The role of Satan in the Christian’s life

More from Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today by John W. Kleinig on tentatio:

Strangely, we discover the mysterious power of God’s Word, the hidden work of the Holy Spirit in and through the Word most clearly in temptation. Thus Luther says, ‘Thirdly, there is tentatio [temptation, trial], Anfechtung [attack]. This is the touchstone which teaches you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s Word is, wisdom beyond all wisdom.’” (Page 21))

When Satan attacks us, we experience the righteousness and truth of God’s Word with our whole being, rather than just with the intellect; we experience the sweetness and loveliness of God’s Word with our whole being, rather than just with the emotions; we experience the power and strength of God’s Word with our whole being, rather than just with the body. (Page 21)

“The German word Anfechtung describes Satan’s attack upon our faith in Christ and God’s condemnation of us as sinners. As long as we operate by our own power with our own intellect and our own too-human notions, the devil attacks us by stirring up misunderstanding, contradiction, opposition, and persecution. He mounts that attack through the enemies of the Gospel in the Church and in the world. The purpose of this attack is to destroy our faith and undo the hidden work of God’s Word in us. As soon as God’s Word is planted in our hearts, the devil tries to drive it out so that we will no longer operate by the power of the Holy Spirit.

But paradoxically, these attacks are counter-productive. Luther says, ‘For as soon as God’s Word takes root and grows in you, the devil will harry you, and will make a real doctor [of theology] of you, and by his assaults will teach you to seek and love God’s Word.” Thus the devil’s attack on us serves to strengthen our faith because it drives us back to God’s Word as the only basis for spiritual life. We cannot rely on our own resources in the battle against Satan and the powers of darkness. If we rely on our wisdom and power, we will fail. In that situation, our only hope is in Christ and His Word. Our spiritual weakness makes us trust in the power of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of God’s Word, which is “wisdom above all wisdom.” Through temptation we learn to seek help from God in meditation and prayer. We walk with Christ on the way of the cross; we discover the spirituality of the cross. We do not experience the splendor of union with our heavenly Lord, but we share in His suffering and pain. We bear the cross together with our Lord as we suffer with Him. Through the attacks of the evil one we are drawn further out of ourselves and deeper into Christ.” (Page 22)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Larry

    “Strangely, we discover the mysterious power of God’s Word, the hidden work of the Holy Spirit in and through the Word most clearly in temptation…etc…”

    Wow that quote captures it, that’s it, those are the words that describe it!!! My own example was in the realm of believers baptism. I NEVER would have saw the Gospel, the pure utter naked one direction giftness (my made up word) of it all. Reason and experience and emotions never carried me there. It was very natural and reasonable to believe the doctrine of believers baptism. Luther’s view on baptism seemed crazy and almost too easy when I first read about it, it an infant baptism. Reason gets in the way so God must loose the devil to burn that up in trial so you’ll listen. So then comes the devil to accuse as Kleinig says using the Law, “did/do you really believe and thus are really baptized, maybe you need to prove yourself your faith now and be rebaptized ‘just to be sure’, make sure you HAVE faith, ARE elect, HAVE BEEN be reborn, HAVE BEEN converted, ARE saved…then will talk about you having a real baptism that is actually baptism…” It’s torment and torture to the soul in the midst of it. God seems everything but loving, He seems to have abandoned you, he seems to pursue the worm all the more hotly holding out “forgiveness” if only you’d get that one thing right, figure out if you believe truly, etc…then baptism might be some secondary help to you, at least to show God your faith is real. But in that fiery trial and trials like it one finds, looking back, grace within the wrath of it all. The devil over plays his hand or as Kleinig captures in this quote “these attacks are always counter-productive”. For the devil cannot help to but at length use the Law, and the Law accuses and destroys, eventually it clears the field of the soul and body for the hearing of the Gospel. And that Law has to come to one not in a theoretical way but a real way, because one can distance themselves personally from a theory (which I suppose is the real challenge to preaching good killing Law). That in it God is using Satan (though you don’t recognize Satan as Satan) to burn up, bring to nothing, kill and destroy that old flesh that “good moral” flesh, destroy its reasoning power, bring it to nought so that on one side you must despair of yourself utterly so that you might see/hear at last that Gospel so hidden to you before due to your flesh. One’s flesh is like a cacophony that has to be utterly silenced so the Gospel may ring ever so sweetly at last.

