Theological Primer for Counselors: Satan & Demons

satanWe continue our brief series covering the ten basic categories of theology and relating them to our walk with the Lord and to our personal ministry of the Word of God to one another. Today, let’s think about Satan and his hateful work.

The Doctrine of Satan & His Demons

Relative to the personal ministry of the Word it seems most fitting to focus on the work of Satan and his demons as they oppose the work of the gospel in evangelism and as they oppose believers in their walk of faith in Christ. First, in relation to evangelism we must accept the reality of Satan’s unrelenting strategy to oppose the ministry of making disciples of Jesus Christ. The Bible refers to all unbelievers as children of the devil (1 John 3:10), born into his family because of the guilty, rebellious nature inherited from Adam (Rom. 5:12). Salvation is nothing short of a divine rescue mission whereby sinners are plucked out of the devil’s grasping claws and graciously placed into the family of God and the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we are accepted (1 John 3:2; Colossians 1:13; Romans 15:7). Thankfully, because of the authority delegated to us by Christ (Matthew 28:18-20), we have a mission that is not dependent on human resources. Rather, the Great Command to make disciples is accompanied by the authority to carry it out. Thanks be to God that the resurrected Jesus has rendered the devil powerless, and that His delegated authority will grant us the victory (Hebrews 2:14; 1 Corinthians 15:57)!

Second, in relation to the personal ministry of counseling one another as believers, we must accept that progress in the ongoing work of discipleship is at the expense of much effort. In Colossians 1:28-29, the apostle describes this work as “striving,” which refers to a wrestling match. Its Greek root, agonizomai, from which we get “agony” and “agonize,” means to exert great effort. The Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament says that this word especially emphasizes “Paul’s missionary work, with all its attendant toil, its tireless exertion, and its struggles against all manner of setbacks and opposition.” Just a few verses later, Paul mentions the “struggle” he has had on the Colossians’ behalf (Colossians 2:1); his spiritual struggle for them must have included prayer (1:9–12). Therefore, ministry in the name of Christ is a constant spiritual struggle for the well-being of those under our care.

Knowing this, we must recognize that a large part of this struggle is spiritual warfare. Though we may sometimes feel like we are fighting people (often the very ones we love and want to help the most), our actual struggle “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). As we strive to come alongside others in order to help them to overcome sin and grow in their obedience to Christ we certainly don’t want to give Satan more credit than he deserves. However, we also want to guard against a shallow understanding of the conflict that is presently raging in the invisible world and thereby be tempted to find more humanly acceptable explanations for spiritual struggles, as D. A. Carson challenges us:

The shallowness of spiritual conflict in the West owes something, no doubt, to centuries of Christian influence and the relentless exposure of superstition. But, less honorably, it also owes something, nowadays, to raw secularism, and a pervasive world view that thinks of all reality on a naturalistic plane. In other words, our failure to perceive more of what is going on in the demonic realm may sometimes owe less to our Christian heritage than to our deep indebtedness to a culture that assigns sociological, psychological, and economic reasons for everything.

If we are convinced that all of our problems can be understood and explained on a human level—without recognition of the very-present opposition of supernatural evil, we are extremely foolish, naïve at best. There is undoubtedly more spiritual warfare against those committed to ministering grace and truth to others than we realize. Our enemy has an agenda: it is simply to devour disciples of Jesus (1 Peter 5:8). We must be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Ephesians 6:10).

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