He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mark 8:31-33)
In Matthew’s version of this exchange we can read what Peter said to cause such a strong response. His reaction to the Lord’s prophecy had been, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Matt. 16:22. It was an emotional statement, made on the spur of the moment out of a desire to protect the Lord from harm, and spoken with pure motives. You or I might have said something like, “Over my dead body!”
Although the Lord’s response was strong in the extreme it wasn’t off the top of His head like Peter’s had been. Remember, Jesus could not say anything on His own. Instead, He explained, “Whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (John 12:50).
Was Jesus saying that no matter how well intended or pure of motive, if what we say doesn’t conform to the will of God, but instead reflects the desires of men, then it’s really from Satan? Let’s find out.
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).
During their time with the Lord, the disciples often seemed like they just didn’t get it. More than once, He appeared to have exhausted His patience with them. Matt. 15:1-20 is a good example. Some Pharisees had criticized Jesus because the disciples didn’t perform the traditional ceremonial hand washing before eating. Jesus responded by pointing out instances where their traditions contradicted God’s Law. He called them hypocrites and said it’s not what goes into a man’s mouth that makes him unclean, but what comes out of it. When the disciples told Him the Pharisees were offended by His comments, Jesus told them a parable about the blind leading the blind.
Peter didn’t understand and asked Jesus to explain the parable. “Are you still so dull?” Jesus exclaimed, and then told them how things that go into our mouth go to our stomach and then out of our body, but things that come out of our mouth come from our heart, and include evil thoughts of all kinds. These are what make us unclean, He said, not eating food with unwashed hands.
And in the very next chapter of Matthew, they completely misunderstood His reference to the “yeast” of the Pharisees. Although He had recently created enough bread out of thin air to feed multitudes of people, they thought He was saying they didn’t bring any bread.
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matt. 16:8-12)
Even after the resurrection, some did not understand. On the road to Emmaus after listening to two disciples sorrowfully recounting the events that culminated in His crucifixion, Jesus said, “How foolish you are and slow to comprehend all the prophets have spoken.” While they walked along together He explained all the Old Testament prophecies concerning His death and resurrection (Luke 24:13-27).
Then we learn that the disciples didn’t receive the Holy Spirit until the evening that followed the Lord’s resurrection (John 20:22). Even three years of daily teaching by the Lord Himself couldn’t substitute for this gift. Peter’s sermons in Acts 2:14-41 and Acts 3:11-26 show the remarkable difference the Holy Spirit can make in a person.
From this we can see that it shouldn’t surprise us when unbelievers can’t understand God’s word. After all we couldn’t understand it before we became believers either. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person with the Holy Spirit will immediately understand all the things of God, and automatically yield his or her will to the will of God like the disciples did. It means that unlike non-believers we have been given the potential to understand the things of God and follow his will for us. But to realize this potential we have to allow the Spirit of God to retrain our minds.
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephes. 4:22-24)
Paul made it clear that this is something we have to decide to do. We have to put off our old self, that’s been steeped in the ways of the world, and put on our new self, the new creation we became when we accepted the Lord’s death as payment for our sins (2 Cor. 5:17). We have to be made new in the attitude of our mind.
An attitude is simply a habit of thought. As non-believers we all developed habits in the way we think. We acquired them from exposure to the world around us, and since the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19), many of the attitudes we formed are in opposition to the things of God, and they didn’t go away just because we became believers.
We have to make a choice to exchange our old worldly attitudes for new Godly ones. And even with the indwelling Holy Spirit, this takes time and it takes practice. Remember, He’s only here to guide us into all truth (John 16:13), not to control us. That’s why He’s called the counselor instead of the commander. We still have to make the choice to allow Him to change the way we think. The reason so many believers today still live the same way and want the same things as they did before they were saved is they haven’t made this choice, and therefore the Holy Spirit can’t change them (Matt. 13:22).
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2-4)
Offering our body as a living sacrifice means choosing to live in a manner pleasing to God in gratitude for the priceless gift of salvation. Renewing our mind means rejecting any worldly attitudes that aren’t consistent with God’s word and replacing them with those that are.
In 1 Cor. 6:19-20 Paul reminded us that we are no longer our own, but have been bought at a price. According to 1 Peter 1:18-19, that price was not silver or gold but the precious blood of Christ, and when we agreed with God to let it constitute payment in full for our sins, He put His seal of ownership on us and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor. 1:22). We belong to Him now, and nothing can change that.
The world tells us we’re free to choose what ever lifestyle, vocation, and world view we want. But Paul said to experience the full benefit of God’s will for us, we should not blindly conform to the world’s patterns, but instead should yield our lives to Him, and allow Him to give us the abundant life He desires for us (John 10:10). There’s no real sacrifice involved here, because when we delight ourself in the Lord, He will give us the desire of our heart (Psalm 37:4). Most people never realize their heart’s true desire, but sooner or later settle for much less. It’s only those who delight in Him who can look forward with assurance to getting it all.
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)
So ultimately everything that’s not from God really is from Satan. Even the things of this world that we think we’ve freely chosen are really only an illusion, because if they’re not drawing us toward God they’re drawing us toward His enemy. There is no independent position. For example, do we really believe that by excluding God from our society we’ve gained more freedom for ourselves? Or does the evidence around us point to the conclusion that we’ve only acquired a different master, one who does not have our best interests at heart. Having abandoned God are we not conforming to the evil desires men had when they lived in ignorance of Him?
Look around you. Are we healthier? Are we happier? Are we more secure? Are our children better off? Can they look forward to a life of opportunity and promise? Can we trust our elected officials not to betray us? Have the prospects for the future improved? Is there any evidence at all that life is better in a society that’s breaking free of God? People ask me if I think it’s too late for the US, but I think a better question would be, “Is it too late for the world?”
King David had our day in view when he prophesied,
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.
“Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.”
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (Psalm 2:1-6)
While this prophecy will see its ultimate fulfillment in the Battle of Armageddon, it’s reasonable to conclude that the world is already in open rebellion against God. Can His wrath be far behind?
1 Peter 1:13-16 contains good advice for us upon whom the end of the age has come. We’re to prepare our minds for action, be self-controlled, and set our hope fully on the grace to be given us when Jesus Christ is revealed. To me this means get ready to leave, don’t panic, and trust in the Lord’s promise to rescue us before His wrath comes crashing down (1 Thes. 1:10).
We’re to turn away from the evil desires of this world and be holy, as the One who called us is holy, not depending on the world to somehow right itself without God, but staying focused on His plan for our future instead.
Remember, holiness is not a function of behavior, it’s a function of purpose. To be holy is to be set apart for God, and the clear message of the Bible is that God’s people are to be set apart from the world. We’re not to conform to its ways (Romans 12:2) or be deceived by its promises (Matt. 13:22) or store up its treasures (Matt. 6:19). We’ve been redeemed from the world and set apart for Him. Although for a little while we’re still in the world, we’re not of the world (John 18:36). Our citizenship is in Heaven (Phil. 3:20) and our destiny is to dwell there. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor. 4:18). Anything less is not having in mind the things of God but the things of men.