Victory Over Sin
We have already remarked that probably no character in the Old Testament had a clearer vision of the authority and power of God’s Word than the psalmist David. For an introduction to our present subject, victory over sin and Satan, we may turn once again to the words of David.
Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You (Ps. 119:11).
The Hebrew word here translated “hidden” means, more exactly, “to store up like a treasure.” David did not mean he had hidden God’s Word away so that its presence could never be detected. Rather he meant he had stored up God’s Word in the safest place, reserved for things he treasured most, so he might have it available for immediate use in every time of need.
In Psalm 17:4 David again expresses the keeping power of God’s Word.
Concerning the works of men, By the word of Your lips, I have kept myself from the paths of the destroyer.
Here is a word of direction concerning our participation in “the works of men” – human activities and social interaction. Some of these activities are safe, wholesome, acceptable to God; others are dangerous to the soul and contain the hidden snares of the destroyer. (“The destroyer” is one of many names in Scripture for the devil.) How are we to distinguish between those who are safe and wholesome and those which are spiritually dangerous? The answer is, by the application of God’s Word.
One often hears questions such as these:
Is it right for Christian’s to dance? to smoke? to gamble? and so on. The answer to all such questions must be decided not by accepted social practice, nor by accepted church tradition, but by the application of God’s Word.
For instance, I remember that a group of women students once asked me, as an ordained minister, if there was any harm in their attending dances at the college where they were being trained as teachers. In reply, I did not offer them my own opinion or the regulations laid down by a mission board. Instead, I asked them to turn with me to two passages in the Bible.
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Col. 3:17).
I pointed out that these two passages of Scripture contain two great principles which are to decide and direct all that we do as a professing Christian.
- First, we must do all things to the glory of God.
- Second, we must do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God by Him.
Therefore, anything that we can do to the glory of God and in the name of the Lord Jesus is good and acceptable; anything that we cannot do to the glory of God and in the name of the Lord Jesus is wrong and harmful.
It was my responsibility, as I saw it, to give those young women basic scriptural principles. Thereafter it was their responsibility, not mine, to apply those principles to their particular situation.
The Scriptures teach very plainly that the body of the Christian, having been redeemed from the dominion of Satan by the blood of Jesus, is the temple for the Holy Spirit to dwell in and is, therefore, to be kept clean and holy.
For example, Paul says in 1 Cor. 3:16-17:
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are .
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
For this is the will of God, your sanctification . . . that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel [that is, the earthen vessel of his physical body] in sanctification and honour (1 Thess. 4:3-4).
Based on these and other similar passages, many professing Christian’s have refrained from using tobacco in any form. Until fairly recently it was often suggested by unbelievers that this refusal by Christian’s to indulge in tobacco was merely a kind of foolish, old-fashioned fad, akin to fanaticism. However, modern medical research has demonstrated, beyond all possibility of doubt, that smoking – particularly of cigarettes – is a direct contributory cause of lung cancer. The medical associations of both the United States have endorsed this conclusion. In the United States this year there will be an estimated 148,945 in 2016 deaths from lung cancer (American Cancer Society). Another undisputed fact, proved by experience and endorsed by medical science, is that death through lung cancer is usually lingering and painful.
In the face of facts such as these, the refusal of Christian’s to smoke can no longer be dismissed as foolishness or fanaticism. If foolishness can be charged to anyone today, it is certainly not to the Christian but to the person who regularly wastes substantial sums of money to gratify a lust which greatly increases the possibility of a painful death through lung cancer. And if foolishness can be charged to the victims of this lust, surely nothing short of wickedness can be charged to those who, by every means of persuasion and modern publicity, wilfully seek, for the sake of their financial profit, to bring their fellow human beings under the cruel bondage of this degrading and destroying habit.
Almost the same that has been said about tobacco smoking applies equally to excessive indulgence in alcohol.
Again, a majority of sincere professing Christian’s have through the years refrained from this kind of indulgence based on the Bible’s warnings against it. It is a well-established fact that excessive indulgence in alcohol is a major contributing factor in many kinds of mental and physical disease and also in the modern toll of traffic accidents.
