I was struck by something while reading in I/II Kings. You know that in every story you have the protagonist – the hero, the person(s) you identify and sympathize with. The antagonist is the one(s) who opposes the protagonist and does bad things – the villain. For those of you who’ve read the Book of Kings, it is very short on heroes, and very high on villains. It’s very depressing. Israel is divided into two kingdoms, evil reigns, kings follow injustice and evil, foreign powers keep attacking and oppressing the Isrealites, the men of God are persecuted, and the population has forgotten God to follow perversity and idols. The characters are mostly either bad guys or really bad guys. The good guys are few and far between, and prone to failure themselves.
What surprises me throughout is that God frequently helps wicked Israelite kings for the sake of His own Name. He helped Ahab win military victories over the Arameans because they were diminishing the God of Israel, so that they will know that He is who He is (1Ki 20). He helped Israel yet again under the wicked Jeroboam II because He saw all their afflictions and desired to show mercy (2Ki 14).
It struck me that the hero of this story isn’t Elijah, Elisha, and the other men of God in these stories. God is the hero. The prophets are just sidekicks. But God is the one doing the action, and powerfully working despite the vicious sins and failures of His people. He is the one who’s honor is on the line, who shows mercy and delivers people from trouble, causes kingdoms to rise and fall, and meets out justice to the wicked. God coolly deals with rebellious humanity with their salvation and His glory in mind, in total control of the situation.
God is the hero of your story too. Your life story isn’t about you. God is the one who gives your life significance, who delivers you out of trouble, forgives your sins, and befriends you in the best and worst of times of your life. By faith in Christ, all of this is granted to us. But too often we don’t live like this. Our life story was ordained by God, but we live as though it’s all about us. If that isn’t ridiculous I don’t know what is. Recalibration is necessary. Let’s recognize God as the champion — then our story will go as it’s supposed to go.
I want to comment on something I’ve been hearing lately in Christian circles — that the worklessness of Satan or demons proves that faith in Christ must include a life of commitment and good works for it to be truly saving. John Piper tweeted recently “If we could receive Jesus as Savior and not receive his teachings as our daily norm, Satan would be the first person in line.” All too frequently James 2.19 used in the same way: that if “even the demons believe [that God is one] and shudder” yet have no good works, then also if we humans believe and do no good works, our faith is incapable to save and we’re on our way to hell. The debate over the relationship between faith and works is an important one, but this argument is very misguided!
The simple truth is this: The only way to be saved is to have Jesus die for you. BUT Jesus did not die for Satan and the demons. Nor for plants, or animals, or rocks. Jesus died for humankind. God became man to die for man; if He wanted to open a way of salvation for these spirits, he would have become a finite spirit like them.
Scripture clearly teaches that it is because of the death of the Son of Man that people can be saved. Without the cross, no matter how much humanity believed in God, they could never be saved. We’ve sinned. The penalty is death. Whatever righteousness we do is filthy rags (Rom 3.23, 6.23a, Isaiah 64.6) before God. If our works of righteousness are so worthless, how much more pitiful is believing in God without a way to pay the penalty for our sins!
Only because of the cross is there an open way for humanity’s salvation, and God has chosen that this salvation is not to be obtained by working for the benefit of atonement, but simply believing into Jesus to receive this benefit freely as a gift. None of the angelic spirits have access to this. In fact the whole point of Hebrews chapter 2 is how Christ died for man to put man in authority rather than the angels. If Christ did not die for His own angelic spirits, he certainly did not die for the evil angelic spirits. So no – Satan is not first in line for salvation, nor can he be.
The only biblical reference for these common demonic faith analogies is James 2.19, but this misconstrues this passage, imposing pre-conceived assumptions. James 2.19 is using demons as an example of the importance or unimportance of works. It is debated whether James is even teaching this himself or if he is still quoting the objector from verse 18 (Greek did not have punctuation marks, so where the quotation marks end is up for debate from the context). But for this argument, whichever option doesn’t link to human faith:
1.) If 2.19 is quoting an objection to James’ argument, then it’s using demons as an example to argue that faith and works have no relationship because demons believe and don’t do good, to which James responds to re-assert that faith without works is useless and gives examples with Abraham and Rahab to show works do fulfill faith’s righteousness.
2.)If we take it that the quotation marks end before 2.19 and this is James resuming his argument, then it is apparent James is only using demons as an illustration to say that living a life that has faith but no works is repulsive. No one likes to be compared to demons. Furthermore, demons “believe God is one.” This is mere monotheism, not a trusting faith in the person of Christ for salvation. Big difference!
Either way, James’s point is the unproductiveness of faith without works, not that demons would be saved if they only had faith with works attached to it. To say anything beyond this pushes the analogy farther than what the text actually says. There’s a good summary of this from Dr. Charlie Bing, “Demon Faith and the Misuse of James 2.19”
The condemnation of Satan and his spirits was accomplished before humanity’s fall, and their knowing choice for rebellion was already quite made. They are not in any way analogous to what kind of faith humans must have in Christ to be saved. They are only analogous to us in that we both do evil things. Therefore, statement’s like Piper’s above are confusing and misguided, and should be avoided in any debates over the relationship between saving faith and works.
Whenever a natural disaster happens there is always questioning of where is God. Some immediately say without a pause that the disaster was an act of God’s wrath against sinners and perhaps dance in happiness over it (as a recent viral youtube video showed). Others scream there is no God and proceed to insult this supposedly non-existent God as sadistic, horrible, mean, wicked, etc. Both of these responses are rather wrong-headed, but the real answer remains difficult to comprehend. When things like this happen, I myself am grieved and beseech God quite a bit about it, knowing that God is love and even “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33.11). It helps to know God is grieved too, even if it were an “act of God” for judgment.
If reading this CNN article and looking at the pictures of the wreckage, death, and suffering doesn’t break your heart, you don’t know the heart of God. It gave a good summary of the events – but the pictures! I looked at them all and was very grieved.
The best short article I found on the issue is from Gotquestions.org “Why Does God Allow Natural Disasters, i.e. earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis?” By all means read it.
But I will say this: in the uncertainty of events like these, there are some things we do know, and can take hope in – God is good. We have been given more than enough proof of that. As Jesus points out, God allows the sun for the evil and good, the rain for the just and the unjust (Matthew 5.45). People are given so many good things in life, and even the very poor; but credit is not given to God far too often. Still, God is “kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6.35). We know from Scripture that some natural events are specifically sent by God (the storm over Jonah’s boat comes to mind), but it’s also arguable that the disastrous weather patterns we have today are because of the advent of evil in the world and are allowed by God in this temporary age of fallenness until He returns to redeem all things.
But there is one thing that makes any condemnation of God most obviously bankrupt – the fact that God Himself visited earth in human form and suffered along with us. He experienced all the pain humanity experiences, in order to save them by dying on a cross. Yet people still reject Him! I think God has much more of a right to question our love than we do to question His. What’s more, many good things can come out of natural disasters – in Haiti many people believed on Christ and are thus eternally saved because of this temporary earthquake. I hope Japan will see the same.
We don’t know all the answers, but we do know that God does. And God guarantees this fallen world will be redeemed someday, and evil banished. All we can do is trust Him.