Binding Satan

Ephesians 6:10-18 - Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions.

James 4:7 - Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

1 Peter 5:8 - Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

John 4:4 - You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

Revelation 20:1-2 - I saw an angel coming down out of heaven...he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.

There's an increasing emphasis in our secular culture on the "spirit world." More and more movies and books and TV programs feature angels and demons and "spirit beings." The good thing in all of this (if we can call any part of it good) is that our culture has moved from pure secular humanism, where nothing beyond the natural world is acknowledged or allowed, to a position where the supernatural world is at least acknowledged.

The bad news, of course, is that most of the "spiritual" information fed to our impressionable culture through movies, TV, self-help books or "musical" groups is either distorted or completely false. As a result, many people in our post-Christian society are misled and desensitized to the truth. Christ, Christianity, Satan, angels and demons are all misrepresented. The Lord Jesus Christ and Christians are demeaned, distorted and put down. The mission and character of the holy angels are trivialized. The dangerous deceptions and destructive intent of Satan and demons are either turned into cartoons and comedy routines, or actually promoted by movies and musicians. Occultism, the "worship" of spirit beings and even open Satanism are tolerated and even accepted as a part of our culture.

The "Good" News

As always happens with any of our secular culture's phenomena, some of the fall-out has seeped into the Christian community. The result is an unbalanced, unbiblical and unhealthy emphasis on the activity of angels and demons and on supernatural experiences and "happenings." This emphasis is not entirely bad, because for too long the anti-supernatural bias of liberal theology effectually "put the church to sleep" on the subject of angels, demons and other spiritual realities.

Now, at least, the Christian community is more willing to admit what Scripture has always said: there is a real live Satan and there really are angels--both good and bad. Furthermore, most Christians now readily acknowledge that demons may cause physical and spiritual problems, and that Christians may be called upon to deliver a person from demonic influence or possession by the power of God, as in New Testament days. A proper understanding of the reality and importance of the supernatural and of warfare in the spiritual realm is critical for the believer.

The Bad News

However, in some churches and Christian groups the pendulum has swung too far. The supernatural activity of angels (both holy and evil) receives a degree of attention that is out of proportion to its place in God's Word. Emphasis on the saving work of Jesus Christ and the preaching of the gospel is often diminished. Expository teaching of the Bible is abandoned in favor of topical sermons on angels, demons or miraculous happenings. The recounting of subjective present-day "experiences" are preferred to strengthening doctrinal instruction from God's Word.

A lack of sound teaching can result in serious doctrinal distortions. For example, books and songs which compare "the battle between Satan and Jesus" may have the unintentional result of subtly "equalizing" Satan and Jesus in the minds of believers. In effect, Jesus is lowered to the level of a created being, while Satan is elevated to the level of the Son of God!

An example of this subtle distortion is illustrated on a popular T-shirt found in many Christian book stores. Jesus and Satan are depicted in side-by-side, equal-sized pictures, with the captions "He loves me" under Jesus, and the caption "He loves me not" under Satan. God incarnate is lowered; Satan is exalted! Another shocking example is found in a current children's song which goes like this: "Here I have a little red box with Satan in, and I pick him up and smash his face and put him back again. Here I have a little white box with Jesus in,and I pick it up and kiss him and pass it to my friends."

The unhealthy emphasis on demons and angels spills over into teachings for Christian living. The idea, for example, that normal Christian conduct involves identifying and exorcising "territorial spirits" or "binding Satan" on a regular basis is not found in Scripture. While it is true that many activities of churches today are not found in the Scripture, we must be careful where we apply that argument. Activities such as Sunday Schools and VBS or Christian camps, orphanages and hospitals are not found in Scripture, but there is ample teaching in God's Word to justify the existence of these "arms" of the church. When a specific institution or activity of the church or Christians is not commanded or inferred in God's Word, however, we must be cautious about engaging in it. We always find ourselves on safe ground when we emulate the life of our Lord Jesus and follow the stated teachings of God's Word.

The Timetable for Binding

As an example of the proper way that Scripture should inform our activity and our doctrine, let's use the idea of "binding Satan," which is taught in some churches as a norm for Christian living. In Revelation 20:1-10 we read that Satan will be bound for a thousand years, later released for a short time, and finally thrown into the lake of fire (hell) for eternal punishment. In other words, it seems quite clear that until Satan is bound for the thousand years, he is not bound. He will not be bound until Scripture says he will be bound. The 1000 years of Revelation 20, when the Lord returns to this earth to set up His millennial kingdom, is a future event.

