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The World and the Devil are Against the Christians
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “The Assurance of our Salvation.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1953. It was originally published in four volumes: Seed in Eternity, Safe in the World, Sanctified through the Truth, and Growing in the Spirit. It was published in one volume in 2000
And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil (John 17:11-15).
We continue now with our study of our Lord's great plea that God should keep the disciples in his name, the name which he had given to Christ to reveal to them. `While I was with them in the world,' he says, `I kept them in thy name', and his prayer is that God will continue to keep them in the name. You notice the urgency of the plea which emphasizes the need of our being kept. We cannot read this prayer without noticing that it was obviously a great burden on our Lord's mind. He was going to leave them in the world, and he was concerned about them, so concerned that though he was going to face the shame and agony and terrible trial of the cross, he really was not thinking about himself, but about them, and about their future. We see this clearly not only in this chapter but also repeatedly in all his teaching at the end of his life. He was, in a sense, almost alarmed about them and thus he offered his urgent plea.
Now this is something which is characteristic of the whole of the New Testament teaching about the Christian and his life in this world. We find in Acts 20 that the apostle Paul had precisely the same concern about the people in the church at Ephesus. He was hurrying up to Jerusalem; he knew that bonds awaited him, and he was quite certain that he was never going to see these people again. So he sent an urgent message to the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him on the seashore, and there he addressed them. He, again, felt this burden---I know, he said, that you will never see my face again. I cannot come to you any more and teach you as I should like to do, and therefore I want to warn you against certain things. And he proceeded to do that. He told them about the `grievous wolves' that were ready to attack them, and he added that they would find that even among themselves there were those who were going to rise up and make havoc of the life of the church. The apostle was burdened for these people as he was leaving them, and the last thing he did before he said farewell was to kneel down on the seashore and pray for them. He committed them to God, exactly as our Lord here was committing his disciples and other followers into the hands of his Father. You can find other illustrations of the same concern.
The message for us, therefore, is that the life of the Christian in this world is a life of conflict. The New Testament always, everywhere, gives the impression that all who are Christians are in the midst of a tremendous spiritual battle. Think, for instance, of that great exhortation in Ephesians 6 where Paul exhorts the Christians to `put on the whole armour of God' in order that they may be able to stand in the evil day. `For,' he says, `we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,' or in the heavenlies. Now that is typical and interesting teaching. You cannot read the New Testament without being aware of this kind of tension. The world is the scene of the great battle that is going on between these rival, spiritual forces, and the Christian is involved in all this, of course, because he belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. The very fact that we belong to Christ means that we immediately become the special targets of the enemies of Christ, those other spiritual forces to whom Paul refers. They are antagonistic to God and his Christ, and, therefore, the moment we belong to God the enemy begins to attack us, not because he is interested in us, but because his one overriding ambition is to mar and destroy God's perfect work. Our Lord knew this and so did Paul and all the apostles. Peter, for instance, puts it like this, `Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour...' (1 Peter 5:8). That is the picture, and it is because of this that the need for protection arises.
I wonder whether we are conscious of our position and our condition as Christians? I wonder whether we are conscious of our need to be kept, or whether we are aware of the tremendous spiritual conflict in which we are involved? I ask these questions because I think I know many church members who patently are not aware of this conflict at all and who feel that it is something strange and odd. So I do not hesitate to assert that one of the most interesting ways of measuring our spiritual understanding and insight is to discover the degree to which we are aware of the fight and the conflict and the position with which we are confronted as Christians in this present evil world. To the extent that we are not aware of it and so not aware of the need for protection, to that extent, I would say, we are simply proclaiming that we are tiros in these matters, and that we are but babes in Christ. The babe never realizes the dangers, everything seems easy and simple and plain, but the more we grow, and the older we get, the more we begin to realize the subtleties and the dangers that confront us. It is exactly the same in the spiritual life and it is the saints, of all people, who have realized most acutely that they are confronted by a mighty, spiritual antagonist. Read the lives of the saints and you will find that they are always aware of this---which is why they spent so much time in prayer.
