It is imperative that everyone who follows Jesus Christ understands that we are in a war. It's a war that is spiritual, but it may have physical consequences. If you're not aware that you are in that kind of war, you very likely have already been taken captive. If you are a pacifist in this war, you have been at least effectively neutralized. Neutrality is capitulation. There is no fence-sitting as the battle rages. Jesus said that he who is not with Him is against Him (Matthew 12:30).
So, if we are indeed in a war, what's it all about? It's a war for the hearts of humanity--and the adversaries are God and Satan.
"Tom, are you serious? Are you telling me that God couldn't defeat Satan in a heartbeat--that one of His created beings is a match for Him?" No. I know that God could wipe out Satan in an instant and, for that matter, all the rest of God's created, rebellious beings collectively, should He so desire. He did it once before, save eight.
The war on God's part is not about defeating His adversary. It is a battle over the prize. It's about winning the hearts of mankind. "My son, give me thine heart" (Proverbs 23:26).
This is a theme that runs through the entire Bible. It starts out with the "first and great commandment" (Matthew 22:37-38). We're to love God with all our heart. That's what heaven and eternal life are all about. Those who have believed the gospel and have given their hearts to Jesus will spend eternity with Him. This is what God desires, and it is the crux of the battle.
There are some who say there is no free will--that there is no choice on our part--and that God has predestined everything. God certainly knows everything, but if He has determined ahead of time everything that would take place, then we're not really giving Him our hearts--we've been programmed to do that, or not to do that. If that's the case, then He's the one who's really doing it. The command to love Him with all our heart would depend on His keeping that command.
The command then becomes some kind of charade. And the battle--well, there could be no real battle because He's doing all of it. If God has predestined everything, then what would be the point of Scripture verses that exhort us to "fight the good fight of faith," or "put on the whole armor of God"; or verses that use terms like the "weapons of our warfare," or tell us that we are to be "good soldier[s] of Jesus Christ," and that we are to "wage the good warfare"? If everything was predestined, and if we took those verses seriously, at best, our fight would be like shadow boxing or play-acting. No! We are in a real war--the battle of the ages. It's a war between God and Satan, and the prize is humanity.
Often, before soldiers go into a battle, they attend a briefing where strategies, critical information, and certain objectives are presented. Sometimes they are reminded of the overall game plan of the war. That's the approach I'm taking in this "war briefing," beginning with an overview of God's game plan.
God's goal, according to the Scriptures, is to win the hearts of men and women with whom He desires to spend eternity: "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have [desires] all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3-4). "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life..." (John 3:36). These, and many, many other verses declare God's wonderful objective.
God's primary means for achieving His goal is to communicate through His Word His desire to spend eternity with those whom He created, as well as revealing what He has accomplished for their sakes that would enable them to spend eternity with Him. Without God's revelation to us concerning His unfathomable act of love on our behalf, we could not know it. But He has communicated in His Word all that He has done for us and what He requires of us in order to be reconciled to Him and to receive the gift of eternal life: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that [i.e., salvation is] not of yourselves: it is the gift of God..." (Ephesians 2:8).
Since understanding that God's communication is key to His goal of winning the hearts of mankind, it's not surprising that His Word would be the major target for His enemies. Shutting down, or at least disrupting, communication is the most effective tactic for defeating an enemy. If the troops can't get orders from their leaders, they are terribly vulnerable. Which brings us to God's main adversary, Satan, and his strategies. Scripture tells us in 2 Corinthians 2:11: "Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices." Although we're not to major on the deceptions of the devil, we nevertheless must be aware of them.
On the other hand, we look to God and His strategy for us: "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (Ephesians 6:11-13).
Sounds like a war briefing to me! Satan (which means "adversary") and his troops seem to be the opponents here. And we are not to be ignorant of his devices, or his "wiles." "Wiles" is translated from the Greek word metho daa a, meaning his methods, e.g., cunning arts, deceit, craft, trickery. These are all part of his methods--the strategies that the "father of lies" has crafted in the war against God for our hearts.
Satan's master strategy is the same that he has used from the very beginning on humanity, and he has certainly expanded on it throughout the ages: "Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" (Genesis 3:1).
First of all, some people have trouble with a talking serpent. They can't take that as a literal statement, probably because they've never seen a serpent talk or communicate with a person. However, since none of us were there, we can't know for sure whether or not communication with animals was a normal condition before the fall of mankind into sin. The Bible doesn't tell us.
Nevertheless, for those who continue protesting that such a thing is absurd, I wonder why don't they protest against our government and try to get some of their tax money back from the multimillions of dollars the U.S. has spent on research trying to communicate with animals such as gorillas, chimpanzees, and dolphins, or at least curb their "conversations" with their own pets.
If a person claims to be a believer but has trouble believing that Satan literally spoke through a serpent and needs some further assurance, here are a couple of verses: "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3). Furthermore, Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 2:16), confirms another incident in Scripture in which an animal, this time a donkey, literally spoke "with a man's voice [and] forbad the madness of the prophet" Balaam.
