What causes a seemingly solid, balanced, deeply converted Christian to turn from God's way of life? Could it ever happen to you?
From time to time, sad to say, we all hear of cases in which true Christians burn out, sour on God's Work or are caught up in some problem or movement that takes them out of God's true Church. Many of us probably even know people — perhaps former close friends — to whom it has happened. When it occurs, we are shocked and disheartened. In disbelief, we ask ourselves, Why? But it would, perhaps, be more appropriate if we asked ourselves, Can this ever happen to me? Can it, really? Is there any possibility that you, too, would one day turn away from the Christian way of life — reject the calling God has given you? What assurance do you have that you are firmly rooted in God's true Church? How can you be sure — absolutely sure — that you are immune to such tragedy?
Can't serve two masters
No matter how converted we are, it is possible for everyone of us to become preoccupied with the cares of the world. Then, we are easy prey for Satan's snares. We overlook Satan's relentless efforts to tempt us and attack us on our weakest points. Without realizing it — and certainly without wanting to — we are actually trying to serve two masters. Christ said: "No one can serve two masters [that's a dogmatic statement!]; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6:24). The more deeply you are involved in God's Work and in the aims and activities of God's true Church, the less likely you are to fall to Satan's snares. It's a matter of setting your priorities right. Strangely enough, those who leave often spend more time thinking about the Church than some of us who are still in the Church! But the concern of dissidents is destructive; they seem to want to fill their minds only with what they imagine is wrong with the Church. They want to find ways to hurt and destroy the Church. Our focus must be the exact opposite. We must constantly look for ways to build up God's Church and God's people — constantly work toward unity, harmony and peace. Have you taken time to find out what other master you may actually be trying to serve? Could it be your ego, perhaps? Your vanity? Your ambitions? Your job? A close friend or one of the other members of your own family? When you are facing trials and tribulations, do you begin to doubt your calling? Do you want to turn away from God's Church? Do you start to seek other ways to satisfy your desires or solve your problems? Let's look at three broad areas through which Satan works to trap and destroy God's people — cause them to lose out on their chance at salvation!
The spirit of rebellion
Satan, the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), is rebellious toward authority. He wants you to be like him and to follow his example. He will set all kinds of stumbling blocks before you to make you fall. Swayed by his own ambition, he turned against God, fought and lost (Isa. 14:12-14). He also wants you to turn against God, fight and lose! He will, therefore, do anything in his power to make you rebel against authority — whether at home, at work or in God's Church. He will do everything he can to work on your emotions and put all kinds of doubts in your mind. In the name of freedom, people all through history have turned against authority — chosen rebellion. Mankind has not understood that there is no place for rebellion in true freedom. Only God's way leads to true freedom — to peace, joy and happiness. The apostle Paul wrote: "Because the carnal mind [a mind set on worldly things] is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:7-8). Is your mind set on worldly things? What preoccupies you most, day after day? Physical things or spiritual things?
Pride will befriend you with Satan, but will put a wall of separation between God and you. Is your pride worth that tragic price? Will you turn your back to God because of your own vanity?
Of course, you need to take care of yourself, as well as the needs of your family. That has nothing to do with serving two masters. What Christ meant is something totally different — you cannot have other gods before the true God. You cannot be slave both to God and to the ways of the world. Actually, in a world where Satan is still god (II Cor. 4:4), you don't need too much encouragement to set your mind on rebellion. Satan knows this better than anyone else. He is always available to give you the push you need. He will help you to be more carnal — to become enslaved to the works of the flesh. In Numbers 16, God tells us the story of Korah as an example of rebellion. Korah and his men, 250 strong, turned against Moses and rose up before him in protest, saying, "You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy" (verses 1-3). Is this the way you sometimes reason? Whenever you wonder whether you should submit to authority, remember the fate of Korah and his group: "And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 'Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment'" (verses 20-21). God was truly angry with the people. It was only because of the fervent intervention of Moses and Aaron that the whole congregation didn't perish. Moses strongly pleaded with God, saying: "'O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and You be angry with all the congregation?' So the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the congregation, saying, "Get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram"'" (verses 22-24). Notice what happened: "And a fire came out from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering incense" (verse 35). There is a great lesson for all of us to learn. We too, stirred up by Satan, can sometimes nurture similar thoughts. We judge and criticize. "Why should I obey that order?" we may say. "I don't agree with it." When you look at the world today, you can see how hard Satan is at work. Everything he does, in one way or another, is directed toward rebellion. Satan's attacks are primarily directed toward God's Church, however — that's where he wants to do the most damage. In a society based on Satan's principles of selfishness and vanity, obedience doesn't always seem pleasant or easy, but with God's help we can overcome Satan's snares: "Submit to God," wrote the apostle James. "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (Jas. 4:7). This is a strong commandment. But what should you do in order to resist the devil? And how can you submit yourself to God? James gives the answer: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (verse 8). In other words, you can draw closer to God by submitting yourself more and more to Him, by hungering and thirsting for His Word and His way of life. If you always put God first in your life, you will not be serving two masters.
