If we only gain allies and friends by being mutually against something, then that partnership lasts only until the controversy ends. And given the kind of partnership we had, our former ally could turn on us. So instead, we should unite around being for the Gospel of the triune God—an eternal cause. Then that partnership will have no end—it is eternal as God is eternal.
And if we need an enemy to rally against, let’s fight the one the Bible identifies: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).
Against the Devil and His Works
To be against the Devil and all his works is another way to say that we are now in Christ. So we should act like Christ: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). And we can do so by a sort of imitation when we denounce his works And if we want to know what the works of the devil are, John tells us: “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:8).
The devil sins, and we do his work when we sin. Being against the devil is being against sin since the devil tempts us to sin.
Consider the Lord’s prayer. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Scripture records his reply so that we might pray for the right things. If we want to know what the Word of God values, we should look to this prayer. At the end of it, Jesus says, “And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one” (Matt 6:13 KJV).
Here, the word “the evil one” could be translated as “evil,” which some modern translations do. However, other modern translations agree with the KJV and so translate the text with “evil one.” Given that Jesus had earlier resisted the devil’s temptations (Matt 4:1–11), it seems entirely possible—even probable—to see Jesus also praying for us to be delivered from the evil one.
The Devil as Our Enemy
Elsewhere, we see the devil identified as our particular enemy. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to what the Bible says:
- Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:11).
- Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Pet 5:8)
- Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7).
- And give no opportunity to the devil. (Eph 4:27)
- Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. (Luke 10:19)
- For some have already strayed after Satan. (1 Tim 5:15)
- Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Tim 3:7)
- I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. (1 Thess 3:5)
- But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? (Acts 5:3)
- Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Cor 7:5)
- Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. (1 Chron 21:1)
- Because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. (1 Thess 2:18)
- “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.” (Luke 22:31)
- But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Cor 11:3).
- So that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Cor 2:11)
- He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. (1 Tim 3:6)
- He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love. (Col 1:13)
- When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. (Matt 13:19)
- Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb 2:14–15)
- Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matt 4:10)
- Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Rev 12:17; see also Rev 13 and elsewhere in the book).
- The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. (Rom 16:20).
- By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10)
- And they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:26)
- The weeds are the sons of the evil one (Matt 13:38).
These verses are only a sample of what the Bible says about our enemy. Have we forgotten that we battle not flesh and blood but the devil and dark powers? The Bible hasn’t.
Jesus commands his disciples to love their human enemies (Matt 5:44). We should not treat people like the world treats its enemies (even if they view us as enemies). The Bible is more than clear on who our ultimate enemy is—and these verses are only a sample. Read through the Bible with a mind to spot such things. The dark powers play a major role throughout the Bible.
Our ultimate enemy is the devil. Jesus says so. He calls Satan “the enemy” (Luke 10:19). He tempted the first parents. He continues to do so. He does so by enticing our passions and desires so that we choose to sin. That’s his work: sin.
The devil is a liar (John 8:44). And it’s been said that the devil’s greatest lie was convincing people he didn’t exist. Maybe. Or maybe his greatest lie is thinking that people, our neighbours, are our ultimate enemy and not him.
A point of clarification: I do not mean enemy in the sense of human war, and I also know that people may hate us in this life and call us an enemy. After all, Jesus says “love your enemies” (Mat 5:44) which implies people will view us as enemies just as we had at one point viewed God as an enemy (Rom 8:7). So there is an obvious sense that we will have enemies in this life.
My point is that whether someone is our enemy or not, we should view people as those whom God loves and whom we should love too. The god of this world has blinded many (2 Cor 4:4). Our response? Be like Jesus and pray: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Our ultimate enemy is the devil.
For the Gospel
In John, an angel preaches the “eternal gospel” (Rev 14:6). It is eternal because the Gospel of God is the Gospel of the immortal king of ages (1 Tim 1:17). For this reason, it is entirely possible to be for the Gospel forever. And so an alliance for the Gospel does not end—ever. The good news will remain good even in heaven, and there we will have the reality of its promise before our eyes.
Some have found the idea of Gospel-centeredness as too limiting. One might argue that it prevents Christians from engaging in larger societal movements—important ones at that. Others might argue that being Gospel-centred is a recipe for tolerating mischief. So the list might go with its objections.
