DISARMING THE DARKNESS
Written by Doug Ponder on January 1, 2017
Disarming the Darkness
The death and resurrection of Jesus was a package deal, accomplishing even more than the unspeakably wonderful gift of forgiveness and reconciliation to God. For not only was the atonement a vicarious substitution for sinners—Jesus’ life and death in the place of ours—it was also a victorious battle against Satan and the forces of darkness.
Here is how the apostle Paul describes it:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the record of debt that stood against us and condemned us. He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And he disarmed the powers and authorities and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)
Or as pastor and author Eugene Peterson paraphrases in The Message:
When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.
The Forces of Darkness
When Paul references the “powers and authorities,” he’s talking about every evil force that arrays itself against God’s people, from Satan and his demons to humans who do their bidding (whether knowingly or not).
And what Paul says Jesus did to those forces of darkness is this: he disarmed them.
When we think of disarming an attacker, perhaps images of martial arts masters pop into our minds. But Jesus did not disarm the forces by twisting his opponents arms until they dropped their weapons. Far more powerfully than that, Jesus exhausted their strength and rendered them powerless by letting them do their very worst to him. His body absorbed every bullet for us, rising in his victory to leave behind an enemy with an empty gun.
Specifically, Jesus disarmed the darkness by triumphing over their weapons of fear, guilt, and shame.
Disarming the Weapon of Fear
Fear is the first (and maybe the greatest) of the enemy’s weapons—and for good reason: fear of death, pain, or even difficult circumstances drives so much of what so many do. It’s what made our first parents hide from God when they committed the first acts of sin (Genesis 3:8-10). It’s why the most repeated command in the Bible is “Do not be afraid.” And it’s one the main reasons why Jesus “shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
The good news, as the author of Hebrews announces, is that Jesus has set us free from our slavery to fear by transforming the most terminal of threats into an instrument that does his bidding. For the enemy of death will one day be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:54-55, but in the meantime Jesus turned it into a taxi to carry God’s people home (2 Corinthians 5:8). Hence Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who can only kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt 10:28).
As for any “fate worse than death” (whatever we might imagine those to be), Jesus has an answer for them too. His resurrection power is the anti-curse, death going in reverse. He is making all things new, and the glory of that newness will make every sad thing come untrue (Revelation 21:1-5). The enemy has been disarmed. Jesus wins!
Disarming the Weapon of Guilt
The second weapon of the enemy is guilt. The weapon of guilt does not refer to the fact of having done something wrong but to the feeling of being condemned when we no longer are.
There was a time when we truly stood condemned under God’s righteous judgment of sin. “For whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). Being the totally fair and completely just God that he is, the Lord must deal with us as the lawbreakers that we are. This is real guilt, and it’s not a weapon of the enemy. It’s just a fact of our sinful condition.
Like a parasite the enemy feeds on the fact of our guilt and turns it into a feeling of unending guiltiness. It is no accident that Satan’s name means “the slanderer” or “the accuser.” He is forever berating God’s people with reminders of the sins we have committed, threatening us with condemnation for our crimes. But this is not the whole story. In Jesus our guilt has been atoned for: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). There used to be condemnation for all of us, but now there is no condemnation for all who are in Christ. The just judgment for sins fell on Jesus so that forgiveness could fall on us.
All this means that the enemy’s reminders of our unworthiness and wretchedness and fallenness become like sermons that point to Christ! For when Satan says, “You are a sinner,” he is cutting off the branch on which he sits. For in calling us a sinner, he merely reminds us that Jesus died for sinners—which means he died for us. And when we believe that in Jesus the fact of our guilt has been atoned for, we will see the feeling of guiltiness is just an empty gun.
Disarming the Weapon of Shame
The final weapon of the enemy is shame. Whereas guilt makes us feel “guilty,” shame makes us feel makes us feel worthless and unwanted and unclean. Guilt says, “You know what you did was wrong.” Shame says, “You’re a screw-up. Nobody likes you. You’ll never amount to anything.”
Shame makes us feel unlovely and unlovable, unwanted and unaccepted, ridiculed and rejected. The enemy uses shame to keep us from running to Jesus, which is exactly the opposite of what we should do (of course). For the truth is that Jesus knows us even better than we know ourselves—and he loves us!
Because of Jesus, God accepts us warmly (not with gritted teeth). “Do I have to love this guy” is something that God will never say about us. He loves us and accepts us because of Jesus. Because of Jesus, we are not dirty anymore. He has made us holy and clean, and he will give us a robe of pure white to wear for eternity. Everyone will wear white on the church’s wedding day.
And Jesus doesn’t just cover our shame, like a tablecloth over a scratched up table. Jesus actually shames the shamers—he “put them to open shame” (Colossians 2:15)— while the formerly shame-filled are ashamed no more in him.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is a regular contributor to RE|SOURCE. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.