30/8/2020 [Thematic Message 113] www.lifechurchmissions.com
Recognize the Hidden Works of the Devil <Mk 1:21-26; 1 Sam 16:14-16; Jn 13:26-27; Ac 5:1-6; Mt 12:25,28-29>
Prelude: In the recent Zhongyuan Festival, which is also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival by the Chinese, many people worship the devil. They do not know what they are worshipping. For believers, many of them have little understanding of the work of the devil. In fact, the true colors and works of the devil are more profound than what people know and feel. When people think that they experienced some interference from the devil, actually behind it is his more latent deception, and it affects their present practical living all the way to their eternal destiny. What we see most common is that because people of the world are deceived by the devil, they do not fear what they ought to fear but they continue to be very afraid of what they ought not to fear, and because they are afraid of these mysterious things, they continue to find methods to resolve these fears. During this Ghost Festival (the seventh lunar month), some people are afraid to go out, they burn incense to worship their ancestors, or see some unusual “things”, such that they even have the tendency to engage in religious rituals or exorcism to cast out demons. The souls of such people are mostly bound by the devil throughout their lives. They and their family members are unable to have concerns on matters relating to eternity and the soul such that they cannot come before the only God. Their souls are so tightly bound and blinded by the devil and his works that they are unable and unwilling to receive God's salvation. They can only be attracted to things of the flesh, and they cannot understand spiritual things. They can be afraid of things that appear terrifying or very strange feelings, but they are not afraid that their sins will be judged. They are afraid of their sins being discovered by others, but they are not afraid that their sins will arouse God's wrath. In fact, the most serious bondage of the human soul is when a person is ignorant of sin and does not know the judgment due to sin. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit of knowing good and evil, their hearts immediately felt the shame brought about by sin, and they sensed each other's self-centred heart and hence they covered themselves to hide from each other. But as we move toward an era full of sin, we will see that people today are insensitive toward sin. Their hearts are relatively numb to greed, sexual immorality, hatred, vanity, etc. Modern people like to describe sin as a negligence. Negligence is an intellectual mistake (like treating one plus one as three), but a moral mistake is a matter of breaking God's law and thus offending God. A generation that has no feeling toward man's sin and God's salvation is a generation in which the work of the devil is most thriving. Today, even believers' understanding of the devil's works is very superstitious. They mostly use their own sensory experience to say that they are being attacked, controlled by evil spirits, or that they feel that the devil has entered them. Therefore, once they see someone behaving abnormally, they will bring the person to set him free and heal him. For some believers, as soon as they talk about Satan's work, they get fixated on some spiritual experiences that no one knows about. They often ask, why do some people always have hallucinations even after believing in the Lord, and are also disturbed, or are like being possessed. Thus, some believers ask, can a believer be possessed by Satan? In principle, we know that it is impossible, but in reality, we also need to know that sometimes, we cannot distinguish by sensory experience whether a person is possessed by the devil or is disturbed by the devil. The more we use our sensory experience to deal with our spiritual enemies, the more we will be deceived. God gives us the truth to explain the work of evil spirits operating in the dark. Some pastors do not clearly preach the truth of God, and they often like to cast out demons and do the work of deliverance and healing. But gradually, they think they have some spiritual gifts and become proud. Sometimes, when such works of the devil enter the church, we find that it is not one or two persons in church, who seem to lose their mind and hence get emotional, who need attention, but many in the whole congregation have entered into dissensions, dissatisfaction, and selfish ambitions. The spirit of doubting, complaining and accusing one another is already working in the entire church. The work of the devil which blinds people's minds, influences people's emotions, and weakens people's will has already taken place in many churches. If the church does not walk correctly in the way of God, and if the whole church does not repent in the face of God, the church will gradually begin to split. In the end, this causes even more damage to the church. This is often the consequence of knowing the work of the devil in mysterious ways. Today, we must clearly understand the hidden work of the devil from the Bible, and do not use our own senses and limited experiences to explain his work, such that we are even more deceived.
1. The devil’s hidden work of differing levels
1）Demon’s work of possessing a person
In <Mk 1:21-26>, we see a man being possessed by an impure spirit. His mind seemed to be controlled, such that he cried out and spoke loudly before the crowd. However, the words he cried out under the control of the evil spirit within him were very clear. Here, we see that what the impure spirit said through this man were all correct, yet those were certainly not the words which God wanted to say now. Satan does not work according to God’s will and time. At that moment, it was still in the early stage of Jesus’ ministry. What He wanted to do then was to bring people back to God’s word through His teachings, instead of wanting people to focus on Him. However, before the time of God is up, Satan very cunningly wanted to shift everyone’s attention to human (Jesus). Similarly, a person who is controlled by the devil will always subtly oppose God and mess up the timetable of His work. Most cannot control their temperament when they hear some very strong words of God or see important work of God about to be accomplished. Most can speak or act normally and rationally, like the slave girl who had a spirit in Philippi and disturbed Paul <Ac 16:16-18>. In normal days, she could even help her owners earn money. However, behind what the demon-possessed persons say or do, their entire motive is to oppose what God wants to do now. Thus, we should not think that those who are demon-possessed are people who are in a trance or who lose their minds. The work of the devil is hidden. Because he knows that the work of opposing God is more effective when it is hidden. For some other people, it is when everyone receives grace from God’s word, then they suddenly speak in tongues, or speak prophecies, or have some unusual movements, but they bring people’s attention away from God’s word.
