One of the most neglected subjects in many pulpits today is that of the personality, activity, and power of the devil. One of the national news magazines said recently, “Literal belief in the devil is widely viewed by theologians as a holdover from the Dark Ages.” Probably most of us would rather speak about the Lord Jesus than about His enemy (and our enemy) the devil, but the Bible says that the devil is a very real and a very dangerous character. Therefore we must speak about him.
We are told in 2 Corinthians 2:11 that true Christians are not ignorant of the devil’s devices. Timothy was to teach in such a way that his listeners might “recover themselves out of the snare of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:26). In Ephesians 6:11 we are told to put on the whole armor of God that we might be able “to stand against the wiles of the devil.” The word “wiles” is sometimes translated “tactics” or “schemes” or “strategies.” Strategy is the carefully arranged plan to deceive and outwit others. The devil’s primary work is deception, and thus the words wiles, tactics, schemes, and strategies are all appropriate.
1. The Personality of the Devil
One of Satan’s cunning schemes is to try and convince people that he does not really exist. A spokesman writing in one religious magazine says, “If when I die, I am met by someone with horns and tail, calling himself the Devil, I hope that I shall not be frightened—but reassured—knowing that I am having my leg pulled, and that there is humor also in the hereafter.” In other words, the writer of those words hopes that the idea of “the devil” is just a joke. Satan is often made out to be a joke, but in reality, he should be feared.
The devil is a person just as real as God. He is not as powerful as God, but he is just as real. D. L. Moody used to say that there were two reasons why he believed the devil exists as a real being: (1) The Bible says so. (2) I’ve done business with him.
When Jesus spoke of the devil, He used personal pronouns. Jesus said to Peter, “Behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). Later, the Apostle Peter said, “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). According to the Bible, the devil is a created, personal, spirit being. And just because we cannot see him does not mean that he is not real.
The air about us is filled with strange voices and musical sounds even though we cannot see or hear them. If we had the proper electronic devices, such as those used in a radio or a television set, we could hear the sounds and see the pictures without any difficulty. When I was very young, I used to think there was a man inside the radio, or that the noise came out of the receptacle in the wall and up through the wire. Later, I learned that the radio has an electronic gadget which collects noises that are transmitted from various stations throughout the countryside. The noises are real even though we cannot hear them. And just so, Satan is a real person even though we cannot see him.
The Bible indicates that Satan was one of the most magnificent creatures ever created; he was the climax of God’s creative wisdom; he was not always the vicious character we know him to be today; he was once a beautiful angel. The Scriptures say (of Lucifer), “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee” (Ezekiel 28:15). Those who believe the message of the Bible believe that there is a real, created, personal devil who is the enemy of God and the enemy of God’s people. We don’t understand all there is to know about the devil, but the Bible says he has his own synagogue (Revelation 2:9), his own gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), his own ministers (2 Corinthians 11:14-15), his own doctrines (1 Timothy 4:1), and his own communion service (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).
2. The Devices of the Devil
Satan will do all he can to bring defeat into our lives. He is constantly battling for the soul of the sinner and for the life of the saint. The devil’s work is to deceive human beings, and he has many subtle devices and many cunning ways by which he does the job. We do well to take seriously the advice of the Apostle Paul when he says in 2 Corinthians 2:11 that we are not to be ignorant of his devices. Some of Satan’s devices are listed in the paragraphs that follow:
a) Satan lies and blinds to the truth.
Jesus says that the devil “abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). The devil used the device of lying with our first parents (Adam and Eve), and he has been using it effectively ever since. God told Eve, “But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). But in the very next chapter, we read: “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die.” Satan said the exact opposite of what God had said. God said, “If you eat, you will die.” Satan said, “You will not die.”
God’s truth is revealed in the Bible. Whenever a person tries to question or to argue away any of the teachings of the Bible, you can be sure that it is the old serpent, the devil, trying to deceive that individual.
Often Satan tries to accomplish his goal by taking a passage out of its context. One of the most beautiful promises in the New Testament is found in verse 19 of Philippians 4: “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” But that is not an across-the-board promise. The promise is given in the context of those who are generous financial givers. Those who gave out of their poverty to help with the Lord’s work, were given that special promise.