The snare of pride
Another of Satan's snares, one that affects us all, is pride. Satan will tempt you by working on your pride and vanity. You don't always realize it, but pride is potentially one of your biggest pitfalls. It makes you unable to recognize your faults — unwilling to apologize when you are wrong. You want to maintain your own ways because of pride. And Satan loves that, because he himself maintains his own ways and does not recognize his sins. The apostle James, in the course of telling us to get closer to God in order to resist Satan, states that "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (Jas. 4:6). Do you grasp the meaning of this verse? Pride will befriend you with Satan, but will put a wall of separation between God and you. Is your pride worth that tragic price? Will you turn your back to God because of your own vanity? One of the most important lessons God gave to His people through Moses was to command them to remain humble: "So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. ... Beware that you [all of us] do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest — when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses... your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage ... then you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth'" (Deut. 8:3-17). This warning applies to us today as much as it did to our forefathers. It is only by the grace of God that we have whatever we possess. Pride will also incite you to judge and criticize; it will make you think you know better and that your opinions are wiser. Christ said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Think of it — there is no place for the carnally proud in the Kingdom of Heaven! Don't judge. Don't criticize. "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up" (Jas. 4:10). The more you know God and study His Word, the more you will realize just how little you actually are. Always be ready to admit your faults. Correct them and forgive those of your neighbors. When you return good for an evil deed, you will have God for your partner. He will be your friend, and will help you solve your problems the right way. Continuing in James: "Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law" (verse 11).
The third major snare of Satan is covetousness. Satan wants you to covet — to go after something that is not yours, or to which you are not entitled. Humanly speaking, covetousness appeals to our nature. We want to get rather than give, to have and keep for ourselves rather than share. God actually spelled out, in the Tenth Commandment, a whole list of items after which we should not covet (Ex. 20:17). Be sure to read the article entitled "Beware of Covetousness!" beginning on page 17 for a full explanation of this Tenth Commandment of God. In Satan's world, everything is geared toward lust — false publicity, sex, material wealth. The media encourage you to covet: You are given many vain but appealing reasons to buy things you don't really need, or to lust after things that are neither right nor good for you. Are you guilty of breaking the Tenth Commandment? Are you deceived by Satan's snare of encouraging you to covet? There is danger in much wealth, just as there is danger in much poverty. In both instances Satan can effectively use this tool of covetousness.
God has promised to never forsake you. If you let Him fight your battles... you will never have to fear Satan's snares. They will have no power over you. Satan will be powerless...
Agur said, under God's inspiration: "Two things I request of You (deprive me not before I die): Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches — feed me with the food You prescribe for me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, 'Who is the Lord?' or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God" (Prov. 30:7- 9). Do you pray this way when you are asking God to supply your needs? If you have everything you want, you may deny God and turn away from Him, claiming you don't need Him anymore! And if you have too little, you may allow Satan to make you judge and condemn, and you may even end up stealing. Christ taught us to ask God for our daily bread — just what we need from day to day (Matt. 6:11 ). This will help us not to fall into temptation. It will teach us to trust God — and not to set our hearts on material things, which are temporary (Eccl. 5:10). Remember Christ's warning: You cannot have two masters. If you lust after wealth or anything else, you will actually be trying to serve two masters. The apostle Paul wrote, "Keep your life free from love of money [covetousness], and be content with what you have; for he has said, 'I will never fail you nor forsake you'" (Heb. 13:5, Revised Standard Version).
God has promised to never forsake you. If you let Him fight your battles, and if you resist evil with His Spirit, you will never have to fear Satan's snares. They will have no power over you. Satan will be powerless — totally disarmed. Perhaps you had not thought of it before, but those who leave God's Church let themselves fall victim to these three major snares of Satan: They rebel against God's authority; they are too proud to admit they are wrong; and they covet power, material possessions or personal glory. Be courageous! Act and live as a true Christian. Ask God daily to help you, and do your part in fighting against Satan's three major snares: the spirits of rebellion, pride and lust. Your victory over them will put you on the way to the Kingdom of God!