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A Crown of Thorns: Reigning Through Suffering

One of the perpetual criticisms that dominionists hear is that we neglect the role of suffering in the life of the believer by our undue emphasis on the triumphant Christian.

  • Christopher J. Ortiz,
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The kingdom of darkness utilizes a two-fold strategy to undermine the Kingdom of Light: neutralizing righteousness while advancing wickedness. We typically think of Satan as only increasing wickedness, but he is successful because he also neutralizes our ability to advance righteousness. In other words, he looks to weaken his opponent’s ability to fight while beating him to the ground.

Modern military conflict works in much the same way in its use of psychological warfare. American troops experienced this in Vietnam as North Vietnamese radio programs sought to discourage the American soldier’s will to fight while the Vietcong advanced against U.S. military positions. During Gulf War I, American psyops blasted loud heavy metal music toward entrenched Iraqi troops days before invasion. The intent was to intimidate the Iraqi soldiers by filling their minds with images of the merciless hordes soon to break over the hillside.

Since 1965, most of the writing surrounding Christian dominion—and the reign of the righteous—premised the active work of advancing the Kingdom. And until this article, I have also dedicated the sum total of my expression along those very same lines. However, I’d like to suggest an additional—and vitally important—element to the way in which we defeat the kingdom of darkness. I’d like to demonstrate how you and I play an important role in actually weakening the powers of darkness through the neutralizing of evil. In other words, you and I can handicap the work of Satan by neutralizing the effect of his weapons.

Are Dominion and Suffering in Conflict?

One of the perpetual criticisms that dominionists hear is that we neglect the role of suffering in the life of the believer by our undue emphasis on the triumphant Christian. It is held that Reconstructionists neglect what the Bible says about suffering and that we proffer bringing in the Kingdom of God by our own power.

This criticism often stems from amillennialism and its view that evil will prevail historically—though not defeat the church—and will only be defeated when Christ returns at the end of history. The Reconstructionist—who is postmillennial—is suggesting a defeating of the kingdom of darkness in history without the direct intervention of the Second Advent—hence, the notion that we usher in the Kingdom of God by our own hand.

Without revisiting the well-trodden ground of that debate, I’d like to offer a second look at the concept of Christian suffering and demonstrate how it may be one of the most potent forms of spiritual warfare in our arsenal. In short, the dominionist does not shirk the idea of suffering; rather, he uses it to weaken the kingdom of darkness. Let me explain.

Sin, Evil, and Satan

Unless we possess a proper understanding of the breadth of Christian suffering, dominionism can be overbearing and even dangerous. The first, and most important, fact being overlooked is that the primary ailment the Christian contends with is sin. It is sin that reigns in his mortal body (Rom. 6:12), and it is evildoing that prevails in a society (Rom. 13:3–4). The powers of darkness are only as strong as the “sons of disobedience” in any given area (Eph. 2:2), and the wrath of God comes in response to that disobedience (Eph. 5:6). This is why we are to seek regeneration as the source of societal transformation and not the upheaval of revolution.

Sin and disobedience in the heart of man represent the solidifying pillars upon which the kingdom of darkness rests. At the very least, we should recognize this inextricable tie between sin and the ruling spirits of evil. Paul’s concept of spiritual warfare is often misconstrued due to an improper doctrine of sin:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph. 6:12)

Charismatics have made the mistake of interpreting this text exclusively as a bypassing of any interaction with mankind and contending directly with these demonic entities through prayer. This is despite the fact that Jude warns of those who “slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” (Jude 8–9 NIV).

We simply cannot separate the spiritual influence behind sinful acts and somehow divorce it from flesh and blood. Ultimately, spiritual warfare is “ground warfare” because it involves preaching the gospel to men so that sin might be destroyed. This is why Paul goes on to state that our “offensive” weapon is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17) and that our feet should be “shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (v. 15). An “air attack” directed at principalities and powers does little because the right to rule is granted to the kingdom of darkness by way of the sons of disobedience:

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. (1 John 3:8a)

This is also made clear in Luke 10 where the seventy disciples return from preaching the gospel rejoicing and saying, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name” (v. 17). Our Lord responds by saying, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (v. 18). In other words, Satan’s kingdom fell like lightning when the disciples preached the gospel. There were no intercessory meetings involving shaking their fists at the heavens and calling Satan’s kingdom down. Our Lord sent them in as a “ground” force, and Satan’s kingdom fell because sin and disobedience grant him the right to remain in power. If men are converted, the kingdom of darkness collapses like a house of cards. Again, it’s regeneration, not revolution.