Sometimes Satan quotes from the Bible (he uses Bible verses), but he distorts the truth to try and make the Bible say something altogether different from its plain statements. For example, one church leader was commenting on the teaching about the “Feeding of the 5,000” in Matthew 14. He concluded that Jesus did not perform a miracle and create food on that occasion, but that the five-thousand-plus people simply shared their lunches with each other. He viewed the passage as a beautiful example of how things can work out well if each person is willing to contribute a little bit.
The point is that the devil is a liar—and any attempt to play down (or to twist) the Scriptures is definitely motivated by the devil in his attempt to try and dishonor the plan of God.
b) Satan puts evil suggestions into our minds.
Satan is always on the alert. He is looking for weak places in our defense system; he is eager to take advantage of any opening we might give him through a lack of watchfulness.
The Bible speaks of the betrayal of Jesus (just before His crucifixion), and says, “The devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him . . . ” (John 13:2). And at another place, the Scripture says, “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?” (Acts 5:3). These passages answer some unique questions: Who was it that prompted Judas to betray Jesus? And who motivated Ananias to lie about the donated money? The Bible says it was the devil.
If we would only recognize that the evil temptations which we get from time to time are promoted by a real personal devil who is trying to bring defeat to our souls, we would do more to resist his onslaughts! It is the devil who entices us to do wrong. It is the devil who inflames the passions, and stirs the appetites, and awakens old habits. We don’t have to give in to him. We are given the power of choice. But Satan is one who sneaks into the hearts of people and tries to lead all of us astray. The wicked thoughts we contend with from time to time are energized by the devil and empowered by all the forces of evil. The ultimate aim of the devil is to mar us and scar us; to disfigure the image of God in us; to saturate our minds with filth and dirt and moral rot; to wrap us in darkness and lock us forever in the place where there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The devil aims to slay everything that is noble and decent and good in our lives. He has energized every rotten deed that has ever been committed by every person that has ever walked on the face of the earth. The devil puts evil suggestions into our minds.
c) Satan promotes an unforgiving spirit among brethren.
The devil has never had a good word to say about God’s people. He dislikes us because we love the Lord, and so he tries his best to get us to ruin our testimony by showing enmity toward our fellow-Christians. The Bible says, “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not . . . this wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (James 3:14-15). The Bible says that a bitter and unforgiving spirit among fellow-Christians is demonic; it is of the devil; it is inspired by Satan.
Satan delights in hearing us say unkind and critical (and often untrue) things about our brothers and sisters in Christ. Sharpness and contention among Christians does not promote the cause of Christ. Such conduct helps instead to extend the devil’s kingdom. We need to take seriously the admonition of Ephesians 4:32, where we read, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
The word “kindness” speaks of a generous and thoughtful attitude toward others. The word “tenderhearted” means heartfelt compassion, a sense of sympathy that feels for the needs and the circumstances of others. We should be careful not to quickly clobber others with words of negative criticism. Satan, by way of contrast, stirs up bitterness and envy, and does everything he can to break down a spirit of harmony among God’s people. The devil sows tares of conflict and discontent among believers in order to dampen their testimony.
d) Satan tempts believers to commit sexual immorality.
First Corinthians 7:5 says that married couples should not withhold their bodies from each other (except by consent), so that “Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.”
Satan is the one who tempts to sexual immorality. All those men who are running off with other women, and people who are living together without the commitment of marriage, are following the promptings of the devil. The temptation to longingly lust after a person of the opposite sex is a device promoted by Satan. The conduct evidenced by those miserable lust-buzzards who eye every woman they meet and gush over silly females walking down the street, is initiated by the devil in order to break down the sanctity of our homes and to saturate our communities with fornication and incest and prostitution and adultery and all the other ugly sins related to sexual immorality.
