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Sunday
Nov162008

The Subtle Side of Satan

The first sermon by Jeff S. Smith, November 1988

 

Introduction

My subject tonight is someone we’ve all run into at one time or another. Most often portrayed as an odd-looking little man with an unkempt goatee, horns protruding from his head, and a long, pointed tail, Satan appears dancing in his flames, pitchfork in hand, with that incessant evil laugh. Most of the world thinks of Satan as a character out of mythology–a creation of Christians to take the blame for their mistakes. I’m sure Satan doesn’t really care what you think of him–as long as you’re following him and not your first love.

 

Discussion

Throughout the Bible, the devil displays an overwhelming attitude of rebellion. He rebelled against God’s government and has persuaded many illustrious people to do the same. He is the acknowledged ruler of this world. In Luke 4:5-6, we read that Satan led Christ “up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, ‘I will give you all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.’” In the book of Revelation, John writes that Satan deceives the whole world. Until Christ’s return, Satan’s deception and rebellion will continue. With a furtive combination of blatant lies and perverted truth, Satan’s main objective is that you do not totally submit to the will of God.

But how does he do it? Satan is a compromiser. Whereas our Father is firm in his will, Satan is flexible. As long as you stop somewhere short of total commitment, the devil will allow you to partially serve God. Ananias and Sapphira gave a portion of their earnings to God but attempted to secretly keep back the rest. An important lesson for us all–they died in the tracks of their sin. Everyone is vulnerable to the wiles of Satan. He has something different that will appeal to all of us. Whether it’s alcohol, greed, lust, or whatever, we all have our own personal version of Eve’s fruit. We must take care to never become so gullible to think that we have been granted unconditional immunity from the temptations and illusions of Satan. Such delusions of grandeur could close the Gates of Heaven in a most resounding fashion. Paul writes in Second Corinthians 2:10-11, “I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” As servants of our Lord, we must constantly be aware of Satan’s scheming. “Take heed, lest we fall.” Satan will even go so far as to let us obey some of God’s laws, provided that we ignore at least one aspect of it. The devil’s knowledge of Scripture is well documented in Luke, chapter 4 and verses 9-11. “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge concerning you to guard you,’ and ‘on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” We can also assume that the devil knows of James 2:10-11. “For whosoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” Refusing to submit to just one point of God’s law is a rebellion against God’s entire code. This attitude of rebellion must not be found in the heart of a Christian. The gate to heaven is narrow and few will find it (see Matthew 7:14). “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.”

Tonight, I have tried to present to you the subtle side of Satan. Several weeks ago, that concerned and responsible journalist, Geraldo, showcased the other side. The reality of devil worship is a terribly frightening concept. Without a doubt, it is the most twisted and perverse form of ugliness strangling the world today. But possibly more frightening is the subtle manner in which the devil is deceiving the world. The gradual demoralization of the entertainment industry is the epitome of Satan’s almost unchecked success in disguising sin with ingenious patience. In Ephesians 2:2, he is called “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” His evil influences people with misleading attitudes and blinds them from seeing God’s will. When Jesus was accused by the hypocritical Pharisees in John 8:44 of fraudulence, he answered them, “you are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies.” Satan’s real character has been exposed. He is a murderer and a liar who hates all who threaten him. He seeks to discredit and destroy the servants of God was much now as he did in the days of Job, Daniel and Jesus. He despises the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The devil is a formidable adversary indeed. In First Peter 5:8, he is likened to a roaring lion, prowling and seeking someone to devour.

But what is our best defense against the working of Satan? The writer, Paul, clearly explains in Ephesians 6:10-20. Our most secure protection from the devil is the Bible and our God. We need a clear understanding of the message of the Word and to apply scriptural knowledge to our everyday lives. In the fifth chapter of Ephesians, verse six, Paul writes, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” And later in the same chapter, “ … [B]e careful how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.” It is the same responsibility of every Christian to take the sword of the Spirit and protect himself with its power. It would be wonderful if we could all exclaim as Jesus did concerning the devil, “he has nothing in me.”

The next natural progression would be a description of hell, I suppose. At the risk of being labeled negative, I’ll begin in Revelation, chapter 20 and verses 14-15. “And death and hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And if anyone’s name was not found in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Quoting Christ in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” It is referred to in Matthew 25:46 as eternal punishment. In Second Thessalonians 1:6-9, Paul writes of it again.

In an attempt to end with a more positive note, in chapter three of Second Thessalonians, verse three, Paul writes, “but the Lord is faithful and he will protect you from the evil one.”

 

Conclusion

As a summary, I would like to read James 4:7, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

 

Twentieth Anniversary Version, November 2008

 

Foreword

It was in November 1988 that I was first asked to put together a short lesson for a men’s training class at the Paden City church of Christ in the Ohio River valley of West Virginia. I had been a Christian for about 10 months and was a bit reluctant, but an elder, Roger Smith, persuaded me to give it a try and the result was a sermon entitled, The Subtle Side of Satan. It was no great masterpiece–more like finger painting, except I used a then new, now discarded electric typewriter. To mark the occasion, I revisit the subject, using the original outline, but with a little polish and embellishment.

