GOD USES SATAN TO REFINE THE OBEDIENT
Sometimes God chooses the scene of our battles with Satan. Does Satan wish to tempt Job to discredit the faith of this man of God? He must come to God to receive permission. In fact, it is God who brings up the subject of Job’s piety as He and Satan were having what just might be a regular briefing. “Have you considered My servant Job?” God asks, “that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:8)
After an extended discussion regarding Job’s possible motives for obedience, God gives Satan permission to afflict Job, but only within specific parameters. “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand” (v. 12). We stand in amazement at the power of Satan. He causes lightning to kill Job’s servants; evil armies are raised up to destroy other servants and the animals; and last but not least, Satan causes a wind that demolishes the house in which Job’s children are eating, and all ten of them are killed!
Job, as you know, maintains his integrity. “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell to the ground and worshiped. … ‘The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD’” (vv. 20–21). Job passes the test, but there is more to come. Now Satan complains to God that Job was able to maintain his faith because he was not personally touched. “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face” (2:4–5).
Mark this well: Satan’s power over Job is now increased, but only because God willed it so. The Almighty gives Satan permission to smite Job with sore boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. We should never underestimate Satan’s power; we can, however, be sure that his power, no matter how fearsome, can only be exercised under the hand of God.
Did Job’s trial come from God or the devil? The answer, of course, is that the immediate cause was Satan, but the ultimate cause was God. That is why Job’s family “comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought on him” (42:11, italics added). Since Satan can only touch God’s children with the Almighty’s approval, Job’s trial was ultimately from the hand of his Father in heaven.
If we are in awe of Satan’s power to maim, destroy, and even kill, we must never forget that he did not choose to do this on his own; or better, if he chose to do it, he had to receive God’s permission before he could carry it out. The devil might be “the god of this world,” but he can rule only by the divine will. Luther was right when he said that the devil’s power is “as big as the world, as wide as the world, and he extends from heaven down into hell”; then he adds, “But the evil spirit has not a hairbreadth more power over us than God’s goodness permits.”
Sometimes Satan chooses the scene of our battles with him. When Satan observed a weakness in Peter that he wanted to exploit, he had to come to Christ and beg permission. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31–32 NASB). Satan had a sinister plan for Peter, but he had to check with Christ first. He could not approach Peter without divine approval. Indeed, the idea in the passage is “Satan has obtained you by asking.” There he is imploring Christ for an opportunity to touch one of the Master’s disciples. Satan blew all of his winds at Peter; the chaff was taken out, and only the wheat remained.
Recently I was counseling a Christian couple who feared that a curse might have been put upon them by an evil acquaintance who sought their destruction. I pointed out that if it were so, Satan would have to come to God and ask permission to touch them. Curse or no curse, the lives of Christians are not in the hands of Satan but in the hands of the Lord. Satan is paralyzed, unable to touch us, unless God gives the command.
Satan, I am convinced, wants us to think of him differently. He wants us to believe that he has independent power. If that is our understanding, we are caught off guard, filled with fear that the enemy of our souls might be acting when God isn’t even watching. Or at least, we might think, God has given Satan independent powers that are unreported and unsupervised.
A woman in our congregation, the victim of occult/sexual abuse, is now a Christian, saved out of a life of horrid memories of childhood terror. She feared a curse that had been placed upon her, an oath that she was to die at the age of forty-six, the age at which her satanic father died. When it dawned on her that Satan could not act independently of God, when she understood that he could not afflict her unless God willed it, her fearful heart was at rest. Even if God does give Satan permission to strike her down at the age of forty-six, she will die not according to Satan’s will but according to God’s will. But as I write, she has reached the age of forty-six and is confident that her life will extend well beyond the supposed deadline.
Who do we think Satan is, if we think that he, not God, determines the day of our death? Let it be clearly affirmed: Our lives are not in Satan’s hands, but in God’s hands. Satan cannot act apart from divine providence. Death need not terrify us. Christ, not the devil, said, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17–18).
I have met Christians who have been paralyzed in their Christian life because there was occultism (and, therefore, idolatry) in their family line. Some think they must live the rest of their lives under a cloud, that a curse will follow them until they die. One Christian man told me that his children and grandchildren would have to live without the full blessing of God because there were no Christians in his family going back to the third and fourth generation. His text, as you might guess, was taken from the longer version of the Ten Commandments:
You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (EXODUS 20:5–6 NASB)
To what extent are the iniquities of the father “visited upon the children”? There might well be generational spirits who concentrate on various family lines, exploiting the weaknesses of the offspring of idolatrous parents. But the balancing fact is that there are all kinds of spiritually minded Christians who grew up in abusive, hateful, and idolatrous families. Such a curse can only have control over us if we think we must be subject to it.
My observation has been that it is very difficult to establish a clear pattern of demonic struggles based on family history. In the passage in Exodus, the curse is only upon those who hate God. Indeed, it might be referring only to those children who hate God. In addition, God does show blessings to the thousands of those who fear Him.
No matter your family history, believers are not under a curse, for Christ bore our curse. The transformation from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light was complete. Satan wants us to be preoccupied with his control, curses, and “unavoidable schemes.” But like Pilate of old, he has no power against us except that which is given him from above.
A friend of mine tells the story of how his son had an unseen friend who told him, “God hates you, but if you follow me I will do you good.” The boy called on this “friend” in times of trouble, not even realizing that it was an evil spirit. When the parents learned more about this strange friendship, they rebuked the demon in the name of Christ. Of course there was a battle, but the demon was routed, for one good reason: The parents knew what some do not, namely, that demons have no such rights to haunt a child.
What was God’s purpose in giving a demon the power to trouble this child? Think of what the parents learned about the power of God, and what the child learned about the deceptive nature of evil and the love of Christ. Like Peter, who fell for Satan’s wiles but then “strengthened his brothers,” so this family is the better for the experience. Satan chose a battlefield and lost.
Today you can break a curse by affirming that Christ alone owns your life. Do not believe the lie that Satan has a right to you if you have been purchased at high cost by the blood of Christ. Accept the battles you have had as from God for your refinement and eventual blessing. We have been “delivered … from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). Rejecting the devil’s lies by affirming who we are in Christ is part of our spiritual development.
Martin Luther had a servant who lived in despair because she had “sold her soul to the devil.” Luther answered her by asking, “What if you were to write a bill of sale, agreeing to sell one of my children as a slave. Would that agreement have any value?”
“No, of course not, I have no right to sell a child who does not belong to me!”
To which Luther, in effect, replied, “And you are now one of God’s children, since He owns your soul it cannot be given away to another.” His point, of course, was that we cannot sell someone else’s child. Those who belong to Christ’s kingdom can never be bound by an agreement to a king who has no rights to them. Thus, by definition, all agreements and oaths made by a child of God to the devil are null and void the moment they are made.
Satan does not want you to know that, of course. He will do all that he can to make his grip formidable. But you must remember that you do not face your struggles alone. You face them with the people of God. You face them with the promises of God. “What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31). Remember, Satan will take all the power our unbelief gives to him.
As parents we have all taken our children to the zoo. As we have walked past the lion’s cage, the children are frightened, but we aren’t. That is because children usually look at the lion, but the parents usually look at the bars.
Satan is a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Apparently he roars to frighten us; he stalks and plots against us. But like the lion at the zoo, he is only free within the parameters of his cage. He roams only where God permits. That does not mean that he has already been bound in the abyss. As we will learn later, this is a future event in which his activity on earth is curtailed completely. I simply mean that even now, God draws the lines and says, “This far and no farther.” He must stay behind the bars God has ordained.
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.)