We are living in the midst of a tremendous moral revolution. Most of our society is pleasure oriented. The mood is permissive and immodest and daring. There is an attitude of irreverence toward God and sacred things. Many consider sexual purity a concept that no longer has validity. Our age is reeking with sexual immorality, and Satan will do his best to get us to become careless about maintaining high moral standards.
e) Satan incites persecution against Christians.
The devil does his best to discourage disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ by bringing various kinds of persecution to bear upon them. Revelation 2:10 says, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison.”
For most of us, persecution comes in the form of social pressure. People where you work want you to engage in activities which you believe are wrong—and if you refuse to join them—they make derogatory remarks, or at least laugh at you behind your back. That is a form of persecution, and even though it is a milder form of persecution than the martyrdom of earlier centuries, it is still persecution, and it is the devil who incites it all.
When we think about the devices of the devil, we must remember that the devil is a liar; he puts evil suggestions into our minds; he develops a bitter and unforgiving spirit among brethren and sisters; he tempts believers to sexual immorality; and he incites persecution against Christians in order to discourage them.
3. Our Opposition To the Devil
Each of us is confronted daily with the snares, the tactics, the tricks, and the devices of the devil. Satan is not in Hell now; he is not locked up in the bottomless pit (as he will be someday). He is the “god of this age,” walking up and down in this world, seeking to drag men and women away from Christ. He has each of our names on his list, and he is doing his level best to drag each one of us down to defeat and destruction. It seems that Satan is working overtime in these days because he knows that his time is limited, and he is aware that shortly he will be cast into the Lake of Fire where he will be tormented day and night forever and ever. See Revelation 20:10. But until that time—how can we overcome his onslaughts? What is our resource against the strategies of the devil? A two-fold answer is given in James 4:7.
a) We are to submit ourselves to God.
We cannot resist the devil in our own human power. We must be a committed child of God, and have the Lord Jesus Christ dwelling within. The message to Christian believers in 1 John 4:4 is this: “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” (Do you remember the great passage in Galatians 2:20? The Apostle Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me.”) Jesus Christ, who dwells within the body of the believing Christian, is greater than the devil, who is the god of this world!
The devil is a supernatural being, and it takes a supernatural power to respond to his devices. Jesus Christ is that power. In order to overcome the devices of the devil, we must surrender our lives to God and receive Jesus into our hearts by faith. When a person takes that step, he becomes a new creature with new desires and with new powers to overcome temptation.
b) We are to resist the devil.
We can resist the devil in the same way that Jesus resisted him when He was tempted in the wilderness. Jesus resisted the devil by appealing to the Scriptures. When the devil commanded Him to turn stones into bread, Jesus said, “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone.” When the devil told Him to jump off the pinnacle of the Temple, Jesus said, “It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” When Satan offered Him all the kingdoms of the world, Jesus said, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
Jesus resisted the devil by appealing to the Scriptures. He could have summoned ten thousand angels; He could have displayed His own supernatural powers, but instead, Jesus used the same weapon that is available to every one of us—the Word of God. All of us must make new commitments to spend more time with the Bible; to memorize portions of Scripture; to study the Word of God—so that we will have a Scriptural dart to throw at the devil every time he comes our way with a temptation.
c) We are to put on the whole armor of God.
One who takes Christ as his Savior and starts to live and work for Him will soon discover that there is an enemy seeking to destroy his faith and testimony. All of us find that living the Christian life involves an ongoing warfare. But God has provided spiritual armor to protect us, and he has placed in our hands a sword—the Word of God—to help us conquer and overcome evil. We read about the armor in Ephesians 6:10-18.
The armor includes a belt of truth (it always pays to be truthful), a breastplate of righteousness (the ability to do the right thing), and a shield of faith (the willingness to trust and believe that what God says is true). In addition, He gives the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
In the Christian life we battle against powerful evil forces headed by Satan. To withstand his attacks, we must depend on God’s strength and use every piece of armor which is provided. All believers are special objects of Satan’s attacks because they are no longer on Satan’s side. We need supernatural power to defeat Satan, and God has provided that power by the Holy Spirit who lives within us, and by the provision of armor which surrounds us. May God help every believer to be alert to these truths.