Here again, as in the case of smoking, millions of Christian’s have been preserved from harm and disaster by their practical application of the Bible’s teaching.
A new, “modern” plague – AIDS – came upon the world in the 1980s. Christian’s who refrain from immorality protect themselves and their children from the devastation of that disease. On the other hand, homosexuality, so often touted as an “alternative life-style,” has proved to be an alternative death-style. Christian’s who have been protected from these evils can surely echo, with deep thankfulness, the words of David.
Concerning the works of men,
By the word of Your lips,
I have kept myself from the paths of the destroyer (Ps. 17:4).
Victory Over Satan
Not merely does God’s Word, applied in this way, give victory over sin. It is also the divinely appointed weapon that gives victory over Satan himself. The apostle Paul commands:
And take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17).
Thus, God’s Word is an indispensable weapon in Christian warfare. All the other items of the Christian armor listed in Ephesians 6 – the girdle, the breastplate, the shoes, the shield, and the helmet – are intended for defense. Many spiritually put these on daily as a ritual against satan. But the truth of this verse is the fact that this pertains to a lifestyle. The only weapon of attack is the Spirit’s sword, the Word of God.
Without a thorough knowledge of God’s Word and how to apply it, a Christian has no weapon of attack, no weapon with which he can assault Satan and the powers of darkness and put them to flight. Given this, it is not surprising that Satan has throughout the history of the Christian church used every means and device within his power to keep Christian’s ignorant of the true nature, authority, and power of God’s Word.
In the use of God’s Word as a weapon, the Lord Jesus Jesus Himself is the Christian’s supreme example. Satan brought three main temptations against Jesus, and Jesus met and defeated each temptation of Satan with the same weapon – the sword of God’s written Word (see Luke 4:1-13). For in each case Jesus began His answer with the phrase “It is written” and then quoted directly from the Scriptures.
There is significance in the two different phrases which Luke uses in this account of Satan’s temptation of Jesus and its consequences. In Luke 4:1 he says:
Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit . . . was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.
But at the end of the temptations, in Luke 4:14, we read:
Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee.
Before His encounter with Satan, Jesus was already “filled with the Holy Spirit.” But it was only after Jesus had encountered and defeated Satan with the sword of God’s Word that He was able to commence His God-appointed ministry “in the power of the Spirit.” There is a distinction therefore between being filled with the Spirit and being able to minister in the power of the Spirit. Jesus only entered into the power of the Spirit after He had first used the sword of God’s Word to defeat Satan’s attempt to turn Him aside from the exercise of His Spirit-empowered ministry.
This is a lesson that needs to be learned by Christian’s today. Many Christian’s who have experienced a perfectly scriptural infilling of the Holy Spirit never go on to serve God in the power of the Spirit. The reason is that they have failed to follow the example of Jesus. They have never learned to wield the sword of God’s Word in such a way as to defeat Satan and repulse his opposition to the exercise of the ministry for which God filled them with the Holy Spirit.
It may safely be said that no person has a greater and more urgent need to study the Word of God than the Christian’s who have newly been filled with the Holy Spirit. Yet, sad to say, such Christian’s often seem to imagine that being filled with the Spirit is somehow a substitute for the diligent study and application of God’s Word. In reality, the very opposite is true.
No other item of a soldier’s armour is any substitute for his sword, and no matter how thoroughly he may be armed at all other points, a soldier without his sword is in grave danger. So it is with the Christian’s. No other spiritual equipment or experience is any substitute for a thorough knowledge of God’s Word, and no matter how thoroughly he may be equipped in all other respects, a Christian’s without the sword of God’s Word is always in grave danger.
The early Christian’s of the apostolic age, though often simple and uneducated, certainly followed the example of their Lord in learning to know and use God’s Word as a weapon of offense in the intense spiritual conflict brought upon them by their profession of faith in Jesus. For example, the apostle John in his advanced years wrote to the young Christian men who had grown up under his instruction:
I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one (1 John 2:14).
John makes three statements about these young men:
1) they are strong,
2) they have God’s Word abiding in them,
3) they have overcome the wicked one (Satan).
The second of these two statements are related to the first and the third, as the cause is related to the effect. The reason why these young Christian men were strong and able to overcome Satan was that they had God’s Word abiding in them. It was God’s Word within them that gave them their spiritual strength.