Expanding Our Understanding of Suffering

We have a very real enemy in the ruling spirits of darkness, but the locus of their power is found in sin—and sin resides in the heart of man. Therefore, we must not only seek to convert the hearts of men, we must also guard our own hearts from the influence of sin. However, we must take this a step further, and this is where the concept of Christian suffering enters in.

When we think of suffering, we obviously think first of the godly martyrs of both Old and New Testaments. And, of course, none personify suffering more than our Lord Himself, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). For us in the West, suffering of this magnitude is unfamiliar. These days, only believers living under anti-Christian regimes experience real suffering.

But this is only one form of suffering. By definition, suffering is something we put up with, or endure, and that can be extreme, as in martyrdom, or moderate as in what we experience in our daily interaction in this world. Each day we all experience injustices at the hands of others. At other times, we are dispensing those same injustices. Either way, we regularly experience a form of suffering to which the Holy Spirit provides the remedy of longsuffering:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Gal. 5:22–23; emphasis added)

Most of these spiritual characteristics are to be operative toward other people, and in a sense, they all fall under the category of love. As Paul says, “Charity suffereth long” and “endureth all things” (1 Cor. 13:4, 7). Surely, he has more in mind than enduring harsh persecution or martyrdom. He intends also our longsuffering toward one another:

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:2–3)

This is a broader definition of Christian suffering, and unless we consider it, we will not see our longsuffering as a weapon against the kingdom of darkness. Remember, it is both sin and Satan that we contend with, and our daily handling of suffering will directly determine how much sin and Satan will prevail.

Absorbing the Evil

Evil propagates itself by a chain reaction. It is like a bad coin, which is passed on from one person to another until it reaches someone who will put it out of currency by absorbing the loss. If one man injures another, there are three ways in which evil can win a victory and only one way in which it can be defeated. If the injured person retaliates, or nurses a grievance, or takes it out on a third person, the evil is perpetuated and is therefore victorious. Evil is defeated only if the injured person absorbs the evil and refuses to allow it to go any further. It is this kind of victory which Paul describes when he says that Christ died to sin.1

G. B. Caird has given us a brilliant insight: the defeat of evil is often determined by the injured person! How? It is that person’s choice to absorb the evil through longsuffering, meekness, and love. When people do this, they prevent their personal injustice to percolate and transform itself into something they take out on another. The sin stops with them.

Isn’t this why Paul admonishes,“[F]athers, do not provoke your children to wrath” (Eph. 6:4 NKJV) and “do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Col. 3:21 NKJV)? Yet how often do fathers engage in that very thing? How often do fathers take their own sense of injustice and transfer it as anger directed at their children? In other words, fathers—and anyone for that matter—can multiply the effect of one sin. They can transfer it to their children, and then their children can take it out on others. It’s the multiplication of sin and Satan’s effective means of neutralizing our righteousness.

Paul also says, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Eph. 4:26). Our anger must never be converted into sin directed against another, and this is sure to happen if we let the sun go down upon our wrath. That means we are allowing the anger—derived from a perceived injustice—to simmer and grow. And when it is fully developed, it will cause further devastation. As James declares, there is an evolution to sin:

Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. (James 1:15)

James goes on to admonish his readers to restrain themselves from reactionary behavior such as anger, because, as the new creations of God (v. 18), we cannot advance righteousness in that manner:

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (James 1:19–20)

To remedy this, we look to Christ and our identification with His death and Resurrection. As Caird notes above, Christ died to sin; and Paul rhetorically asks in Romans 6:2, “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” We are to consider ourselves as dead to sin (v. 11), and therefore not yield our members to its service (v. 13). If we are dead to sin, how then can we transfer it to another? We should therefore be like lightning rods that absorb the strike and neutralize it into the ground lest it destroy something else. Rushdoony states it this way:

Our personal victory over evil comes in preventing it from warping us into a mind governed by a reaction to evil, i.e., dominated by what has been done to us rather than by what the Lord requires of us.2

In a clear echoing of the devotional practices of Brother Lawrence, Rushdoony, in his section on Prayer in Systematic Theology, makes practical use of a continual conversation with God to help us protect the Kingdom from our tendency to overreact:

When we face a difficult problem, we ask, “Lord, give me patience to cope with this problem.” Then, later, we thank Him for His guiding hand and care. If we have a difficult person to meet with, we ask, “Lord, I don’t know what to say, and I don’t want to lose my temper or hurt the Kingdom by my failure here. Give me grace to deal with this man.” When we are afraid of something confronting us, we tell God so, and we ask for courage to cope with the problem or hurt.3 (emphasis added)

Reigning Through Suffering

When dealing with the “attacks of the enemy,” the idea is to “quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16; emphasis added). Longsuffering, patience, and humility in the face of wrongdoing absorbs the evil and neutralizes it—extinguishing Satan’s flaming arrows. You might say the disease is now quarantined. Or, as Peter says:

Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin. (1 Pet. 4:1; emphasis added)

Peter also ties the concept of enduring suffering to that of defeating the kingdom of darkness:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. (1 Pet. 5:8–9; emphasis added)

Granted, Peter is referring to the type of afflictions that typically led to imprisonment or death, but the principle is the same for the type of suffering we all experience—the type that we convert and transfer as sin to someone else. It’s that spreading of sin like a virus that fortifies Satan’s rule. It’s that virus that we must neutralize by absorbing the evil with the spiritual power of longsuffering.

