Escape From the Evil Empire (2): Reformation or Transformation
March 29, 2015
Intro – (Read Luke 11:24-28). Last week we saw that in the entire universe of spiritual reality there are two kingdoms – God’s kingdom of light and Satan’s kingdom of darkness. Due to the Fall of Adam, we are all born into the kingdom of darkness – Satan’s evil empire. David says in Psa 51:5, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” The tendency toward evil goes back a long ways in all of us, and it takes God’s grace to remove us from the evil empire and sustain us in His kingdom. Five principles derive from this passage.
I. Evil Does Not Cast Out Evil – The Pharisees accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the Devil. But Jesus shows the absurdity of that idea. Evil does not cast out evil, neither before nor after salvation.
II. Victory Requires a Savior – a stronger man – Jesus.
III. Neutrality is Fatal – Everyone must choose a side.
Today we look at two more principles. They contrast the two main ways people try to move from darkness to light. The first is by moral reformation; the second by spiritual transformation. Moral reformation sounds good, but it does not work. It’s like the ad a woman wrote for a motivational seminar. “I turned my life around 360°!” She was not aware that a 360° turn would leave her right back where she started! So does moralism. Moral reformation is outward. Spiritual transformation starts inward moving outward. Moral reformation is our work. Spiritual transformation is God’s work. Let’s look more closely.
IV. It’s Not About Moral Reformation
Jesus’ critics suggest He casts out demons by Satanic power. But Jesus shows that would mean Satan working against himself – not a likely scenario. He then represents Satan as a strong man, but himself as a stronger man invading enemy territory and releasing people held captive to demonic possession.
But now He raises a fascinating scenario. He proposes someone might be freed from demon possession, only to be re-invaded with the result that “the last state of that person is worse than the first” (v. 26). That dire warning ought to capture our undivided attention. What could lead to such a tragedy? Jesus’ answer seems a bit bizarre. V. 24, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’” “Unclean spirit” is a common NT designation for demons, fallen angels, whose moral character is unclean – perverse in the extreme. Confirmed in sin with no way out.
Jesus pictures the case where a demon has left – perhaps voluntarily, perhaps cast out. Maybe even by Jesus. Now, this demon “passes through waterless places seeking rest”. There are as many guesses as commentators on the meaning of this phrase. My best guess is that “waterless places” speaks of arid, dry, desert-like, fruitless locations. Since demons impact our world thru bodies, I think Jesus is suggesting that the quest of this demon to find another body from which to exercise its malignancy turns up empty. It comes up dry -- fails to find a suitable landing place.
So, it decides, “I will return to my house from which I came.” Note that it calls the place from which he came “MY house.” Though it left, it has not given up ownership. That’s the key. So, it returns. V. 25-26, “And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there.” “Swept and put in order” speaks of moral reform. So, the parable depicts a demon-possessed person from whom the demon is gone – on its own or cast out. The person now goes about cleaning up his or her life. He turns over a new leaf, puts aside the lying and cheating and bad habits and destructive addictions. He resolves to live a better. Sweeps out and puts in order.
But there’s a problem. While this life has been swept clean of some of the evil habits and destructive behaviors, nothing has replaced those. There has been no heart change. The demon is gone, but God was not invited in. This is just the old selfishness in another guise. This is moral reformation, but it will fail in the end. Why? Because there has been no change in ownership! This goes back to the third principle – No neutrality. We are either for Christ, having submitted to His Lordship – or we are against him, in which case the demon can walk right back in. The illusion of personal autonomy is just that – an illusion. We do have a will – but it either puts us in Jesus’ camp or Satan’s camp. The “Me” camp actually is Satan’s camp. He owns you. Satan does not need to possess you; all he needs is you to possess you.
Now by way of application, we don’t see much demon possession in our culture. But our enemies are not different – the world, the flesh and the devil. Salvation isn’t just about being better; it’s about having a new owner! Turn to Lu 17 Jesus sends 10 lepers to the priest and they find themselves healed on the way. But look what happens! Lu 17:15, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Every English version translates “has made you well”. But that’s not what the original says. It says “your faith has saved you” – σωζω – same as Eph 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” That man was healed the moment Jesus sent him to the priest, but of the 10, he was the only one saved from his sin --the only one cleansed outside and inside. He had a change in ownership. It was the inward change that drove the outward expression of thanksgiving.
