What Are We Up Against?
We know that any one born of God does not sin, but he who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding to know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourself from idols.
Three years ago Charles Colson wrote a book called Kingdoms in Conflict. This sermon series could share that same title. But I am going to strike a slightly different note. His emphasis fell on the conflict between the kingdom of God and what he called the kingdoms of man. I want to go behind the kingdoms of man and talk about the conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan.
Kingdoms in Conflict
In Matthew 12:26 Jesus said, "If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?" So we can see clearly that there is a kingdom of Satan. "How then shall his KINGDOM stand?" Two verses later Jesus said, "If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons then the kingdom of God has come upon you." So there is a kingdom of God. "In my ministry the KINGDOM OF GOD has come upon you." And it is clear that they are in conflict; and it will become increasingly clear that the coming of Jesus into the world was God's decisive blow against the kingdom of Satan.
Colson begins his book with a section entitled the "Need for the Kingdom." That's where we want to begin in our series too. We pose the question today: "What are we up against?" Why is the kingdom of God so important for us? Why do we need supernatural power in life and ministry? Why are love and compassion not the norm in this world?
The Whole World Is in the Power of the Evil One
I want to take one sentence from our text this morning and unfold its terrible content from the rest of the New Testament. The sentence is verse 19, especially the second half, "We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one."
That is simply a stunning statement: THE WHOLE WORLD LIES IN THE [POWER] OF THE EVIL ONE. What an amazing role and status this statement gives to Satan! He holds the whole world in his power. Is this your view of the world? Do you reckon with a satanic global power that influences all the world so deeply that John says the world simply lies in its power?
This is what we are up against. Not to be aware of it, not to be stunned by it, is to be very vulnerable to it.
But what does it mean? Well, if the whole world lies in the power of the evil one, then the evil one is a ruler of this world, and this world is an evil place to live, and this time we live in is an evil time. This is what we read in other parts of the New Testament as well.
"The Present Evil Age"
Take this "world" or this "age," for example. Paul says in Galatians 1:4 that "Christ gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age." The age we live in is simply called "evil." The world lies in the power of the "evil one" and so the age of this world is "evil." In Ephesians 5:16 Paul says, "Redeem the time, for the days are evil." The days are evil, the age is evil because the world and all the days of the world lie in the power of the evil one.
So Paul tells Christians (in Colossians 1:13) that what happened to them when they were converted is that they were "delivered from the dominion of darkness" and transferred into the kingdom of Christ. The implication is that this age is ruled by a "dominion of darkness." It's an "evil age" because the world lies in the power of a dark and evil master. To become a Christian is to be delivered from this dominion, or this authority and power.
"The God of This Age"
You can see the same thing when you look at the New Testament descriptions of Satan. In 2 Corinthians 4:4 Paul says, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers." Note the phrase, "the god of this age." It's not surprising that if the whole world lies in the power of the evil one, then this evil one should be called the "god of this age."
Similarly in Ephesians 2:2 Paul says to the Christians who had been delivered from the dominion of darkness, "You all once walked according to the age of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience." Satan is called the "prince of the power of the air." I don't know any better way to interpret this than literally—that the air we breath, the atmosphere in which we live and move, is permeated by a personal evil power—the "power of the air." And so the whole world (as John says) lies under this evil power. And that power has a prince or a ruler called here "the prince of the power of the air." He shapes the powerful patterns of the age and seems to do this mainly by working (as Paul says) "in the sons of disobedience." He somehow fills the whole atmosphere—the air—with his power, but he is specifically at work inside those who walk in disobedience to Christ. Satan has the greatest freedom to "work" where the human will is most ready to disobey the will of God.
In the gospel of John Jesus calls this prince of the power of the air the "ruler of this world." In John 12:31 he says, "Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out." In 14:30 he says, "I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father." And in 16:11 he says simply, "The ruler of this world is judged." So when 1 John 5:19 says that "the whole world lies in the power of the evil one," it surely implies that the evil one is "the ruler of this world," or, as Paul says, "the god of this age," or "the prince of the power of the air."
Do You Share This View of the World?
Here we just have to stop and catch our breath. Do you see that if you believe these things, you embrace a worldview that is radically different from the worldview of our society and most of the people you live and work with in America? Do you see the world this way? Or do you just give lip service to the authority of the Bible? Do you see that the ruler, the prince, the god of business and industry and commerce and politics and education and the arts and recreation and entertainment is Satan! The whole world lies in the power of the evil one. This is what we are up against. And we need clear, discerning judgment to know how we should then live and minister.
Beware of jumping to an oversimplified conclusion, that Jesus so completely defeated the ruler of this world that there is no real danger or opposition anymore. It does sound like that at times in the New Testament. For example, John 12:31, "Now shall the ruler of this world be cast out." Or John 16:11, "The ruler of this world is judged." Or Hebrews 2:14, Christ took on human flesh "so that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil." Or Colossians 2:15, "God disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in Christ."
