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The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Bernier: “Overcoming the Devil II”

March 9, 2018

From the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Bernier of Providence REC in Texas, here is another excellent Lenten sermon that continues his thoughts about the subject of wrestling with the flesh, the world and the devil:

Overcoming the Devil II
2nd in Lent, February 25, 2018
In our previous Sermon, we began a Series concerning the spiritual struggle we have been called to wage against our primary spiritual enemies: the devil, the flesh, and the world. By examining the way in which the Lord responded to each of the temptations, designed by the devil to make him fall, we learned that the key to overcoming Satan resides in retaining the unconditional and final authority of the Word of God revealed in Scripture above everything else, just as the Lord did in all his life. “It is written” he answered. This is the key to remain faithful and obedient to God, overcoming Satan, by faith and obedience to his Word.
    
We also referred to the Parable of the Sower in which the seed, which represents the Word of God, can only grow and become fruitful by overcoming all our spiritual enemies, of which the Devil is the first and the worst because he is the source of all the rest.
Our world today derides anyone who dares take seriously what the Bible teaches concerning the Devil, his fallen angels and the eternal future awaiting those who in this world fail to overcome the devil’s temptations, deceptive lies, and murderous desires.
Instead of “It is written” people today say, “How can I believe the Word of a God who would send people to hell for eternity? I rather believe any other doctrine than that.”
From a fallen human perspective, such reasoning is understandable and can even be very persuasive, if one is willing to ignore the testimony of Jesus in the Gospels. For it is the Gospel as preached by Christ and given to the church which is the primary ground upon which our doctrine of the Devil and Hell depends.
 Yes, as we saw in our gospel lesson, one example among many others, a mother came to Jesus begging for her daughter who was grievously suffering a case of demon possession. In spite of our post-enlightenment bias against the reality of the spiritual world, scripture reveals that there is a real spiritual realm and that demonic entities can and do afflict human beings in many ways. Although Scripture does not give us many details concerning this, it gives us enough to understand what these demons are and where they come from, and what is their purpose. Demons are evil spirits, fallen angels, who became evil after choosing to follow Satan in his rebellion against God.
This means that before the fall of man there was a fall in Heaven which resulted in the expulsion of these fallen spirits away from God’s presence forever.
Now let us consider the reason and implications of this eternal exclusion. It is directly related to the nature and character of God. Scripture reveals that God is Holy, God is good, God is love, God is Truth and life. He is also both perfectly merciful and righteous. He is compared with light in which there can be no darkness.
This means that the very nature of God is not only opposed to evil and corruption but that all these attributes are grounded upon one and the same foundation: God’s unchanging eternal being and that therefore separation from God implies the loss of each and everyone of all these attributes entirely, what Scripture identifies as the wrath of God, the worst condition of eternal existence which belongs to the devil and his angels, a state of perpetual and final exclusion from the grace of God, which Scripture identifies as “eternal destruction”.
In other words, Love, Truth, Life, Peace, Rest, Mercy, Meekness etc. and every other good gift is interrelated to all the others so that one cannot be retained without the others. Therefore, in rejecting one, for example, by being selfish, or being a liar, or rebelling against God, one is also forfeiting life with every other good. Because life is an attribute of God who is perfectly holy, and therefore, sin which always separates us from God, necessarily leads us to death and the loss of everything which is good.
Now the archetype of rebellion, sin, and death is Satan and his fallen angels, who knowingly and willfully, after experiencing God’s holiness, love and glory in heaven, face to face, choose to rebel against Him.
Their conduct, moral choice, brought upon themselves the wrath of God, by which they were excluded from heaven and destined to eternal punishment in fire. This is what is called eternal damnation because it is a state from which there is no possible redemption. When the fallen angels choose to believe and follow Satan instead of God they knowingly choose eternal death in separation from God and embraced hell instead. From this condition, there is no turning back. And they know it.
But with humans it is different. We were not created in heaven, but we were created for heaven from the beginning, Yet, we were allowed to be tempted and fall (disobey God), just as the angels, but instead of being eternally damned like the fallen angels and the devil, God gave humans a unique hope, which he did not provide for the angels, He sent his Son, God incarnate to redeem us by his blood.
The Earth was designed to be a probation period by which human creatures could exercise their free will choice before entering eternity, cultivating through their love here and now, either love and obedience to the Truth leading to Life, or selfish, proudful rebellion and lies leading to death.
God made this possible by redeeming the whole world, becoming a man, and taking the curse of this world, and the human race, upon himself on the cross. So that sinners through faith in him can now be reconciled with God, if they want it, without merits of their own, through repentance and faith, when they hear the good news of what God has done for us, preached in the Gospel with an open invitation and commandment to all the world.