Some have felt Jesus was speaking to the nation as a whole in Lu 11. Idolatry was in their DNA for hundreds of years in the OT. God eventually cast that demon out by sending them into Babylonian captivity. When they returned, they never again, as a nation, went back to idols. That demon was gone. But they had never returned to the true God. They were sitting ducks for the moral reformation of the Pharisees. They assiduously kept their version of the Law, but never returned to God on His terms. The nation was about to reject their own Messiah and so the last state was worse than the first. Well, all of that is an appropriate application, but that is not Jesus’ main point here.
This parable is aimed at individuals. He is warning that you cannot reform yourself and escape the power of the Enemy. The stronger man must do that, do you see? The evil must be replaced, not by good, but by God. Reformed behavior counts, but must be out of love that we have Him, not in an effort to get Him. Franz Kafka wrote The Trial. The protagonist, Josef, wakes up happy on his 30th birthday only to find the police at his door placing him under house arrest. But no one will tell him what’s he’s under arrest for. In his mind, there is nothing; he’s innocent. Morally upright. But with nothing else to do, he begins to examine himself. What has he done? Little by little he remembers dishonesties, lies he told, times when he cut corners, misrepresented things, failed to help someone in need. The more he thinks, the more his sense of anxiety and guilt builds and builds until he has condemned himself.
Eventually, his guard takes him out to a quarry and he looks up. He sees a figure far in the distance standing on a balcony with arms outstretched. He thinks, “Finally, someone with open arms instead of closed. Someone with mercy who will understand.” He’s finally at the end of himself. But just as he reaches his hand up, the guard stabs him through the heart. Kafka says, “He died like a dog.” That’s how the book ends. Nice book, huh? But that represents the end of every effort at moral reformation, Beloved. Death. Even at our dead level best, we all have enough evil inside to condemn us. Something – someone must replace the evil. We can never escape the empire of Satan by our own efforts. But the good news, there is someone with arms outstretched – outstretched in death on the cross to pay our penalty and now outstretched waiting for us to say Yes to his lordship. The stronger one is our only hope of escape from Satan’s hold.
The same principle applies to our new life in Christ. We cannot lose our salvation, and a true believer cannot be demon possessed, but we all give ourselves inconsistently to our new owner. We have weaknesses of different kinds that pull us back to the old lifestyle. Addictions and idols we’ve given up beckon us. And if we consign our Lord to some corner of our life, trying to fight it on our own, we will lose. It is only as the Lord becomes more precious to us than the idol that we will have victory. Ownership has changed, but we can be renting out space to the old inhabitants!
We’ll never overcome our addiction to things, drugs, alcohol abuse, worldly ambition, advancement, whatever until we allow the HS access to every room in our heart. Paul prays – for believers – in Eph 3:16, “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Doesn’t Christ already dwell in the heart of a believer? Yes – but He may be excluded from certain rooms. Victory is Jesus everywhere! We need a new dose of the gospel every day of our lives.
Here’s how it works. Tim Keller tells of a woman in his church who led a hard life – one criminal boyfriend after another. All violent. All abusive. But she had to have a man. She became a Christian, but realized that she was still inordinately attracted to men. Without a man she felt worthless. This idol was had deep roots in her life. She went to a Xn counselor who told her, “You need to get over men. What you need is a job – a career. That will make you independent of men.” But Keller says this is where she was brilliant. She told Keller, “Pastor, you know what? What that counselor was saying to me was, get rid of your typical female idol (men) and go get a male idol (career). I don’t want to be driven by the goal to succeed at a career any more than I want to be driven by my need for a man.” That’s perceptive, Beloved. Keller asked, “So what are you doing?” She said, “Col 3. Col 3:3 says your life is hid with Christ in God. So, when I see a man looking at me, and I start wanting to go flirt with him, under my breath and in my heart I say, ‘Col 3:3’ and I remind myself I’d like to have a man, but that is not my life. Christ is my life. I’m not making men my life anymore. Men are the past; Jesus is the present.” This doesn’t come overnight, Beloved. But this is how, even as believers, we move Christ front and center to replace the idols of our past. You don’t replace evil with good; you replace evil with God.
