Satan is Well Pleased with Our Best Effort
A Subtle but Highly Effective Scheme
The Apostle Paul said this concerning the devil, “… no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). The only reason we are ever taken advantage of by the devil is because we are deceived by him. The answer to avoiding being tricked by him is being able to recognize a con when we see one and not be “ignorant of his schemes.” It is also important to note that the only strategy for dealing with the devil is not through battle, but rather in be alert and on guard in order that we might resist his schemes (Eph. 6:11, 1 Pet. 5:9, Jam. 4:7).
Without question, the devil has many different schemes that he will try to work against us, but one of the more devious of all is his schemes to get us to try to live the Christian life -act like Jesus- by way of self effort and controlling our behavior. Before you decide to burn the heretic, hear me out. Someone will surely say, “Why in the world would Satan ever want us to try to act like Jesus?” On the surface this indeed looks counterproductive, but actually it is not. Satan wants us to perform, try hard, bear down, and do the best we can to mimic Jesus, knowing that self-effort always eventually results in falling short. In essence, self-effort in trying to mimic the life of Jesus is a form of law keeping. Keeping the Law was not possible before the cross and it is not possible on this side of the cross either. Nevertheless, a typical plan of action for living “victorious” that is promoted in many Christian circles is “stop doing that and start doing this.” This approach has a dismal success rate. We will soon see that living a life pleasing unto God is not accomplished through our own effort, willpower or controlling behavior, but rather only by faith and through the indwelling Spirit of Christ.
The Devil and His Strategy
The reason that the devil wants us to try to act like Jesus (while wearing our “W.W.J.D” bracelets as a reminder) is because he knows we will all ultimately fail. There is nothing more discouraging in the Christian life than to feel like we are not living up to the standard we think that God has for us. Here again is where the deception comes in. Pleasing God is not something we have to work at, since God is already pleased with us in Christ Jesus.
If we believe that God’s pleasure is somehow contingent upon our performance, failure is inevitable. God is only pleased by what we do that emanates from faith (See Gal. 2:20). He is not impressed with our ardent obedience, spiritual performance, or stellar self-achievements. It is because of what He has already accomplished in Christ that we are found pleasing to Him and that we are able to do all that we are called to do.
Do a word search in the New Testament for words or phrases such as, “therefore,” “so that,” “because of this,” and similar phrasing. Search for words that imply “because of what was just said, what follows is possible.” See how often you discover passages that appear to be a command to go do something are precluded with a statement about what God has accomplished first. They will be stated as, “Because God has done this, you can now go and do this.” There is an order to things. God supplies and then we reply. If we set out to do the work before receiving the supply that God offers, we grow weary, eventually burn out and ultimately fail.
As way of example, listen to what the Scriptures say in Ephesians 3:14 -19, and 4:1-3. Watch for the transitional word “THEREFORE” in the passage.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, SO THAT Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, SO THAT YOU may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” [All of this is what God must do in order that we might do what is described in the sequential passage that follows.]
“THEREFORE, [because of what God has granted and bestowed upon us we are able to] …walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
If we just go out and try to do these things without the provision, we will not succeed.
See the same order of things found in Colossians 1:9-10. Watch for the SO THAT in this passage.
“…be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, SO THAT you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.”
The Apostle Paul made it clear that the Christian walk is accomplished by faith and not self willed determination where he said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20)
Hebrews 11:6 says, “…without faith it is impossible to please God.” If you invert this passage it basically says, “God can only be pleased where there is faith.” The reason faith pleases God is because we cannot walk in a manner that pleases Him apart from faith. Faith is how we entered into the “grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2) and “…as [we] have received Christ Jesus the Lord, [we must also] walk in Him” (Col. 2:6). God is pleased with how we came to believe unto salvation, and He is pleased when we continue to live our life in Christ with this same manner of belief.
Walking in faith is believing the truth with the heart in the same way that we believed resulting in salvation. For God “…is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Because He shone His light within our hearts, we believed, resulting in righteousness (Rom. 10:10). In the same fashion, unless God “opens the eyes of our hearts” (Eph. 1:18), we cannot know truth in our hearts and, therefore, cannot know faith. It is the faith that God gives us that makes it possible for us to please Him.
There is an order to things here.
