True to His Ways: Purity & Safety in Christian Spiritual Practice
True Light, or False?
The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
—Jesus the Christ (Matthew 6:22-23)
Christian Scriptures have much to say about light and darkness, and always this has to do with human spirituality. When we do not know the truth about spiritual matters, we are said to be blind, or walking in darkness. If we know the truth, we are said to be walking in the light. We see, albeit only dimly so long as we remain in our earthly bodies.
The Bible teaches that there are two sources of spiritual light. One is true, the other is false. The true light calls to men and women, to show the way and help them see. The other light seems true, but in the end it only leads to darkness.
All of Scripture resounds with the message that we must be sure we have found the true light. Our eternal destiny depends upon it. Our very souls hang in the balance.
Ancient religions: Worship of the serpent and “the Light”
Before Jesus came into the world, even before the Old Testament was written, ancient people worshiped the “Light” and a god they sometimes called Lucifer, meaning “Light Bearer.” They also worshiped the sun together with serpents, lizards and dragons, all of which were considered symbols of wisdom then just as they are now to Hindus and those who seek truth in ancient religions. The association of the serpent with the sun seems to be that just as the sun gives physical light to the world, so the serpent god was believed to bring spiritual light—enlightenment—to mankind.
But was—and is—the serpent god really deserving of worship and veneration? Did he—and does he—bring enlightenment? The Holy Bible provides the answer.
Scriptural teaching on the serpent god
Genesis is the first book of Christian Holy Scripture, having been written about 1,500 years B.C. From Genesis right on through to the close of the New Testament we learn that Lucifer, the serpent god, is really Satan. We learn that his light is deceptive. And we are warned that his light brings death, not wisdom or enlightenment. The Bible is, among other things, God’s warning to mankind about the reality and danger of the serpent.
Scripture calls Satan by the same names as ancient worshipers did, including “Lucifer,” “the dragon” and “the serpent,” so readers can clearly understand who is intended. This usage, together with the identification of Satan as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, clearly identifies Satan and Lucifer as one and the same.
Other biblical names for the serpent god add to our understanding about him. He is called the “devil,” a derivative word meaning “little god.” He is a celestial being with great power, identified as the “god of this world”; a spirit who holds sway over the earth, its inhabitants and a horde of inferior spirits. The name “Satan” signifies that he is God’s adversary. We learn that the serpent comes to rob, steal and destroy, inflicting evil both on God’s creation and upon His people.
Scripture tells us that the serpent is “the father of lies,” and that there is nothing good in him. He is the consummate deceiver, a false god who assumes the disguise of an “angel of light,” something holy and good. And by pretending to be angelic, holy and good, Lucifer has been leading unwitting people into spiritual darkness for many centuries.
It was into this darkness—a world led astray by the angel of light—that God spoke. First He spoke to the Jews through Moses, the Torah and the prophets. Now He has spoken to the world through Jesus the Christ.
Jesus came because God purposed to bring true light through Him. About 700 years before He was even born, the prophet Isaiah foretold His coming as the Messiah who would bring true light to all peoples, Jews and Gentiles alike. Through Isaiah God said:
I, the Lord, have called You [Jesus] in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house (Isaiah 42:6-7).
Jesus is the True Light, a beautiful light
Before Jesus began His ministry another prophet, John the Baptist, proclaimed to the people who lived in those incredible times that the kingdom of God was at hand. Scriptures tell us that John the Baptist:
came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man who comes into the world (John 1:7-9).
The man sent from God was, of course, Jesus ,who said of Himself,
I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life (John 8:12).
Notice that the verses quoted above made frequent use of the word “light.” The Greek word translated “light” here is phos, from the root phao, meaning “to shine” or “make manifest.” The word phos was also used by Gospel writers in the following passages about the light of Jesus:
I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes
in Me should not abide in darkness (John 12:46).
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:4).
The people who sat in darkness saw a great light, and
upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned (Matthew 4:16).
What is the significance of the phos light that Scripture associates with Jesus? Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon explains that phos means an “extremely delicate, subtle, pure, brilliant quality of light…being by nature incorporeal, spotless and holy.” The phos light of Jesus is a supremely pure spiritual light.
The serpent’s light seems “beautiful” too
We have seen that Satan is a powerful spirit who also purports to bring spiritual light, but that his light is false, and conceals an evil nature and evil intentions. The Bible describes how this evil being disguises himself in one brief verse:
Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light
(2 Corinthians 11:14).
The New International Version puts it as follows:
Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
What, then, do we need to understand about the false light of Satan? How does it compare with the light of Jesus? And how can we tell the difference between the false and the true?
It is important to realize that the Greek word used in the verses above to describe Satan’s light is the same word used to describe the light of Jesus: phos. What can it mean that the same word describes both the light of Jesus and the light of Satan? Does it not seem almost blasphemous? Yes, indeed, but we must remember that Satan is the ultimate blasphemer.
