This is an excerpt from Mike McKinley’s new book Did the Devil Make Me Do it? And Other Questions about Satan, Demons, and Evil Spirits (The Good Book Company, 2013).
I just sinned. Did the Devil make me do it?
The authors of the New Testament almost never speak about a Christian’s sin in terms of demonic influence. Paul refers to false teachers who have been captured by the Devil to do his will (2 Tim. 2:26) and ill-qualified elders in a church who are in danger of falling into a snare of the Devil (1 Tim. 3: 6-7). But when he speaks to believers about their sin it’s usually in direct terms. So, for example, in Ephesians 4:25-32 Paul instructs us:
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Paul does indeed mention the Devil in this passage, telling us not to give him an opportunity to tempt us by clinging to anger and rage. But while our sin might give Satan an opportunity to advance his agenda through us, Paul doesn’t understand our sin to be fundamentally caused by the Devil and his demons. Notice that the apostle doesn’t instruct them to beware of the demon of falsehood or to be on the lookout for an evil spirit that might tempt them to unwholesome talk. Paul simply tells them that these things are inappropriate and that God’s people should have nothing to do with them. Sin isn’t evidence of demonic strongholds in our lives; it is simply disobedience that is inconsistent with our salvation in Christ. We don’t need an advanced degree in demonology in order to be obedient; we don’t need exorcisms or deliverances.
Keep Satan at Bay
So as a Christian, one of my motivations for avoiding sin is a desire to keep Satan at bay. He wants me to disgrace myself and Christ by indulging in sin. The Devil desires me to be a selfish husband and an impatient father. He is happiest when I am miserable in my sin. I don’t want those habits and patterns in my life, so I resist Satan and his temptations. But he has no power to coerce me. God promises never to let any temptation come to me that is beyond my capacity to withstand (1 Cor. 10:13). The only person who can make me do anything is me.
C. S. Lewis warned that Satan is happy with either our ignorance or our obsession with him and his ways. It seems the Bible’s approach to the topic cuts right down the middle. On the one hand, Satan is a real and dangerous opponent; he prowls about and exerts influence in the world and even in our lives. But on the other hand, Christians are not at his mercy. The salvation Christ purchased has set us free from the Devil’s tyranny, so we are no longer slaves to sin and death. Instead, we are under the authority of God’s Spirit and bearing his fruit in our lives.
So should we be aware of the Devil? Yes.
Should we be alert to his motives and ways of working so that we can avoid him? Absolutely.
Should we be obsessed with him, looking for a demon lying behind every sin? No.
Should we tremble at his power and rage? Under no circumstances!
Satan’s power and knowledge are limited; his doom is sure. He’s not worthy of our time, obsession, and emotions. Instead we live with both of our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, who has delivered us from the Devil’s wrath and given us a sure hope that we will one day be rid of him for ever.