By Bob Hiller –
The devil wants to be your preacher. He wants to get into the pulpit on Sunday morning and entertain you, make you feel good, convict you of all sorts of wrong doing, and inspire you to do better. He wants to make you laugh, cry, and sing. He wants to captivate your hearts and leave you feeling like you can conquer the world. Sure, he wants you to be miserable on the way to hell, but if he can get you to enjoy the ride before the car crashes, that suits him just fine. So long as you don’t trust in Jesus, the devil is happy to be your preacher.
I worry that the devil has actually crept into many of our pulpits. And it isn’t always readily noticeable. Elvis could be singing of preachers: “You look like an angel, you walk like an angel, you talk like an angel,” but if we’re not wise, we’ll miss the devil in disguise! (Yes, I am aware of how campy that was…).
In his marvelous book Christless Christianity, Michael Horton reminisces on Donald Grey Barnhouse’s description of a city run by Satan: “Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing, The children would say ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, ma’am,’ and the churches would be full every Sunday…where Christ is not preached” (pg. 15). The devil may have yet to clean up Philly, but it would seem that he’s certainly doing everything he can to get into our pulpits and remove Christ.
Since you won’t give Satan a call to your church, he’s set out to get your pastor to do the job for him. He comes along to tempt your pastor away from preaching Christ from the pages of scripture. He tempts your pastor to give you whatever else you may want to hear and whatever makes him most popular. He’ll get him to preach anything but Jesus, however moral or immoral it is. In our culture, it would seem, he’s gotten preachers to do both.
The devil is subtle in doing it, but he is set on getting your preacher to put down the cross of the ministry and to become more like him. What does it look like to preach in the image of Satan? Well, first, just look at what’s in the name. “Satan” is the Hebrew word for “accuser.” Satan will tempt a pastor to only look at your sins and what a terrible sinner you are. Now, before you feel too mad about that, you’ve given the devil plenty to work with! Satan will tell your pastor the only option he has is to attack you with the Law. But this is where the devil is tricky, because you do need that Law. You need your pastor to preach a word that kills the sinful nature inside of you. But God deals out death with a view of the resurrection. And that is what the devil wants to avoid. So, he will send you an accuser, but never a comforter. He will preach death with no resurrection. In other words, he will constantly bludgeon you with the law that exposes your sin and then leave the solution in your hands. He may even provide easy steps to follow and everything!
The Lord kills with His Law, but so that He can raise you from the dead. He calls you a sinner in order for you to finally listen when He says, “You who were dead are alive because I raised you. You were lost, but I found you! You were sinful; I forgive you!” That’s the message that undoes Satan and keeps him from the pulpit.
This anti-satanic gift of forgiveness and life is too much for Satan. He cannot overcome it. That doesn’t mean he won’t try. So, he will come at your pastor with another temptation: he will seek to make the sweetness of the Gospel sappy. That is to say, he will seek to change the forgiveness of sins into approval of sins. He will continue to keep you focused on your sins, just in a different, more positive, encouraging light. He will make your sin allowable. He will silence the Word by saying things like “God loves you just the way you are,” or, “God made you perfect,” or, perhaps the most deceitful of phrases, “God forgives you anyway.” Now, that one is slick. Such language does two things: first, it makes it sound like God never meant His Law in the first place. The Law ceases to accuse because “God forgives anyway.” You are supposed to have no other gods. But if you do have one, don’t worry about it. God forgives you anyway. No atonement, no sacrifice. Just a wimpy hug from that nice bearded man in the sky. But the Law only accuses if God means it! And He does. The devil is fine with a God who’s not concerned with your sin.
Second, then, that “anyway” removes Christ from the conversation. God does forgive you, but not “anyway.” He only forgives you for the sake of Jesus who suffered for your sins and died as your substitute on the cross. Forgiveness comes with Christ’s blood, not some divine shrug. “Anyway” makes it sound like your sin is no big deal. The truth is that your sin is horrible and sick. But Christ died for it and His sacrifice covers it up. God forgives you for Christ’s sake! In other words, Satan will have forgiveness preached without Christ, mercy without sacrifice, divine love without the shedding of blood.
Satan wants to tempt your pastor into preaching something other than God’s Word from the Scriptures. God means His Law when He gives it. He means His Gospel when He gives it. Satan wants you to remove the sincerity and severity of the Law so you lose the need for and glory of Jesus Christ. When the preacher says either, “God demands this, but don’t worry about it, that’s just Law. God loves you anyway,” or, “You are forgiven, but you better get it right soon or else!” then Jesus has been removed and the devils become your preacher. God means it when He demands your perfection, condemns your sin, and declares Jesus guilty in your place. What is more, He means it when He baptizes you and declares you righteous, forgiven, and born anew for Christ’s sake.
Satan won’t have a sinner like you forgiven for Christ’s sake. He wants to preach Christ out of you. But he is a liar, and that one little word can fell him. Let us pray that Christ alone would remain in our pulpits, ears, and hearts.