by Ben Johnson

2 Cor. 4:3-4. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. KJV. (All scripture quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise indicated.)

Almost from the moment we first bow before the cross of Jesus Christ and surrender our lives to his love and are born again of God’s spirit, it quickly becomes apparent that there are forces that stand in opposition to our desire to live for God and to serve our risen Lord in this world. We find ourselves still saddled with a carnal, fallen nature that still wants to live for self and gratify its own lusts without regard for what God’s word teaches or the awesome love that has led God to reach out to us and share His word with us. Even if this nature were the only opponent we had to overcome, we would have quite a battle on our hands. However, we don’t live our lives in a spiritual vacuum — some sheltered, isolated place where it’s just “us and God.” We must also contend with another foe who stands in opposition to Christ and to all who are born of his spirit.

In 1 Peter 5:8, Peter warned believers to “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Notice that this admonition was given to Christians. Peter had a burden to warn his fellow believers that they indeed faced a strong and cunning foe in their spiritual lives and that the consequences of taking this foe lightly, of failing to be sober and vigilant, were real and serious. Satan is referred to in different places in the scriptures as the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4), the “prince of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), and the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph. 2:2). John says in 1 John 5:19, “...the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” It is clear from these and other scriptures that Satan rules over a kingdom that stands in opposition to God’s kingdom and that he has a powerful and influential place in this world order.

Yet there are also many scriptures that clearly show the limits of Satan’s authority and power. He had to obtain permission from God before he could do anything in the life of Job. Job 1:6-12, 2:1-6. Jesus said in Luke 10:19, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” Jesus also said to his disciples after his resurrection, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matt. 28:18. Paul wrote in Romans 13:1, “...there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” He was speaking here specifically about civil obedience to governing authorities, but the principle applies to the spiritual realm as well. God and God alone is the source from which all authority and rule flow and by this power He has exalted His son Jesus Christ and given him a position of supreme authority above all of creation (1 Cor. 15:25-28, Eph. 1:19-23, Phil. 2:9-11).

As we read passages such as these, it is clear that Satan has not somehow snuck up on God and claimed this place of authority and influence without His knowledge or permission. Rather, God has allowed Satan his current position but has made provision for His children to overcome the forces of darkness and to serve Him in spite of the spiritual condition of the world in which they live. God desires for us to know and understand our enemy so that we can overcome Satan’s schemes and serve our Lord in this world and be the lights that He has intended us to be.

In what sense is Satan the “god” of this world? What is the nature and what are the limits of his kingdom and rule? How does this affect people in the world and what does it mean for Christians? As we look into God’s word for these answers, join me in praying that God will lead and direct these words and reveal His truth as He will.

The Kingdom of Self-Will
As we examine Satan’s kingdom, it is instructive to look at how it was formed. In Ezekiel 28, the prophet was commanded by God to deliver a prophesy of judgment against the king of Tyre. In verses 12-15 God said, “Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “‘You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.” Though this word was being directed to the king of Tyre, I believe that God specifically chose this language in order to describe the fall of Lucifer himself and to show the parallel between the two situations. The same thing that had happened in the heart of Lucifer to inspire his rebellion against God had happened in the heart of the king and as a result God’s judgment was forthcoming. But what was it that had happened? When God said, “You were blameless ... till wickedness was found in you,” what wickedness was he referring to?

A very similar passage in Isaiah 14 helps to shed light on this question. Once again we see a prophecy of judgment against an earthly ruler, in this case the king of Babylon. But as with the passage in Ezekiel, I believe that part of the language used here describes more than just the man in question but looks all the way back to Lucifer’s fall and is intended to show the similarity in the two situations. Verses 12-15 say, “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.” Notice that the phrase “I will” occurs five times in verses 13-14. Those words are an expression of a spirit of self-will, something that stands as a founding and core principle of Satan’s kingdom and is at the very heart of what sin itself is.

Earlier we discussed how the scriptures reveal that God is the supreme source of authority and rule in all of creation. But here we see a different, opposing spirit operating. Evidently Lucifer had been given a high and honored place among God’s angels and for a time he was “blameless” in his ways in the eyes of God. He was content to occupy the position God had given him and was flowing with God’s purpose and was in agreement with God’s plan for his life. But in process of time he began to consider things from a self-centered perspective, and his heart began to fall victim to the power of self-will and sin. He was no longer content to allow God to occupy His rightful place of supreme authority, but rather he began to have his own ideas about how things should be. He no longer saw God as a just, loving ruler whose perfect plan for him would lead to the highest possible joy and peace he could experience. Instead, he began to resent God’s authority and saw Him as one who was unjustly suppressing him and keeping him from a higher and more illustrious position that could otherwise be his.