It is the man who realizes his own weakness and the power of the devil, who realizes his need for protection.
Now our Lord here establishes this once and for ever. His great burden under the very shadow of the cross was the condition of these people. He was leaving them and he saw the forces that were marshalling themselves and making ready to swoop upon them and attack them. He saw exactly what was going to take place, and so he pleaded with God to keep them, and to keep them in his name.
And not only that. Our Lord goes on to particularize these forces that are arrayed against us, and they can be summed up under two headings. First of all there is the world itself. In every single one of these verses from verse 11 to verse 15 the world is mentioned, and this is because the disciples are in the world. Indeed the problem arises because that is where he must leave them. Now this does not mean, of course, the physical world, but the world in a spiritual sense, the sense in which the New Testament always uses this expression. It is the mind, the outlook and the whole organization of this present world and scene. `Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,' says the apostle John. The Scripture describes the powers and the forces that are opposed to God as `the world'; it is the realm in which Satan is king, the atmosphere in which the prince of the power of the air rules and reigns. It is the territory of `the god of this world', everything in life that does not recognize God and submit itself to him.
Now the world manifests itself and its antagonism to the Christian in many ways. Our Lord singles one out here by saying, `I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.' He said that many times. He tells his disciples in John 15 that the world will hate them because it hated him and because they are like him and because they belong to him. Our Lord does not argue about this. The world, he says, will hate you, and here, in pleading for these people with the Father, he makes the same statement; the world which has hated them will go on hating. This is surely an extraordinary thing. The world hates the Christian. So here again we come across a valuable differentiating point. There are so many things that simulate Christianity in this modern world---indeed there always have been---that it is sometimes very difficult to differentiate between Christianity and a kind of pseudo-Christianity. But this, I think, is one of the best tests. The world never hates the imitation, or the spurious, or the false Christianity, but it always hates the true thing. The world never hates morality, it never hates the merely moral man (which is an interesting point), but it hates the true Christian. You would have thought that if the world hated the one, it would hate the other, but no, the world, in a sense, likes the moral man. It never hates him because it realizes that he is acting in his own strength, and in that way he is paying a compliment to fallen human nature. But the world hated the Son of God himself, and it hates the true saint.
The world hates the true Christian because Christ himself and the true Christian condemn the natural man in a way that nobody else does. Christ and the saint condemn the natural man at his very best, and that is why the world hates him. It is only in Christ and the true Christian that the doctrine of sin is really perceived. The very fact that the Son of God came into this world at all is proof positive that man can never save himself. If man could save himself by his own exertions, the Son of God would never have come. The very fact that he has come proclaims that man at his best and highest will never be good enough. Now the world hates the thought of this because the ultimate trouble with man in sin is his pride, and that is why so often the most moral people have been the ones who have hated the Christ of God most of all. The poor sinner in his rags and filth never hates Christ as much as the good moral man does, the man who only believes in `uplift' and ideals. He is the man who hates Christ because Christ condemns him. He feels he is better than that other man in the gutter and that he has no need of Christ. Scripture says that `all have sinned', and he cannot stand the condemnation.
And of course our Lord condemns him in the same way by the cross. The cross proclaims that all are lost and that all are equally under the wrath of God, and the world hates that. Men are so ready to praise the example and the teaching of Christ, but they ridicule his blood, for it is the blood that condemns and what a man cannot endure is the sense of condemnation, the sense of inadequacy, and the sense of failure. Thus it comes to pass that our Lord and his followers are hated by the world. The world says, `I do not object to religion, but why go so far? Why this separating of yourself from others? I really am not as bad as that after all I confess I am not 100% but ...' and Christ condemns that. He says, `You are a sinner', and the world hates him for that and it hates his followers. Our Lord's words were of course very soon verified. The spite of the Jews was turned upon the first Christians, and the enmity of the world has continued up to this present time. That is a terrifying thing to say but it is true.