Therefore the "binding of Satan" today is really unscriptural terminology and unscriptural practice, even though the intent may be for the glory of God. Christians who spiritualize the 1000 years of Revelation 20 to the present "Christian age" (the "amillennial" view of Revelation) are inconsistent if they call for the "binding" of Satan. If Revelation 20 is in the present time, then Satan is already bound by God, and he doesn't need to be bound again and again by Christians! Any way you look at it, "binding Satan" shouldn't be part of normal Christian conduct today.

The Norm for Today

What does the New Testament indicate about normal Christian attitude in reference to Satan? James 4:7 says that we are to "resist the devil and he will flee" from us. How do we resist the devil? The classic passage in the New Testament for resisting the devil is Ephesians 6:10-18. This is the Christian "Standard Operating Procedure" for spiritual warfare today. Notice that there is nothing in either James 4 or Ephesians 6 about binding Satan! We are told toresist Satan--to oppose and combat his efforts and schemes. We are to take on the full armor of God so that we can stand firm and extinguish Satan's flaming missiles.

If it were possible for us to "bind" Satan today, we would not need instruction about the various pieces of the armor of God. If Satan could be bound, he would not be capable of attacking us and throwing flaming missiles. In fact, the concept of "binding" Satan can actually be quite a dangerous belief. If we believe that we can "bind" Satan, we will (wrongly) think that he has been incapacitated, and we will be completely unprepared for the enemy's attacks.

In addition, if we believe that our prayers can "bind" Satan, we will be far less diligent about "putting on God's armor," and will be defenseless and vulnerable to Satan's attacks. Satan is notbound--and cannot be bound at the present time. Our strategy, then, is to be fully armed to repel his attack. Putting on the armor of God and fighting is the kind of resistance that thwarts the enemy's scheming tactics, and forces Satan to flee.

The Armor of God

Specifically, notice the emphasis in Ephesians 6:16 on the use the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Again, there is no reference to "binding Satan," but knowing and using the appropriate Scriptures when under attack. Consider how our Lord Himself resisted Satan when He was tempted in the wilderness. (See Matthew 4 and Luke 4.) Jesus did not "bind" Satan. In all three instances of Satan's temptations, our Lord quoted Scripture, and the devil was repelled ("he left Him for a season.")

We should follow our Lord's example when attacked or tempted. And let's not forget that if we are going to quote Scripture, we must know Scripture! Our Lord quoted three times from the book of Deuteronomy. How many of us can quote three verses from the book of Deuteronomy? Knowledge of the Word of God is important for repelling Satan, and is crucial for Christian growth and living as well. As He was growing up, the Lord Jesus must have spent a lot of time memorizing the Word of God (see Luke 2:52). What an example for us to follow!

Furthermore, notice that prayer (v18) is emphasized as part of the full armor of God. It certainly isn't wrong to ask the Lord to hinder the work and overturn the efforts of the enemy, or to ask the Lord to put a "hedge of protection" (Job 1:10) around a missionary or an evangelist--or any Christian who is on the "front lines" in spiritual warfare. It seems, however, that prayer as a piece of armor is focused not on "binding Satan" but on requesting strength for resisting the devil and growing in faith. "The devil trembles when he sees the weakest Christian on his knees" is not a Scripture verse, but it does contain a Scriptural principle.

So the biblical key to victory in spiritual warfare is not found in "binding Satan" but rather in "taking on the full armor of God." We are to be alert (v18) to the enemy's schemes, but we should not consider that we can "bind" the enemy. Our confidence should be on the Word of God and the power of God within us to overcome his tactics. (See verses 10 and 15 as well as 1 John 4:4). Our attention should be focused on truth and righteousness (v14). Our service should be characterized by sharing the Gospel and building up believers (v15). Our time should be spent in the Word and in prayer (v18). This is how we put on the full armor of God, and this will enable us to stand firm and resist Satan in spiritual warfare. We aren't told to "bind Satan," but as we "take on the full armor of God" his attacks on us will be ineffective and he will flee from us.

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