When Satan launches what Edwards calls “vexatious accusations of conscience” against believers, he is playing upon the believer’s resensitized conscience (awakened by the Spirit) while muting the believer’s full and free forgiveness (won by the Son). The way to combat these accusations from hell is therefore not to deny the first, but to remember the second. We should not downplay the reasonableness of our condemnation. We do deserve to be condemned. But another reality transcends our condemnation: the atoning work of Christ. This work not only frees us from accusation (negatively) but also renders us righteous (positively).
The gospel has defanged Satan. His bite is all gums and no teeth. When Satan accuses believers covered by the blood of Christ, he is (to switch metaphors) firing empty cartridges – his gun makes a bang, but it can’t ultimately hurt us. “Satan cannot hurt” true believers, Edwards preached. “All the powers of darkness, with all their spite and malice, can do them no harm, and the flames of hell cannot reach them.”
Dane Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life (pg. 151).
Keller suggests twelve categories of people that the text may be speaking to:
- Conscious unbeliever: Is aware he is not a Christian (e.g., immoral pagan, intellectual pagan, imitative pagan, genuine thinker, religious non-Christian).
- Nonchurched nominal Christian: Has belief in the basic Christian doctrines, but with no or remote church connection (e.g., churched nominal Christian, semi-active moralist, active self-righteous).
- Awakened: Is stirred and convicted over his sin but without gospel peace yet (e.g., curious, convicted with false peace, comfortless).
- Apostate: Was once active in the church but has repudiated the faith without regrets.
- New Believer: Is recently converted.
- Doubtful: Has many fears and hesitancies about his new faith (e.g., eager, overzealous).
- Mature/growing: Passes through nearly all the basic conditions named below but progresses through them because he responds quickly to pastoral treatment or knows how to treat himself.
- Afflicted: Lives under a burden or trouble that saps spiritual strength (e.g., physically afflicted, dying, bereaved, lonely, persecuted/abused, poor/economic troubles, desertion).
- Tempted: Is struggling with a sin or sins that are remaining attractive and strong (e.g., overtaken, taken over).
- Immature: Is a spiritual baby who should be growing but is not (e.g., undisciplined, self-satisfied, unbalanced, devotee of eccentric doctrine).
- Depressed: Is not only experiencing negative feelings but also shirking Christian duties and being disobedient (e.g., anxious, weary, angry, introspective, guilty).
- Backslid: Has gone beyond depression to withdrawal from fellowship with God and with the church (e.g., tender, hardening).
Andy Naselli, quoting Tim Keller, in How to Understand and Apply the New Testament (pg. 316-17).
“For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”
C. S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy (pg. 223).