The more he yielded himself to this viewpoint, the stronger the hold of self-will and rebellion in his heart became. This process reached its zenith when he declared in his heart, “I will make myself like the Most High.” His desire was to somehow move out from under God’s authority and occupy a place where he could live according to his own will and be his own god. So blinded was he by his self-centered illusions of how things should be, so strong had the grip of self-will on his heart become, that he reached a point of supreme delusion where he actually believed he could rebel against the almighty God.

Other Angels Join Lucifer’s Rebellion
Despite the utter foolishness of this idea however, he did not enter into this rebellion alone. Matthew 25:41 and Revelation 12:7 refer to the devil “and his angels”, making it clear that the kingdom of darkness consists not only of Satan but also evil spirits under him. Paul referred to a “messenger of Satan” that was sent to torment him in 2 Corinthians 12:7, and Jesus and the disciples dealt with unclean spirits on many occasions. Jude 1:6 speaks of “angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home” and 2 Peter 2:4 refers to “angels that sinned” who now stand condemned before God and awaiting his future judgment. From these scriptures I believe that we can see a picture begin to emerge of how Lucifer was able to seduce other angels into joining him in his rebellion against God. I believe this is further confirmed by Revelation 12:4 which says, speaking of the dragon that represents Satan, “His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.” Lucifer sought out those that could also be tempted by his corrupt vision and together they rose up in defiance of the God who had created them.

Needless to say, this hopeless rebellion failed. God’s righteous kingdom triumphed and Satan and his followers lost their place of glory and privilege in heaven. I believe that it was this momentous event to which Jesus was referring in Luke 10:18, when he told his disciples “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Lucifer and those that joined with him had “fallen from heaven” and were now “brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.” Isa. 14:12-15. The previously mentioned scriptures in Jude and 2 Peter describe these angels as being cast into darkness and condemnation, reserved unto judgment. Thus was Satan’s kingdom formed with himself as its head and a host of fallen angels under him and thus began the war between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness that has been waged ever since.

Another Plan of Attack
Satan had failed in his attempt at a direct, frontal assault on God and His righteous kingdom, so he was now compelled to find another way to carry on his rebellion and express the self-will and hatred to which he was now wholly given over. He focused his destructive efforts next on God’s creation, in particular his principal creation, man. His desire was to do anything he could to corrupt the perfect design and plan of God for His creation and in so doing to “attack” God through these creatures that He had brought forth in the earth.

God had created a beautiful, perfect paradise for Adam and Eve where all of their needs were met abundantly and where sin and the strife and death that it brings simply did not exist. Even more wonderful than the natural paradise however, was the intimate face-to-face fellowship they enjoyed with God. Genesis 3:8 speaks of “...the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day....” This was clearly something that they recognized and were used to. It is an amazing thing to consider how wonderful it must have been to simply talk with God face to face with no barrier of sin and self in between and with no sense of self-consciousness or unworthiness in the presence of His perfect holiness. Yet this is exactly what God desired and intended in the creation of man. He desired to share his infinite love with a family of sons and daughters who would love and honor Him and His son Jesus Christ, our pre-eminent elder brother and the one for whom and through whom He created the world. Rom. 8:29, 2 Cor. 6:17-18, Col. 1:15-19, Heb. 2:11.

Clearly the world we live in today does not reflect the original plan and purpose of God. This corruption of God’s perfect design for His creation began in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve as a result of a wicked scheme of Satan. We can see in Genesis 3:1-7 the unfolding of this plan as he seduced first Eve and then through her Adam into disobeying what God had told them by eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Satan’s Strategy in the Garden
He accomplished his evil aim using two distinct tactics. The first part of Satan’s plan was to appeal to Eve’s natural desires. As he brought up the subject of the forbidden fruit and talked about what it could supposedly do for her, she began to put more faith in what her natural senses and reasoning told her than in what God had told her. Genesis 3:6 says, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” Notice the two levels at which this fruit appealed to her nature.

On one level she saw that it was “good for food” and “pleasing to the eye,” an appeal to her natural senses of taste and sight. The ability to enjoy the taste of good food and to appreciate the sight of beautiful things are abilities with which God endowed man in his creation, and they are not in and of themselves evil. When we are surrendered to God’s will and flowing with His plan for our lives, our natural desires find their intended place in God’s order and are a source of joy and pleasure both to God and to us. However, man was created to worship and serve God and as a result it is in our nature to serve and to devote ourselves to whatever it is that we consider of highest value. If we begin to take the natural gifts and endowments that God has created us with and begin to use them for the selfish gratification of our natural desires without regard for what God’s word teaches, those desires will quickly become our master and we will find ourselves slaves to our lusts. Though Eve was fully aware of what God had said about this tree and its fruit, as she considered its appeal, her desire to gratify the self-centered cravings of her nature led her to set aside God’s loving instruction and do exactly what He had commanded them not to do.

