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A Trampling Church - A Brief Reflection on Romans 16:20

It’s an easy verse to miss. Tucked away in the final chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, sandwiched between his personal greetings and doxological conclusion, the following words of promise emerge, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20a). It is an interesting statement, and not a little curious. The allusion is plain enough though. Paul is picking up the language of Genesis 3:15. But instead of referencing Christ, which one would expect, he instead says that Satan is going to be crushed under the feet of the Roman saints. Their heels will suntribo the Serpent, which is to say, trample him or break him into pieces. How can Paul say this? Didn’t Christ crush the head of the Serpent?

Here an awesome truth emerges that sheds light on the mission of the church; a mission that corresponds with God’s strategy of displaying His glory to the principalities and powers in the heavenly realms; a mission that includes our stomping on the enemy. In order to get at this, the doctrinal mountain known as union with Christ needs to be ascended. Only there will the vantage point prove lofty enough to provide a proper perspective.

In Him

With praise soaked words, Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3). One of the premier doctrines of the NT is the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ.¹ This is that amazing truth of the our being so intimately related to Jesus, so bound up with Him, by grace through faith, according the powerful working of the Spirit, that our very identity melds into His (Rom 8:29). We can actually be said to be, as the NT so often asserts, “in Christ.” This means, among many things, that the redemptive accomplishments of Christ become those of our own. We share in His benefits. This explains how a doctrine like justification functions. Christ’s righteousness, by virtue of our union with Him, is imputed to us. We are reckoned as righteous, not because we are perfectly holy in our conduct, but because we are forgiven and hidden in Christ who is perfectly holy.

Amazingly, this union runs so deep that Christ’s redemptive experiences become that of the Christians. In this vein, Hendriksen can even say, “that all of Christ’s redemptive experiences are duplicated unredemptively in the believer.”² He goes on to illustrate this by citing a number of examples. He writes,

“The Christian, accordingly, suffered with Christ (Rom 8:17), was crucified with him (Rom 6:6), died with him (Rom 6:8; 2 Tim 2:11), was buried with him (Rom 6:4; Col 2:12), made alive with him (Col 2:13), raised with him (Col 2:12; 3:1), made joint-heirs with him (Rom 8:17), is glorified with him (Rom 8:17), enthroned with him (Col 3:1; Rev 20:4), and reigns with him (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 20:4).”³

If these wonderful truths are duplicated in the lives of the church, it isn’t difficult to see how Paul can say that God will crush Satan under the feet of the saints. Since Christ is the ultimate Serpent crusher, those who are united to Him share in this work of demolition. The church continues to trample the Serpent. (4)

A Trampling Church

This is the mission of the church. It isn’t often thought of in these terms, but that’s really what evangelism and cross-cultural missions is all about- it is entering enemy territory in the power of the Spirit, with the Gospel on our lips, boldly looking to rescue souls. This is exactly how God defined the ministry of the greatest missionary of the early church. Speaking to Paul on the road to Damascus, the Lord told him,

“I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles--to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:16b-18).

Now that the power of sin has been broken, leaving Satan crippled and bound (Rev 20:2-3), the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is commissioned to go out in His name to all the corners of the earth (Matthew 28:18-20). We are to make disciples of all nations. People are to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, which is to say that God has laid claim on these individuals, transferring them from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His Son (Col 1:13). He places His name on them, saying, as it were, “This one is mine.”

In this the second Adam is subduing the earth and “destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until he has put all His enemies under his feet” (1 Cor 15:24b-25; Heb 10:12-13). This is why the church’s evangelistic and apologetic task can be described in destructive terms. Paul writes,

"For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:3-5).

The church’s mission is rooted in Christ’s mission. It is a Psalm 2 type of mission, for in this section of Scripture, after speaking of Christ’s resurrection (vs. 6), the LORD tells the Son, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth” (vs. 8-10). The inhabitants of the earth are told, as the Psalmist goes on to say, “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (vs. 11-12).

Since Christians are ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20), commissioned to engage the fortresses of unbelief scattered throughout the earth, which are none other than Satan’s strongholds, it isn’t hard to understand how Paul can say that saints do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and powers and principalities in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). The Church militant is carrying the redeeming light of the cross right into the heart of Satan’s kingdom. (5)

The Added Heights of Humiliation

And this, it must be observed, utterly humiliates the enemy. What could more greatly afflict Satan’s pride or embarrass him than for the very people who once belonged to him, those who were formerly his slaves and pitiful underlings, to march against him in the power of God? And win!