The description of Lucifer’s light as phos light can only mean one thing; namely, that he can transform himself so he appears to be as beautiful as Jesus. He comes bearing phos light which seems like the spotless, holy light of God…just as brilliant and just as pure. We need to understand that when Satan wants to disguise himself to seem like a pure and life-giving spirit, he can and he will. The light he brings will seem like Jesus’ light. In other words, the light of Satan compares so well with the light of Jesus that we perceive no distinguishing qualities.
Indeed, the teachings of Scripture, and the experience of mankind through the ages, together lead to only one conclusion: men and women are by nature incapable of recognizing true light, or of distinguishing the false from the true.
Satan: the sum and personification of beauty
Scripture does not provide a lot of information about the history and person of Satan. However, we do learn that at one time Satan was like a “bright morning star,” the sum and personification of beauty and highly esteemed in a heavenly kingdom:
You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect
in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious
stone was your covering… (Ezekiel 28:12-13).
We also learn that through pride and iniquity Satan fell from his high position and God cast him out of heaven. He took about a third of the angels—now called “fallen angels”—with him. Though no longer perfect and beautiful, Satan is still able to assume an appearance of perfection and beauty, and to manifest qualities of apparently holy phos light. He also possesses two other qualities in great measure: craft and wickedness. It is by the appearance of beauty that Satan seduces the nations, but it is by craft and wickedness that he destroys them.
It is difficult for mere man to understand how darkness can seem like light. At the same time, however, it makes sense that a powerful evil being who wants us to worship him will disguise his true nature. Must he not pretend to bring peace and joy and love? Must he not assume an appearance of divinity, provoke adoration and even work miraculous signs? If he does not, how can he hope to earn our worship?
Scripture indicates Satan can and will do these things. He comes in many different ways and through different teachers. Many of these teachers will appear to love God, and will do good works; furthermore, nothing in Scripture indicates that they are necessarily insincere. Many are deceived. The apostle Paul said, “Therefore it is no great thing if [Satan’s] ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness…” (2 Corinthians 11:15), and “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs and lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). He warned that many people, including Christians, will fall prey to false teaching and Satan’s miracles: “many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matthew 24:11), and “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24-25).
Let us not marvel at this
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul indicates it is no wonder, no marvel, that Satan comes as an angel of light. We should not be surprised that this evil spirit will feign holiness, that he will pretend to love and worship God, or that he will cause his servants to pretend the same. Bible scholar Albert Barnes wrote:
he who is an apostate angel; who is malignant and wicked; who is the prince of evil, assumes the appearance of a holy angel. Paul assumes this as an indisputable and admitted truth, without attempting to prove it, and without referring to any particular instances. Probably he had in his eye cases where Satan put on false and delusive appearances for the purpose of deceiving, or where he assumed the appearance of great sanctity and reverence for the authority of God… The phrase “an angel of light,” means a pure and holy angel– light being the emblem of purity and holiness. Such are all the angels that dwell in heaven; and the idea is, that Satan assumes such a form as to appear to be such an angel. Learn here,
(1) His power. He can assume such an aspect as he pleases. He can dissemble, and appear to be eminently pious. He is the prince of duplicity as well as of wickedness; and it is the consummation of bad power for an individual to be able to assume any character which he pleases.
(2) His art. He is long practiced in deceitful arts. For six thousand years he has been practicing the art of delusion; and with him it is perfect.
(3) We are not to suppose that all that appears to be piety is piety. Some of the most plausible appearances of piety are assumed by Satan and his ministers. None ever professed a profounder regard for the authority of God than Satan did when he tempted the Savior. And if the prince of wickedness can appear to be an angel of light, we are not to be surprised if those who have the blackest hearts appear to be men of most eminent piety.
(4) We should be on our guard. We should not listen to suggestions merely because they appear to come from a pious man, nor because they seem to be prompted by a regard to the will of God. We may be always sure that if we are to be tempted, it will be by someone having a great appearance of virtue and religion.
(5) We are not to expect that Satan will appear to man to be as bad as he is. He never shows himself openly to be a spirit of pure wickedness; or black and abominable in his character; or full of evil, and hateful. He would thus defeat himself.
This carefully articulated warning is one we need to take very seriously.
Take care that you have found the true Light
The Bible tells us that the serpent will deceive many. Now, as in times past, men and women from all faiths and nations will fail to understand the truth, for the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness cannot understand it. Jesus warned us to be sure the light we follow is true because the dangers of the false light are great indeed, with consequences for all eternity. He said, “Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness” (Luke 11:35), and, “If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23). Peter explained that we must be self-controlled and alert, “because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Lucifer is an ever-present, artful foe; the enemy of our souls who wants to seduce us into darkness and love us to death.
But where does this leave us, if we are unable to distinguish between true and false spiritual light? Aware of the danger but unable to avoid it? No, it cannot be! A merciful God would never simply abandon us to the devices of the serpent without guidance or advice, would He?
1. The name “Lucifer” was apparently not used by the original authors of scripture, but was introduced later into biblical tradition through the translation of Jerome’s Vulgate.
2.Yet all this happens under the watchful eye of Jehovah, the infinitely more powerful God of Israel, who permits evil for a time, and for purposes we cannot fully understand.
3. Albert Barnes, Barnes Notes on the New Testament, 8th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1975), 895.