In addition to the sensual appeal to Eve’s nature, she also saw that the fruit was “desirable for gaining wisdom.” This was a direct appeal to her vanity and pride. Satan had told her that “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Gen 3:5. As Eve began to consider these words, her mind became captivated by the promise of this new wisdom. No longer was she willing to simply be dependent on God to teach and guide her, but she believed she could now gain the knowledge she needed to make decisions for herself and to chart her own course through life. Notice how similar this process was to Satan’s own rebellion. He was feeding to Eve the same lie that he himself had come to believe when he proclaimed “I will be like the Most High” — the idea that she could move out from under God’s authority and not only direct and rule her own life, but could in fact be her own god. Having experienced firsthand the captivating power of self-will, Satan was now trying to lead man down the same path he himself had taken and in so doing to bring man under his influence.

Apart from the appeal to Eve’s natural desires, the second part of Satan’s plan was to subtly call into question God’s very character. In Genesis 3:4 he flatly contradicted what God had told Eve about eating the fruit of the tree by saying “You will not surely die.” However, he didn’t simply make this bold assertion and leave it at that. He followed it up with an apparent explanation for why God had told her what he had saying, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” With these words he was subtly suggesting that God was keeping something wonderful from her, selfishly keeping to Himself this great knowledge in order to keep her in a place of subjection and repression. He was also suggesting that God had deliberately misled her with His words, that He had in effect lied to her to preserve this state of domineering control over man. Again we see the similarity here with Satan’s original rebellion and the way that his view of God began to change as he began to consider things from a self-centered perspective.

Satan’s Kingdom Established in the Earth
A complete trust in God and a thorough knowledge of and faith in His character would have led Eve at this point to do what Paul said in Ephesians 6:16, to “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Instead she began to consider these ideas, debating them in the realm of human wisdom instead of casting them down as lies simply because they conflicted with what God had said. As a result, she was seduced by Satan’s scheme and took of the forbidden fruit and ate it and then gave it to Adam who joined with her in willfully rebelling against God’s command. Though they no doubt would never have given verbal or even mental assent to these ideas, by their actions they were saying that it was more important to them to gratify their own selfish desires than to honor and serve God and they were agreeing with Satan’s portrayal of God as an evil, selfish liar.

Thus had Satan successfully reproduced his own rebellion against God in the hearts of mankind. Human beings, created to serve and worship God and to be vessels in whom He could dwell, had now fallen under the power of self-will and sin. Satan now had an avenue through which he could influence and ultimately hope to dominate mankind.

The Result of The Fall
Two principal things occurred in the human heart as a result of the fall of man in the garden. First, embracing Satan’s self-centered philosophy brought man into a condition where self and self-will became the central and ruling principle of human nature. Secondly, it wrought in man a fundamental distrust of God and His motives and His ways. It didn’t take long to see the effects of these changes in the lives of mankind.

Genesis chapter 4 describes the birth of Adam and Eve’s sons Cain and Abel and how each brought an offering before God in the course of time. Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn animals of his flock, a symbolic acknowledgement that death is the just judgment of a holy God upon sin and that only through the death of a sacrifice could sin be atoned for. Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil that he had cultivated, symbolic of something that he had produced through his own efforts. God showed favor to Abel’s offering, but did not to Cain’s offering.

Did this cause Cain to repent for his error and to call out to God and ask Him to help him humble himself and to use this as a means of better teaching him God’s ways? Far from it, Cain became very angry. His pride had been wounded and the self-will that controlled his heart had been directly confronted with God’s authority and His claims to rule and lordship over Cain. Cain’s response was to say in his spirit, “I have every right to be angry. How dare God not accept my wonderful, hard-earned offering to Him? Who is He to say that His way is better than mine?” We see here someone under the control of self-will and sin, asserting their right to set aside God’s rule and to be their own god. This controlling power had such a hold on his mind, that he couldn’t see the utter foolishness of being angry with God and lashing out against His overtures of love.

In spite of Cain’s condition God tried to reach out to him and show him how he could be delivered from the power of self-will by submitting himself to God’s authority. He said in Genesis 4:6-7, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” God was describing the principle of sin as something that was stalking Cain like a hunting animal that was “at his door” and ready to pounce on him. Would he humble himself under God’s authority and cry out to Him for help and wisdom, or would he give in to the pride and self-will in his nature and continue to assert his right to do as he saw fit? Sadly, Cain rejected God’s loving admonition and ultimately killed his brother Abel and as a result was driven out from the presence of God.