It should be clear that the New Testament writers place great emphasis on Christian suffering, but eschatological systems like amillennialism have misconstrued that to mean “no historical victory for the church.” It is my contention that the opposite is true: suffering is central to defeating the kingdom of darkness by helping to stop the spread of sin.

The Apostle Paul clearly understood the inherent power of Christian suffering. In fact, he established his entire ministry on the embracing of suffering. He knew what Christ had told him about how much he would suffer (Acts 9:16), and rather than complain, he accepted it and made it foundational to his ministry:

Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church. (Col. 1:24)

Paul absorbed the suffering for the sake of the church, Christ’s body. We must also strive to absorb the evil for the sake of His body. We must serve as neutralizers of the power of sin. We must be able to say, “The sin stops here!”

Overcome Evil with Good

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. (Rom. 12:1)

The twelfth chapter of Romans is one of the more important in the Pauline letters to help us understand the true nature of our ongoing life in Christ. It begins with the most extreme image of dedication by suggesting we offer ourselves as a human sacrifice. It then goes on to work out the implications of that sacrifice with special attention given to this matter of overcoming evil:

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:19–21)

A good many commentators interpret verse 19, “give place to wrath,” to mean allowing for the wrath of God to be enacted instead of our own taking of vengeance. However, in order to allow for the wrath of God, we must fully embrace the wrongs done to us. In verse 17, Paul writes, “Recompense to no man evil for evil.” In other words, though you receive evil, don’t pay it back.

Let me also make clear that this is separate from the prosecution of crimes by the state. I’m not suggesting that someone who murdered your family member should not be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. What I’m referring to is how we process our suffering. Will we allow it make to us agents of unrighteousness?

The principle here is basic, though often ignored: do not be overcome by the evil that is directed against you, but overcome that evil with good. Herein lies a great power in spiritual warfare. We overcome evil by good. By feeding our enemy, or by not mistreating our families, we do not allow our future actions to be determined by the evil that is done to us. In this way, we are neutralizing the power of sin and evil while at the same time advancing the Kingdom of God by our proactive dominion efforts. It is a two-edged sword of weakening Satan while applying our faith. It is reigning through suffering.

This will all require a consistent rethinking of how we react to our circumstances, or the injustices done to us. For many of us—especially me—we tend to focus on the wrongs done to us by meditating on them, praying about them, and telling others about them. In fact, we can often spend so much time dwelling on the evil besetting us that it exceeds our focus on the worship of God. The Apostle Paul did not see it this way:

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Rom. 8:18)

We, on the other hand, tend to think our present sufferings are “worthy.” They are worthy of our time and attention. They are worthy of our constant meditation. And they are worthy of our proclamation to both God and man. This, as I hope to have shown, leads to sin on our own part, as we are shaped by this evil into an “instrument of unrighteousness” (Rom. 6:13).

A Crown of Thorns

We have yet to be glorified with our heavenly crowns, yet we often behave as if we bore them now. This is when dominionism becomes arrogance, and we do not present the humility so characteristic of our Lord. Christ Himself bore a crown, but it was a crown of thorns. His reign as King would begin by the endurance of suffering in order that He might put an end to sin. We must rejoice in that, like Paul, we are called to follow Him in “the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3:10–11).

We are certainly called to dominion, and the Kingdom of God will triumph over every area of life, with all men acknowledging Jesus as Lord and King. However, the road to dominion consists of more than the wonderful means God has given us to advance His Kingdom. Dominion is also accrued, as sin is defeated both in regenerated hearts and by absorbing the evil directed against us, thereby disallowing it to pass on to others. In this way, we are beating the devil at the game he plays so well. We are neutralizing his ability to perpetuate sin by being lightning rods for God!

1 G. B. Caird, Principalities and Powers: A Study in Pauline Theology (London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1956), 98.

2 R. J. Rushdoony, Romans and Galatians (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1997), 243.

3 Rushdoony, Systematic Theology in Two Volumes (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994), 1199.

  • Christopher J. Ortiz

Christopher J. Ortiz is a freelance writer and independent communications specialist servicing churches, ministries, and publishers.

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