GOD USES SATAN TO JUDGE THE UNCONVERTED
Now that we know that Satan is limited by God’s power, we might think that God would confine his role to relatively few battles on earth: an occasional burst of flurry here, an attack there. Many people are startled to discover that Satan is allowed to cause spiritual blindness throughout the world in the minds of those who will not embrace the good news of the gospel. Interestingly, Paul wrote that our gospel is veiled to those who are perishing, “in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
If that doesn’t convince you that Satan is allowed to stifle the ability of the unsaved to hear the gospel, then consider the words of Christ. He said the Word of God is like a seed planted on different kinds of soils. One of these soils is so hard that the seed cannot penetrate at all. Here is Christ’s explanation: “These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them” (Mark 4:15). He can take some thoughts out of their minds!
What is God’s purpose in this work of the enemy? It is to affirm that all of us serve a god of some kind. If we are not united with the true God through Christ, we will be blinded by the false god, Satan. We must walk in the light or be overcome by the darkness. Those who harden their hearts find them to be doubly hardened.
This blindness, however, is subject to the will and purposes of God. In the case of those who believe, God overcomes their blindness with the light of the gospel, and there is nothing the devil can do about it. A thousand devils cannot keep a soul from believing in Christ if God has chosen to grant such a one the gift of life. This power was the imagery that fired the imagination of Charles Wesley when he wrote.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
What is our role in helping people “see the light”? The answer is to share the good news of the gospel with them. Paul says that this message is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). We must rely on the Holy Spirit to do what we cannot; Christ assured us that those who were given to Him by the Father would indeed come to Him and be received (John 6:35).
That Satan is given a measure of power in the minds of the unconverted should not discourage us from explaining the gospel to them. No matter how blind or spiritually dead a given individual might be, our confidence is in God’s ability to open his or her heart. Whether the gospel is accepted or not, it will always be used by God in some way.
Using the imagery of the ancient Roman triumphal entries, Paul wrote that we march as it were in triumph, and the smell of our victory delights the hearts of those who belong to God, but is a curse to those who are lost. “We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:15–16).
On the surface we might think that Satan’s measure of control in the lives of the unconverted serves his own purposes. After all, what could delight him more than blinding people to God’s light? But we have already learned that when he serves his own purposes, the serpent is in reality serving God’s purposes. God has His plan that is being worked out, part of which includes the judgment and fate of the unconverted. Let us affirm with confidence that Satan cannot dictate to God, but God always dictates to him.
To be God’s instrument of judgment in the lives of the unconverted is to serve God. And when we remember that Satan himself will be judged for what he does, though he does it with God’s permission, we are reminded even here that Satan loses even when he appears to win.
Lutzer, Erwin W., and R. C. Sproul Jr. 2015. God’s Devil: The Incredible Story of How Satan’s Rebellion Serves God’s Purposes. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
The title of the book, God’s Devil, is a paraphrase of Martin Luther’s teaching on the Devil. It will equip your people to understand and defeat our enemy. It is available on Amazon, as well as part of the Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service. (Like Netflix for Bible lessons.)