The Power of Sin And Self-Will
Notice the warning that God had given Cain about sin. He said “it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Those have been the only two possibilities for mankind ever since the fall in the garden. If man does not avail himself of the means that God has provided for him to be delivered from his nature and from the power of sin, he is destined to become a prisoner and a slave to sin and self.

We see described in Romans chapter 1 the course that has been taken by mankind in general throughout the ages. In verses 18-20 Paul writes, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

God has always been faithful to reach out in love to men of every generation and throughout the ages He has faithfully preserved a remnant of people in the earth that have willingly surrendered to Him and come under His divine government. Many however have taken the path that Paul is describing here. When they are confronted with the knowledge of God and the light of His word their reaction, like Cain, is to suppress and reject that truth because it exposes their wickedness and threatens to interfere with the sin and self-will that they would rather indulge themselves in. As a result, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised.” Rom. 1:25. Presented with God’s truth and Satan’s lie, they choose to believe the lie. As a result, their values and priorities become skewed and they begin to worship “created things,” their own natural desires and the things of this life that they believe can satisfy them, instead of God. But not only do they worship these things, they also reach a point where they become a servant to them. Rather than being the one in control, man quickly becomes a slave to his own lusts, seeking to fulfill them at any cost and following blindly wherever they lead.

This had been Satan’s goal from the moment he began talking with Eve in the garden. His promise to mankind was that they could be their own gods and would not need to be subject to anyone or anything as they lived their lives however they saw fit. However, knowing full well the awful power of sin and self-will, Satan knew what kind of a condition this would bring man into. Once men began to reject God’s rule and become enslaved by their own desires, he would be able by stimulating and playing upon those desires to gradually lead him into bondage and ruin. He and his angels would be able to vicariously express their evil nature and wicked desires through these vessels that were created to serve and glorify God. Man would effectively become the prey of these evil spirits and a mere instrument to be used in the expression of their ongoing rebellion against God and His kingdom.

The God of This World
This influence over man through his fallen nature is the essence of what the Scriptures are referring to when they describe Satan as the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) and the “prince of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). Whenever man rejects the light of God that would confront him in some area of his life, whether it is through the hearing of God’s word, the quiet voice of his own conscience, or the testimony of the creation itself, Satan gains an advantage over him in that area. The next time light comes, it is a little easier for Satan and his host of wicked spirits to stir up the self-will and rebellion that is so much a part of our fallen nature and to convince that man of their carnally appealing lies instead of God’s truth. Through repetition of this pattern, man reaches a point where he no longer questions his self-willed actions and patterns of thinking; these things simply become normal to him. He essentially becomes conditioned to automatically, even unconsciously, respond to these demonic thoughts and urgings.

In considering this process we might be tempted to look past those we consider to be average, everyday people and focus on someone in whose life the grip of sin is externally obvious. We may, for example, look at someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol and say, “Sure enough, there’s someone who has become a slave to their sins.” However, as God revealed to the prophet Samuel in 1 Sam. 16:7, “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” If we could see into men’s hearts as God does, we would see many who are subtly addicted to their lusts in one form or another. Although there can in some cases be dramatic, conspicuous effects in people’s lives as a result of the work of devils (Mark 5:1-20, 9:17-27, Acts 16:16-18), they are very careful in most cases to keep man blind to their influence and to carefully preserve the illusion of freedom that Satan promised to man in the garden.

We see this illustrated in John 8:31-32 where Jesus said to the Jews that had superficially believed on him, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Their response in verse 33 was to say, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” They were completely blind to the bondage they were in and in fact, like Cain, resented the suggestion that there was anything wrong with their lives or their standing before God. Like the Laodicean church mentioned in Revelation 3:14-22 they said “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing” but they did not realize that they were “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (v. 17). The fact is that there is no such thing as freedom to pursue self-will — it inevitably leads to bondage.