Therefore to enjoy heaven the only thing necessary is to believe the Gospel of Christ, asking for forgiveness; and then continuing to follow Christ in repentance and amendment of life until the end of this life, preparing now for an eternal life with God, and all the redeemed, by loving him above all things and our neighbors as ourselves. But for those who reject obeying the gospel, the opposite future awaits, for in that case they are essentially repeating the equivalent of the same choice the original fallen angels made, preferring evil over good. But whatever we love first, that is what we become; whatever we sow now, that shall we reap for eternity.
It has been well said: “as men became partakers in the guilt of demons, so now are they also condemned to share in their punishment.” (Meyer’s NT Commentary to Matthew 25:41)
Now let us consider the nature of the devil and his followers.
At the conclusion of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, we hear the Lord saying:
“30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30)
This parable complements the Parable of the Sower and gives us the whole picture of redemptive history from the divine perspective.
The Lord explained the meaning of the parable. He that sows the good seed is the Son of man. He sows the good seed by the preaching of the Gospel over His field which is the whole world. The good seed is those who receive the Gospel of Truth and become children of the kingdom carrying the seed within them and giving good fruit accordingly; “but the tares are the children of the wicked one;” who believe and obey his lies. The enemy who sows the bad seed, by his lies is the devil; “the harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels.”
And listen to the conclusion:
40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. 41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; 42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 13:40-42)
“Things that offend” translates the Greek word “scandalas” which means literally, all those who cause others to fall.
The devil did not disobey only, he craftily designed “scandalas” stumbling blocks, snares, traps, a stick with a bait to lead God’s creatures to disobedience and rebellion.
So, a child of the devil, accordingly, is one who similarly uses his capabilities, intelligence, talents, and resources to dress as an angel of light in order to deceive and snare others away from God and obedience to the Gospel.
The other word used to describe the children of the devil is “those who practice lawlessness”.
Not only those who sin but those who approve sin and defend it as the right course of action and therefore practice sin without remorse or repentance; Those who love a lie, rather than the truth.
This is why the rationalization of sin, the defense of error and behaviors which God has clearly revealed are sinful is so dangerous to both individuals and societies, because it not only leads to decadence in this world, but it carries eternal consequences.
The doctrine of Hell and eternal punishment then is an essential part of the Gospel which is sobering in the seriousness of its warnings.
In our day to day choices we are sowing the seeds of the harvest we shall inherit in the world to come.
God did not create angels or humans for death; he created all for Life and Truth; and has done everything to restore us to life through his incarnation, redemption and the sending of the Holy Ghost.
Denying the doctrine of the eternal retribution of the disobedient creatures, which has become so common in our time, is a form of denial of the incarnation. Because it is Jesus who gave the gravest warnings about the dangers of an eternal life separated from God; Jesus Christ clearly taught the reality and danger of eternal punishment; Also, if there is no curse over sin leading to death with eternal consequences, then our Lord became a man and gave his life for nothing, or to achieve something which could have been done easily without the need of his suffering of death upon the cross for our redemption.
The fact of the Lord’s incarnation leading to his suffering upon the cross, i.e. that God incarnate died for the sins of the world, implies the necessary eternal consequences of sin, and its eternal punishment after death so that there is only one way of salvation through faith in Christ.
It is important also to recognize that advocating some notion of annihilation of the soul after death, is to deny the clear indication of eternity attached to the afterlife in many places in Scripture. (Mark 9:42-48; Matt. 18.6-9; Luke. 17.1-2 Revelation 21:13-15; Mt.25:41-46; Matt. 10:28; Matthew 12:32.)
Whatever our state in the afterlife, it carries the notion of an eternal conscious existence. This is the consistent witness of Scripture whenever it touches this subject and is made explicit in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. (Luke 16:19-31)
The Second Death, the lake of fire, the eternal punishment, or penalty of sin are all indicative of an eternal state of existence in separation from God and under his wrath; these various symbols describe the agony of an existence deprived of any good or blessing, or hope of deliverance which has been described in Scripture variously as outer darkness, wailing and gnashing of teeth, and an unquenchable fire.
It is not possible to choose with the devil and not suffer his punishment.
This is what is also implied in the doctrine of the gospel concerning the Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, the “unforgivable sin”; it implies that in the process of our temporal existence, a person may so embrace the character of the demons, by cursing the Holy Ghost, that they may shut themselves into a spiritual position from which there is no possibility of redemption, as it will be for all who die unrepentant, having chosen lies and death over life.
The unforgivable sin now, is a token, reminding us of a future in which repentance will no longer be possible to the rebellious members of the human race, just as it is now impossible for the fallen angels.
Therefore, now, when there is still chance for repentance, now is the opportunity for us to renounce the devil, the world and the flesh and trust in Jesus alone for our redemption, so that dying to sin and living to him we may prepare for heaven more and more, imitating him with the hope of partaking of the blessed life, he has prepared for all who love God above all things and their neighbors as themselves. Amen.
Let us Pray
O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thine honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, World without end. Amen.
by the Rev. Dr. Benjamin E. Bernier

 

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