Does the world hate us? I wonder whether it hates us as it hated our Lord? If it does not it is simply because we are very poor Christians. I trust nobody will misunderstand me, I am not saying that a man must try to make himself angular or difficult. Our Lord did not break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax. No, it did not hate him because he made himself odd and difficult, it was his sheer purity and holiness, and his teaching that caused the hatred. And it is as true today as it has always been that the nearer we approximate to our Lord the more we experience the hatred of the world. It shows it of course in many ways. It shows it in persecution, which can be open, but which can also be subtle and concealed. It is in an open form in many countries of the world today, and there are people in concentration camps and prisons because the world hates them. But in a different way, there is as much persecution in this country as there is in those other countries. It is the subtle form with which we are all familiar and the man who is a true follower of Christ will inevitably be subjected to it. `Yea,' says Paul to Timothy, `and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution' (2 Timothy 3:12). Let us all examine ourselves.
That is the first thing. The world is opposed and it shows its opposition by means of hatred. But it also has another way of showing it. This is what I would call the Demas way---`Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world' (2 Timothy 4:10). The world does not care very much how it attacks his followers. If by throwing them into prison it can wrest them from Christ, it will do so, but if that does not work it will try some other method. 'Demas hath forsaken me'---the love of ease, love of the things of the world, its wealth, its position, its so-called pomp and show, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life---how many good men have been ruined by that. Prosperity can be very dangerous to the soul and the world is prepared to use that. If direct opposition will not work, it will pamper us, it will dangle these things before us and thus it will try to wean us from Christ. So it is not surprising that he prayed the Father to keep us in his name.
Then another way in which the world does the same thing is by what may be described as the Barnabas method. We are told in Acts 15 that a dispute had taken place between Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas wanted to take his relative John Mark on their missionary journey but Paul said that he would not have him. Paul felt that John Mark had let them down and deserted them when they had taken him on their previous journey and that he was not, therefore, the man to accompany them. Here we have worldly relationships such as family relationships interfering in God's work. It is always something which to me seems very subtle and pathetic at the same time. You read of men who have been called by God to do a particular work. Their call has been quite clear and unmistakable, but then when these men get old you notice the way they tend to appoint their own sons to carry on the work and how often it leads to disaster. The point is, of course, that the God who called the father, does not of necessity call the son. Indeed I have seen this kind of thing so often that I become very uneasy when I see it taking place. It is the Barnabas method---John Mark must come, he is my relative.' In other words, it is the tendency not to judge things in a spiritual way, but to be influenced by these other considerations.
Indeed, this can show itself in still another way, the way which James emphasizes when he says, `Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world' (James 1:27). It may seem a strange bringing together of two statements, but it is essential that the two should be taken together. It is a right and a good thing to visit the fatherless and the widows, says James, but be very careful that you do not become spotted with the world as you do so. Have we not all, alas, known numbers of men called of God to be prophets and to preach the gospel who have ended as nice, but powerless men, whose congregations have been ruined. They have visited the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, but they have not been careful to keep themselves unspotted from the world. They have been affable and friendly and kind, but they have lost something. It was the world that did it, it came between the man and his calling, between this man and God and his Christ.
There, then, are some of the ways in which the world does this, but our Lord does not stop at mentioning the world. He specifically mentions the evil one---`I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil'---or `the evil one' (v. 15). Both renderings, of course, are perfectly true: we pray to be kept from the evil one and the other evil things which belong to the evil one and are prompted by him. In other words, we must see that it is not only the world that is against us, it is also the `god of this world' behind the world, the devil himself. Our Lord has taught us to pray this in the prayer he taught his disciples: `Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil'--- or the evil one. As I have already reminded you, Peter tells us that this adversary of ours is roaming about like a roaring lion, `seeking whom he may devour'---he is the devil who is opposed to God's people.
