Chapter 7- The Devil Disarmed
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, triumphing over them in him. ~Colossians 2:15
Think back to chapter 3 and consider the frightening range of murderous agendas that Satan pursues against God’s people, coupled with his vast (although leashed) supernatural power. He is far smarter than you, immensely more powerful than you, knows the Bible better than you, and is hellbent on your everlasting destruction. Barring that, he’d settle for just ruining your life. He hates God and those made in the image of God. That means he doubly hates you: not only are you created in God’s image, but you’re being remade into the image of Jesus, are prized by God himself, and are being wooed away from his temptations by a glory that he can’t match. You make him sick with rage (Revelation 12:11-12).
Of all the things that Satan can do and all the power he wields, what do you think is the most deadly? What’s his greatest weapon? If you think it’s his power to possess people, you’ve watched too many horror movies. Yes, Satan and his demonic hosts have the power to possess and control unbelievers, but they have far more subtle and deadly tools at their disposal than the plot of “The Exorcist.” Besides, a cursory reading of the gospels shows that Jesus utterly shatters this power, and has granted the same authority to his people (Luke 10:17-20). You don’t have to fear his power of possession.
Neither is Satan’s worst weapon his ability to cause sickness or distress. He afflicts and oppresses and prowls around like a roaring lion, but Jesus’ word of promise stands firm: “All things—even all of Satan’s agendas and devices—work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purposes.” Seriously, Satan must have the most frustrating job in the universe, seeing every one of his trials turned around to good over and over again by the sovereign hand of God. If I were him, I would have given up in disgust long ago.
Even one of Satan’s most devastating abilities—his power to “blind the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4) is no match for the sovereign, unblinding work of the Holy Spirit that accompanies the proclamation of the gospel. Just two verses after describing Satan’s blinding power, Paul unveiled the antidote: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” When God speaks with this authority to the human heart, all of Satan’s blinders are shattered, and that heart sees the glory of Jesus in the gospel and is irresistibly drawn to embrace him as Savior. This is happening a thousand times a day, all over the world, as God’s kingdom expands and sinners come to the Savior. A thousand times a day, God’s sovereign brightness pierces Satan’s blindness. He doesn’t always do this of course—salvation belongs to him alone and he has his own purposes and plans—but one of my greatest joys in ministry is seeing Satan routed in this way over and over again. It’s a beautiful thing.
THE DEVIL’S ONLY DEADLY WEAPON
No, these aren’t Satan’s worst weapons. For all of Satan’s prowling around like a roaring lion, for all of his slavery and oppression and temptations, Satan actually only has one weapon with which he can fully and finally destroy your life and drag you down to hell with him. That weapon is unforgiven sin.
“Really?” you might say. “How is my unforgiven sin a weapon in Satan’s hand?” This is why: the name “Satan” means “accuser.” Satan’s main job is to accuse you of sin before God. Remember in the book of Job, Satan presented himself before God and accused Job of being a faker, of only trusting God because God had blessed him? That’s what Satan does: he accuses. Revelation 12:10 says this about our enemy:
“The accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”
Satan is the prosecuting attorney, if you will, in the courtroom of God’s heaven, and night and day he proceeds with his case against you. And when you stand before God on that final day, if Satan can prove your sin against you, you’re done. Case closed; verdict: guilty; sentence: death. If Satan’s got unforgiven sin on you, you’re going to burn with him.
This is Satan’s deadly weapon. All of his other schemes only serve this end: to get you into that courtroom with unforgiven sin. That’s why his demons possess people: to keep them utterly enslaved to sin and unable to turn to God to find forgiveness. That’s why he afflicts with trials and temptations: he wants to get you to curse God for your trials and shipwreck your faith in the midst of suffering. That’s why he blinds unbelievers to the gospel: it’s not ultimately spiritual blindness that will destroy a person; it’s being found guilty at the judgment of ignoring Jesus and scorning his beauty. You see, at the end of the day, Satan can’t actually do anything eternally destructive; the only weapon he has is to throw your sin in God’s face and say, “This criminal is guilty and you’re a just judge, so you have to punish him!” And God, who is a holy and just Judge, will certainly punish if that’s the case. Satan knows he’s ultimately powerless as a creature before the Creator, and he knows that his ultimate end is destruction in the lake of fire (Revelation 12:12); his master plan is to use God’s justice to drag as many people down to hell with him as he possibly can. That’s his only deadly weapon.
