Whatever else may be said about the ways in which Satan works in the church, of this much we can rest assured, the Gospel is the object of satanic assault. Satan loves to work through the hypocritical lives and censorious spirits of members of the church to pervert the grace of God in Christ in the message of the gospel. May we not be found ignorant of the devil’s devices. God has revealed them to us in the warnings, expositions, and examples of Scripture. We must give ourselves wholly to a consideration of what we find there and to our own hearts as we seek to faithfully proclaim the Gospel and live lives worthy of it.
I sometimes fear that there is a willful naïveté in the church with regard to the presence and power of Satan. One doesn’t have to look far into the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, or the New Testament Epistles to discover the reality of the spiritual forces of darkness and to develop a theology of the assault tactics of the evil one. But it might surprise some to see what exactly these tactics are in their more subtle forms. There is one fact, in particular, about which we must be convinced––namely, the Gospel is always the central object of Satanic assault. Stopping the advance of the Gospel is the singular goal of Satan and demons. It does not come, first and foremost, in the form of demonic possession––though that was certainly a primary manifestation of Satan’s counterfeiting work in the days of incarnation of Christ (Demon possession was a counterfeiting incarnational power at the fullness of time). But it principally manifests itself in 1) false religions, 2) political oppositions and persecution aimed at the church, 3) false doctrine, 4) hypocrisy, and 5) unwillingness on the part of Christians to receive repentant sinners. These schemes are the common tactics employed by Satan to stop the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. The first two––false religions and political opposition aimed at the church––are brought against the church from without. The latter three––false doctrine, hypocrisy, and unwillingness on the part of Christians to receive repentant sinners––come from within. An appraisal of the church in our day will reveal that the majority of Christians readily focus on the former, almost without regard to the latter. The latter are the more subtle, making them more dangerous in many respects.
A professor in seminary challenged us to read the New Testament in a redemptive-historical manner with regard to the work of Satan. When we do we discover that demon possession is mentioned less and less after the Gospels, and false doctrine is mentioned more and more. It is, as Paul told Timothy, “doctrines of demons” that come to the forefront of spiritual warfare. Additionally, Paul explained this satanic tactic to the Corinthians when he wrote:
“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted you may well put up with it!” (2 Cor. 11:3,4)
False doctrine is the principle way in which Satan seeks to gain a foothold in the church. It is not, as so many suggest, false religions existing without that threaten the life of the church–it is false doctrine within (Acts 20). The apostle Paul–who many would probably classify as one of those “paranoid reformed folks”–were he alive today–wept over the prospect of false teachers rising up from among the Ephesian elders after he would depart. As John Gerstner once put it, “The Ephesian elders were weeping because they would see Paul no more. Paul was weeping because false teachers would rise up from among the elders.” False teaching is a real and powerful reality in the church of Jesus Christ. However, false teaching is not the only tactic Satan employs within the church–false living is of great use to him as well.