Monday, June 11, 2018

Lest Satan Should Get an Advantage

Enemies of Evangelism 1

Satan is brilliant. He is also more motivated than us, more 1948-03_wiles_of_the_devil.jpg__700x320_q95experienced than us, and stronger than us. Thus, it is that Scripture instructs us to keep our heads on a swivel, so to speak, alert for the wiles of the devil. (Ephesians 6.11) I write this not to make you afraid, but as Paul says in a similar passage to warn us lest Satan should get an advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices. (II Corinthians 2.10)

He cannot take away our salvation, but he can and does seek to limit our effectiveness for Christ. He ambushed David with lust via Bathsheba and pride in numbering Israel. He filled Ananias’ heart with pride and greed and caused him to lie his way into an early grave. Using the tool of fear he provoked Peter to deny his Lord, and that after Jesus had clearly warned him, Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. (Luke 22.31) None of these men lost their salvation but in all of them Satan clearly gained quite an advantage over them.

I do not like to talk about Satan. It seems to me that in so doing I am giving him attention he should not have, and building him up in the minds of the saints. But I cannot allow that concern to prevent me from discussing him. He is mentioned dozens of times in Scripture. He is obviously a personality of great power actively opposed in every way to God and His work. And just as obviously, though we have no need to be afraid of him (I John 4.4), we do have a scripturally mandated need to be aware of how he works. Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world that he didn’t exist.” I cannot allow him to do so in my life or ministry.

In so saying, I should make it clear that I am not attempting to write here a series on spiritual warfare. Such a series would be beneficial, I am sure, but this series is more narrowly aimed. I intend to discuss how Satan works in attacking the tremendously important area of soul winning, witnessing, and evangelism. I have been attending church for 45 years, paying close attention for 31 of those, and pastoring for 21 of them. I have, over the years, been exposed closely to dozens of churches. In my experience there are four exceptionally difficult things to get church members to do – give sacrificially, dress modestly, do personal evangelism, and pray. It seems to me like the devil fights tooth and nail on these four points.

Harpies in the Wood of Suicides
Illustration for Dante's Inferno
Gustave Dore, 1861
Turning our attention specifically to evangelism, why? Let me attempt to furnish an answer or two. First, he does so because soul winning directly and immediately impacts the population of Heaven and hell. The psalmist tells us, The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. (Psalm 9.17) If he can decrease an individual’s or a church’s witnessing fervor he can keep people out of Heaven and in hell.

Second, he does so because in so doing he can attack the main purpose of Christ’s work and the main purpose of the church’s existence. The Apostle John in his great introduction of Jesus Christ said, And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1.5) The devil fears a praying Christian and a praying church more than he does an evangelistic one, but a Christian or a church that is not witnessing is not much of a problem for him. Such a church gathers together and preaches, literally, to the choir. No matter what they know of and study of the Word, even in depth, and no matter how honest, good, kind, humble, and faithful they are, their light is only shining in the light. Such a Christian and such a church, no matter how good they are at living, is not fulfilling the purpose for which they were created. Reaching the lost is why Jesus came. (Luke 19.10) Reaching the lost was His last and greatest command to us. (Mark 16.15) No matter what other good we are doing, if we are not doing this we are not achieving the purpose for which He came, and the purpose for which Christ saved us, personally and corporately.

Third, the devil attacks witnessing because in so doing he indirectly yet powerfully impacts the spiritual vigor of a church. The healthiest church in the New Testament was the one found in the early chapters of the book of Acts. Not coincidentally, it was also perhaps the most evangelistic church. If all a church does is focus on soul winning it becomes unbalanced. Sadly, I have seen that a time or two. But a church that does not focus on soul winning at all becomes spiritually anemic, and I have even more sadly seen that dozens of times. Every great church has several things in common, and first and foremost they are churches with a great burden and effort to preach Christ to the lost.

I liken soul winning in this respect to physical exercise. The ministry as a vocation is a curious combination of high stress and low activity. Throw into the mix our Baptist propensity for potlucks and unhealthy, overweight preaches become par for the course. One of the ways I fight that in my life is a three letter word that starts with g and ends with m. Either I go several times a week or I will die both broke and young. Exercise gets my muscles working and my blood moving. Its results continue on even after I get off the elliptical or step away from the weights. It makes me happier, healthier, and stronger. It makes me feel better. It helps me to avoid Dumbbells-PNG-Picsickness and to recover more quickly when I do get sick. It will help me live longer. It positively impacts not just the specific muscle groups I worked but my entire body, even my mental and emotional health as well.

That last paragraph is what soul winning does for a church. The devil knows that better than I do, and he expands great effort to prevent it from happening.

How does he do all of this? The entirety of this series will be an attempt to answer that question but let me give you this taste now. The devil uses a two pronged attack in two different areas. One prong is doctrinal, the other practical. Doctrinally, the statement orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy is a good one. Correct believing leads to correct living. Likewise, incorrect believing leads to incorrect living. The devil has a number of faulty doctrines that he gets people and churches to embrace, and when they do the practical result is that their soul winning is severely undermined if not eliminated. We will examine a number of these doctrines over the next couple of months. Some you may know, others may surprise you. Some are held deeply by people you respect and love. Some are held correctly when they are balanced, but held unbalanced they become damaging to the effort to build a soul winning mindset and emphasis. All of them, however, that I will mention directly impact soul winning negatively in my experience.

The second prong of attack is practical. There are certain ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that are prevalent in many people and churches the result of which is a decrease in witnessing fervor. We will deal with some of these as well.

This two pronged attack – doctrinal and practical – is aimed in two different areas: personally and corporately. If you are not a personal soul winner he will try to prevent you from starting. If you are, he will seek to get you to stop what you have started. If your church is not a soul winning church he will try to prevent it from becoming one. If it is, he will work like the devil, so to speak, to get your church’s witnessing program and emphasis to die.

This series of posts, as with most of my blog writing, first came to life as a set of lessons I taught in my own church. Frankly, as a pastor, I want to make sure that soul winning stays front and center in my church. Jack Hyles used to say, “The devil is after the fruit trees”, and he was right. What I am giving my life to build on the corner of George and Lavergne in Chicago is a fruit tree. The devil is going to come after that hammer and tongs. It well behooves me as a pastor to pay attention, to, in Christ’s parlance, watch and pray. And I suspect it would well behoove you as well.

Why should we be concerned? Lest Satan should get an advantage of us. How ought we go about that? For we are not ignorant of his devices.


  1. Not much to say but to agree wholeheartedly
    Bob Patton

  2. Agreed, soul-winning is a Christian discipline that needs to be exercised in one's life in order to be spiritually healthy and fruitful. The LORD has been strengthening me in this area with a solemn and eternal perspective of its importance. Thank you for dedicating a series to "Enemies of Evangelism". Lest Satan should get an advantage of us (me); for we (I will not be) are not ignorant of his devices. (II Corinthians 2.10)

  3. Looking forward to this series. Not only to reaffirm what I already believe, but to see things that maybe I had not before.