By Larry Ray Hafley
Men are often confused and confounded by statements in Scripture which ascribe works to the Holy Spirit and the devil. Observe the following examples: But Peter said unto Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3)?
But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lose In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ . . . should shine unto them (2 Cor. 4:3,4).
Wherefore we would have come unto you .. . but Satan hindered us (1 Thess_ 2:18).
How did Satan fill Ananias’ heart? How did the devil blind the minds of unbelievers? How did Satan restrain Paul from visiting the Thessalonians? Was it by some miraculous process? Does the devil super-impose his will and force defenseless pawns, who are unable to resist, to act and achieve his ends? “Yes,” say some Calvinists and Pentecostals, “that is exactly what happens.”
If that be true, if the devil does such work without a man’s participation or consent, how can man be held accountable before God? Man is responsible and chargeable for “the things done in his body” (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 2:6). Where, though, is the justice of God, if he condemns a man for doing that which he was forced to do by the devil?
What, then, is the solution? That the devil does the work is beyond dispute. He did fill Ananias’ heart; he did hinder Paul; he does blind the minds of them that believe not.
First, in the case of Ananias, Acts 5:4 says, “Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart?” So, the devil filled his heart, and he conceived the lie in his own heart. Both are true. The devil uses a “snare” to entrap his prey (2 Tim. 2:26). He employs “devices” and “deceit” to snag his victims (2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:11). Corruption is in the world “through lust” (2 Pet. 1:4). The lust of the flesh and the eyes and the pride of life are the avenues of enticement (1 Jn. 2:15-17). Through these, sin is conceived (Jas. 1:13-15). Indeed, the devil filled Ananias’ heart, but he did so by means of lust; he did not do so without Ananias’ cooperation and consent.
Second, Satan blinds the minds of them that believe not. About that fact, there can be no doubt. But their blindness is also said to be self-inflicted. (1) “But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction” (Jer. 17:23). (2) “They have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words” (Jer. 19:15). (3) “But they refused to hear and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets” (Zech. 7:11,12). (4) “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matt. 13:15; cf. Acts 28:23-28).
Look at the texts. Who “made their neck stiff”? Who “hardened their necks, that they might not hear”? Who “stopped their ears, that they should not hear”? Who “closed” their eyes, “lest . . . they should see”? Who did it the devil, or themselves? They did! Is there, then, a contradiction? In one passage, it says the devil did it. In another, it says they did it themselves. Because they gave themselves over “unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Eph. 4:17-19), the devil used their lusts to blind their hearts. Using their own will, and their hearts’ desire for covetous practices, the devil blinds the minds of them that believe not (2 Pet. 2:14). “His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins” (Prov. 5:22).
When the gospel is preached, “then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved” (Lk. 8:11,12). Just how does the devil do this? Does he do it independently of the hearer? Do the unbelievers remain in unbelief through no fault of their own? No, through temptation, through succumbing to the “cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in,” the word is choked, stifled (Mk. 4:15-19).
Third, by what means did Satan hinder Paul from coming to the Thessalonians? He did it by using evil men. “But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people” (Acts 17:13). The devil uses “certain lewd fellows of the baser sort” to hinder the work of the godly (Acts 17:5). The devil is said to “cast some of you into prison” (Rev. 2:10). How does he do that? See Acts 16:19-24. The devil acts through human agents.
How the Spirit Strengthens the Inner Man
Paul prayed for the Ephesians that God “would grant you . . . to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). Does the Holy Spirit strengthen the inner man? Certainly, he does! But how does he do it? If he does it without our involvement or participation, whose fault is it that some are strengthened while others are not? It would be the Spirit’s fault, if man has no part in the strengthening process. Hence, if your inner man is built up, but mine is not, then, the Spirit is a respecter of persons. Since that cannot be true (Acts 10:34; Rom. 10:12), it follows that man must have a part in the Spirit’s strengthening of the inner man.
Remember, that it is Paul who is writing to the Ephesians in the text cited. To those same Ephesians, the same author said, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). How does the Spirit build up, or strengthen, the inner man? He does it by the word of God. Accordingly, when Paul encouraged the Ephesians not to be foolish, unlearned, ignorant, but, rather, to understand “what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17), he told them to “read,” to study, that they might know and understand the will of God (Eph. 3:4). If they were to be strengthened in understanding apart from their own effort, why did Paul tell them to read and understand? Why did he not tell them, “Now, do not worry. If you are foolish and do not under-stand the will of God, just wait; the Spirit will soon strengthen your inner man without your having to do anything at all”?
After one has been born again “with the word of truth” (Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23), what is he to do that he might grow? Should he sit passively and await the Spirit’s mystical, mysterious infusion of strength? Should he? Now, there is no question as to whether or not the Spirit will strengthen the inner man. He will, indeed. How, though? Does he do it without the effort of the one who has been born again? Peter answers, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (I Pet. 2:2). The Spirit strengthens and builds up the inner man by his agency, the word of God.
One obeys the command to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) when he allows “the word of Christ” to dwell in himself richly in all wisdom (Col. 3:16). One walks “in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16) when he walks in harmony with the truth, when he is obedient to the word of God (Psa. 26:3; 3 Jn. 4). God does strengthen his children; his Spirit does build up the saints, but he does not do so apart from their desire, study and meditation in the word of God (Psa. 119:99).
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 9, p. 18-19
May 6, 1993