We need to ask ourselves this question: How many of the young Christian people in our churches today are strong and have overcome the devil? If we do not see many young Christian people today who manifest this kind of spiritual strength and victory, the reason is not in doubt. It is simply this: The cause which produces these effects is not there.
The only source of such strength and victory is a thorough, abiding knowledge of God’s Word. Christian young people who are not thoroughly instructed in God’s Word can never be strong and overcoming in their experience.
We are today in grave danger of underrating the spiritual capacity of young people and treating them in a manner that is altogether too childish. There is even a tendency to create in young people today the impression that God has provided for them some special kind of Christianity with lesser demands and lower standards than those which God imposes upon adults.
In this connection, Solomon made a very relevant and penetrating remark.
For childhood and youth are vanity (Eccl. 11:10).
In other words, childhood and youth are merely fleeting, external appearances which in no way alter the abiding spiritual realities that concern all souls alike.
William Booth’s daughter, Catherine Booth-Clibborn, expressed a similar thought when she said, “There is no sex in the soul.” The deep, abiding spiritual realities upon which Christian’sity is based are in no way affected by differences of age or sex. Christian’sity is based upon such qualities as repentance, faith, obedience, self-sacrifice, devotion. These qualities are the same for men and women, boys and girls, alike.
It is sometimes suggested that the way to meet this need of thorough scriptural teaching for Christian young people is to send them to Bible colleges. However, this proposed remedy can be accepted only with two qualifications.
The first qualification, must be stated that there is an increasing tendency at present, even among evangelical or full-gospel Bible colleges, to devote less and less time to the actual study of the Bible and more and more time to other secular studies.
Paul warned the Colossians:
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men (Col. 2:8).
Paul also warned Timothy:
O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust [that is, the truth of God’s Word], avoiding the profane and vain babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge – by professing it, some have strayed concerning the faith (1 Tim. 6:20-21).
These warnings need to be repeated today. In many cases, a young person can complete a course at a modern Bible college and come away with inadequate knowledge of the Bible’s teachings and how to apply them practically.
The second qualification we must make is that no Bible college course, however, sound and thorough it may be, can ever exonerate the pastors of local churches from their duty to provide all the members of their congregations with regular, systematic training in God’s Word.
The local church is the central point in the whole New Testament plan for scriptural instruction, and no other institution can ever usurp the local church’s function. The apostles and Christian’s of the New Testament had no other institution for giving scriptural instruction except for the local church. Yet they were more successful in their task than we are today.
Other institutions, such as Bible colleges, may provide special instruction to supplement the teaching done in the local churches, but they can never take their place. The most desperate need of the great majority of local churches today is not more organization or better programs or more activities. It is simply this: thorough, practical, regular instruction in the basic truths of God’s Word and how to apply them in every aspect of the Christian life.
Only by this means can the church of Jesus, as a whole, rise in strength, administer in Jesus’s name the victory of Calvary and accomplish the task committed to her by her Lord and Master.
This accords with the picture in Revelation of a victorious church at the close of this age.
And they [the professing Christian’s] overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony (Rev. 12:11).
Here are revealed the three elements of victory:
- the blood,
- the Word,
- our testimony.
The blood is the token and seal of Jesus’s finished work upon the cross and of all that this makes available to us of blessing and power and victory. Through the Word, we come to know and understand all that Jesus’s blood has purchased for us. Finally, through testifying to that which the Word reveals concerning the blood, we make Jesus’s victory over Satan real and effectual in our personal experience.
As we study this divine program of victory over Satan, we see once again that the Word occupies a central position. Without proper knowledge of the Word, we cannot understand the true merits and power of Jesus’s blood, and thus our testimony as Christian’s lacks real conviction and authority. The whole of God’s program for His people centers around the knowledge of His Word and the ability to apply it. Without this knowledge, the church finds herself today in the same condition as Israel in Hosea’s day, concerning whom the Lord declared:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you (Hos. 4:6).
A church that rejects the knowledge of God’s Word faces the certainty of rejection by God Himself and destruction at the hands of her great adversary, the devil.