    The Lord’s Supper as a sacrament, coming to know this, happens in a similar way. There’s an attack about “what am I actually receiving and am I (for me) receiving it. Or does it first depend upon my own faith? The Lord’s Supper can be terrifying in that aspect (or at least what you think is the LS in other confessions). I just read something from Sasse this weekend in a book of his I just started (We Confess The Sacraments) that was very powerful concerning this. You never stop learning. Luther said he does not come to the sacrament in the strength of his own faith, but rather in the strength of Christ Word (take eat/drink). That was mind blowing to me. And it extends to baptism as well. Because I’d basically been taught most of my early Christian life to come to the ordinances due to or because of my faith, especially baptism. And so both sacraments become a terror for you. I could never return to baptism when I struggled with it, was I really baptized do I need rebaptism, faith never “had the strength” to approach it. But Luther powerfully says you come on the strength of Christ Word, not faith. That changes everything! It was life changing for me.

    Larry

  • Larry

    “Strangely, we discover the mysterious power of God’s Word, the hidden work of the Holy Spirit in and through the Word most clearly in temptation…etc…”

    Wow that quote captures it, that’s it, those are the words that describe it!!! My own example was in the realm of believers baptism. I NEVER would have saw the Gospel, the pure utter naked one direction giftness (my made up word) of it all. Reason and experience and emotions never carried me there. It was very natural and reasonable to believe the doctrine of believers baptism. Luther’s view on baptism seemed crazy and almost too easy when I first read about it, it an infant baptism. Reason gets in the way so God must loose the devil to burn that up in trial so you’ll listen. So then comes the devil to accuse as Kleinig says using the Law, “did/do you really believe and thus are really baptized, maybe you need to prove yourself your faith now and be rebaptized ‘just to be sure’, make sure you HAVE faith, ARE elect, HAVE BEEN be reborn, HAVE BEEN converted, ARE saved…then will talk about you having a real baptism that is actually baptism…” It’s torment and torture to the soul in the midst of it. God seems everything but loving, He seems to have abandoned you, he seems to pursue the worm all the more hotly holding out “forgiveness” if only you’d get that one thing right, figure out if you believe truly, etc…then baptism might be some secondary help to you, at least to show God your faith is real. But in that fiery trial and trials like it one finds, looking back, grace within the wrath of it all. The devil over plays his hand or as Kleinig captures in this quote “these attacks are always counter-productive”. For the devil cannot help to but at length use the Law, and the Law accuses and destroys, eventually it clears the field of the soul and body for the hearing of the Gospel. And that Law has to come to one not in a theoretical way but a real way, because one can distance themselves personally from a theory (which I suppose is the real challenge to preaching good killing Law). That in it God is using Satan (though you don’t recognize Satan as Satan) to burn up, bring to nothing, kill and destroy that old flesh that “good moral” flesh, destroy its reasoning power, bring it to nought so that on one side you must despair of yourself utterly so that you might see/hear at last that Gospel so hidden to you before due to your flesh. One’s flesh is like a cacophony that has to be utterly silenced so the Gospel may ring ever so sweetly at last.

    The Lord’s Supper as a sacrament, coming to know this, happens in a similar way. There’s an attack about “what am I actually receiving and am I (for me) receiving it. Or does it first depend upon my own faith? The Lord’s Supper can be terrifying in that aspect (or at least what you think is the LS in other confessions). I just read something from Sasse this weekend in a book of his I just started (We Confess The Sacraments) that was very powerful concerning this. You never stop learning. Luther said he does not come to the sacrament in the strength of his own faith, but rather in the strength of Christ Word (take eat/drink). That was mind blowing to me. And it extends to baptism as well. Because I’d basically been taught most of my early Christian life to come to the ordinances due to or because of my faith, especially baptism. And so both sacraments become a terror for you. I could never return to baptism when I struggled with it, was I really baptized do I need rebaptism, faith never “had the strength” to approach it. But Luther powerfully says you come on the strength of Christ Word, not faith. That changes everything! It was life changing for me.

    Larry

  • Dan Kempin

    Give the devil his due, but I think he is given a bit too much here.

    the trials of tentatio may come through the devil, but they don’t come from the devil. Larry captures it well when he says, “God must loose the devil to burn that up in trial so you’ll listen.” God is at work in us through the means of Grace in all trials, yes, even in the spiritual attacks of the evil one. It is God, though, who sends the affliction, as we see in the first chapters of Job.

    While I understand the point being made, it seems as though Kleinig is reducing the whole concept of ‘tentatio’ to an attack of the devil. Yes, God can teach His own through the attacks, (in which context I take the single quote of Luther), but is it true to say that , “When Satan attacks us, we experience the righteousness and truth of God’s Word . . .”? Can we say that “the devil’s attack on us serves to strengthen our faith . . .”? Has the devil become a means of grace or even a pedagogue?

