Perhaps because of this incident, or perhaps because of other things that happened to him later in his life, Peter, when he wrote his first letter, said, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1 Pet. 5:8-9).
That is an important warning. If we go through periods of special blessing, as these early Christians had, perhaps personally or perhaps in our church, we can expect Satan or one of his demons to attack us. It is because Satan does not want the church of Jesus Christ to thrive. If you are only going through the motions of serving Jesus, Satan will not worry about you very much. If you are not attempting anything important for God, if you are not breaking new ground, not witnessing, not serving in any particularly effective way, Satan will probably leave you alone. On the other hand, if you really are trying to do something for God—if your church is effective, if you have a strong missions program, if you have people out witnessing, if you are trying to embody the Gospel in social programs that minister to the needs of real people and demonstrate the real love of Jesus Christ—Satan will attack you. You will have to be on your guard against him.
But how? How can you do it? Satan is stronger than we are. He was stronger than Ananias, a man who even sat under the apostolic preaching. How can we resist Satan? James tells us: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Some have tried to resist the devil without first submitting to God, and have found that the devil does not flee them. The devil runs over us like a tank because he is more powerful than we are. We stand only when we first submit to God, because only then do we stand in God’s strength. It is only because of God and His strength that the devil flees.
But how do we first submit to God? We do it through prayer and that devotional life of which prayer is a part. Our example here is Jesus who resisted and overcame the devil in His temptation. He had just spent forty days in close fellowship with God. So He was utterly submissive to God’s will, as, of course, He always was anyway. Then, when Satan came, He responded by quotations from Scripture. It is in Scripture that God has expressed His will.
When Satan tempted Jesus to use His power selfishly to make bread from stones, Jesus replied, “It is written: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God,’” a quotation from Deuteronomy 8:3 (Matt. 4:4).
When Satan urged Jesus to throw Himself down from the temple parapets, trusting God to preserve Him, Jesus said, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test,’” a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:16 (v. 7).
When Satan made a bald plea for Christ’s worship, Jesus replied, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only,’” a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:13 (v. 10). Jesus seems to have been meditating on Deuteronomy and was submissive to its teachings.
The third point Peter makes is the most important. Peter has affirmed the right of private property and pointed out that Christians are involved in spiritual warfare. Now, in the third place, he says, “You have not lied to men but to God” (v. 4). That is, Peter raised this to the highest possible level, affirming that the sin committed by Ananias was of great concern to God. I would place this in positive terms also, saying, no matter what you do, it matters to God. And it matters to other people also.
We live in a world where people do not want to take their bad actions seriously. They minimize their consequences, saying, “It really doesn’t matter” or “It doesn’t matter much.” Either positively or negatively, we seem to think what we do is unimportant.
It has always helped me, when I find myself drifting into that kind of thinking, to remember the way C. S. Lewis put it when he was talking about Christian morality. He wrote,
Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war with and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.1
Men and women are eternal beings. If we are only creatures of this life—if we live now, die, and that is the end of it—then it does not really matter a whole lot what we do. You can be as evil as Dorian Gray, but at the end of life it is all over. All you have to deal with is the disposal of a disgusting portrait. But if we are eternal beings, then the choices we make matter eternally. They matter to God.
1C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1958), 72.