This natural inclination to set aside God’s truth to pursue pleasure and selfish lust has allowed Satan throughout the ages to influence and rule over much of mankind without their even being aware of what was happening. As the ruler of a kingdom that was founded on the principles of sin, self-will and rebellion, Satan becomes the de facto “god” of those whose lives are characterized by those principles, however subtle and hidden it may be to the eyes of men. This rule encompasses all people in this condition, from the lowliest and most common of men to titans of industry and heroes of war to great kings and rulers of nations. John describes this in 1 John 5:19 where he writes, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”

Satan’s Rule
We can see another clear statement of Satan’s authority and power over this world order in the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). Verses 5-7 say, “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.’” Although Satan is indeed “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), I do not believe that this was an idle boast. Except where it concerns His people and His plans, God has providentially turned over the rule of this fallen world and this corrupt world order to Satan. Those who reject God’s truth and cling to the sin that their nature cries out for, are subject to Satan’s wicked rule and authority whether they know it or not. Had Jesus been willing to yield to the desires of human nature for power, fame, and luxury, Satan indeed had the power to have elevated him to a high and prestigious place in the world order.

In addition to influencing the hearts and minds of men, Satan also has the power to move in more dramatic ways when God allows it. We see described in Job chapters 1 and 2 how Satan was able to move against Job when God gave him permission to do so and relaxed the protection He had placed around Job and his possessions. Satan was able to inspire an armed group to seize his oxen and donkeys (1:14), cause fire to fall from the sky to destroy his sheep (1:16), inspire another armed group to seize his camels (1:17), create a strong wind to blow down the house his children were in (1:18-19) and to inflict painful sores all over Job’s body (2:7). Pharaoh’s magicians were able to duplicate some of the miracles that God performed before them through Moses (Ex. 7:11, 22). Jesus said in Matthew 24:24, “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect — if that were possible.” Satan’s authority and power over man and this world order is certainly subject to God’s sovereign rule, but it is a very real thing.

As we examine these things, it becomes obvious that the power of the kingdom of darkness is the real motivating factor behind many things that take place in the world. When we hear or read about manifestations of evil, both small and great, that happen in our world we can see what is really behind it. When we experience the pressure and oppression, and sometimes the tempting pull of the world system, we know that we are contending with more than just what we can see with our natural eyes. In Ephesians 6:12, Paul wrote, “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.” Paul recognized that, despite the human personalities that might be involved, the real ruling powers of this world with which God’s people must contend were not those of flesh and blood, but rather the evil spiritual forces of the kingdom of darkness. Earlier in Ephesians 2:2, Paul describes Satan as “the ruler of the kingdom of the air , the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” As the ruler of this shadowy kingdom that pervades the lives and affairs of men, Satan and his forces are actively at work in the hearts of those who resist and disobey God’s truth.

Born as Citizens of Satan’s Kingdom
As we discussed earlier, the natural tendency of man when he begins to consider these issues is to relegate this rule of Satan to the more extreme cases he can think of. He can readily believe these things about criminals, drug addicts or anyone that he can in his own mind consider himself “better” than. However, he is rarely willing to honestly examine his own life in the light of God’s truth because he doesn’t see the need of his own heart or how this could apply to himself. Paul described this condition in 2 Corinthians 4:4 saying, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The fact is that this is a critical truth that affects every one of us because this is the kingdom into which we are born as human beings.

When Adam and Eve fell into sin in the garden, the entire human race fell with them. The fundamental changes that occurred in human nature in the fall of man have been passed down to every following generation. Paul describes this in Romans chapter 5 where he is comparing the results of Adam’s sin and Christ’s obedience to God. Verse 19 says, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Just as being born in a particular county makes us a citizen of that country, so being born into Adam’s race makes us a citizen of the kingdom under whose influence he fell when sin entered the world through him. This is why Paul, speaking of his carnal nature, wrote in Romans 7:14, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin” and why he could say with conviction in verse 18, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”

This truth is expounded on in several places in the scriptures. David wrote in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Ephesians 2:1-3 says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” Note that Paul says that at one time all of us, including himself, used to live in sin, simply living for self and gratifying our nature as we saw fit. That leaves no exceptions. As a result of serving self instead of God we were slaves to our nature and were objects of the wrath of God.

Paul also touches on these truths in Colossians, chapter 1. In verses 13-14, speaking of God, he writes, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Again in verses 21 and 22 he says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”

Our Standing Before God
This is the true problem that faces the natural man when he considers the question of his standing before a holy God. It is not simply a matter of his external behavior. The real issue is, which kingdom is he a citizen of? Is he a citizen of the kingdom of darkness into which he was born and which is headed for destruction, or has he surrendered to God’s dealings with his heart and been born again into the kingdom of God?

We are born into this world as lost sinners, blinded to our need of God, in love with our self life and content in our sins, and with a life that by its very nature is in agreement with God’s enemy. This is why Paul says that “the sinful mind is hostile to God” (Rom. 8:7) and that “many live as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18). No matter what we do or say externally, God sees our hearts and if self is still on the throne of our heart, we are the enemies of God.

