Who did it? Satan or God?
We’ve been looking at Peter’s counsel to us with regard to how we are to respond to the reality of Satan’s schemes and his persistent assault against Christian men and women. Continue reading . . .
We’ve been looking at Peter’s counsel to us with regard to how we are to respond to the reality of Satan’s schemes and his persistent assault against Christian men and women. He writes:
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:8-11).
This brings us face to face with a real spiritual and theological problem. On several occasions in 1 Peter we are told that it is God who orchestrates our suffering as a way of refining and purifying our faith. See, for example, 1 Peter 1:6-7; 2:21; 3:14,17; 4:12-19 (esp. v. 19!).
So who is responsible for the suffering Christians endure: Satan or God? Yes! The answer is: Both!
Although Satan and God work at cross purposes, they can both desire the same event to occur while hoping to accomplish through it antithetical results. Satan wanted to see Jesus crucified, as did God the Father (Isa. 53:10; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28), but for a different reason. The same is true in the case of Job. What Satan had hoped would destroy Job (or at least provoke him to blasphemy), God used to strengthen him.
Or consider Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Although we can't be sure, it seems likely that the demon was not acting consciously in the service of God. Most likely by God’s secret and sovereign providence this demonic spirit was dispatched to Paul intent on oppressing and thereby hindering (or even destroying) his ministry. The divine design, however, was to keep Paul from sinful pride and to utilize this affliction to accomplish a higher spiritual good (cf. 12:9-10).
“When Christians suffer, the devil's design is destructive pain; but God's design—in the same suffering—is constructive purification and holiness and power. The devil aims to devour. God aims to empower and purify and prepare for glory” (John Piper).
Or let’s take the case of Peter himself. We read in Luke 22:31 – “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Clearly, Satan is unable to act outside the parameters established by the will of God. He must first ask permission of God.
Satan's intent in "sifting" Peter was obviously malicious. It should be noted that Satan evidently obtained permission to test all of the disciples. Observe Jesus' use of the plural "you" (meaning, all the disciples) in Luke 22:31). He wanted to destroy Peter by inciting him to deny Jesus. But God's intent in permitting Satan to do it was altogether different. God's purposes with Peter were to instruct him, humble him, perhaps discipline him, and certainly to use him as an example to others of both human arrogance and the possibility of forgiveness and restoration. The point is simply that often we cannot easily say "Satan did it" or "God did it". In cases such as this, both are true (with the understanding that God's will is sovereign, supreme, and overriding), but their respective goals are clearly opposite.
This passage teaches us that Satan can subject the followers of Jesus to severe tests that are designed to destroy their faith and result in utter spiritual failure. But Satan is always limited in what he can do by what God ordains or permits. It is clear from what we read here that Satan cannot gain ultimate victory over those for whom Jesus prays.
What, then, does it mean when Peter commands us to “resist” the Devil? James says almost the same thing in 4:7 – “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” It certainly doesn’t mean to fear him! Rather we resist him by adoring ourselves with the spiritual armor of Ephesians 6, by praying (both for ourselves and by soliciting the prayers of others on our behalf), through worship, by study and meditation on God’s Word, by verbally rebuking the enemy, by consistently living an obedient and pure life, and by standing firm in our faith (v. 9).
Notice that Peter explicitly identifies one primary way of resisting the Devil: it is by remaining “firm in your faith” (v. 9a).
What Peter has in mind is our on-going confidence and trust in the greatness and power and faithfulness and goodness of God to do all for us that he has promised he will do. It is faith in the truth of the gospel!
In Colossians 1:23 Paul speaks of “not shifting from the hope of the gospel!” What Satan wants more than anything else is to shake your confidence in God, to instill doubt in your heart about his goodness, to cause you to question whether he is worthy of your trust, and the way he does this is through your suffering.
The solution, the response that will send him running from your presence, is unshakeable faith in the gospel! Unyielding confidence that Christ’s atoning death for your sins has forever secured your acceptance with the Father. Persevering trust that all God has accomplished for you in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus will forever keep you safe in the loving arms of your heavenly Father. When this grips your soul and warms your heart and energizes your mind and spirit, Satan doesn’t stand a chance!
Perhaps Peter especially has in mind what he then says in vv. 10-11 concerning God and his purpose in your life:
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:10-11).
Observe the emphatic focus on who God is, what he is like, and what he has promised to do for you: He is the God of all grace! He has called you into his eternal glory in Christ! He will himself restore anything that Satan may have robbed from you! He will himself confirm you so that all doubts about your relationship are banished! He will himself strengthen you in your weakness and enable you to stand! He will himself establish you immovable and eternal in relationship with him through Christ!
If you ever find yourself saying: “But I haven’t performed enough good works! I haven’t repented quickly enough! I haven’t lived up to God’s expectations of me! I’m not spiritual enough!” Immediately call to mind that here God identifies and describes himself as the God of all grace! Your relationship to God isn’t ultimately based on your goodness but on his grace!
And if that weren’t enough, Peter seals it with his declaration of praise in v. 11 – “To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” The word “dominion” means strength, power, the capacity to accomplish one’s will and to triumph over all one’s enemies. God is stronger and more powerful than Satan and no weapon formed by the Devil against God’s people can ultimately prevail.
“This,” says Peter, “is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!” (1 Peter 5:12).