“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.“
There are two truths which Christians must ever keep in mind during our commissioned ambassadorship in this world (Matt. 28:19-20, 2 Cor. 5:20). The first truth, revealed in abundance by the entirety of Scripture, is that God is utterly sovereign. The Psalmist states it plainly, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Ps. 115:3). This truth is unchangeable and eternal, for God Himself is unchangeable and eternal.
The other truth, however, is not unchangeable and eternal, but is mutable and temporary. But its nature as such does not diminish the need for the believer to understand it. The second truth is that Satan, the enemy of God and of the redeemed who belong to Him, is the god of our world. In the Upper Room, our Lord referred to Satan as “the ruler of the world,” (Jn. 14:30), whom He had promised “will be cast out” (Jn. 12:31). John said that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). Peter, writing to believers, referred to Satan as “your adversary” (1 Pet. 5:8). The New Testament’s most prolific author, Paul, calls him “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4).
These two large and looming truths rightly frame the believer’s understanding of the world. Writing in the context of human government, Paul states “there is no authority except from God,” (Rom. 13:1). This principle applies not only to human enterprises, but to all realms. So we understand that Satan’s present earthly rule is not independent of God, but that it also is preeminently subject to His control. The book of Job opens by showing Satan’s inability to act without God’s express permission (Job 1:8, 2:6). In the closing book of Holy Scripture, we are told the final divine disposition of Satan: “And the devil was … thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:19). Satan’s rule will end. Our God is in control.
Satan’s power is restricted by God. His nefarious influence is incapable of thwarting God’s good and perfect purposes, and his sinister inducements are inadequate to foment among men successful anarchy against heaven. Yet God, for His own purposes, has permitted Satan to occupy the doomed throne of this cursed and fallen world. But Christians have no cause to fear “the god of this world” for we know that one of the glorious features of God’s omnipotence is that He can bring good out of evil (Gen. 50:20). As Paul’s inspired text promises us, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). John has given us the wonderful assurance that “greater is He that is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4) Of course, we have the ultimate promise from our Lord Himself: “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (Jn. 10:28).
Yet believers are not to nonchalantly disregard this foe, but instead are admonished to “be of sober spirit” and to “be on the alert” because “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Paul tells believers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” and to “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:10-11), schemes that “we are not ignorant of” (2 Cor.2:11). Scripture has even given us a clear remedy in a Satanic onslaught. Peter and James state it simply: “Resist” (1 Pet. 5:9, James 4:7).
Culture Constructed of Corruption
In light of these two truths, then, when believers look at the culture around us, we can easily see that it is constructed through the influence of Satan among fallen men. Culture, corrupted since the Fall, is enticed by the enemy to collectively shake a raised, prideful fist of defiance against the Almighty. But though “the god of this world” is visibly and vigilantly active in perpetrating his “schemes” among men, so too is the Lord’s work evident in the midst. His gospel not only continues to bear fruit, but His righteousness in judgment is ever on display.
The observant, biblically astute believer need not spend hours channel surfing in search of evidence to validate Paul’s words regarding God’s wrath on unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18-32). The evidence of our Lord’s active and acute judgment takes only a momentary glance at the headlines or a swift scroll through social media. That Satan is indeed the “god of this world” is unmistakable. Though his temporal rule may be potent, it does not inhibit God’s greater power in righteous judgment.
This past week another glimpse of divine judgment was evidenced when a toy company announced the launch of a “gender fluid” doll line. To be promoted with the slogan, “A doll line designed to keep the labels out and invite everyone in,” the new line of children’s toys is, according to one writer, “fundamentally about embracing individuality.” An executive for the company stated, “Toys are a reflection of culture and as the world continues to celebrate the positive impact of inclusivity, we felt it was time to create a doll line free of labels.”
Though the secular culture will laud such things as inimitable exhibitions of “tolerance,” the onlooking Christian will apply a more apt slogan borrowed from Paul: “Given over” (Rom. 1:24, 1:26, 1:28). Biblically informed believers looking at the God-defying culture will recognize the relevance of Paul’s words: “ … although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32). It has been wisely stated that tolerance is the virtue of a man with no convictions. The Christian observes the culture grandly, repeatedly proving the quip.
“Until we understand what the gospel really is, we’re not going to make much of an impact on the culture.” R.C. Sproul
Grace Gives Understanding
While there are any number of responses which Christians might thoughtfully give to this latest secular dive into further depravity, the one thing that it, and other such examples from the truth-suppressing world (Rom. 1:18), ought to prompt us to is humble thanks, prostrate before God, for the truly amazing grace He has bestowed upon us. That we view such instances of depravity not merely through the eyes of moralism, but through the knowledge of truth, is an effect of divine grace unique to the saints. Though the evidence of God’s grace among His redeemed is vivid and varied, the one facet of grace that is universal among believers, and ought to be ever-growing, is in our understanding.
The first effect of God’s grace on the redeemed is to give us understanding, saving knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). Luke records the magnificent Benedictus of Zacharias who understood that his child, John the Baptist, would “go on before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give His people the knowledge of salvation” (Lk. 1:76-77). In the first eight verses of Peter’s second epistle, he speaks of knowledge five times, preeminently stating that “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness , through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3). Our Lord, of course, proclaimed the same necessity of knowledge: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31-32).
Understanding Grows Through Sanctification
The opening of our eyes to truth does not end, but rather begins at our salvation. Being made a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), we are able to understand what we could not before. We recognize the great ongoing battle “against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12) and we understand how the defiant, though judged (Jn. 16:11), enemy of God is foisting his heinous rebellion on earth. We are saved by God’s grace from God’s wrath and into a struggle which is “not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12) but against “speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:4). And that battle is waged with the same knowledge of truth He first gave us at salvation.
But our ongoing growth in understanding is both the prayer and the command of the apostles and our Lord. Paul wrote to the Colossians, who had “heard the word of truth, the gospel” (Col. 1:5), and “understood the grace of God in truth” (Col. 1:6), that his prayer for them was “that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col.1:9). Peter commands: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Jesus tells us to “abide in My word” (Jn. 8:31) and that by that Word we are sanctified (Jn. 17:17). Our ongoing sanctification is an effect of grace intended to grow us in “spiritual wisdom and understanding.”
As we view the abject wickedness in the world, our response of thankfulness, then, is rightly clarified for us, and in us, by the Spirit through the Word. Paul wrote that the gospel is veiled to the perishing, because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). “But God” (Eph. 2:4), who permits the enemy his temporary, dark enterprise in blinding men’s eyes, has shown His greater, and infinite, power in Christ to “save to the uttermost” (Heb. 7:25) those whom He has “chosen from before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).
Paul reminds us, not merely of the depravity of the world, but of God’s supreme power to save from it. “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The apostle then pens inspired words which ought greatly humble the redeemed: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). From the depths even of Satanic wickedness, God is yet powerful to save. “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31).
Thankfulness For The Grace of Understanding
As we come to worship, in the midst of a world run amok with evil, let us thank God for having “shone in our hearts … the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Indeed, as Paul writes to Titus, that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation,” so let us obediently strive that His grace may have its full effect, “instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).
“Be careful not to measure your holiness by other people’s sins.” Martin Luther
Let the darkness of the world magnify before us the Lord who is our Light (Jn. 8:12). Though we see the effects of depravity with disdain, lamenting, and sorrow, it is not from mere moralism that we view these things. We have been granted the knowledge of truth. We must not face the carnal arena of culture as the self-righteous Pharisee, declaring, “God I thank you that I am not like other people” (Lk. 18:11) Rather, we worship, pleading as the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Lk. 18:13).
Let us worship with prayerful hearts asking God that we may be obediently employed in proclaiming “the excellencies of Him” (1 Pet. 2:9) with boldness as we seek to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). Let us pray for the sovereign Lord to empower us to valiantly proclaim to the blind His gospel, “the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16) that some may, by His grace and for His glory, be snatched from the fire of His eternal wrath. (Jude 23). May our ministry as His saints (Eph. 4:12) imitate that of Paul: “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
Let us give God humble thanks for giving to us, unworthy sinners, His saving and sanctifying truth, and with meek pleading let us make our request be known to God (Phil. 4:6) that we may faithfully wield His truth for His glory, for His gift of salvation to be liberally granted among men, and for the joy of witnessing His greatest act of making a new creation in Christ.
May J.C. Ryle’s words stir us on our “most holy faith” (Jude 20), “We have the truth, and we need not be ashamed to say so.”