2）Demon’s work of tormenting people
In <1 Sam 16:14-16>, we see that the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. Saul’s attendants could see the state of him being tormented by the evil spirit. Perhaps he did not have a sound mind, could not concentrate or sleep, his temper was unusual or his temperament was violent, etc. These were what people who were close to him could detect. Because of this, his relationship with people around him would gradually break down. Eventually, he committed suicide. However, we know that in the process of Saul being tormented by evil spirit, he could still live a normal life, and could fight against his enemies, the Philistines. Yet, he was constantly bound by unwarranted fears and jealousy, such that he kept wanting to kill David whom the Lord anointed as king. Then, was Saul saved? That is what the Bible is silent about. Hence, we should not guess whether Christians will be tormented in this way. This is also not impossible. When a person is very severely dragged away by his own evil desire and enticed <Jas 1:14>, or has been giving the devil a foothold for too long <Ep 4:27>, he may end up losing his mind, and driving away people who want to bless and help him. Although some people are not possessed by the devil, we can see that whatever they do or say keep ruining themselves and the lives of those whom they love. They seem to receive needless insinuations, fearing this and doubting that, or always feel that people want to harm them. They are easily jealous of others, people also find it hard to live with them. This is the state of a person being tormented by demon.
3）Demon’s work of entering human heart
In the example of Judas, we see Satan entering his heart <Lk 22:3-4; Jn 13:26-27>, Judas then immediately went to do what he wanted to do. Then Judas did the evilest thing among all evils, which was to betray the Son of Man, and handed Him over to the priests. Among all the sins, no sin is graver than this sin, but Judas did it without hesitation. Why does the Bible say here, “Satan entered Judas?” Of course, we know that Judas all along did not believe that the Son of Man, Jesus, is the Only Son sent by God. Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, He also gradually stopped performing miracles, and lost His fame. However, at the Last Supper, when Jesus gave the bread to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot (when He showed him grace), Satan entered into Judas. This was something which happened in the spirit, but in Judas’ heart, he rejected the grace the Son of Man had extended to him, and immediately decided to betray the Son of Man. After that, everything he did was without any hesitation in betraying the Son of Man. Because Satan entered into his heart, he totally could not sense how evil a thing he was doing. Even if he did not know Christ, he also harmed his teacher, or did wrong to a good person. Once he came back to his senses, he hanged and killed himself. Sometimes, we hear people say, “When I let certain person pray over me, evil spirit entered me.” In fact, the entering of evil spirit into a person’s heart is not some kind of feeling, like the feeling of having one’s hair stand on its end, or the body feeling unwell. But that is when a person is convinced in his heart, and resolves to do an extremely evil thing in the eyes of God. He does not feel there is anything wrong or inappropriate in what he is doing. Perhaps such a person is some terrorist, shooting and killing many people, or he betrays the church of the Lord, and hurts many of the Lord’s people. That can be seen from what he thinks, says, does, decides, and the things he carries out. That is not losing his mind, but instead, he has set his mind to do evil. Can such a person be redeemed? Unless God bestows grace, to make him repent and be saved. This is like Saul who resolved to go Damascus to persecute believers. On the road to Damascus, he saw the great light from God, which was also the ray of redemption. After that, we see Paul received great grace. He not only awakened from the evil thought of killing Christians, but later on he also experienced many trials and sufferings for the sake of the gospel. And the more he suffered, the more he saw God’s great love <Ro 8:35-39>. Probably in his inner heart, he knew that he used to be a man so severely bound by the devil, yet he had received such great grace. Thus, he said that he was the worst of all sinners, yet he received such mercy! <1 Ti 1:15-16>. Some people always let people lay hands over them to cast out demons, and even feel they are liberated, but it cannot be observed how their lives have the same transformation that Paul went through, and they do not have a resolute heart to follow the Lord. Today, there are many people who mystify things and think they are driving out demons, yet they are in fact being deceived by demons. They never truly understand the work of demons and have never met God.