V. It’s About Spiritual Transformation
27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Luke’s gospel more than any others shows the tenderness, love and respect with which Jesus treated women – and how they responded to Him. This woman has been taking it all in. She had seen how wisely He answered the charges of His enemies. She had observed how easily and naturally He dealt with spiritual realities that are normally beyond human perception. And in a society where a mother was valued by the accomplishments of her son, she could not help but blurt out how blessed Jesus’ mother was – what a credit He was to her. She meant it as a great compliment, and He took it as such.
But He did not leave it there. He takes it to another level. He makes an amazing observation that teaches a great truth. 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Jesus liked what she said. He did not reprove her speech, but He improved it. There was a higher truth applicable to all. Yes, it was a privilege to be Jesus’ mother. Yes, Mary was greatly blessed by that physical connection and tie with Jesus. But her blessedness did not consist exclusively in that physical tie. It did not even consist primarily in that physical relationship. She was blessed primarily in this – she heard the word and did it. She listened to God and surrendered to His will. And Jesus is saying – “That is the source of true blessing. Not that she was my mother – but that I am her Savior.”
The last words out of Mary’s mouth after Gabriel announced to her that she was about to become pregnant while a virgin – with all the positive and negative connotations of that – were “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). She heard the word and she did the Word. And she was far more blessed for that than for the fact that Jesus was her physical child. The physical tie was temporary; the spiritual obedience was permanent. In her great hymn in Lu 1:46-47: “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary was far more blessed that Jesus was her Savior than that He was her son.
Think of the implications. That means even though we never saw Jesus in the flesh, we can be more blessed than those who did, if we hear and obey. That’s how we move from Satan’s empire to God’s. That leads to permanent change from the inside – transformation – rather than temporary change from the outside – reformation. That’s why Jesus says in Lu 8:21 when his mother and brothers are seeking Him: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” The spiritual relationship is closer than the physical. It is longer-lasting and it represents change from the inside. Paul describes it in II Cor 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” It is not reformation we need; it’s regeneration. That comes from hearing the Word and doing it – from committing to the lordship of Jesus. He tells us in Lu 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” The doing isn’t some good work that we do; it is nothing less than death to self so that He can make us alive to Him.
Conc – Robt Morgan is a pastor who invited Mark Sloan, an alcoholic and cocaine addict, to come and live with his family when he was ready to leave a rehab center. For months, all went well. Mark got a job, got into church and stayed sober. But then one morning, out of the blue, Mark disappeared. Years of despair followed. Robert would find Mark in some despicable place, high, hurting and spiraling downward. They would talk. Mark would promise to reform. Then months with no word and the cycle would be repeated. It was a nightmare, and all that Robert and his wife could do was pray.
One day, Robert found Mark in basement across town. He was in abject despair – hating his life, having tried everything he knew to overcome his problem without success (moral reformation). His eyes were glazed over, words slurred, resentful of Robert’s presence and hopeless. He said, “There’s enough cocaine in this apartment to kill an elephant. My body can’t stand much more. A day or two, then it’ll be over. You’ll forget about me in a few weeks; we’ll all be better off. It’s meant to be … just let it be. It’s meant to be.” Further words seemed useless. But God brought a verse to mind. One of the 31,173 bullets in the Bible. This one had Mark’s name on it as Robert quoted II Pet 3:9: God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” No sin is too great; no condition beyond His reach; no case hopeless. Robert says, “A flicker of hope registered in Mark’s eyes. It was very faint, but unmistakable. I repeated the verse, and he listened as if trying to grasp a straw blowing past him.” Mark eventually grasped that straw. He heard the word, and he believed it. God made him a new creation – transformed from the inside out to become the dedicated, long-sober Xn that he is today. A drug addict – as close to Christ as his own mother was.
It’s not about moral reformation, Beloved. That’s a 360° turn right back to where you started. It’s about spiritual transformation. There’s got to be a change in ownership. No one can remain neutral in this warfare. Each of us must decide. The only way out – submission to the greatness and lordship of Jesus. Let’s pray.