Here is the thing. In a technological society, full of scientific description, we sometimes overcomplicate the Gospel. But I find the simplicity of the Gospel delightful. So that when the Philippian jailor asks, what must I do to be saved, Paul and Silas answer simply: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:21). That does not mean we stop there. We make disciples and teach all that Jesus taught (Matt 28:19–20).
For this reason, theology can be and should be deep and sometimes complex given the kind of God we worship. But orthodoxy is a hand on a shoulder and an open gate that directs one unto the path, not a club or a fence. We use theology as an arm around a shoulder to show our love for one another, and we open the gate unto the righteous path for others to walk.
How does this answer the Gospel-centred critiques above? Indirectly. So let me be more direct. The Bible has a lot to say about how we live the Christian life and it focuses on being in Christ (Gal 2:20). That Christ-centered mode of life amounts to living a Gospel-centred life since the good news basically amounts to the Father sending the Son to redeem the world and the Spirit to unite the church to Christ.
That is what the early Christians thought, and so the earliest creeds and Rule of Faith summed up the Gospel under four heath: Father, Son, Spirit, and Church. And the church could really be subsumed under the article of the Spirit. God is the Gospel; Christ is God revealed; the Gospel means we unite to Christ.
It is actually quite important to be Gospel-centred since the church—to one degree or another—has emphasized the Gospel at the centre.
Tim Keller recently said:
The gospel is not just the ABCs but the A to Z of the Christian life. It is inaccurate to think the gospel is what saves non-Christians, and then Christians mature by trying hard to live according to biblical principles.
It is more accurate to say that we are saved by believing the gospel, and then we are transformed in every part of our minds, hearts, and lives by believing the gospel more and more deeply as life goes on.
Moreover, the argument that Gospel-centred Christians cannot engage culture or change society amounts to a misunderstanding of grace and nature. Grace perfects but does not destroy nature. So the Gospel perfects without reducing or demolishing what is a natural good. That means: go into civil government since that is good; go into farming because that is beneficial; stop injustice for that is just.
There may be a priority of importance, but helping the orphan in distress is always naturally good. Christians with the Spirit should not become less willing to do natural good but more willing.
Love Your Neighbour
Love your neighbour. Love your enemy. Love sinners. God did: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). And no, you don’t show love by railing against a person. You show love when you speak the truth lovingly (Eph 4:15). And you speak to people like Jesus did.
It is true that Jesus spoke hard words to religious leaders who should have believed him but didn’t. They had willingly rejected the truth that they ought to have known, being teachers of Israel. But those average folk that Jesus met—he loved and spoke tenderly too.
Jesus spoke gently to the woman at the well who was open to following him and the rich young ruler who was not. He gave time to each, and he spoke words of life. One received them, the other did not.
Jesus is meek and lowly. He loves everyone. He loves the world—even if we call God our enemy (John 3:16; Rom 8:7). Out of love for humanity or what early Christians called God’s attribute of philanthropy, God sent him into the world to save it. Jesus makes this very point in the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Paul too explains, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
In the end, love along with faith and hope are cardinal virtues. The greatest of these virtues is love (1 Cor 13:13).
By setting ourselves up against other people, we misunderstand the real enemy. The devil likes this division, and he also likes when we do not resist him. Give into hate of neighbour, give in to the devil’s schemes. He’s a liar. He wants you to find excuses.
You may think you are speaking the truth which is love or you might claim that it is righteous indignation. That is possible, of course. And yet: “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). And speaking the truth might be loving but it does not excuse from also lovingly telling the truth: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor 13:4–5).
Any husband talking to his wife (or vice versa) knows that telling the truth to a spouse means much more when done tenderly and kindly. On the other hand, if your first reaction to being challenged for your irritability is, “You are being the tone police,” then might I just say that this is probably a defensive knee-jerk reaction. You are likely being irritable. And so repent and move on.
So in this divided world where we live, find friends to unite around a common and eternal cause: the Gospel. Be against the devil and his works (sin). And love your neighbour as yourself. The Bible is clear on these things, but the world draws us into squabbles and battles over almost everything. Resist the devil. He will flee. Then accept one another as Christ accepted us (Rom 15:7).
Image: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons