Soon after Paul had departed from his successful missionary work among the Galatian churches (cf. Acts 13-14) false teachers crept in and began throwing the Galatian believer’s into great confusion (Gal. 1:7). These troublemakers were possessed by a vicious desire to distort the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:7).
Consider the words of Timothy George,
“Nothing delights the devil more than to disrupt and destroy, insofar as he can, a true work of God. Whenever there is a genuine moving of God’s Spirit or a major advance in missionary outreach, we can be sure that satan and his minions will have a vested interest in casting doubts, sowing discord, and wreaking havoc. So it was among the churches of Galatia,” (Galatians, p. 90).
Mark this diligently: Wherever Christ is truly and clearly being proclaimed, satan will be most actively present in opposition.
satan’s primary goal is to distort and undermine the gospel (I intentionally do not capitalize the devil’s name so as to consciously give him no honor, for he is undeserving of a proper name).
The devil will use any and every deceitful scheme possible to accomplish this goal.
Therefore, Paul, in Ephesians 4:14, says that God has gifted men in the church to teach the gospel in order that believers may grow into the fullness of Christ, so that they “…may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes,” (emphasis mine).
Again, in Ephesians 6:11, Paul exhorts, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil,” (emphasis mine).
What then are some of the devil’s schemes in relation to the gospel ministry?
1. First, if the devil cannot get a pastor or church to overtly distort the gospel by adding additional requirements to it (i.e., legalism), he will seek to blunt its affects through tempting them to minimize it.
Here is what happens.
When a preacher finds that some aspect of biblical truth is hard for his congregation to swallow or perhaps arouses no immediate response or interest from the masses, the instinct is to jettison it or blunt its affects by minimizing it. And the tendency among churchgoers is to encourage this, (see Packer, Puritan Papers, vol. 1, p. 256).
When the gospel is minimized, the tendency is for pastors and churches to begin to accommodate to the culture rather than to conform to the priorities, mandates and implications of the gospel.
2. The second scheme naturally flows from the first, distortion by deception. Because the gospel is minimized, believers put themselves in a more susceptible position of being led astray by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14).
The more the gospel is minimized, the more a believer or church will be susceptible to deception and thus being led astray.
The enemy never comes to the church and announces, “We are here to bring you a false gospel in order to cut you off from Christ and any hope of salvation.”
No, the enemy is far more cunning and clever (Gen. 3:1; 2 Cor. 11:3). He disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).
Martin Luther writes,
“…the more holy the heretics seem in outward show, so much the more mischief they do; for if the false apostles had not been endued with notable gifts, with great authority, and show of holiness, and had not vaunted themselves to be Christ’s ministers, the Apostles’ disciples, and sincere preachers of the gospel, they could not so easily have defaced Paul’s authority, and led the Galatians out of the way,” (Galatians, p. 23).
3. If the devil cannot succeed in minimizing the gospel, he will seek to lure pastors and churches to become lazy and indifferent to it.
Genuine gospel ministry requires much prayer and hard work to understand and apply the gospel. For, one must work against his own flesh, the world and the devil in order to come to a right understanding of the gospel of Christ. Thus, rather than outright denial, the gospel, through the flesh, easily becomes assumed, which then ultimately ends in denial. The temptation is to simply float down the stream rather than paddle against the current because it is far easier.
4. The enemy knows well that what fallen humans understand is legalism and what they do not understand is grace, the gospel. Thus, the enemy of our faith works overtime to keep believers and non-believers especially, ignorant and blind to its truths (2 Cor. 4:4).
5. Those who by God’s grace know the gospel (Gal. 4:9) will be tempted through persecution to alter the gospel in order to lessen conflict (Gal. 6:12-13) or be tempted through discouragement by their failures and the burdens of ministry to lose sight of the gospel and quit (2 Cor. 1:8; Gal. 6:9).
6. Sixth, the enemy will seek to keep pastors and churches distracted with a host of other things, perhaps even good things (e.g., social work), so long as they do not emphasize and keep a priority on those things of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3).
Consider carefully the following insight by Ralph Erskine,
“Hence see the reason why the devil opposes the doctrine of grace so much, and cares not though the law, as a covenant, be never so much preached up, because it is the gospel-doctrine that tends only to true godliness, while the law and legal doctrines tend to keep men strangers to the life of God.
The devil cares not how much you be in duties, providing you keep off from Christ, who is the end of the law, for righteousness: for then he knows you would be holy also: but he is an unholy devil; and therefore he opposes the gospel, and its doctrine. The devil knows that he hath fast hold of you, so long as you cleave to the law; but that he hath lost you, if once you have laid hold on Christ:
for, if once you get Christ for justification, as having fulfilled the righteousness of the law for you, then you will also get Him for sanctification, to fulfill the righteousness of the law in you.
The devil knows, that though in seeming holiness, you should be transformed to an angel of light, like himself, yet you lie under the heavy vengeance of God, and curse of the law, and under the power of sin too, so long as you are under the law,” (Ralph Erskine, “Law-Death, Gospel-Life,” pp. 59-60.)
7. Lastly, if the enemy cannot destroy a believer through persecution or despair, he will seek to improve him.
Timothy George, commenting on Galatians 1:7 writes,
“Luther masterfully captured the genius of their appeal in his summary of their message: Christ’s a fine master. He makes the beginning, but Moses must complete the structure. The devil’s nature shows itself therein: if he cannot ruin people by wronging and persecuting them, he will do it by improving them,” (e.g., Your Best Life Now!- J.F.; Galatians, p. 96).
The enemy is a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8) by means of deceitful schemes.
The remedy against these deceitful schemes is to remain sober and watchful (1 Peter 5:8) and to always be seeking to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
The church is created by the gospel, lives by the gospel, guarded and protected by the gospel and completed by the gospel.
Thus, when we find ourselves in the heat of the battle, let us ever recall to our minds the good news of Christ’s victory. For, the believer’s fight of faith is not waged from a position of weakness but victory. As Martin Luther wrote,
“This is our comfort that the devil, with all his limbs, cannot do what he would. He may trouble many, but he cannot overthrow Christ’s gospel. The truth may be assailed, but vanquished it cannot be; for “the word of the Lord endureth forever,” (Galatians, p. 24).