They Overcame By…

Part 9 of the series:

When Faith Doesn’t Work

by Don Enevoldsen

Saturday morning was cartoon time. As a child, I loved all of them, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Underdog, and my favorite, The Roadrunner. (To be perfectly honest, I still love them, but I no longer devote Saturday morning to them. It turns out that to watch them on Saturday morning you have to actually wake up.)

One enduring memory is the scenes where a little devil sat on the cartoon character’s shoulder and said into his ear, “Do it,” while a little angel sat on the opposite shoulder and said, “Don’t do it.” Invariably, the character listened to the devil and got into trouble, which could mean anything from being run over by a train to blowing himself up with the bomb intended for his nemesis. It never came out well. And I laughed accordingly.

I only wish life was that simple. I’m sure I have a devil and an angel sitting on my shoulders, but they never say, “Do it,” or, “Don’t do it.” The devil says things like, “You worthless piece of crap. I can’t believe you could ever expect to succeed/be accepted/be respected/be loved, considering how pathetic and flawed you are. You’re hopeless. Maybe if you try really hard, at least you might be tolerated.”

The angel just sits and stares. He knows that if he tries to say anything, all the other voices in my head that represent the fragmented parts of my own soul will interrupt him with, “Shut up. You know the devil’s right.” So he just sits there.

The book of Revelation accurately presents the devil in this light. He is the “accuser” of the saints who stands before the throne of God day and night doing what accusers do—he accuses (Revelation 12:10). And we are left with the task of defending ourselves against the accusations. Fortunately, Revelation also gives us the tools for our defense.

They overcame him

     by the blood of the Lamb

    and by the word of their testimony;

they did not love their lives so much

     as to shrink from death. (Revelation 12:11)

The three keys, then, to overcoming the accuser are:

1. The blood of the Lamb,

2. The word of my testimony,

3. Not loving my life so much as to shrink from death.

The first is familiar to believers. We came to Christian faith through at least a basic understanding and acceptance of the blood of the Lamb. This is the Gospel in its simplest and most powerful form. God designed us to live in fellowship with him. When Adam and Eve sinned, they broke the relationship with God and condemned humanity to a life separated from God, who is the only source of life, joy and peace. All have sinned (Romans 3:23) and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Jesus came as a sinless man and died on our behalf. By acceptance of his sacrifice, we are absolved of the death we deserve, the consequence of our sin, and restored to fellowship with God.

The blood of the Lamb makes it possible for us to say to the accuser, “You’re right. I am guilty, but the penalty for that was covered by Jesus. I don’t have to listen to your accusations anymore.”

This confession of our faith is usually equated with the second step in overcoming—the word of our testimony. My testimony becomes, “I am washed by the blood of the Lamb. I’m covered by the blood. End of story. And they lived happily ever after.”

The third part of the process, not loving our lives, is rarely even included in the explanation. It is usually just the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. Not loving my life so much as to shrink from death doesn’t mesh well with living happily ever after.

Often, however, as we’ve seen throughout this series, the act of speaking those words does not necessarily get the accuser to shut up. In spite of the fact that we no longer have to listen to his accusations, for some reason, we still do.

So what exactly is this process about? Can I overcome or not?

Let’s begin with the accuser and his accusations. We expect Satan to point out sins we have committed. But that isn’t usually where we struggle. Revelation calls Satan an accuser, but it doesn’t detail any of the accusations. To find examples, we have to look at the handful of other places where he is portrayed as an accuser.

One is in Job. Satan doesn’t accuse Job of doing anything wrong. Rather he attacked Job’s motive for doing right.

“Does Job fear God for nothing?”  Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11)

That was the accusation directed at God. When Satan spoke directly to Job, it was through the mouths of his friends. They sat down with him, not to comfort and support, but rather to help him find the reason for his suffering. Beware of friends who want to help you figure out what’s wrong with you.

Eliphaz started: “Who being innocent, has ever perished?” (Job 4:7). In other words, “There must be something wrong with you or you wouldn’t be suffering.”

Next Bildad spoke up: “Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right?” (Job 8:3). In other words, “There must be something wrong with you, or you wouldn’t be suffering.”

Third came Zophar: “Oh, how I wish that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom has two sides. Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sins” (Job 11:5-6). In other words, “There must be something wrong with you or you wouldn’t be suffering. You’re lucky God is merciful or it would be even worse.”

