One interesting topic that has emerged from the popularity of the War Room is the idea that Christians need to take authority over Satan. That is, it is reasonable for prayers to consist both of praying to God and rebuking/binding Satan with a presumed need that this is not only required, but expected for fruitful prayer life and Christian life.
I’m going to write why I strenuously believe that is not the case.
Now before I get into why I think this teaching is misplaced and not consistent with the whole counsel of Scripture, I am mindful of why so many believe this to be true. In fact, this exercise was a routine component of my prayers and normal Christian discourse for many years. Why? Because of teaching that influenced me, which I then regurgitated in my theological arsenal. I am convinced that the number one reason Christians believe what they believe even when it is not faithful to Scripture is because of a wholesale embracing of teaching they absorb, especially when it is fueled by extra-biblical teaching and fragmented reading of Scripture through emotional appeal.
On that note, I think this endorsing of devil binding is a good setup for part 2 of Why we can’t read the Bible any way we want (see part 1 here). As I reflect on why I believed so much doctrine that was inconsistent with Scripture for so long even though I read Scripture rigorously, it only strengthens my resolve in encouraging Christians how to approach the Bible and read it in a holistic manner in recognition of it’s central theme – God’s redemption of his creation through Christ. One has to place the stories, the language used and genre of books into the context of God’s redemptive narrative. We cannot just isolate an event or story and think it is a personal application for us to then emulate.
With that said, a key passage that I believe many use to affirm this need to rebuke the devil as part of our prayer life is Jesus temptation while he was fasting for 40 days (Matt. 4:1-11). Aside from the fact that he was not praying, I think we need to recognize that in Jesus’ earthly ministry, he is revealing the fullness of God, his mind, will and character (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15-20). Again, every scenario is not meant for us to emulate. In this case, he is the only person we see in Scripture that talks to the devil directly. In fact, I note in Jude 9, that not even Michael the archangel would talk to the devil but instead said “the Lord rebuke you.”
By talking to the devil directly, Jesus demonstrates that he has the authority to do so. Not only that, but Jesus took authority over the devil with his atoning work on the cross. Consider Col. 1-2 in light of the theme of Colossians in which Paul affirms the supremacy of Christ;
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col. 2:13-15)
Not only did Jesus take authority over Satan but this is victory that we experience by virtue of our union with him. Please consider Romans 6:2-11. Being risen with Christ means we get to enjoy the victory he accomplished. We do not have to take authority over Satan because Jesus already did. In fact, by saying we need to take authority over Satan is to undermine the sufficiency of Christ’s authority and his atoning work on our behalf presuming something is left undone. It is a deficient Christology.
Now, let’s be clear. Satan does exist and actively works to trip up God’s people, as Peter notes, “he walks about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8). But you’d be hard pressed to find instruction for us to talk to the devil and take authority over him. Keeping in mind the relationship of the NT epistles to the Gospels, the epistles explain what the revelation of Christ meant in relation to Old Testament promises and the change is paradigm post-resurrection, we don’t see any acknowledgment that the fabric of our prayers are to talk to Satan and rebuke him.
Instead, James instructs us to resist the devil (James 4:7). Resisting does not mean talking to the devil but actively refusing to succumb to his wiles. Consider how Paul instructs us to take up our God-given armor to resist him (Eph 6:11-20) under the rubric of being “strong in the Lord and the power of HIS might.” (vs 10). Paul uses the imagery of warfare (as he also does in 2 Cor. 10:3-6) because of the intensity of the spiritual battle we face as Christians. In other words, he is instructing us to take this serious. But the serious battle is taken up through a focus on God, not Satan. Breastplate of righteous, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit and feet shod with the gospel of peace all have to do with what God has provided to us. It is only through Christ that we sustain the attacks of the evil one. We don’t win against the attacks of the enemy by clashing with him but by clinging to Christ. That’s what the weapons are for.
Now I get that it might be emotionally satisfying to think we have sufficiently put the devil in his place by addressing him directly. But I’m hoping we can see that God has already done that through Christ. We have the great privilege of coming to him in prayer and speaking to him because of the mediating work of Christ. Why would we squander such precious moments in talking to Satan?