By Ian Thomas Wilson
Last time, I discussed in brief what little we know about the Devil and his demons. I want to elaborate a bit further on the topic because I think it’s important that we understand it well. I don’t claim to be a Bible scholar by any stretch; these are simply my thoughts based on what I’ve read from people who are much more educated than I.
We read in 1 Peter that the Devil is like a lion seeking whom he may devour. His whole aim in life is to drag humans into Hell. But we know from the book of Job that he has limits. The Lord in His sovereignty will not allow the Devil to go beyond those limits. He will try, he will tempt, but he cannot go beyond the limits God has set for him. Furthermore, we know that “all things work together for good”. God can take the evil and wickedness wrought by the Devil and turn it into good. Does that mean God is the author of evil? No. This is one of the paradoxes of Christianity. But, as G.K. Chesterton said: “Paradox is truth standing on her head to get attention.”
So Satan is an accuser. But he is also a tempter. He sends out his demons to use our own desires and inclinations against us. The Devil cannot make us sin; that is one of his limits. We sin when we bow to his temptations. And when we do sin, that’s when the Devil accuses. He oppresses us with the crushing guilt of our sin. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t feel guilty for our sins; we should feel ashamed. However, to dwell on that guilt to the point of doubting our salvation is to fall into the sin of despair. The Devil loves despair because it makes us completely ineffective for the kingdom of God.
As stated above, the Devil is also the author of chaos. In the book of Genesis, we see him appearing in the form of a serpent. In Revelation, he is depicted as a multi-headed dragon. In all cultures all across the world, the serpent, or dragon represents chaos. This, I believe, stems from this story in the book of Genesis. All forms of mayhem are due to Satan’s direct, or indirect influence. We see this in the book of Job.
To quote Martin Luther’s commentary on the Lord’s Prayer:
“But this petition is especially directed also against our chief enemy, the Devil. For all his thought and desire is to deprive us of all that we have from God, or to hinder it; and he is not satisfied to obstruct and destroy spiritual government in leading souls astray by his lies and bringing them under his power, but he also prevents and hinders the stability of all government and honorable, peaceable relations on earth. There he causes so much contention, murder, sedition, and war also lightning and hail to destroy grain and cattle, to poison the air, etc.”
Returning to the Devil’s role as the tempter, the Devil tempts us toward sin, but more importantly, away from righteousness. We are born with certain desires and inclinations of the soul. These desires aren’t wrong, but because of the corruption of nature, and the Devil’s temptations, they can become sinful. Sin is essentially our hearts saying “I want it NOW!” like that little girl in Willy Wonka. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “Never forget that there are only two philosophies to rule your life: the one of the cross, which starts with the fast and ends with the feast. The other of Satan, which starts with the feast and ends with the headache.”
But the Devil can do some of his best work when we don’t sin. When we avoid these more obvious sins, the Devil can tempt us with the idea that we are more righteous than others. This is the deadly sin of pride or self-righteousness. It’s that voice that says “I’m better than that person”. No, you just sin differently. The Devil can also tempt us toward spiritual laziness. Maybe we don’t go out and get drunk, but we neglect our prayer and Bible reading, or we look the other way when our neighbors are in need, like the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are outwardly righteous people, but we are basically useless.
So how do we resist the Devil? Not by our own power, that’s for certain. It takes considerable courage to resist sin. Even the Apostle Paul lamented his sinfulness. But God is faithful, and He is always drawing us to Himself. All we must do is say “yes” to God. That’s a lot harder than it sounds. But when we do fall (and we will fall in this life) Christ stands in Heaven to plead our case.
Christians often have this false impression that God is furious with us when we sin; He is not. He is eager for another chance to shower His Grace on us; another chance to humiliate the Devil. As 1 John 1:9 says, when we confess and forsake our sins He is faithful and just to forgive and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That’s the key; we have to call sin what it is, and we have to leave it behind. That can be difficult. But the Holy Spirit will shine His light into us and to show where we have sinned, and He will give us the strength to truly repent.