Either Satan's Way Or Jesus' Way, But No Middle Ground

Text: Matthew 4:1-11

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

When you were baptized and confirmed, you were asked, 

"Do you renounce the Devil and all his works and all his ways?"  

It is an interesting question.  

The word renounce means that you will no longer adhere to someone or something. To renounce is to reject, relinquish, and formally give up on someone or something. And so, this question you were asked once at your baptism and confirmation was not a feathery, empty, or frivolous question. Furthermore, it was not a question that was asked once, and that is it. No, it is a question that we must answer every day of our lives. Today, do we renounce the Devil? 

You see, as we consider this question and our reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we must realize that we can't have it both ways. It is either Satan's way or Jesus' way. Either you renounce Satan, or you renounce the Christ. That is how it works. In other words, as we contemplate the question and consider our Gospel reading, it brings us to the reality that there is no middle ground. You and I can't ride the fence with Christianity. You can't two-time Jesus. You can't double-speak or be a hypocrite. 

Martin Luther once commented on this very subject, saying – and I paraphrase – either a person has Christ on his saddle or the Devil but not both. 

And so, what this means is that there are only two sides. When there is a war, there is no neutral ground. 

Keep in mind that this war with the Devil is not new. It started in the Garden of Eden with our first parents, Adam and Eve. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve failed to renounce the Devil and his works and ways. They failed miserably, doubted God, and ate the fruit. And ever since then, the history of our human race has been one failure after another. If you think things have changed for the better, though, well… you haven't been watching the news lately or looking into your hearts.  

You see, the battle with the Devil began at the Garden of Eden, but the battle rages on not just in the world, but above all in the battle-ground of our own hearts. You see, when you were baptized into Christ, you were not only snatched from the kingdom of darkness unto the kingdom of Light but you were also given the Holy Spirit. 

And with the Holy Spirit, you were given holy impulses in your hearts. But mark this; the holy impulses you are given are contrary to the works of the Devil.  

You see, the works of the Devil are hatred, bitterness, resentment, anger, arrogance, and above all, the stubborn refusal to bow to the will of God. The Devil's ways are deception and lying, cheating, and stealing. However, the works of Jesus are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and humility before the Father that bows to his will.

And so, within your very hearts, you will find the Holy Spirit giving you holy impulses – the works of Jesus. And at the same time, the Devil will be right there fanning the flames of hatred, bitterness, resentment, anger, arrogance, and lies. And so, you will find that every day, with every circumstance, the Devil will be trying his best to gain your allegiance. 

Now, as you know, today is the first Sunday of Lent. And with Lent, it is a time for us to wake up and realize that we cannot have it both ways. We cannot say that we have fellowship with the Light while we are walking in the darkness. We cannot hold onto Jesus without renouncing Satan and his works and ways, fighting against them. 

Dear friends, please do not misunderstand me, though. In this life, you will most definitely fail. The very good that you want to do, you will often not do. And the very evil that the Devil wants you to do, you will end up doing. This is – frankly – the reality for you as a Christian. Being a Christian means that you are at war with the Devil. And the Devil has had thousands of years of practice, and He will indeed work you and me over at times. 

And so, to be in a conflict with the Devil is normal. And even to lose to the Devil's schemes is quite common. Yes, do not be so na├»ve to think that you are smarter than the Devil or stronger than the Devil's cohorts – you are not. You will fail, just as I will fail. But losing a battle to the Devil is not the same as giving up the battle. 

You see, when we make peace with the evil in our hearts, well… we are then no longer stomping on the snake but cuddling with it. And so, when we make peace with the Devil to end the grueling war with temptation and sin, well… we have then renounced Jesus and Jesus' works and ways.  

Baptized Saints, listen up!  The sign of spiritual vitality is not that you are a super Christian with no problems. 

The sign of spiritual maturity is not that you have soared higher than the Devil's trickery. Beware of Christians who talk as if their battle with the Devil is over. Beware of pastors who teach you that there is a way to make peace with the Devil on this side of glory. The reason is the Devil will never stop fighting you until your very last breath. 

And so, the only way to stop the fight against the Devil is to renounce everything Jesus has done and given to us.  Again there is no neutrality, no bargaining with the Devil.

You see, Jesus never made a bargain with the Devil when He was tempted in the wilderness, and Jesus never struck a deal for peace. In fact, what Jesus did was to preach to the Devil. Jesus spoke the Word to the Devil.  

Consider this a moment. Do not let this escape your ears. The very Word of God that is preached to you and me is the same Word of God that was preached to the Devil. And so, the very Word of God that did not give an inch to the Devil will never give us an inch to end the battle with the Devil as well. Instead, the Word only gives us the courage and the desire to fight on. The Word tells us that we are the children of God, not children of the Devil. The Word of God tells us that we are holy and beloved. The Word of God unites us with Jesus – who is truth – not the Devil who is full of lies. The Word of God does not point us to any of our successes, our strength, or our wisdom but points us to the Cross. And there at the Cross, the Word teaches us to see Christ's forgiveness that wipes out all of our sins. It speaks to us that the Cross is where life destroys death and where love defeats the Devil.  

Baptized Saints, today and every day, our Lord Jesus gives you His Word and forgiveness. He gives you forgiveness for the times that you and I have failed in the battle. You are forgiven – your failures do not confine you to the Devil but are the reason why Christ bled and died for you. And regarding the Word of God? Your Lord Jesus gives you His Word to strengthen you, and, yes, so that you may renounce the Devil again and again – to tell the Devil to go to hell because you abide in One that is stronger.  

 In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The idea of basing a sermon off of the Baptismal and Catechism question of 'renoucing the Devil' is indebted to Rev. William Weedon.

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