We fight the serpent by contending for the faith against grace-perverting immorality (Jude 3-4). By excommunicating false teachers from the church because we recognize them for what they are—intruding snakes. By treasuring what is true and rejecting what is false. By loving what God loves and hating what God hates.
Sometimes the hardest theological question to answer is “So what?” Jesus is the serpent slayer. So how should a Christian live in light of that thrilling storyline? I’ll suggest six ways.
1. Don’t imitate the poisonous snake.
The serpent’s offspring imitate the serpent.
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)
According to Jesus, you imitate the poisonous serpent when you (1) murder, (2) reject the truth, and (3) lie. For example, (1) killing unborn babies imitates the devouring dragon;1 (2) embracing the prosperity gospel imitates the deceptive snake;2 (3) and slandering people by gossiping about them imitates the poisonous serpent.3
The snake and his offspring deceive people with words. God’s people must not imitate the poisonous serpent by how they use their tongues.
The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:6–10)
You imitate the poisonous serpent when you curse a fellow human being, who bears God’s image. “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:14–15).
Christians can sin by imitating the serpent. The apostle Peter illustrates two ways.
- A Christian can sin by deceiving others to believe what is false. Peter sinned that way when he separated himself from Gentile Christians. When he behaved out of step with the gospel, he misled other Jewish Christians, including Barnabas (Gal. 2). We imitate the serpent when we lead others to sin (cf. Matt. 18:6).
- A Christian can sin by thinking he or she is better than God in some way—smarter, wiser, more powerful, more righteous. Peter sinned that way when he rebuked Jesus for prophesying about his death and resurrection. Jesus replied to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matt. 16:23).
2. Beware of the serpent as the deceiving snake and devouring dragon.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Pet. 5:8)
Here God describes Satan not as the deceiving snake or devouring dragon but as a roaring lion, which conveys basically the same idea as a devouring dragon. Satan is not your friend. He does not have your best interest in mind. Satan is hunting you. You are Satan’s prey. He sneaks around to find people like you to devour.
So beware! Be on guard. Expect him to attack and to keep attacking. Don’t let your guard down. And don’t flirt with the serpent by entertaining his ear-tickling lies.4
For example, the deceiving snake might tempt you to indulge in pornography. When the serpent tempts you, he doesn’t say something like this:
I’ve run a cost-benefit analysis for you regarding whether you should indulge in pornography. The benefit is that you may feel some immediate pleasure, a little buzz. But the cost is at least sevenfold: (1) It may send you to hell. (2) It does not glorify God with your body. (3) It is a poisonous, fleeting pleasure. (4) It foolishly wastes your life. (5) It betrays your spouse and children. (6) It ruins your mind and conscience. (7) It participates in sex slavery. What do you think is the wiser choice?5
Satan never tempts people that way. He tempts with lies. He tempts you to think that you would be happier without God, without submitting to God as your gracious master.
The imagery of snakes and dragons should shock you out of spiritual slumber so that you see the world as it really is.6 Satan really is a deceiving snake and a devouring dragon.7 He is scheming to deceive and destroy you with false teaching. He wants you to believe what is false.
So beware of the deceiving snake and devouring dragon. “It does not do,” J. R. R. Tolkien reminds us in The Hobbit, “to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”8