Not one of these accusations, whether directly from Satan’s lips or through the mouths of friends, mentioned a single thing Job had done wrong. They all focused on the essence of Job’s being. At his core, he must be bad. His circumstances and his pain proved it.

Another passage that portrays Satan as an accuser is in Zechariah 3:1-10. Joshua, the high priest charged with the restoration of Temple worship after the Babylonian captivity, stood before the angel of the Lord while Satan stood at his side to accuse him. Zechariah does not directly detail the substance of Satan’s accusations, but we get a sense of it from the way God responded. He rebuked Satan, told him that God had chosen Jerusalem and that Joshua was to be an integral part of restoring the city of God’s choice. He declared that Joshua was a burning stick snatched from the fire (Zechariah 3:2). Then Joshua’s clothing is described:

Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” (Zechariah 3:3-4)

The implication is that God chose Joshua and Satan immediately challenged his worthiness for the position. He was too filthy and too damaged from the fire to ever accomplish what God wanted. At his core, Joshua must be bad.

It appears that the accusations of Satan have little to do with sins we have committed, but rather focus on our innate lack of worthiness. Even Satan’s attacks on Jesus in the wilderness started with a questioning of Jesus’ qualifications: “If you are the son of God…” (Matthew 4:3).

This might explain why simply saying, “I’m covered by the blood,” has done so little in helping us overcome. We are pleading the blood over our behavior, but the accusations of Satan are directed at our core belief in whether or not we are good enough to deserve the blood of the Lamb in the first place. We’re pretty sure we will get into heaven, but we don’t think we deserve anything right now. We are inherently bad; God only tolerates us because he’s obligated. The word of our testimony doesn’t reach to the real problem.

To put the reality in simple terms, the word of your testimony is something more personal and more visceral than merely saying the right words, “Blood of the Lamb.” The Greek word for testimony is marturia, the same word that is often translated both “martyr” and “witness.” It refers to testimony given before a judge.

If you are subpoenaed to give testimony or witness in court, you will not be asked to explain the psychology of behavior. You will not be asked for your opinion. Opinions, no matter how theologically sound, are not admissible evidence. A witness is asked only to tell what he actually saw or experienced. Testimony is only relevant when connected to experience. Your confession of truth is a useful tool for stepping into experience, but it is not experience itself.

Hagar spent her life in the service of a godly couple, Sarah and Abraham, who knew much of God’s mercy and his provision. But she never experienced it directly until she found herself in crisis. When Sarah was unable to have children, she offered Hagar, her maidservant, as a replacement so that Abraham could have an heir. After the conception, however, there was considerable friction between Sarah and Hagar. Eventually Sarah treated her so badly that Hagar ran into the desert to get away.

We next see Hagar near a spring, sitting forlornly and wondering what to do next. (Genesis 16:7) An angel appeared to her with comfort and a promise, a visible, tangible demonstration that God did know what she was going through and cared about her well being. In a moment of inspiration, Hagar gave God a name, based on her experience with him.

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13)

Hagar spent most of her life hearing that God saw and cared. That didn’t help her when Sarah turned hostile. It was only when she experienced the reality of God seeing and caring that the word of her testimony became, “God sees and cares.” She knew it firsthand.

The experience of the redemptive power of the blood of the Lamb inevitably coincides with our willingness to let go of the old identity of worthlessness and shame over what we believe we are. Grasping the identity for which God designed us involves seeing that old identity for what it is—a false construct based on how we have been treated and how we behaved in order to survive, reinforced by the voice of the accuser twisting it to keep our attention diverted from the true purpose of our creation. We have been so long closely attached to that old identity that we really feel like we will die if we don’t have it. And in fact, that is what will happen. But if we learn to not love our lives so as to not shrink from death, then we will be ready to move into our new identity. To die is to admit my identity is in something other than my past.

Over the next two weeks, I will attempt to identify this process in the life of the Apostle Peter, in order to give an example of one way it can manifest itself in the real world. He did not just stroll into his calling after a few Bible lessons from Jesus. It took years to get it. I’ve found that my experience is not much different than his.

Do you have an additional thought on this subject that will assist our search for truth? Please join the discussion and share your insights.

They Overcame By…
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