These are in fact gloriously true statements about the decisive victory that was won by the Lord Jesus when he died and rose again. But it would be a mistake to jump to the conclusion that, because the decisive battle has been fought, therefore the war is over. We know that's not what the New Testament means. For example, after saying (in John 12:31), "Now shall the ruler of this world be cast out," Jesus also prays like this (in John 17:15), "I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one." So the evil one is still active even though something very decisive and defeating happened when Jesus died.
We are going to talk for weeks about the victory of Christ and how we can live in it and advance it in the world. But what we need to do in the rest of our time this morning is be more specific about what we are up against. A year ago I preached a message on ten of Satan's devices that we need to resist. I won't cover that same ground this morning. What I want to focus on in these last few minutes is Satan's opposition to evangelism and missions.
Satan's Opposition to Evangelism and Missions
The most compassionate and loving thing you can do for any person is to lead them into eternal life and joy through faith in Christ. To feed, clothe, heal, house, and educate a person without a view to their being converted to Christ is not truly loving, any more than merely giving a person pain killers for their fever is when you could offer them the antibiotic that would take the infection away. Therefore feeding, clothing, healing, housing, and educating are good, but they become truly loving as part of a call to repentance and faith in Christ. So evangelism and world missions are the centerpiece of the mission of a compassionate church.
And to be as effective in our compassion as we long to be, we need power, supernatural power. Why? Not only because human hearts are proud (John 5:44) and hard (Acts 28:26–28), but also because the whole world lies in the power of the evil one and he is actively engaged in opposing all we do in evangelism and world missions.
1. Satan Blinds the Minds of Unbelievers
2 Corinthians 4:3–4, "Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers."
So even before we arrive on the scene with the gospel, Satan is exerting a stupefying, deadening, blinding effect on the minds of the world. We need power to overcome this supernatural effect of the evil one.
2. Satan Snatches the Word Away from People Who Hear
Matthew 13:4, 19, "A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them . . . When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path."
Once the process of evangelism has begun, Satan increases his efforts. He is pictured as a flock of birds swooping down on seed that fell on a path. He tries his best to take away the Word that is preached so that no serious thought is given to it. He may use radio or TV or crying babies or squabbling spouses or broken cars or troubles at work or sexy billboards. Anything to take the Word out of our memory and out of our consideration. Satan hates meditation.
3. Satan Does Deceptive Signs and Wonders
Matthew 24:24, "False Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect." 2 Thessalonians 2:9, "The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with signs and wonders of falsehood, and with wicked deception for those who are to perish."
Satan has always been a great imitator. When the rod of Aaron turned into a snake as a sign of God's power, the Egyptian sorcerers turned their rods into snakes too by their secret arts (Exodus 7:11). One reason the new age fads are going to sweep so many away in our day is that they are not just fads: they have real satanic power behind them and there will be real signs and wonders worked not by God but by Satan, and people will be deceived. Revelation 12:9 says Satan is the deceiver of "the whole world."
4. Satan Uses People to Hinder Others from Believing
When Paul preached to the Roman proconsul on the Island of Cyprus in Acts 13, he was eager to hear the Word and was about to believe. But there was a Jewish false prophet and magician there named Elymas. Acts 13:8 says he resisted Paul and Barnabas and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But then Paul was filled with the Spirit and saw what was really happening in the spiritual realm and said,
You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind and unable to see the sun for a time. [Notice the use of power!]
He calls Elymas a "son of the devil." That is what Jesus called the tares in the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:38. The tares are the sons of the evil one. So Elymas is a tare that Satan has sown in a strategic place to hinder the faith of a possible new convert. In this case Paul counter attacked with supernatural power: "You shall be blind for a time"!
5. Satan Hinders Mission Efforts in General
In 1 Thessalonians 2:17–18 Paul tells the church that he had endeavored eagerly to come to them "again and again, but Satan hindered us." Satan devotes significant energy to messing up missionary plans and hindering the advancement of the gospel.
6. Satan Throws Christians in Prison and Persecutes Them
Revelation 2:10 (to the church in Smyrna), "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life."
This is mainly what Peter has in mind in 1 Peter 5:8 when he says, "Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world." The jaws of the lion are the "experience of suffering" caused by Satan.
Knowing What We Are Up Against
All of this is simply to illustrate what it means that "the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." What we are up against is a global power that touches, and in some measure controls, all culture and society. This power is not opposed to most ordinary things of life that you do: eating, sleeping, working, as long as you just go along like the world, he is willing to live and let live. But he is extraordinarily opposed to the centerpiece of compassion: advancement of the gospel. He blinds; he snatches the Word; he deceives with signs and wonders; he uses people to hinder faith; he messes up missionary plans; and he persecutes and throws in prison. If we are going to make headway against the kingdom of Satan, it means war. It means a conflict of kingdoms. It means learning the meaning of the kingdom of God in the world and how to exercise its power.
And here is what we haven't even mentioned: what about Satan's role in sickness? What about demon possession? What about harassment of believers? What about the sovereignty of God? How can Satan be the god of this world if "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof"? Does God ever use Satan to accomplish his good in people's lives? These are the questions we will deal with Wednesday night in the plenary session.
For now remember 1 John 4:4, "Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." Let's say it together: HE WHO IS IN YOU IS GREATER THAN HE WHO IS IN THE WORLD. Amen.