 

Introduction

My subject today is someone we’ve all run into at one time or another. Most often portrayed as an odd-looking little man with an unkempt goatee, horns protruding from his head, and a long, pointed tail, Satan appears dancing in his flames, pitchfork in hand, with that incessant evil laugh. Most of the world thinks of Satan as a character out of mythology–a creation of Christians to take the blame for their mistakes. I’m sure Satan doesn’t really care what you think of him–as long as you’re following him and not your first love.

 

Discussion

I. Satan’s Character

A. Rebellion

1. throughout the Bible, the devil displays an overwhelming attitude of rebellion; he rebelled against God’s government and has persuaded many illustrious and anonymous people to do the same, thus becoming the acknowledged ruler of this world (Second Corinthians 4:1-4)

2. Satan inspired rebellion in the naive heart of Eve that led to rebellion in the complacent, hungry heart of her husband

3. he even attempted to lead Jesus into rebellion against God, when in the wilderness, he “showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will’” (Luke 4:5-6).

4. if Satan will try to make deals with the son of God, surely he will try the same with us, his weaker brothers and sisters

5. with a furtive combination of blatant lies and perverted truth, Satan’s main objective is that you do not totally submit to the will of God

 

B. Compromise

1. Satan is persuasive because he is a compromiser; where our Father is firm in his will, Satan is flexible and as long as you stop somewhere short of total commitment, the devil will allow you to serve God partially

2. everyone is vulnerable to the wiles of Satan; he has something different that will appeal to all of us–whether it’s alcohol, greed, lust, or whatever, we all have our own personal version of Eve’s fruit

3. Satan does not need you to become a filthy devil worshiper, joining the local cult down at the riverside to sacrifice animals and chant curses under the sacred pentagram; all he needs is for you to sell out your heart a little to him and the invitation to evil will insult the Holy Spirit whose place he seeks to usurp (Hebrews 3:12-14)

a. Satan says one time won’t hurt, but nobody ever becomes guilty or addicted without it

b. Satan says that no one will know, but he knows and he knows that God knows and that the sinner he deceives will know as well

c. Satan says that sin makes the young person mature, but nothing is more infantile than violating your own will just to fit into some worldly mold

4. compromise is welcome in matters of opinion and judgment and personal scruple, but there is no justifiable compromise with a devourer of spirits (James 4:7-10)

 

C. Subtlety

1. Satan is persuasive because he has all the time in the world, being a spirit not susceptible to old age, but certainly doomed to eternal torment

2. he feels he can afford to take his time and wait, not springing upon his prey so quickly that it is scared away, but slithering upon it slowly and imperceptibly

3. as disciples of Christ, we must always be conscious of the tempter lurking invisibly in the shadows, setting his traps and watching for victims, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (Second Corinthians 2:11).

4. Satan is willing to work for years to destabilize a congregation, to deceive an individual, to subvert a whole household; he can be so discreet that you will not even notice it is happening until the trap is sprung upon you

5. he can even use religion and ministers, who are already deluded, to serve his goals (Second Corinthians 11:12-15)

a. false teachers, false religions, false feelings of moral security based upon false gospels

b. the devil can use them all to make the lost feel saved (Second Thessalonians 2:9-12)

 

II. Our Defense

A. Our Character

1. our best defense is to take refuge in the arms of God, who alone can lead us to victory

2. to love the truth so much that we exercise our senses to discern good from evil, the testator from the tempter (see Hebrews 5:11-14)

3. we learn to imitate the son of God who resisted every temptation to throw himself down, to escape from necessary sacrifice and to cooperate with a tempter who “has no claim on me” (John 14:30)

4. rebellion against God’s word is cooperating with the devil, submitting to his convenient lies and rejecting the scheme of grace for a less demanding, less rewarding path (Matthew 7:13-14, 21-24)

5. the development of a godly character is paramount in our defense against the wiles of the devil (Second Peter 1:5-8)

 

B. Forewarned is Forearmed

1. back in the fall of 1988, Geraldo Rivera produced a television exposé of devil worship, complete with guest appearances by Charles Manson and Ozzy Osbourne

2. the reality of devil worship is that it is much more pervasive than anything that goes on in secret among such twisted characters as these

3. the devil is served whenever people resist God’s will and reject his grace, even if the setting happens to look religious and harmless–doesn’t every snare look harmless?

a. we have witnessed in our lifetimes that gradual demoralization of our society, largely by means of our entertainment and government, so that most accept profanity, fornication, and laziness as unpreventable and fully supportable life choices

b. that is why the devil is called “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2)

4. be forewarned that what looks like a pussycat can sometimes be a lion; Satan “was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

5. “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6).

 

C. Understanding the Stakes

1. many envision Hell as the devil’s kingdom where he will reign comfortably for all eternity, or just as long as Jesus reigns in Heaven, only with demons doing his bidding instead of angels, but that is far removed from truth

2. the only thing that holds true is that the rebellious will suffer punishment in Hell; on Judgment Day, Jesus “will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41; see also Second Peter 2:4-10)

3. “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (Second Thessalonians 3:3).

 

Conclusion

After 20 years, Satan has achieved many more successes. Just think about how far society has fallen since 1988. We cannot afford to wait until 2028 to get serious about serving God and resisting the devil’s subtle enticements.

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