    All of which is to say that it is God who works faith and growth in us, not the devil. That needs to be clearer in this discussion. It is not the attack of the devil that is salutary, any more than is cancer or failure or catastrophe or death. These things destroy people. GOD is good, and our condescending, suffering, compassionate God works in us and goes with us as we walk the way of the cross.

    Still, don’t take my criticism as anything more than a call for greater clarity. This is a great and powerful perspective on the spirituality of the cross.

  • Dan Kempin

    Give the devil his due, but I think he is given a bit too much here.

    the trials of tentatio may come through the devil, but they don’t come from the devil. Larry captures it well when he says, “God must loose the devil to burn that up in trial so you’ll listen.” God is at work in us through the means of Grace in all trials, yes, even in the spiritual attacks of the evil one. It is God, though, who sends the affliction, as we see in the first chapters of Job.

    While I understand the point being made, it seems as though Kleinig is reducing the whole concept of ‘tentatio’ to an attack of the devil. Yes, God can teach His own through the attacks, (in which context I take the single quote of Luther), but is it true to say that , “When Satan attacks us, we experience the righteousness and truth of God’s Word . . .”? Can we say that “the devil’s attack on us serves to strengthen our faith . . .”? Has the devil become a means of grace or even a pedagogue?

    All of which is to say that it is God who works faith and growth in us, not the devil. That needs to be clearer in this discussion. It is not the attack of the devil that is salutary, any more than is cancer or failure or catastrophe or death. These things destroy people. GOD is good, and our condescending, suffering, compassionate God works in us and goes with us as we walk the way of the cross.

    Still, don’t take my criticism as anything more than a call for greater clarity. This is a great and powerful perspective on the spirituality of the cross.

  • Kelly

    I think this is in line with what Luther describes as “God’s devil”– that the worst trials we experience can serve to drive us to Christ. This is not saying that the devil is a means of grace (or that evil constitutes the good and perfect will of God), but that temptation forces us to cling to God’s Word. This also seems to be in line with a discussion that was had awhile ago about how distractions in church can help us ask ourselves helpful questions, in which case we experience the blessings of the Holy Spirit through his Word rather than the weakening of our faith. I don’t think the Kleinig quote can remotely be interpreted to mean that experiencing the devil is the same thing as experiencing the Word of God.

  • Kelly

    I think this is in line with what Luther describes as “God’s devil”– that the worst trials we experience can serve to drive us to Christ. This is not saying that the devil is a means of grace (or that evil constitutes the good and perfect will of God), but that temptation forces us to cling to God’s Word. This also seems to be in line with a discussion that was had awhile ago about how distractions in church can help us ask ourselves helpful questions, in which case we experience the blessings of the Holy Spirit through his Word rather than the weakening of our faith. I don’t think the Kleinig quote can remotely be interpreted to mean that experiencing the devil is the same thing as experiencing the Word of God.

  • JonSLC

    Daniel Deutschlander makes a helpful analogy in his Theology of the Cross. He says that the devil is like a dog on a chain, outside the garden of God’s grace in which we live. When our sinful nature gets the upper hand because of our neglect of the gospel, we go wandering outside the garden, thinking more fun is to be had away from God. He lets us then get bit by the dog. But then we go running back into the garden, finding the gospel of forgiveness there. So God uses the devil’s attacks to subdue the flesh and drive us back to the only true source of security and peace. The devil hurts us as he wants, but God manipulates Satan’s attacks to end up doing us good.

  • JonSLC

    Daniel Deutschlander makes a helpful analogy in his Theology of the Cross. He says that the devil is like a dog on a chain, outside the garden of God’s grace in which we live. When our sinful nature gets the upper hand because of our neglect of the gospel, we go wandering outside the garden, thinking more fun is to be had away from God. He lets us then get bit by the dog. But then we go running back into the garden, finding the gospel of forgiveness there. So God uses the devil’s attacks to subdue the flesh and drive us back to the only true source of security and peace. The devil hurts us as he wants, but God manipulates Satan’s attacks to end up doing us good.

  • http://thekurths.com Derek Kurth

    Dr. Veith, you are doing too good a job of promoting this book! Our copy is on back-order! :-) We bought it as a Christmas present for my mom — maybe I’ll print out some of your blog posts to give her while we wait for the book to ship.

  • http://thekurths.com Derek Kurth

    Dr. Veith, you are doing too good a job of promoting this book! Our copy is on back-order! :-) We bought it as a Christmas present for my mom — maybe I’ll print out some of your blog posts to give her while we wait for the book to ship.


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