Not long ago, the church of which I’m a member received news from a missionary in the Sudan detailing a breakthrough in the hearts and lives of a tribe he had been ministering to. After much labor and toil, the hard soil of their hearts gave way to a crop of righteousness. Forty-four people bowed the knee to Christ, and they were ready to be baptized. Writing with obvious emotion, this missionary described the occasion as follows,

“It was particularly exciting to see elderly men and ladies come forward to consecrate their lives to God through faith in Jesus Christ. I remember surveying the congregation at one point toward the end of the service and catching a sight of glory – beaming faces, glistening heads. The sunlight was streaming into the church through a large gap at the apex of the thatched roof of the country church. It made the residual beads of water from baptism look like studded jewels and diamonds on the ebony black skin of my new brothers and sisters in Christ. Ministry is full of hardships, heartaches and setbacks. There are frustrations and concerns that perpetually burden our hearts. But this sight of God’s glory over the lives of His recently redeemed people infused something into my heart, a strangely polarized emotion, something between a sigh of relief and a booster cable jolt. As I think about it now, I believe the Lord was communicating divine truths to my tired heart: ‘Relax, rest, I will bring to completion the good work I have begun in My people. Mark,∗ I will cause My name to be glorified in all the earth!’”

Following the joyous occasion, they marched to three different compounds in order to uproot and destroy long-standing family idols. At the first compound he spoke to the people “about the exceedingly great power of our God who cast Satan down and triumphed over him through the cross of His Son.” Immediately following this, he felt led by the Spirit to press this home by doing something “Elijah-like,” as he described it. He wrote,

“I sat my rump down on the biggest and most obvious of the compound idols (a 5 inch-wide, 30 inch high carved stick with a notched knob at the top). The people were shocked as I addressed them from my perch. I said, “If the god of this stick is stronger than the true God of heaven and earth, let him come and strike me down! Let him come and defend his idol.” Well, I waited… and nothing happened! Then in the suspense of the moment it dawned on them: “The God of the Bible is the real God!” The silence erupted into spontaneous clapping and singing and dancing. I must say, I was praising God, too! Then the men of the church (and not a few zealous ladies!) laid their hands on the idol and cast it down. The idols and charms were removed from the compound, including a goat’s head and various amulets, and cast into a raging fire, symbolic of Satan’s eternal and infernal demise.”

I had the privilege of watching footage of these Sudanese Christians burn their idols. A local pastor who had visited the region returned with a recording of his travels, particularly the happenings of this burgeoning church. Sitting in Sunday school, we watched with joy-filled hearts as these new Christians, scores of them, danced and sang around a large fire. They held their strange idols in the air and tossed each one in into the blazing inferno, praising God with much celebration and prayer.

At one point in the video, when the people were gathered together talking and milling about, several of the children, perhaps six or seven of them, had composed a song and were eager to perform it. Forming something like a line, these children began to sing of Jesus’ triumph over Satan. They sang of His crushing him. As they sang, they stomped their feet against the ground with enthusiasm, accentuating the point.

As their arms swayed and the dust rose, something occurred to me. In this simple act of praise, Satan was being severely mocked. Just think of it. Mere children- children who once belonged to him- children whose parents and grandparents and great grandparents, a lineage stretching back for eons- were now acting out Christ’s victory over Satan. Is not the pride of Satan brought low through this, brought down to the very depths? Is not God parading the defeat of the evil one and heaping coals of fire on his head?

Indeed so!

(1) Professor Murray boldly writes, “Nothing is more central or basic than union and communion with Christ.” And again, “Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation not only in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ.” Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1955), 161.
(2)New Testament Commentary, Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 169.
(3) Ibid., 169
(4) Conversely, Christ continues to trample the Serpent, for, as Paul writes, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). It might seem a bit odd for Paul to highlight the peacefulness of God in the context of smashing the enemy (Romans 16:20). Here our modern minds would do well to consider the fitting relationship between peace and justice or rest and the absence of evil (2 Sam 7:1ff). Because God is a God of peace, evil must be eradicated. There is, therefore, no necessary incongruity between the intent of peace and the engagement of just war.
(5) It is worth observing here that the land promise of the OT has been transformed in Christ; expanded to include the whole earth (Rom 4:13; Matt 5:5; Eph 6:1-3), which was really God’s intention all along (Gen 1:28). See W.D. Davies, The Gospel and the Land, as well as Poythress’ The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, chapters 6 and 8.|
∗I have changed his name so as to protect his identity.