How Satan Can Use the Law against You
- Larry Richards Author
- 2015 21 Oct
Satan’s Strategy Exposed
Throughout sacred history, the Israelites had varying degrees of success in forming a society that embodied the lifestyle outlined in Moses’ Law. And just as the Israelites’ understanding of Law grew less relational and more pharisaical, so our own approach to Old Testament Law has become misguided. We have missed its true intent. Satan has a field day misleading us in relation to God’s Law and, thus, overcoming good with evil.
The first tactic is to distort our concept of God. God gave the Law to reveal His moral character. Satan has convinced most of humankind that biblical Law casts God as a tyrant, eager to punish anyone who dares to violate one of His demands. One result of this is that many fear God and are driven away from Him.
In a sense it is unfortunate that Bible translators chose to render the Hebrew torah as “law.” The essential meaning of torah is “teaching or instruction.” In its biblical context, the Law was divine instruction on how Israel was to live close to the Lord, and experience His blessing. Law not only provided Israel with a clear revelation of God’s moral character, but also guided Israel to fashion a society in which all would be blessed.
In our culture, “law” states what we must do, and is enforced by the coercive power of the state. It is not surprising, then, that when reading Old Testament “law,” we assume that God demands our performance, and backs up His demand with His power to punish. With this distorted notion of biblical Law we humans might view God as a fearsome being, and when we fall short of the guidance provided in Scripture, we let guilt and shame drive us away from our Creator and Savior.
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The second tactic, which follows closely, is to distort our concept of how we are made righteous before God. By promoting Old Testament Law as demand rather than guidance, Satan has led most people to assume that keeping the Law wins God’s approval, and, thus, is the path to salvation.
Look once more at the apostle Paul’s admonition: “No one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Every person who has ever lived is aware that in some respect he or she falls short of the way of life the Law describes. The intent of this knowledge that we cannot “perform” our way into salvation is that the sinner might turn away from self-effort, and trust entirely in God’s love and forgiveness. The Law helps us understand that salvation is not found in a business transaction between a human and God. Salvation is found in a personal relationship with God entered into by faith in Jesus.
As we fall for Satan’s scheme that promotes Law as a way of salvation, it follows that we also become blind to the Gospel. Some struggle to be “good enough,” tormented by their failures and fears. Others simply abandon the struggle and substitute their own morality for the true morality God has revealed.
By distorting the concept of biblical Law, Satan has effectively overcome good with evil in far too many lives. He has distorted humankind’s concept of God, producing fear of the One who loves each individual deeply. By casting Law as coercive demand rather than as guidance, Satan has induced guilt and shame, and has launched many on a quest for salvation rooted in self-effort rather than faith.
While this strategy has been most effective with nonbelievers, it has also had an impact on Christians. Far too many of us read the Bible from the perspective of Law rather than of grace. Far too many of us, when we fall short, doubt God’s love rather than realizing that God, like any loving father whose two-year-old stumbles and falls, stoops to lift us up and set us on our feet again. Rather than feel uncertain about God’s continuing love, we are to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy [when we fall short] and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Is the Law Relevant Today?
I have stressed the fact that the Law found in the Old Testament was a gift to the nation of Israel. God’s Old Testament people were both a faith community and a nation; the Law provided the framework within which the nation could exist as a vital community of faith. For Israel, the Law provided both a revelation of the character of their God and a pattern for national life. As long as the nation followed the guidance provided by the Law, blessing would follow. But, God warned, if Israel as a nation abandoned the pattern of life portrayed by the Law, national disaster would surely follow. In this God was acting in grace to emphasize the importance of Israel’s choices.
When we turn to the New Testament we find a totally different situation. There is no “Christian nation” in the sense that Israel was both nation and faith community. Instead, Christian communities are scattered groups of believers planted within essentially non-Christian cultures. While beliefs differ as to how much or how little these communities embody the ideals of Scripture, biblical Law addresses no individual or nation as it addressed Israel.
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This raises an important question: What relevance does biblical Law have for individuals and for the Church? In describing the impact of our relationship with Jesus in his letter to the Romans, Paul gives us the answer: “Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Israel was “under law,” but Christians clearly are not. But this does not mean that the Law is now irrelevant.
This is true, first of all, because the Law of the Old Testament continues to reveal the character and values of God. When we read the Ten Commandments, we continue to see the face of God in them. When we read the Law, we continue to see a powerful reflection of God’s nature and character.
In reading the Old Testament, or the New, it is important that we look deeply into the Word to see the God who spoke it. We Christians need to understand who this God is who has called us to Himself in Christ just as much as Israel needed to understand the God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt.
Second, Paul points out that the Law is still relevant because it is through the Law that we have knowledge of sin. That is, the Law serves as a standard against which we can evaluate our actions. When we use the Law this way, we see that we do not live up to the standard, and at times even consciously violate or rebel against it. If there were no standard established, we would not be able to tell that our actions are wrong and sinful. And if we did not know we were sinners, we would not realize that we need a Savior.
There is a third function of the Law for Christians today. We have seen that the Law provided divine guidance for the nation and people of Israel. It was given to point Israel to a way of life that would provide blessing for the nation, and enable its people to avoid evils. Today we Christians have a different source of divine guidance: the Holy Spirit who lives within us. In Paul’s powerful exposition in Romans 8, he points out that we are to live “according to the Spirit” (verse 4) rather than follow the impulses of our sinful natures. One result of following the guidance provided by the Holy Spirit is that “the righteous requirements of the law” are “fully met in us” (verse 4).
Overcoming Evil with Good
Paul’s teaching makes an important point. You and I are to focus on deepening our relationship with Jesus, aware that as we live close to Him the Holy Spirit will provide God’s personal guidance as to the choices we are to make. But how do we know when a choice we are contemplating is really from the Spirit rather than an expression of our own desires?
Paul’s answer is that in following the Spirit’s guidance, “the righteous requirements of the law” will be met. That is, if any action we take or contemplate taking violates the guidance given through the written Law, it cannot be an action prompted by the Spirit. God’s Spirit does not contradict God’s Word. What a valuable gift this function of the Law is for you and me today!
[Editor's Note: This excerpt is taken from Satan Exposed: Defeating the Powers of Darkness by Larry Richards, 2015, pages 75-80, used by permission of Chosen Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]
Larry Richards holds a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Michigan, a Th.M. in Christian education from Dallas Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in religious education and social psychology form Garrett Biblical Seminary and Northwestern University jointly. He has taught in the Wheaton College Graduate School, served as a minister of Christian education and written over 200 books, including theological works, commentaries and several specialty and study Bibles. Larry is currently a full-time author and speaker and lives with his wife in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Publication date: October 21, 2015