In rural America, off a country road, on the soft soil of a weathered field, stands a sobering message for every passer-by: Go to church or the devil will get you!
The words are neatly strewn across a homemade billboard adorned with flood lights and a painted silhouette of a red figure, apparently Satan, holding a sling-blade. Go to church, the warning hisses, or be his victim.
As hokey as it sounds, the warning is right, you know, at least in a sense.
Now to be clear, if the sign means (and it likely does) that you’d better attend a weekly meeting or else Lucifer will eat your lunch, then no, that’s not right. That would be Anglo folk religion — more akin to African animism than anything Christian.
But, more positively, if “go to church” means be part of a gospel-shaped community, and “the devil will get you!” means you’re more susceptible to his schemes apart from such community, then the sign is absolutely right. By all means, if this meaning is the case, go to church or the devil will get you. Here’s why: first, Satan is real and he hates you; second, God designs that Christians persevere in faith by means of one another.
Satan Wants to Destroy You
John Piper recently shared a few stories from his years of pastoral ministry at Bethlehem Baptist, including one instance, early in ministry, when he casted out a demon. The topic is immediately riveting. Right? But in case we mismanage its significance, Piper reminds us:
Before I tell the story I should say, I think people tend to think in terms of “extraordinary” when they think of the devil. And the New Testament pictures the devil not mainly as doing something extraordinary, but as doing very ordinary, deadly, horrible “arrow-shooting” at our hearts. So lift up the shield of faith, quench the fiery darts of the devil— that’s steady state, daily Christianity. . . We have an enemy who is everyday trying to destroy us.
Still, truth be told, this reality doesn’t impact us the way it should. And as much as we’d like to believe our strong faith is behind our not thinking much of the devil, it is probably our negligence. Paul told the Corinthians that he showed mercy to the sinner “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11, emphasis added). He suggests that we know what the devil is up to.
But do we?
Let us not forget that Satan lies (John 8:44), that he blinds the minds of unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4), that he disguises himself (2 Corinthians 11:13–15), that he works signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9), that he strangles our efforts at fruitfulness (Mark 4:1–9), that he causes disease and sickness (Luke 13:16), that he is a bloodthirsty murderer (John 8:44), that he hinders our ministry plans (1 Thessalonians 2:17–18), that he accuses us before God (Revelation 12:10), and that he tempts people to sin (2 Corinthians 11:3).1
This last point is really important: he tempts us to sin. We are tempted everyday — several times everyday. Yes, the problem is with us first. We are severely flawed individuals with indwelling sin. Repent, don’t blame. But an adversary is also prowling around, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). That someone is you. Satan wants to devour you — to maneuver in such a way that there be in you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12).
Our Words in Jesus’s Power
This is where gospel-shaped community comes in. God has designed our warfare to include one another. We can’t wield the shield of faith alone. We need brothers and sisters to come alongside us to hold up our arms. More specifically, we need brothers and sisters to speak faith-building words to our souls.
After the warning of temptation, Hebrews 3:12 says “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
You see, the household of God is a talking family. We say things to each other, powerful things to each other about the truth of God and the victory of Christ. We exhort one another — be it encouragement, warning, or counsel — and the Holy Spirit breathes upon what is otherwise babbling to effect real devil-defying faith in our lives. This kind of speaking is a glorious staple of gospel-shaped community. And Satan wants you to have no part in it.
Satan wants us isolated from one another. He wants to find us all alone in the thunderstorm of our own thoughts, when we’re stuck in the sounds of our sinful souls. It is the oldest trick in the book, that he’d catch us when we’re perusing the tree by ourselves (2 Corinthians 11:3). We’ve too often repeated that scene of Genesis 3. But then imagine God’s truth crashing into the picture. Imagine that happening today as we gather together.
The only reason our words have any power is because of the Word who came in person. The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). When Jesus died on the cross in our place he disarmed the demonic rulers and shamed them in his triumph (Colossians 2:15). Jesus lives. Jesus reigns! And he will come again for his church against whom the gates of hell will not prevail.
Love his church. Surround yourself with voices of gospel truth and be that for others. And then be assured, because you are God’s, that the devil will not get you, nor will anyone be able to snatch you out of your Savior’s hand (John 10:28–29). Matter of fact, absolutely nothing will be able to separate you from God’s love in Christ (Romans 8:35–39).