For those who consider the Genesis account of the serpent a myth of Judaism and Christianity, even a cursory search of the pagan religions of the world will reveal an amazing emphasis on serpent worship. India has the hooded cobra of Hinduism; Scandinavia has the Midgard Serpent; the Greeks have the god Python; the Egyptians have Uraeus; the Aztecs have their savior-god Quetzalcoatl, the plumed Serpent; Haitians worship the Great Serpent; American Hopi Indians perform the ceremony of the snake dance, and there are multitudes of others. Even the medical profession has paid homage to Aesculapius, the Greek god who is said to have received a healing herb from the mouth of a serpent. The original Hippocratic oath taken when doctors received their M.D. degrees began, "I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius and Health, and All-heal, and all the gods and goddesses...."
In all of the pagan religions above and many more, the very lies that the serpent fed to Eve are accepted as truth. The serpent for them is the symbol of perennial wisdom and eternal life--the good guy. This focus on the serpent by many cultures separated by time and distance--cultures that never had contact with one another yet who worship the serpent--is an amazing worldwide development stemming from something that supposedly never happened! But for those who believe the Bible, it's certainly consistent for one who is called "the god of this world," "that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world" (2 Corinthians 4:4 and Revelation 12:9).
Serpent worship, however, is neither Satan's ultimate goal nor his master strategy for deceiving the world. He is intent upon destroying the communication between God and His created beings. That strategy began by introducing doubt in the mind of Eve: "And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said...?" God gave a command to Adam. It was an absolute. He told him that he could eat of any tree of the Garden except one--and if he ate of that one, he would die. It was a test of obedience to see if he and Eve loved God. Jesus said in the Gospel of John:14, that if a man loves Him (Jesus), he will do what He says. The consequence of disobeying God's absolute command was death--physical death and separation from God forever.
Separation from God forever is Satan's end, and he is bent on taking mankind down with him. His strategy for accomplishing this is clear in Genesis 3:1. He is dialoging with Eve for the purpose of breaking down her commitment to what God commanded: "Yea, hath God said?" To begin with, it was a subtle interrogation, probably not unlike the rationalization that goes on in our own minds from time to time, especially if our flesh isn't thrilled with what God's Word says. Eve was given something to think about, wrapped up, of course, in a very seductive sales package and delivered with a smooth pitch by Satan: getting her to think that God was withholding that particular fruit from her, causing her to wonder if there might be something special about it, or in it--something that would improve her situation, or even give her god-like powers.
That's the strategy of the Adversary's dialogue. But one doesn't dialogue about absolutes. When that happens, something is either being added to or subtracted from the absolute. And that addition or subtraction, whether from Satan or from man, is a "way" (a solution, a path) that may seem appealing, even right, but that will inevitably lead to destruction (Proverbs 14:12). The strategy is designed for disrupting God's communication--for undermining the authority of God's Word. In verses 2 and 3 of Genesis 3, we see by Eve's response that she seems to have added something to God's command: "neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die." This wasn't part of the command that God gave to Adam. Although her addition seems to strengthen what God said, it still misrepresents what God actually commanded. You see, when we get into a dialogue over something that we believe to be absolute truth, an adversary's goal is simply to get us to move from our position--in any direction. That effectively negates its absolute characteristic or quality. Once we've moved away from our steadfast position, the slide begins that ultimately ends in destruction.
This tactic, which began in the Garden of Eden, has been used throughout history to get people to change their views--particularly fixed views. It was used effectively by Marxists to convert millions to communism, and it is used extensively today in the socialization process of our government, corporations, and educational system. Its aim is to tear down absolutes, dogmas, fixed ideas, traditional views, individualism, and so forth, in favor of a more social view based upon consensus, or what most people think. It's a technique of getting people to conform to what the majority says is best and is directed at "nonconformists" such as...well, biblical Christians would fit that definition.
You can trace the serpent's lies of Genesis 3 all through the history of mankind and find them in nearly all religions, in psychology, in education, in entertainment everywhere--and growing with an intensity that is increasing exponentially in our day.
In Satan's grand strategy to "nullify" God's communication to mankind, his process involves 3-Ds: Doubt, Denial, and Deceit.
Planting Doubt begins the process: "And he [Satan] said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said...?"
That's followed by Denial: "And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die...,"
Which is then followed by Deceit: "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."
Of course, we could also add three more "D"s to describe the consequences for anyone who is seduced by the Adversary's tactics: Delusion, Destruction, and ultimately Death, which is eternal separation from God.
Peter, in his first Epistle, gives those of us who would "fight the good fight of faith" our marching orders: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in [experienced by] your brethren that are in the world" (1 Peter 5:8-9).
We are to "be sober, be vigilant," and on our guard to "resist [the devil] stedfast in the faith." Ephesians 6 tells us that we are to take up the "sword of the Spirit" (God's Word). It is a defensive posture, that we "may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."As we've seen, Satan's primary objective is to nullify God's objective communication to mankind through various means: his wiles are to attack it, undermine it, dismiss it, bad-mouth it, distort it, counter it, eradicate it, subsidize it, falsify it, abolish it, denigrate it, and so on and so forth. If he is effectively doing that in any of our lives, he, the father of lies, has cut us off to some degree from God's truth. If we don't know the Word of God, we won't be able to tell what's from Him and what's not. For example, if we don't understand money concepts, we won't be able to tell when we're being short-changed. In the same way, we need to have a good idea of what God's marching orders are. In a war, we need to be able to discern whether or not the orders have been tampered with or corrupted by the enemy. Tragically, that lack of preparedness in this spiritual war has left much of the church terribly vulnerable today. The war is only going to intensify.