God must first illuminate the truth in our hearts which produces the faith that results in our walking in a manner that is pleasing to Him. The Apostle Paul describes this order where he wrote,
“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, [This is what God does] SO THAT [What we can do only because of what God did] you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” (Col. 1:9-12)
Paul also said basically the same thing where he wrote, “[may] the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, …give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened [what God does], SO THAT [What we can do because of what God did] you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” (Eph. 1:17-19)
This is the proper order. Too often we try to please God without having had our eyes opened and without knowing the truth in our hearts. It is easy to confuse trying to do the truth in our own strength, with transformation that comes about when God persuades us of the truth within our hearts. When we know the truth in our hearts, the truth will transform us and we will experience the natural out flowing of the fruit of the Spirit. This is what pleases God.
Satan is well please with our best efforts.
Satan is well pleased with our hard work, determination, and relentless attempts at “doing the fruit.” As I said, Satan recognizes that our futile attempts at “pleasing” God are no different than trying to keep the Law. Satan wants us to move back under the “yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1) that the Lord released us from at the cross. Most of us understand we are no longer under the Law, but we still try to act and do as Jesus did —the same process with a different name. None of us would say we are obligated to keep the Law in order to be made right with God since we understand that the “Law of sin and death” was fulfilled in us through Christ (Rom. 8:2-4). However, trying to perform and mimic Jesus’ behavior—“What would Jesus Do”— is simply a new set of expectations we try to achieve but will fall short in ever accomplishing. Jesus’ behavior was a perfect representation of keeping all the Law perfectly. So trying to live like Jesus (who was the perfect Law Keeper) is an attempt to try to keep the Law as well.
So then, are we just to give up and live life any way we choose? Are we not to try to live rightly? What do we do with verses such as “…be imitators of God, as beloved children…” (Eph. 5:1)? The Apostle Paul answered this question where he wrote, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:2-4 ESV).
We are expected to walk in newness of life, but not by working hard at it. Our misunderstanding how we are to accomplish this walk is where the deception sneaks in. This newness is not accomplished by trying to conform our behavior to the truth (keeping the Law), but rather that we should be transformed by it. Transformation is what God does in us as we position ourselves to receive. Just as Mary sat at the feet of Jesus we are to rest from our struggle to do the truth and allow the truth to do its work within us. Satan does not want us to discover transformation; he wants to keep us focused upon performing. We play right into his hands when we try to be like Jesus by controlling our behavior, attempting to act out the fruit of the Spirit, attempting to overcome sin, and working at conforming our behavior to the truth. The outcome of this effort is eventual failure.
Bearing the Fruit as Opposed to Doing It
There is a stark difference between biblical transformation that God brings about and what we do through controlled behavior, spiritual performance, self-discipline, and noble attempts at ardent obedience. This is a scheme of the devil to get us onto the treadmill of performance in trying to live and look like Jesus. God desires that we be transformed and not conformed. Transformation is the outcome, the end result of a finished work. It is not something one has to maintain, hold together, or work at. It is the product of something having changed from one form completely into another.
When a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly he becomes a new creature. In like fashion, the believer’s transformation results in a genuine and permanent change in perspective and behavior as God renews his or her mind with truth. To the degree the believer knows the truth in his heart, transformation will follow. Always!
This transformation is described in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewing of the mind…” It is permanent and eternal and requires no effort to maintain on the part of the one who has been transformed. Since it is totally a work of God, the fruit of the Holy Spirit is produced naturally, spontaneously, and without effort. Thus, in reality, the spiritual fruit is God’s and not our own. We are called to bear the fruit and not to do it. We cannot produce fruit, but we can abide in the vine so that we may bear it. There is a great difference in these two perspectives.
The Scripture is clear when it says, “… be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2-3). Being able to discern and live out the will of God becomes the outcome of knowing and walking in the truth; this is a benefit of transformation.
God is not impressed with our best day of performing, but He is keenly interested in us living in faith which He has secured for us in Christ. To the degree that we come into the experiential understanding of the truth of who and what we are in Christ, we can walk in effortless victory.
Our keeping the Old Testament Law, or trying to keep the WWJD “laws” of the New Testament, is not our calling or God’s expectation. Everything is fulfilled by faith and “… the life which [we] now live in the flesh [we] live by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave Himself up for [us]” (Gal. 2:20).
