Martin Weber is an associate editor of Ministry.

Some of the devil's most devoted disciples are among the best-behaved people on earth. The most deceived of them experience victory over sin.

You've seen the beaming faces of young Moonies testifying how they used to be slaves of drugs and sex before the "divine principles" of "Reverend" Moon sanctified them. New Agers glowingly report that their Eastern style of meditation brings Christ-consciousness, empowering them to stop smoking and become vegetarians. We know that the occult power channeled in New Age meditation chambers is not the Holy Spirit. But New Agers and Moonies, rejoicing in victory over sin, don't know that their spiritual state is worse than before they became overcomers.

Well, why would the devil bestow victory over sin? Before addressing that, let's affirm that genuine victory over sin is a basic fruit of the gospel. God has plenty of power that He intends for us to claim. But so does Satan! Our crafty foe wants to seize our souls through his deceptions. Thus for all that God offers, the devil has a counterfeit—even a counterfeit victory over sin—to lure us away from the cross so we trust in our own character attainments and thus forfeit salvation (see Gal. 5:4).

The devil knows that all true believers yearn for total victory over sin. As we reach out for Jesus to pull us out of one gutter, Satan tries to snatch our hand and drag us into another. Bad as it is to be snared in the slime of sinful indulgence, the ultimate deception is the opposite ditch off the gospel freeway. Legalism, because it is not of faith, is sin (see Rom. 14:23).

Remember the Pharisees. They had conquered the flesh and its lusts to the point that they even fasted twice a week. But Jesus said these trophies of self-discipline and the disciples of their zealous evangelism were actually sons of hell (see Matt. 23:15).

"Lord, I thank Thee for what Thou art doing in my life," prayed the Pharisee in the sanctuary as he scorned the struggling soul who cast himself upon God's mercy. That model of self-mastery knew not that his own soul was in bondage to demons—not demons of self indulgence but demons of self-righteousness!

Demons of righteousness? Yes! The Bible warns of spiritual zealots who preach Christ but not Christ as our only hope. They preach a gospel, but one of merit instead of mercy (see 2 Cor. 11:2-4). "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming them selves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness" (verses 13-15).*

White magic

Satan's wolf-in-sheep's-clothing strategy multiplies his power to deceive. Take witchcraft, for example. According to the Encyclopedia Americana, "magic to cause harm is often called black magic or sorcery, and magic intended to help or cure is frequently termed white magic."' I lament the racial overtones of these terms, but do you see the deception? For anyone eager to indulge in evil, the devil offers black magic. And for those who admire the miracles of blessing that Jesus performed, Satan has white magic. Black magic or white magic he doesn't care whether people do evil or do good as long as he is in control.

In Christ's day, Herod by the demons of iniquity killed John the Baptist for the sake of lust, while the Pharisees by demons of righteousness killed Jesus for the sake of law. In succeeding centuries the emperors of Rome were playboys in their palaces, as the bishops of Rome venerated monastics in the desert and promoted perfectionism (with purgatory as a fire escape for those not quite worthy of heaven). This two-pronged assault from opposite extremes continues today. In Adventist churches, demons of iniquity champion a cheap gospel that compromises lifestyle and doctrine, while demons of righteousness promote obedience and victory apart from gratitude and assurance in Jesus.

Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Any belief or lifestyle standard that denies this is a doctrine of devils. In earth's final crisis, demons of righteousness will attack Sabbath rest in the name of divine law. Ultimate, universal legalism! But last generation Adventists need not succumb to a Sunday law to be controlled by demons of righteousness.

Recently I interviewed a member who explained how Satan had given him victory over sin. Through reading various independent publications he became obsessed with acquiring a sinless character worthy of heaven. As he prayed, he received a power that brought victory over every sin on his checklist. Mean while, a hard-hearted, critical spirit displaced his love, joy, and peace. Then an inner voice told him to join an independent group. He became deeply involved with them, but eventually their mind-control methods opened his eyes.

Having come to his senses, he fled to Calvary for refuge from the demons of righteousness. He's back in church, eager as ever to keep God's commandments, but now his hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.

His wife told me how terrible it had been to live with a man that attained "perfection." She discerned that his spiritual power was inspired by an alien force. Though amazingly victorious over the usual besetments, he had ceased being a loving husband.

"By their fruits you shall know them," Jesus said. And the fruit of the Spirit primarily is "love, joy, peace" (Gal. 5:22). God's true Spirit always works through the joy and peace that come from believing in Jesus (see Rom. 15:13). We might pray all night for the Holy Spirit, but without faith in the blood of Jesus our earnest incantations are in vain. Another spirit may possess us.

Let us beware and be wise. Amid the worldliness around us, God offers His church victory over sin—but so does the devil. May we resist his temptation to jump from the frying pan with the demons of iniquity into the fire with the demons of righteousness.

* Bible texts in this article are from the New
King James Version.

1 "Magic," Encyclopedia Americana (1991),
vol. 18, p. 84.

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Martin Weber is an associate editor of Ministry.

December 1993

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