Monday, July 11, 2022

Anonymous Asks (205)

“Does Satan have to get God’s permission to attack Christians?”

You know how this goes: “I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news. Which do you want first?”

Good News and Bad News

Let’s go with the good. God certainly offers a significant level of protection to those who serve him. Satan complained that God had “put a hedge” around Job and his household, preventing Satan from changing Job’s circumstances or revoking the blessings God had given him. Likewise, the Lord Jesus informed Peter that Satan had demanded to sift the disciples like wheat. That sure sounds like an attack to me … but an attack Satan could not have initiated unilaterally.

That’s good, right?

On the other hand, while it appears from these verses that Satan may not be able to change our circumstances for the worse without permission, that does not mean Christians enjoy perpetual protection from temptation any more than our Lord did. Peter compared Satan to a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”, and counseled sobriety and watchfulness as a remedy. The Lord Jesus told his disciples, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” They were certainly not exempt from that.

Doing Our Bit

If we find ourselves encouraged by the fact that Satan requires permission to unleash his worst on us, we ought to temper our enthusiasm by reminding ourselves of our responsibility to do our bit: to flee temptation as Joseph did, to remain watchful, to pray without ceasing and not to underestimate our opponent.

Satan may also attack indirectly. The world around us bears the image of the father of lies. He doesn’t have to get personally involved to tempt me. Nor is the ascetic safe just because he removes himself from much of the world’s influence; the flesh is still with us, and temptation can arise from within our own hearts and minds.

Defining Terms

So can Satan attack Christians without God’s permission? No, but we must define “Christian” the way scripture does. Merely associating with believers is no help against Satan’s predations. Judas spent three years in the company of the Lord Jesus and a group of his closest followers, and the result was that “Satan entered into him.” Doing what Christians do, going where Christians go, and even behaving like a believer are no substitutes for obedient faith in Christ.

It also depends on how we define “attack”. We need always to be wary of being tempted, but the apostle Paul reminds us that with temptation, God always provides a way of escape. He is faithful, and never allows us to be tempted beyond our ability.

To me, that’s even better than Job’s hedge.

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