There is no way you or I could ever extricate ourselves from the controlling power of sin, and unless God works with our heart we don’t even have within us the desire to do so. If God did not reach out to us in love and mercy, we would have no hope of escaping this condition and being reconciled to Him. We don’t simply need a little “help” from God, we need rescuing by a savior who can “save completely those who come to God through him.” Heb. 7:25. Praise God that He has in love and mercy provided such a savior for us and given us a way to escape the dominion of the kingdom of darkness and to be brought into the kingdom of His Son. Col. 1:13.

God’s Plan of Salvation
When Adam and Eve fell into sin in the garden, their immediate response was to try to cover their sin by making coverings for themselves from fig leaves. Gen. 3:7. Like all efforts by man to cover his own sin, these garments were not acceptable in the sight of God. Instead, He provided a covering for them, making them garments of animal skin. Notice that it required the death of an animal to pay the price of covering their sin. God in His perfect holiness and righteousness hates sin and can do no other than to destroy this cancerous power that would corrupt and destroy all that He has created and instituted. This is why Paul says in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death....” God, who still loved His creatures despite their spurning of His grace and rebellion against His rule, allowed for a substitute to stand in the place of Adam and Eve and to experience the death that should have rightfully been theirs.

It was in this way that God instituted among mankind the practice of animal sacrifices for sin. We see in God’s word others who were faithful to this practice such as Abel and Abraham and where God expounded and formalized this practice through the law that He gave through Moses. Though these things were indeed instituted by God, this was not His ultimate plan for dealing with man’s sin. Hebrews 10:1 says, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming — not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” Again, he says in verse 4, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” These animal sacrifices were a mere symbol of what was yet to come — a way to acknowledge God’s righteous judgment of death upon sin and to express faith in God’s promise that the true atoning sacrifice for sin would come in due time.

In was into this world of sin and darkness and man’s desperate need that our savior Jesus Christ came on a spiritual mission of rescue. For the “joy set before him” (Heb. 12:2), he was willing to empty himself of his divinity and be born as a man and to ultimately give his life on the cross to “taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9) and become the atonement for our sins.

But he did not honor his Father and submit to His will only by his death. He also surrendered his own will to do the will of his father all throughout his life and ministry. Jesus said in John 6:38, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” When he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13), he faced the same choice that Adam faced in the garden. Would he give in to the pull of his nature and take the path that would be most gratifying to his flesh? Or would he hold to the trust and faith in God that Adam had abandoned and do his Father’s will in spite of what his nature desired?

Where Adam failed, Christ triumphed. Through God’s strength and help he put his flesh to death and chose to do his Father’s will not only on this occasion but every time the desires of his nature came into conflict with God’s will. Jesus said in John 14:30, “...the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me...”. Because Jesus had continually put to death the flesh through which Satan influences and drives man, there was no power Satan could wield over him.

Christ’s perfect obedience to God’s plan led him all the way to the cross where he laid down his life and “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor. 5:21. God accepted the sacrifice of this perfect lamb as the complete atonement for sin for all men and demonstrated His acceptance by raising Christ from the dead after three days in the tomb.

Christ’s Victory
Truly, the battle of the ages had been fought at Calvary and Christ had emerged victorious. The barrier of sin that separated man from God had been dealt with and the way to heaven and citizenship in God’s kingdom was now opened. Heb. 10:19-22. There was now a solution to the problem of sin available to man that Satan and all his evil host had no answer for and no power against.

Paul described the completeness of this victory in Colossians 2:13-15 saying, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” All authority in heaven and earth had been given to Jesus by his Father (Matt. 28:18, Phil. 2:9-11) and as the victorious king of heaven and earth, he destroyed the one weapon Satan could wield against man and openly paraded his vanquished foe in defeat. Praise God that he would send His only begotten Son into this dark, sinful world to provide such a Savior for a wretch like me!

This offer of God’s grace still stands today. Peter said on the day of Pentecost, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:39. Those that will submit to God’s authority and give up their own life can avail themselves of this grace and be born again into the kingdom of God.

Citizens of God’s Kingdom
Just as being born a citizen of the United States endows that person with all the rights and privileges of our Constitution, so does being born into God’s kingdom confer upon us all the joys and benefits of citizenship in His kingdom. All the wonderful promises in His word become ours. We can confidently claim the forgiveness of sins that He has promised and enjoy unbroken fellowship with God and with His people. We enjoy the wonderful benefits of being surrounded by the hedge of God’s protection over our lives. Job 1:9, Psa. 34:7. We have God’s promises of peace in times of anxiousness or difficulty, joy even when enduring sorrow and a wonderful promise of a glorious future together with Him and His people forever. Phil. 4:6-7, Psa. 30:4-5, Eph. 2:6-7.