The Key is in the “Knowing.”
Let’s continue with the words in the passage where Paul says, “… if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Rom. 6:5-10 ESV).
What a glorious passage! When we know this truth in our hearts it will transform us. There is a clear disclaimer included in this passage where Paul says, “KNOWING THIS….” The key to experiencing the reality of this truth is that we know it in our hearts. Probably most of us believe with our intellect that this passage is true. We fully concur it is God’s written Word. However, when we read it, does it feel true? Read it again and ask yourself, “Does this feel absolutely true to me?” If not, then why not? If indeed we believe it to be the truth, then we should also have a strong and positive emotion, and it should feel true. Someone may say, “We do not need to feel it, we only need to believe it.” However, if we believe it to be the truth, then why would it not also feel true? If I say I believe you are telling me the truth about something but yet feel like you are lying, what do I really believe? My emotions (or lack of) are always a dead giveaway of what I believe.
Paul states the truth clearly where he says, “… our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:6-7). So if indeed this is the truth, then why would our reality appear to be contrary?
Some well meaning theologians have tried to explain it by saying that this passage (and others like it) is a positional truth— a “heavenly perspective” not yet realized on the earth. According to this perspective, this truth can only be realized when you are in the right position to realize it. It is viewed as true from God’s perspective, but not from ours. This explanation always confused me. If it is true from God’s perspective, then it really does not matter what my perspective may be since His reality is the only reality. “… While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).
Some people have explained this passage as a progressive truth that we grow into—as a “not yet” reality. Some view the death of our old self as a figure of speech that is something in progress —dying daily, re-crucifying the self, keeping it on the cross, etc. Nevertheless, the Scripture clearly uses terms of finality—a job complete, a finished work. I believe that the problem here is not what is true or not, but rather what do I believe to be the truth. The truth remains the truth whether I believe it or not. However, if I do not hold God’s perspective in my heart, then my reality and perspective will be directly impacted. Someone once said, “seeing is believing.” It is even more true that “believing is seeing.” What I believe determines to a great extent what I see and how I see it. When I believe the truth as God knows the truth I will see with the same perspective as God.
I believe what Paul wrote is the truth and the only reality. Just because it does not seem to be true or feel true does not mean it is not true. Whatever we believe as true will determine our perceived reality and emotional state. However, when we KNOW the truth as God knows it, our reality as well as our emotions will change to match the truth.
So, if we truly believe in my heart all that this passage just proclaimed, then it should feel true. If this passage is the truth—which of course it is—and it does not stir any feelings, it would seem that something is wrong.
Let me challenge you for a moment to consider something. If you could honestly and completely believe with all your heart that God genuinely loves you, that He really is very pleased with you, and that His heart leaps for joy at the very thought of you, would this have any impact on how you live your life? Before answering, reflect again on what I just asked you to do. Does what I just described to you feel true with absolute certainty? If not, then why not? What I said is the truth, so why would it not feel true? The only reason it may not feel true is because we don’t believe it.
Victory Through Faith
When we know the truth with certainty in our heart, we know it in faith. And faith (heart belief) brings about transformation. When we believe the truth within our hearts, the transformation that follows is effortless and needs no willpower to produce it. The only reason we struggle to follow and live out the truth is because we believe something that is contrary to the truth. Our contrary belief pulls us back.
When I am thinking with the mind of Christ with His truth, knowing the Father’s heart becomes clearer. This passage is reflective of James the Apostle who wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom (understanding what to do in any given moment) let him ask of God…” (James 1:5). However, receiving God’s perspective requires we ask in faith that does not doubt. Doubt is the evidence of disbelief or the presence of a belief contrary to the truth.
Since transformation is the result of the working of the Holy Spirit in us, we should walk in effortless victory where this work is accomplished. However, much of what we describe as victory still has an element of work, struggle, and self-effort. If that is so, we cannot say we have the victory. Victory occurs after the battle has been fought and won, not while the soldier is still working, struggling, or trying to do it himself. If we are still struggling in some area of our life, then Holy Spirit has not yet completed His work in that area. Since the Bible says we are victorious, then it is true; and transformation is the evidence of His victory realized in us.