4) Demon’s work of filling the human heart
<Ac 5:1-6> talks about the most common work of Satan in the church today. It is recorded after the Holy Spirit has descended. In the illumination of the Holy Spirit, this passage clearly exposes the work of Satan. It talks about a couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who died because they lied to the Holy Spirit. At that time, the Holy Spirit prompted some believers to sell their land and houses and bring the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, so that it could be distributed to anyone who had need. This couple also promised to do so, but they kept back part of the money for themselves and put the rest at the apostles’ feet. In this, their sin was not just keeping part of the money for themselves, but trying to show others that they had given their all. What is worse than greed was their lust for man’s approval. At that time, Peter was guided by the Holy Spirit to know what they have done, and he spoke harshly to Ananias, “How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?” Here, Peter did not ask why they lied to the apostles or church, but why they lied to the Holy Spirit. They had not deceived man, they had deceived God. What Peter wanted to say is, “Holy Spirit clearly prompted you to bring the money of the sales here, and after it was sold, isn’t the money at your disposal. What made you think of doing such a thing?” Here, it’s important to note, “Satan filled your heart”, “made you think of doing such a thing”, therefore “you kept some of the money for yourself”. Here, Satan, man’s thoughts and behaviors come together. Indeed, Satan can fill our hearts, he can even influence those who serve in church, but he cannot help us to sin. The one who sinned is us, therefore we must bear responsibility for our own sins. At that time, Peter did not curse or judge Ananias. He only exposed Ananias’s heart which was filled by Satan and his actions, it was God who carried out the judgment, causing him to fall down and die. When explaining this passage, some pastors or teachers may conclude that Ananias and Sapphira were not true believers, and such a thing will only happen to non-believers. Actually, the Bible is not clear on this, so this explanation is unconvincing. Such a thing is not happening in churches today not because there is no one lying to the Holy Spirit, but because God is merciful. Furthermore, the early church was extremely holy then. The Holy Spirit was greatly poured out onto the apostles, and through their teachings and miraculous acts, believers could witness God’s presence and glory, therefore no uncleanness or lies could remain in the church. Actually, when a church brings out the glory of the holy God, the work of Satan and human’s sins cannot remain hidden for long, but instead they will be quickly exposed. However, if a church is filled with unholy things, and Satan has filled the hearts of those who preach as well as the rest of the congregation, then Satan’s work will remain hidden within the church and he will continue to carry out even more destructive work. Therefore, in the church, mental problems, broken families, illnesses, and various issues of adultery, unforgiveness, selfish ambition and divisions, are deeply hidden in the whole church. Many leaders like Ananias and Sapphira will continue to boast of their spirituality, faith, gifts, accomplishments, knowledge, deeds and receive the praise and following of many people. Therefore, the whole church will be full of hypocrisy and full of lies to the Holy Spirit. In this, God’s people are helpless and harassed and some will fall into sin. This is the devil’s scheme of destroying the church.
2. Drive out demons by the Spirit of God, so that the kingdom of God can come upon the church <Mt 12:25, 28, 29>
1）Use the truth to expose the work of the devil, so that people can follow God
The devil only has one enemy, who is God. There is only one focus in his work, which is to hinder people from knowing the gospel. Thus, the target of his attack is surely the church, especially the church pulpit. Therefore, when we explain the work of the devil, we must not lose the focus, and end up leading people to mystical knowledge and experiences. If that is the case, then we have fallen deeper into the devil’s scheme. The church pulpit must clearly preach God’s full gospel, so that believers can get into a faith living in which they can always follow the Lord in a very normal manner. Hence, a church which very clearly knows the work of the devil will all the more stay away from those mystical movements, but will illuminate believers’ minds through truth teachings, so that in their living, they will have loving affection for the Lord as well as the wisdom to submit to God.
2）Having heard and believed God’s word, people can be conscious of their sins and repent
When we see the devil’s work above, we will realize that the work of the devil is directly related to human sins and selfish desires. Today, many sermons on God’s word do not clearly explain these sins which can give the devil a foothold. Instead, they keep covering up human transgressions with many moving and indirect words. When a person cannot introspect the state of his inner heart through the word of God, after he attends church, he is not cut to the heart and also cannot see areas in which he should submit, this means that the uncleanness in his spirit is not yet cleansed. The disturbances and hints of the demons are still present in his heart. However, if after hearing the word of God, a person is cut to the heart and there is repentance, then it will surely be shown through the perspective to have compassion on one another and the love for others. That is also the moment in which certain manipulative forces (strong man) in our lives are bound. In fact, after the matter of Ananias and Sapphira ended, great fear came upon the whole church. Think about it, when the entire church has such fears, how can unclean spirits work?
3）Commissioned by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel
Only when saints make concerted efforts to preach the gospel by the power given by the Holy Spirit, then the kingdom of darkness can be shaken. Many a times, church miracles only remain within the worship sanctuary. After believers attend church and interact with one another, their hearts find relief, but after going back home or to their workplace, they still lead the same powerless life. In fact, if we all seek the Holy Spirit’s help every day, seizing the opportunities and time that the Lord has given us, we can do great things for God’s kingdom. Perhaps among the people whom we visit, things we do and the environment we are in contact with, we can meet souls which the Lord has prepared. Let us not lead a faith living that is just getting by, and let us also not choose a relaxed living in this life. However, we should obey what the Lord taught, proclaiming as we go the gospel of the kingdom of heaven <Mt 10:7>, or as what Paul said to preach the word in season or out of season <2 Ti 4:2>. As such, no matter where we go, we will bring the kingdom of God there.