We are also delivered from “the dominion of darkness” and brought into “the kingdom of the Son he loves” Col. 1:13. No longer are we under the authority of the god of this world, but instead we have become “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17) and as such we are heirs to Christ’s victory and authority over the forces of darkness. Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 10:19, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy.” All that we need to live for God has been provided in Christ.

Satan’s iron grip over us through our self-willed nature is broken. Although we still dwell in these bodies of sin and death and still feel the same pulls and urges we did before, we find that now we have a new life on the inside that wants to please and honor God. The mighty power of God that raised Christ from the dead goes to work in our lives so that we can be delivered from not just the guilt of sin, but also from its power in a practical, day by day sense. Paul describes this in Ephesians 1:18-21 saying, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”

It is a life-long process to learn how to avail ourselves of these truths in a practical sense and to learn how to do as Paul said in Romans 6:11-12: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” But no matter what we face in our battle to overcome sin in our lives and to live for God in this wicked world, we have the promise of God’s word that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4. Man may believe Satan’s illusion that he is free to live as he pleases and is not under the rule or authority of anyone, but surrendering our wills to Jesus Christ and giving our lives to him is the only way to escape Satan’s dominion.

Nothing Short Of Surrender
Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins and our only claim to righteousness before God rests upon him and what he did on the cross and on that alone. Although the means for salvation has been provided freely by God and we can’t do anything to add to Christ’s perfect righteousness, there is something that is required of us if we are to avail ourselves of that grace and to enter God’s kingdom.

Jesus said in Mark 8:34-35, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” We cannot have Christ’s life without first giving up our own. The cross that Jesus spoke of in verse 34 is an instrument of death — not only of the death of Jesus, but also of the death that we must embrace as well if we want to be born again of his spirit. This is the small gate and narrow road that leads to life that Jesus described in Matthew 7:14 — it’s too narrow for us to be able to bring our self-life in with us.

This is not a conditional surrender where we make concessions to God and selectively offer Him certain parts of our lives while ultimately reserving the right to make the final decisions. God will accept nothing less than a complete surrender of our wills to Him. This surrender is the absolute undoing of what happened in the garden. It’s the restoration of our faith in God and His character and His love for us and the returning of the government of our lives to Him. We come to truly see God’s goodness, holiness and wisdom and we’re willing to occupy the place for which He created us and to come back under His righteous government. We may not know or understand all that this entails, but as Paul said in 2 Timothy 1:12, we know whom we have believed and it is that knowledge of God and faith in his character that enables us to commit ourselves to Him and to trust Him with our lives, wherever His plan may lead us.

Any message that conveys to man the idea that he can partake of God’s salvation without giving up his self-will paints a false picture. How can we be delivered from the dominion of Satan if we’re still controlled by the principle by which his kingdom operates? No matter what man might try to offer God in the way of good works or noble efforts and no matter how morally he may try to live his life, if he has never surrendered the throne of his heart to God, he is God’s enemy and an unwitting captive of Satan.

Religion Without Surrender
This is true even of those who might live a seemingly religious life. In Matthew 7:22-23 Jesus, speaking of the day of judgment, said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” God said through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 66:2-3, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and whoever offers a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig’s blood, and whoever burns memorial incense, like one who worships an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations.” Although all the things enumerated in this passage were legitimate provisions of the law and were meant to honor God, when they were done by men who had never surrendered their wills to God, He saw their hypocritical actions as abominations. Instead of being humble and contrite and reverencing God’s word and His order, they had chosen their own self-willed ways and in their blindness they delighted in things that were an affront to God.

God does not regard man’s actions but rather the motivations of his heart. 1 Sam. 16:7, Heb. 4:13. Regardless of what men do and how they appear to other men, God only sees two kinds of hearts — those that are surrendered to him and have been made a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and those that are still in rebellion against Him and aligned with the kingdom of darkness. If we are to be delivered from Satan’s power and be born into God’s kingdom we must go through the sword that guards the way to the tree of life. Gen. 3:24. The mere trappings of a form of godliness that denies its power (2 Tim. 3:5) are no defense against Satan’s influence and dominion.

Implications of Satan’s Rule for Christians
It is a truly wonderful and precious thing to be set free from the prison of sin and to be born into God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy. Rom. 14:17. Despite all its wonderful benefits however, it does not eliminate our need to be aware of Satan’s tactics and of the workings of his kingdom. If it did, Peter would not have written as he did to Christians in 1 Peter 5:8 where he wrote, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Paul also would not have exhorted believers as he did in Ephesians 6:11 to “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Why would we need armor if we weren’t in any form of danger?