THE DEVIL’S DECISIVE DEFEAT
Here’s the good news of the gospel as it relates to this enemy: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Jesus Christ appeared in history to rout the kingdom of darkness and to turn Satan’s scheme back on himself by using that weapon against him. If Satan can justly condemn a person to death because of unforgiven sin, then the Savior would let Justice’s sword fall on him. He took on humanity “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).
Unforgiven sin is the only weapon with which Satan can destroy a person, and that is the one weapon that was finally and decisively taken out of his hands at the cross for everyone who trusts in Jesus. For all who trust in Jesus, their sin was taken out of Satan’s hands and nailed to the cross. Colossians 2:13-15 says it this way:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses…
How? How did God bring us to spiritual life and forgive all our sins? By sweeping them under the rug of the universe? By saying, “We’ll let bygones be bygones?” No, that would be unjust; the judge couldn’t do that and remain a good judge. If God simply let sin slide, Satan would win; injustice and evil would have triumphed, and now Satan would be able to put God in the dock and accuse him of failing to uphold justice in the universe. So how is forgiveness possible?
…having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
The record of debt that stood against us was the record of our sin. Revelation 20 says that the entire sum of all our thoughts and deeds is recorded in heaven, and one day those books will be opened. How horrifying a thought is that? If all your deepest darkest secrets and thoughts were to be broadcast in a room with all your friends and family, you would probably run out of that room and just keep running, out of shame, humiliation, and guilt. So how would you feel if that same record was opened and read by the Holy God himself, the Judge of all the earth? That would be devastating. That’s why Paul says that our record of debt “stood against us with its legal demands.” The just penalty for treason against the King of the universe is death and hell.
It is this debt, loaded with that legal demand, which the Father nailed to the cross. Our sentence was executed in the person of his Son, our guilt borne by the sinless One, our punishment falling on the innocent, our debt paid in full by heaven’s Prince, Satan’s weapon wielded against the Savior, until all the claims of justice against us had been exhausted by his perfect offering. Remember the verse of that great hymn, “It Is Well?”
My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more;
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
All my sin is forgiven and gone, the words “Paid In Full” written over my debt in blood. But what does all of this have to do with Satan? Remember, as the Accuser in the courtroom of heaven, if he can prove you guilty of unforgiven sin, you’re doomed. But because of the cross, no accusation against you can ever stick. He can open up your record of debt and point out every single transgression and sin, but next to every item are the words “Paid in Full.”
This is Satan’s ultimate humiliation: his one weapon taken out of his hands. He can rage and threaten and accuse (and he still does!), but he is powerless to change the verdict that was rendered at the cross: NOT GUILTY. That’s why Colossians 2 continues:
This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
“Rulers and authorities” is Paul’s shorthand for “Satan and all his demonic forces” (see Ephesians 6:12 and Colossians 1:16). At the cross, the devil was disarmed, Satan shamed, because his one damning weapon was taken out of his hands and driven through the wrists of the Son of God. The fangs have been ripped out of the lion’s mouth. He still prowls around and roars, but the worst he can possibly do to a believer is gum you to death with his toothless persecutions… and then you win. The great victory of Romans 8 is written over your life with verdict-reversing, blood-bought finality:
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies! Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—and is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us… In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
More than conquerors—that means that every obstacle and trial and sin and temptation isn’t just defeated; they’re all turned around and made to serve our everlasting good and the glory of the Savior. Every danger, toil, and snare now only spotlights the amazing grace that has secured our safe arrival at our heavenly homes. Even when we fall into sin, we are not defeated. Even in your sin, Satan is still the defeated one. I love how Martin Luther, the great instigator of the Protestant Reformation, approached this reality. Through his pre-conversion and post-conversion life, he struggled with a deep awareness of his own sin, and was thus often tempted to despair and discouragement. This is what he learned:
“When the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell; what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where he is, there I shall be also!’”
This good news is perhaps best summed up in the beautiful words of the hymn, “Before the Throne of God Above”:
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free,
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me!
Holy Spirit, Help me to lift my eyes upward to see my Savior and see the defeat and disarmament of all my foes. Help me to see sin defeated and swallowed up in an ocean of redeeming blood; help me to see the world crucified to me and I to it by the superior beauty of his sacrifice; and help me to count myself forgiven, righteous, accepted, beloved, and free from all of Satan’s accusations—as I really am in him.