How then does he attack them? Well, sometimes he makes a direct attack on the self, on the person, and there are a great variety of ways in which he does this. I suppose that the commonest way of all is through our pride; he fills us with a sense of elation and self-glorification. Let me give you a perfect illustration of that from Luke 10. Our Lord had sent his disciples out to preach the gospel and to cast out devils and they came back to him full of elation because they said that even the devils were subject to them. Our Lord immediately saw the danger and said to them, `In this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.' You see, he saw the danger of their heads being turned---as we put it---of their being consumed with self-satisfaction at their success, reporting the results, letting everybody know, and being puffed up with pride. And, of course, this pride leads in turn to self-reliance. We think we are so wonderful and do the work so well that we do not need the Holy Spirit and the power of God. We can do it, so we trust to our organization and all our carnal means and methods, and the devil encourages us in this. He drives us forward in a false, carnal or excessive zeal.
Another way he has, and it is one of his favourite methods,
is to make us rush ahead of God. He makes us impatient; we cannot wait for God's time. We are going to do this thing, and we will arrange, we will organize, we will go ahead of God---and the devil is satisfied and well-pleased. Appearing as an angel of light, he encourages us to rely upon ourselves and our own ideas and methods, and thus God's blessing is withheld.
But he is subtle, and sometimes he takes us in, not by puffing us up with pride, nor by encouraging us, but by doing the exact opposite. He fills us with discouragement and doubt or he encourages us in a sense of false modesty. I have seen the devil ruin many a prayer meeting like that. There is a pause in the meeting and if you asked every person who was present why they did not take part, they would say, `I did not like to push myself forward, I was giving somebody else a chance.' And the prayer meeting is ruined through false, unhealthy pseudo-modesty. He makes us condemn ourselves; he makes us look at some sin which we committed many years ago and he makes us look back at it and feel that we cannot be forgiven. So the result is that we are constantly looking at our failures, and while we are doing that, we are not working for God. We feel that we are altogether unworthy of him; we doubt ourselves and our salvation and we spend the whole of our time examining ourselves.
My dear friends, from the devil's standpoint there is not the slightest difference between being puffed up with pride in your self or spending the whole of your time condemning yourself. Either way the devil is very well-pleased. Any concentration upon self in any shape or form is always of the devil. Another result, of course, is that while we are looking at ourselves and thinking of ourselves, we are forgetting this name in which our Lord asked his Father to keep us, the name that tells us that all our sins are forgiven and that the blood of Christ still cleanses from all sin and unrighteousness. If that is true, I have no right to look back to that sin; I must turn to the name, and if I feel weak I must remember that God is the almighty Jehovah who has promised not to leave me nor forsake me. So we must not allow the devil to hinder the work of God with a direct attack in one or other of these ways.
Again, he can do it by creating within us a spirit of fear. We read how the devil dealt with Peter and all the disciples immediately after this prayer was offered. Peter, to save his skin, denied his Lord just at the time when his Lord was actually on trial and needed support and help and comfort. Peter denied him and they all forsook him and fled because of a fear of consequences and the desire to avoid pain or persecution. The devil will always encourage that kind of thing and that is why our Lord spoke so often about it. Read Matthew 10 and you will find a long sermon on that very theme---`Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.' Fear takes various forms. For instance we say, `If I do this, what is going to happen to me, professionally, or in business? Will I get my promotion? Will I be regarded as an odd man out? What is going to happen to my family?' Fear---it is always of the devil and that is why our Lord prayed that we might be kept in the name of God.
Then the devil's second great line of attack is an attack upon the truth, and the Bible is full of warnings about this. The devil attacks the truth by introducing false teaching. That is why, as we read in Acts 20, Paul said what he did to the elders of the Ephesian church. He could see what would happen in Ephesus after his departure. He knew of wolves that were waiting to come in with their false teaching, those men amongst their own number who were out to destroy; the devil was at the back of all that. Read the first epistle of John: it is full of warnings about this---the anti-Christs who had already arisen and were causing havoc in the church. Read in 2 Peter 2 about the people, these `false teachers', who will insinuate themselves amongst the believers. Read the epistle of Jude with his great exhortation on this theme and all his warnings of the activity of the devil within the life of the church. Is it surprising, then, that our Lord prayed so urgently that his Father would keep his people in his name? He knew that all this was going to come---the devil with his false teaching.
But it is not always bald, false teaching. It is sometimes more subtle, coming in the form of compromise. Of course, if you stand up in a pulpit and say, `Jesus of Nazareth was only a man, he was not the Son of God', most people would recognize it as not being the true doctrine. But if the preacher does not actually say anything wrong, I am afraid that there are often many Christian people who can be entirely taken in by him. It is a subtle compromise which makes a man preach the gospel without any offence in it. He talks about the death of Christ in a way that leads you to pity Christ, and to think that the preacher's picture of the cross is beautiful. But that is because there is no offence of the cross in his preaching, the devil is subtle in this. There are often men who start with a true doctrine but who end with compromise. The offence is taken out of their preaching and out of their gospel. And the same is true of the individual, the Christian member of the church. Oh, very well, we say, for the sake of unity we will not stress that as we used to. For the sake of not offending anybody we will leave out these things and use the things that are generally accepted---compromise. Oh in that way the devil has made havoc of the Christian church during the last hundred years.
And then another way in which he does this is one which I have already mentioned in another connection. He makes us resort to worldly wisdom and worldly methods in order to gain success, and we forget the name. I have no doubt that this came as a real temptation to Paul as he stood outside the city of Corinth. I am sure that he had a fight upon that road. The devil would turn to him and say, `These people like philosophy, and rhetoric. You know all that stuff---give it to them, and they will like you, and you will have a great church.' But Paul tells the Corinthians in his first letter to them, `I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.' He would not resort to any such methods. He kept himself to the simplicity that is in Christ, and the purity of the message and the purity of presenting the message. And this is something which he constantly repeats.
But lastly, I would remind you that the devil attacks the truth by means of encouraging schisms and divisions in the church. I am not going to stay with this matter now, because we have to come back to it when we deal with the great plea for unity. Let me just put it like this here. The cause of schism is that men and women have put something other than the truth into the position of truth. They put in the supreme position things that belong to the circumference, and the moment you do that there will be schism. Was that not the trouble with the church at Corinth? Paul deals with this in a very remarkable way in his first letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthians had been putting personality in the position of principle, saying, 'I am of Paul', or `I am of Apollos' (1 Corinthians 1:12). Instead of Christ and his gospel, they put a particular preacher in the centre and therefore there was division. Again, take spiritual gifts---they were talking and arguing about which was the superior gift of the Spirit, and because some put miracles etc. in the centre, there was schism, and Paul condemns it in chapter 12, for it is dividing the body of Christ, and the devil encourages that. If he can lead us astray by putting any particular thing in the central position of our faith---a denomination or a man, a cause or a particular aspect of truth---rather than Christ himself, he will always encourage us to do so, and thereby he attacks us and divides us, and he wounds the body.
All these things, as we have seen, are simply meant to draw us away from God and his Christ; they are simply methods by which the devil tries to spoil the work of God. He did it at creation, at the beginning, he has done it ever since and he is trying to do it with the church today. God made everything and saw that it was good, and the devil came in and spoilt it all. It is no new thing; the devil is out with all his might and main to mar and to wreck and to ruin the work of Christ, and our one and greatest comfort is that our blessed Lord not only knows that, but has committed the church to his Father and has prayed and is praying the Father to keep us, to keep us in his own name, that we may be saved from the world and the flesh and the devil. Let us meditate about these things, let us realize the danger, let us realize the subtlety. Let us never allow Satan to gain the advantage over us. Let us be aware of his devices so that we may withstand him, steadfast in the faith, and thus, by the power of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, be made more than conquerors. (321-333)
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