God’s word reveals that if we have truly committed our lives to Him, the keeping of our souls is secure. Jesus said in John 10:27-29, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” Paul also wrote in 2 Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” If our standing before God is not at stake in our battle against the forces of darkness, then what is? Let’s examine a couple of key ways in which Satan will try to attack God’s people.

Spiritual Freedom
One thing that is at stake is our freedom to serve God. In Romans 7:14, Paul, speaking of his carnal nature, said, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” But in Romans 8:2 he says, “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Through Christ and the power of his life working within us, we have been delivered from the dominion of sin. No longer are we helplessly driven to obey its dictates. The resurrection power of Christ gives us a way to overcome sin and to learn to live lives that are pleasing to God.

Although the power of sin and self-will no longer has any right to rule over us, there is still a part of our nature that wants to go that way and we are still capable of yielding ourselves to the these things. Paul warned Christians against this in Romans 6:16 saying, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

After we come to faith, Satan and his wicked spirits will not stop trying to entice us into sin of one kind or another through our carnal nature. If we are not earnestly and regularly calling out to God for strength to serve Him and to say no to this flesh and what it wants, we are prone to yield ourselves at times to these old patterns of sin. Though Satan’s power over us is broken, we can find ourselves through the weakness of our flesh willingly obeying his commands as though he were still our master.

These are the types of schemes that Paul warned about in Ephesians 6. Although Satan may not be able to snatch us out of Christ’s hand, he would certainly love to hinder us and lead us into bondage. To the extent that we remain given to our old sins and patterns of thinking, God is unable to use us for His glory as He would desire and we are not the kind of testimony to others that He would desire us to be.

Ruin and Sorrow Through Self-Will
In addition to attacking specific weaknesses in one area or another, Satan and his host will also continue to try to stimulate the self-will that is still resident in our fallen nature. Though we may have in the depths of our heart surrendered our wills to God, the process by which we learn to submit to Him in a practical, every day sense is an ongoing operation. Though God has made provision for us to continually put our self-will to death so that we might serve Him, we don’t always take advantage of this provision. Even if we’re not engaging in things that we can easily and obviously identify as sin, we can still do many things that are not in God’s will for us that give devils an advantage over us.

When we move in this kind of self-willed way what we are really doing is pushing away the loving and righteous rule of God that we have been brought to and are willingly re-subjecting ourselves to the authority of Satan and his kingdom. To the extent that we do this we are exchanging the easy yoke and light burden of Christ for Satan’s arduous yoke. This would be comparable to me as an American citizen traveling to a country with which we have poor relations and which my own government advises its citizens not to go to for their own safety. Though I am an American citizen, in many ways I would be subject to the authority and power of that country and its rulers while I was willingly operating in their territory.

God will not lose one of his children and He is merciful to protect and preserve us even through moments like these, but there are real consequences to our actions. Isaiah 50:11 says, “But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.” Paul described this in detail in 1 Cor. 3:10-15 saying, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

If we have been born again as a child of God, He will not simply allow things that are wrong in our lives to go on unchanged indefinitely. He will see to it that the lives of His children are put to the test. If we have built upon the perfect foundation of Jesus Christ with things that are pleasing to God, then we enjoy the rewards of serving Him and knowing His ways. If we build using the things we find in our nature and with Satan’s lies, that work will be destroyed. Although the foundation will not fail and we are secure in Christ, we may experience ruin and pain in our lives as we escape through the flames. The consequences of these things may be with us for a long time as they were with David after his sin with Bathsheba. 2 Sam. 11 and 12. Praise God for His loving and faithful rule that would spare us from so much sorrow that we would otherwise bring on ourselves through our stubborn pursuit of self-will.

Whose Side Are You On?
All of these truths that we have examined will ultimately do us little good if they are merely abstract theological facts to us. It must become personal. Hebrews 4:2 speaks of those that came out of Egypt under Moses and ultimately fell in the wilderness, saying, “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” If we do not take careful heed to God’s word when He in His love confronts us, we become more and more hardened against the truth and blind to our condition.

The truth is that we are born into a kingdom that is destined for destruction — chained as it were to a sinking ship. In our natural condition we are blind to our need of God and through our fallen nature are subject to the rule of Satan and the forces of darkness. But God in His love has provided a means of escape through the sacrifice of Jesus. This door is open to all who will give up their own lives and submit themselves to God’s righteous authority.

Where do you stand today? May God help us to honestly consider our own lives in the light of His word and to have a clear picture of where we stand in the great battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness.