.

At times discernment will be concerned with truth and error. At other times it will be concerned with right and wrong, words which indicate a moral dimension to discernment, for this practice concerns itself not only with doctrine and theology, but with the practical application of those disciplines to our lives. Discernment is a skill we need to live lives that are morally and ethically pleasing to God. We need to be discerning first in what we believe and then in what we do. Where the concepts of truth and error concern what we believe, the associated concepts of right and wrong concern what we do and how we live. In this way we see discernment as a discipline that applies to all areas of life. As I wrote just two days ago, there is treasure everything. Discernment allows us to see and to form a theology of everything, a theology that touches and impacts all areas of life. Tim Calles.

1 comment:

  1. Regarding Jehovah's Witnesses' "New World Translation" Bible and its rendering of John 1:1, it may interest you to know that there is soon to be published an 18+ year study (as of 01/2010) in support and explanation of their wording of this verse entitled, "What About John 1:1?"

    To learn more of its design and expected release date, we invite you to visit:

    Agape, JohnOneOne.