Spiritual Warfare with Apollyon the Destroyer

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June 6 2016
Author: Pastor Bill Henderson

Supplemental teaching for session Six of Wayne Grudem’s 20 Life-Transforming Truths

My Grandad used to say that too often we Christians are creatures of extremes. It’s one thing to be either decisive or indecisive with a restaurant menu, or either self-confident or insecure when trying on a new dress. But it’s quite another thing to be lazily disinterested or obsessively fanatical when it comes to biblical truth. And such is so when we tend to either underestimate or overestimate the doctrine of Satan, the arch-enemy of our souls. We may live out our days incautiously as though he doesn’t really exist or make any practical difference, or we may live in a constant low-level fear of Satan, missing out on all the joy, peace, contentment, and victory that Christ has already won for us on the cross.

C. S. Lewis put a fine point on this dilemma: "Humanity falls into two equal and opposite errors concerning the Devil. Either they take him altogether too seriously or they do not take him seriously enough." And wasn’t this implied by our Lord when he spoke to the seventy-two missionaries in Luke 10? In answer to their enthusiastic report that even demons were subject to them in his name (10:17), Jesus announced:

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (10:18-20).

Here, Jesus avoids both extremes: he affirms the reality of spiritual enemies, but he reminds us not to be engrossed in them. In his own ministry, he took on his fair share of demons, but Jesus pointed away from satanic preoccupation and never encouraged us to go demon hunting. Instead, he said, "rejoice that your names are written in heaven." This is no small assurance, and the Devil, who by name is the slanderer or accuser, would more than love to pull this rug of certainty out from under our feet.

For me, the first real satanic assault on my conscience that undercut my assurance of salvation struck me when I was about 21 or 22. And, as God would have it, He biblically reassured me with overcoming power through my first exposure to Christian fiction.

I read John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). It gripped my heart then and still grips me to this day so I cherish my copy of the book and recommend it to you. You could make few better uses of your money than to buy a modern English edition (click here for a free 2015 edition in digital format). Typical of the Puritans, Bunyan bled Bible. So my old edition, published with fat margins, is larded with all the Scripture verses he fleshed out in the characters and imagery of his story. For the uninitiated, if you’ve got an hour to spare, you can watch the classic abridged Irish film version (1978) on YouTube (actor Liam Neeson makes his very first film appearance playing three or four different characters). The cinematography is humourously dated and the acting is very stolid, but I’m a sucker for identifying with the movement of the plot line and the lead character, Christian.

Christian’s journey, in the allegorical storyline, finds him leaving his birthplace, the City of Destruction (the world in its sins), eventually entering through the Wicket Gate (Christ, the ground of his salvation) onto the narrow way (the Christian life) that will take him through a variety of encounters, trials, and tribulations, some of which involve spiritual warfare, all en route to the Celestial City (heaven’s reward).

But midway through Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian has a showdown with Apollyon (i.e., Destroyer), whom Bunyan casts as one of Satan’s arch-demons. Apollyon launches fiery darts at Christian who blocks them with his shield of faith until he can finally and fatally defeat Apollyon using the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. But during their skirmish, Apollyon lists a series of Christian’s sins accusing his conscience with them in order to shame and defame him:

  1. "You have already been unfaithful in your service to Him [God the King]...
  2. You almost fainted when you first set out, when you almost choked in the Swamp of Despond [the miry bog where sinners get stuck in their fears, doubts, and discouragements].
  3. You also attempted to get rid of your burden [sin’s shame and doubt] in the wrong way, instead of patiently waiting for the Prince [Jesus] to take it off.
  4. You sinfully slept and lost your scroll [the assurance of salvation],
  5. you were almost persuaded to go back at the sight of the lions [trials and persecutions], and
  6. when you talk of your journey and of what you have heard and seen, you inwardly desire your own glory in all you do and say."

But listen to Christian’s disarming response:

  1. "All this is true, and much more that you have failed to mention,”
  2. But the Prince [Jesus] whom I now serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive.
  3. Besides, these infirmities possessed me while I was in your country, for there I allowed them to come in. But I have groaned under them, have been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon from my Prince."

This is the exchange that God used to bring me to my senses and remind me that the ground of my assurance never was in what I should have done or hadn’t done. Rather than ignore or self-justify when Satan assails your conscience with accusations like these, simply reply, "You’re right. But I’m actually worse than that." Let the accuser roar about sins you have done. You know ten times more than him, but Jehovah knows none. Thank God that your name is written in heaven solely because He is both just and the justifier of every forgiven sinner through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. In the 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.

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